Connection is my jam.
I am freshly returned from a thirty-day retreat into healing and self-discovery. It was no picnic. It was brutally difficult and deeply nourishing. Did I say it was brutal? It was brutal.
During this 30-day odyssey, I connected with other folks brave enough to do this work of a Hero’s Journey. Because trauma and unresolved pain knows no bounds, I was in treatment with many who were exceedingly successful from the perspective of the world. People courageous enough to acknowledge that they had been leading from their wounds, parenting from their pain, and loving from their lack.
During this 30-day messy, life-changing venture, I found myself often thinking, “I would so much rather be facilitating this group than ugly-crying during this group.” I wanted to hide behind my degrees and be the helper, instead of the one in need of help. And while every cell in my body wanted to seek solace behind my clinical experience, I didn’t. And it was damn hard, people. I have avoided concepts like group therapy and psychodrama like the plague, and here I was in a veritable marathon of both. God has a sense of humor.
Every day I chose humility instead because the cost of not doing so was too high. That does not make me a hero. It just makes me willing … and tired of patterns I wanted/needed to change. Here is a sampling of what I did:
- I forgave myself for mistakes made as a result of living with the disease of addiction and its impact on me and those I fiercely love;
- I let go of baggage heavy enough to need a forklift;
- I excavated myself from the sticky thread of shame that had woven itself into my DNA like it does with so many of us;
- I accepted that I have struggled with not being enough and being too much.
And one learning I walked away with was how our feelings play a huge role in how we humans connect.
Pixar director, Pete Docter, gave the world the film Inside Out: a powerful exploration of emotions. Through this project, Docter came to the conclusion that it is sadness that deepens our connection to ourselves and others. This is corroborated by his colleague Dacher Keltner from the University of California @ Berkeley. Keltner, who also runs the Greater Good Science Center, elaborates on the importance of sadness in this NYT article, “The Science of ‘Inside Out’”.
During my 30-day deep dive into all things grief (and hope), I doubledowned on the weirdly comforting process of sadness. Together with others who were going through the same rip-our-hearts-out process, we found that our shared stories, sorrows, and tears created exceptionally strong bonding mechanisms.
So instead of running from sadness - ours or someone else’s - try moving toward it. The more we move toward sadness the more we experience the exquisite union between souls. When we share a tremendously moving, sad experience with others, we actually create a deep bonding.
Try these practices to cultivate your willingness to step toward sadness:
- Practice humility. When we hold ourselves apart, or think “not me”, or believe we are superior to others, we are not able to respond to another’s sadness. One way to practice humility is to bow several times a day. This gesture activates the vagus nerve which is responsible for creating compassion in our physical being. As a result, we are more equipped to feel a healthy sense of our own place.
- Turn toward the arts. Listen to music that evokes a deep feeling. Watch movies that help you to cry. Read books that move your soul.
- Find ways to enhance your self-compassion. Keep a feelings journal. Start a loving-kindness mindfulness practice. Tap into other disciplines that help us to pause like breathwork and yoga.
This is what I know: sharing our sorrow multiplies our joy. At home. At work. Without allowing sorrow, our ability to connect is compromised. And without our ability to connect deeply to ourselves and others, we miss out on so much beauty.