When I was 11 years old, I went for a ride with my sister and her boyfriend in his convertible. I was in the back seat, wind blowing my hair, on the edge of elation when I remember thinking “Is this how it feels to be happy?” I was so isolated growing up that I was truly clueless. I grew up in the wilderness of Alaska. My mother felt so isolated there that she left me and my heartbroken, reclusive, engineer dad somewhere in the midst of my 7th year. Only marginally coping with “little house on the prairie,” my mother had zero patience for me. I learned to fend for myself or pay the consequences. If I fell or hurt myself, I kept quiet about it. I knew not to cry under any circumstances. My father was a lovely man, but he had no idea what to do with a small broken child. So when I say I have been isolated I mean literally as well as emotionally. I joke that I was raised by wolves, but that’s not a good analogy because wolves travel in packs, they are seldom alone. It took me quite a while to realize that everyone feels isolated at one time, or another. Feeling separate, like we don’t fit in, can be devastating. Learning to become available for connection is how we grow stronger, how we make the best of rough situations and how we heal. So how do we shift “connection” to the top of our priority list in our busy lives? Step one is to realize that connection doesn’t have to be an elaborate process. I teach my clients that we have one big thing in common with everyone else – we are human. That means that despite the crazy stories we tell ourselves about how we must be the only one in the room who feels dumb or inadequate or lonely, it simply isn’t true. When we recognize that “just like me, everyone suffers,” we’ve taken the first step toward connecting and toward compassion. Below is a small sampling of ways to connect (with other humans) in five minutes or less. I use these methods personally, and with clients. You will be surprised at the positive changes. Take a chance, try it for a couple of weeks, find creative ways to remember, use alarms or phone messages to yourself. Create your own experiment, be consistent and see for yourself!
- Whenever you are in motion, walking to lunch, to the bank, at the office, try and catch the moment and notice as much as you can without judgment. Observe your body, swing your arms, roll your shoulders and feel the sensations. If outside, discern the temperature, or color of the sky. Allow your 5-senses to direct your attention. Look around you and spot something you appreciate, thank yourself for being present, allow gratitude to well up in you.
- Smile and speak to someone who catches your eye. Are they available for “hello” or a nod?
- If you happen on someone with a dog, ask if you can pet him/her, ask them the name. Make eye contact, be genuine and listen to what they say, without offering your story.
- Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, imagine what the homeless person’s life might be like or what might have happened to create the situation.
I hope you’ll find these ideas helpful and relevant to your life. I offer live and virtual workshops and trainings in self-compassion, boundaries and compassionate communication. Check out my assessment by going to TruePotentialQuiz.com