Twelve years ago, when I was living in Washington, DC, one of my biggest interests was connection. I was inspired by books by Neale Donald Walsch, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other authors and teachers that pointed to a greater possibility of human connection. I longed to be with people in ways that expressed more care, more love, and more truth about the goodness of life than most people usually experience.
My quest for connection eventually led me to the work of Andrew Cohen and EnlightenNext, where I dove in head first for over a decade, determined to develop along with others who shared my intention and commitment. At EnlightenNext I had experiences of connection and love that blew me away. And now I find myself wanting to go further, looking within to discover what leads to real connection. I want to know: what can we do to come together more perfectly as human beings, and why does it matter?
(As a side note, this is one of the topics we'll be exploring in detail as part of Project One, launching October 26. The application deadline is this week, and we have four openings for virtual participants as well as one full scholarship if you have financial need. So if you find this post interesting, I definitely encourage you to consider joining me, Erin, and other inspired individuals for Project One.)
Here are my thoughts:
Be grateful. When we sit down for dinner at my house, we take a moment to thank that evening's cook and acknowledge how good it is to share a meal together. Being grateful for the people you love and their contribution to your life has a powerful effect on your connection. It doesn't have to be over the top, I find that just a moment of real presence with each other goes a long way.
Be together. Go out of your way to physically be with someone. I'm surprised by how much simply doing something together builds connection. It shows that you care and that the other person is valuable to you. As Bruno Mars so plaintively wails in his heartbreak ballad When I Was Your Man, "I shoulda gave you all my hours when I had the chance." Some of my favorite ways to be with people I love are: listening to music, meditating (interesting, right? Sitting still can be amazing), watching a play, playing catch, shooting hoops, going for a walk, doing yoga, sharing my favorite funny videos (have you noticed how YouTube has become a surprisingly welcome presence at parties for this reason?), and of course sharing a meal. When you do those kinds of things together you're sharing moments of life, and that's inherently meaningful.
Speak simply and authentically. Share who you are and what you truly see. Be honest and straightforward. If you hold back your thoughts and try to hedge your position for whatever reason, you will not deepen your connection with the person you're with. While it may seem scarier at first to simply speak your mind, speaking truthfully and unguardedly about who you are and what you value gives the person you are with something to respond to. That's the definition of connection: two (or more) people engaged in something real. So put out something real and you'll see why this is so powerful.
Tell a story. As time goes by I'm more and more impressed by how effective stories are at influencing people and bypassing their habitual defense mechanisms. Abraham Lincoln was a masterful story-teller, ãnd he did pretty well in life. So if you want to connect with your audience – whether it be an audience of one or one thousand – tell a story from your experience that will deepen your point; bonus if you make people laugh in the process. :)
Say it with body language. Being closed off physically sends a message that you aren't ready to open up. I love how jazz icon Kurt Elling makes the point in this masterclass to young singers that they should have nothing between them and the audience. His statement that wide open arms is the most attractive thing an audience can experience from a performer is true not just onstage, but in conversation as well (of course, you don't literally have to have your arms wide open, it's more of a metaphor, but you knew that already). Having a posture of openness, i.e. not slouching, arms not crossed, your face awake and receptive, is a gift both to the person you're with and to yourself. It feels so good to be open!
Inquire sincerely. When you ask somebody a question, you're opening yourself up to them. When you fully let in their response and take it deeper together, you are building trust and being, in the words of philsopher Jason Hill, "intellectually promiscuous." Being together in this way allows you to arrive at a place that is more thorough and nuanced than either of you could have done on your own, which is an amazing feeling. I actually find this to be one of the greatest joys of life: discovering something with another that I simply could not have come to on my own.
What are some of the ways you connect with those you love and the world around you? Let us know in the comments below!
And again, take a moment to consider Project One if you want to develop in this or any other of the topics we've been writing about these last 6 weeks. We'd love to have you join us!