Social has become quite the buzz word. But what does it mean in today’s digital world? Social media presents a myriad of opportunities to connect with friends, relatives, business associates, and the world at large. Photos and snippets of one’s everyday experience “go viral” every day. Texting is a new abbreviated language that requires neither correct grammar nor punctuation. But social has a vastly different context when it relates to our true happiness and well-being. It requires connection through physical presence, which can deepen the understanding of thoughts and emotions behind the abbreviated snippets of words and images.
Research shows that we were born to connect. The need to connect even trumps primary physical and safety needs. Hard-wired in our brains is our fundamental need for social engagement. Our need for bonding and belonging can be fulfilled when we clear the pathways to wholeness in our relationships.
Humans are born insecure. Infants cry when separated from their primary caregivers. Love and bonding at an early age help us build security and a sense of belonging. As we go out into the world, these are seminal in helping us to live, play, and work together.
It’s well known that much of our communication is nonverbal and thus requires physical presence. As a timely example, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Chris Phalen and his wife, Star Lopez, were recently featured in a PBS segment of “Coming Back.” Returning from his Marine service, Chris joined the Los Angeles Police Department, working nights, and settled into the role of stay-at-home dad while Star deployed to Kabul, leaving their toddler, River, in his care. Star knew her deployment would interrupt her bonding with her daughter. Regular skyping during that time was very emotional for Star, but seemed to have little impact on River. When Star returned home, her daughter continued to run to her father for support and protection. While this loving couple was able to
help their daughter re-bond with Star, many are not so fortunate. With a third of American children being raised in single-parent homes where love and bonding are often fragmented, it’s not surprising that many of today’s societal ills are blamed on this issue.
Connecting with self
To cultivate wholeness in relationships, we need to connect with wholeness in ourselves. Even if our early years were marked by a fragmented or dysfunctional household where love and bonding may have been deficient, we can begin to cultivate them now. Cultivating wholeness in oneself is not a solo path.
Most of us develop resilience and are able to adapt to life circumstances by engaging with others. So, the people we hang out with influence us— for better or worse.
Reflecting on disharmony in my early family life, I recall the people who inspired me to venture out from my isolated smallness and feelings of low self-worth. They showed up in the form of friends, co-workers, therapists, coaches, teachers, and, of course, intimate partners. I now understand that I was unconsciously drawn to people with what I saw as a higher level of wholeness that I desired for myself.
Through these connections I was encouraged to travel, which unleashed my desire to explore other cultures, ancient and modern. I was led to delve into psychology and Eastern philosophies and engage in yoga, dance, and the arts. People opened doors to success for me in the world of business and taught me the value of networking. I acquired a deep curiosity about life, people, and the nature of things. Most importantly, I was opened to a deep spirituality, the beauty of love, and a desire to let what others have taught me live through me.
Many of the people I’ve associated with along my journey seem to be present with me today. I often feel the grace, beauty, and essence of my first yoga teacher flowing through my voice as I lead iRest Yoga Nidra meditations. In recent years, my curiosity about the many aspects of life has turned increasingly inward and has helped me feel more grounded and resilient to meet life circumstances— and to help others on their journey.
To overcome the disharmony that I felt from my early life, I had to change my thoughts and beliefs and learn important lessons. Relationships provided those gifts.
Undoing our troubled history
Life is filled with people who have disappointed us. There is no way around this. In fact, hurts and disappointments provide opportunities to move toward greater wholeness within ourselves. We are constantly being presented with new circumstances to learn, grow, and express our true self in the world.
Part of this learning requires us to undo our history of troubled relationships and to let go of old hurts, angers, fears, and resentments that hold us back. When we allow the past to remain alive in us, it colors our perceptions of everyday circumstances, particularly of our relationships. We become hostage to reliving the hurt again and again. It’s like drinking a low dose of poison every day hoping the other person will die!
Realizing that everyone has experienced suffering that has shaped their behavior is one way to begin the process of letting go of our troubled past. The angry, swearing father isn’t a monster. He likely didn’t experience love, comfort, and reassurance as a child, and now expresses his hurt and anger in all aspects of his life. This kind of understanding not only helps us come to a place of forgiveness in our relationships, but also helps us see that we have no doubt disappointed others as well!
Attitude of forgiveness
Adopting a forgiving attitude is probably the most powerfully liberating thing we can do. We don’t need to condone or tolerate an act, but we can forgive it. We already do this with children when we provide the comfort and reassurance they need. A useful tool for practicing forgiveness is to picture the person who has hurt you as a 6-year-old child and realize that person may need comfort. Forgiveness opens the heart, deepening our connection with our inner wholeness.
You may or may not love the person who hurt you, but you can find a place inside unaffected by outside circumstances that no one can invade. Forgiveness means honoring this place in ourselves, as we honor it in others.
The late poet and orator Maya Angelou was a great role model and teacher of forgiveness. She had been sexually abused by an uncle when she was a child. In her words, “We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate—thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.”
Be what you want to attract
As social beings we are wired to cooperate and be good to each other. We do this through actions of kindness, empathy, and compassion. Angelou said, “If you want a friend, be a friend.” Loving is not so much act of “doing” but of “being.” Wholeheartedly be your best self. Be “social” and connect by being the love you want to attract. Being is the natural way to wholeness.