On my Sunday stroll through The Heath, I decided to play a little game; experimenting with connection. Every person I passed, I would smile and look into their eyes. Not surprisingly, the most rewarding and cooperative specimens were children, elderly and animals. But most dipped their heads or lowered their gaze as they passed. Those in their 20–40s, especially those of the opposite sex, tended to be most closed; aggressively avoiding eye contact. Remaining connected to my breath, I constantly checked in with how I was feeling. Each time I made eye contact and received a smile in return, I noticed a warm sensation and wave of joy rush through me. I felt a sense of connection and peace wash over me. Yet in those moments when someone passing reacted to my eye glance and smile by advertently looking away, I noticed a strong sensation of deep sadness rise inside me. It was if I could feel their suffering and thus, fear of connection.
This is nothing unique to Hampstead Heath or England; people all over the world are suffering from an epidemic of disconnection. It’s as if our tech-infused digitized lifestyles have short-circuited our minds, such that the prospect of a simple connection with another human feels terrifying. There seems to be subconscious fear haunting us with the feeling that any authentic connection with another human is a deeply vulnerable act with potentially deadly implications. So instead, we fill our lives with digital connections, pulling to us an insatiable flood of dopamine hits in the form of perfectly manufactured posts seeking recognition, Tinder dates and the delivery of virtually anything to our doorstep without the need of making any authentic connection with another human. While many argue that this is a Western phenomenon prevalent in cities, my experience is that this epidemic has begun to reach tiny villages in India as well as deep within the Amazon. Yes, amazingly they too have access to the internet and are glued to their devices as well. And within the next 5 or so years, WiFi will be pushed directly from satellites, such that everywhere and everyone on the planet will have internet access. Thus, things will only intensify before they break.
As the first generation learning to live in a hyper-connected digital world, we continue to fumble and struggle to make sense of it all as we seek some semblance of balance. Heads down, navigated by our devices, we run like chickens with our heads cut off, jumping from one thing to another, filling gaps with texts and Instagram. Our standard response to the robotic call of ‘how are you’ is ‘good, but busy’. Our most peaceful moment is between when we wake and when we grab our device, placed within arms reach of our bed. We’re lucky if that lasts 2 minutes. Each night, we lie in bed and wonder, is this it; is there another way?
On the fringe, the leading edge is already breaking free, bring more awareness and intention to how they utilize technology. While there is no question that technology’s impact on society is growing exponentially, it remains within our control how we let it impact our individual lives. It is possible to bring discipline into how we engage with our devices, which becomes more relevant when we use them for almost everything. As we become more disciplined, we begin to regain control of our devices rather than the often apparent inverse.
Like how much of Western society has shifted it’s view on smoking, I believe the time is quickly approaching when we begin to shift our view on many of today’s commonplace behaviors around use of our devices in social settings. We can already start to see it happen. Have you ever been in a restaurant, bar, club, concert or other social environment and notice how so many people are glued to their devices? Have you ever thought, this seems a bit odd? My personal favorite are all the couples sitting at dinner tables separately scrolling Facebook and Instagram. To me, it appears quite insane; sad at best. Witnessing from afar, I interpret it as yet another sign of our growing inability to foster authentic human connections with another. But on the receiving end of this digital divide, someone on the other end of the dinner table or conference room might feel quite frustrated. From a positive outlook, this proposed shift in attitude will likely provide further social pressure to shift our behaviors. Unfortunately, I still think we have along way to go before critical mass swarms around this perspective.
For many of us, much of the connection to our devices is related to numbing pain related to our growing disconnection with ourselves and others. And so, the exact same thing that is killing us from the inside out is also numbing the pain of a slow agonizing death. Sounds quite similar to cigarettes. In fact, recent statistics show that the impact of loneliness is similar to smoking a pack and a half per day. Disconnection and loneliness are two sides of the same coin. The stronger the dependence on our devices, the greater the propensity to experience loneliness.
Fortunately, there is a way out…and it’s in. Instead of numbing the pain, it’s time to start loving the pain. We all feel it. It’s part of being human. But instead of running to an addictive behavior pattern, why not stop and smell the roses…aka our emotions. Our inner emotional world is the spice of life. One can easily argue that all our behaviors are intricately designed, whether conscious or subconscious, in an attempt to feel something in our insatiable appetite to be seen and heard by others. So, if this is the case, denying ourselves of the opportunity to feel our emotions is denying ourselves to live fully. And unfortunately, picking and choosing which emotions we want to feel, by numbing and/or burying them, has the effect of dulling all our emotions. So, if we want to feel the ‘desirable’ emotions, we also need to feel the ‘undesirable’ ones as well. The good thing is that all feelings are impermanent, especially when we acknowledge them. By doing so, they have been seen and are free to move on. As the saying goes, whatever we resist persists. So instead of numbing to avoid a feeling, why don’t we let it wash over us; flushing us clean. Like monsters, when we open all the closet doors, they can no longer scare us. Quite the contrary, when we welcome them, our emotions (even the monsters) quickly become our friends. As it goes, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. So, instead of running away, let’s face our emotions. When we do, our life transforms overnight. Free from addictions intended to numb emotional pain, we begin to live empowered lives.
If this resonates and you’d like to foster nurturing relationships with others seeking to live in harmony with their inner-world, please join us at Pure Project. We are a passionate community fostering authentic connections with ourselves and others through events and experiences.
Life is a rollercoaster. Let’s enjoy the ride!