Words are important.
The old “sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can never hurt me” line never fully rang true for me. Because I know how powerful words can be.
Words, used with casual flippancy or malicious intent, can cause untold hurt. Words, used in the right way, can change the world for the better.
Words carefully placed and strung together with honesty of intent can evoke powerful emotion in the listener or reader. Emotion is a key factor in our unconscious mind, and some studies in the fields of neuroscience, behavioral science and biology suggest our unconscious mind is responsible for 95% of all our decisions, behaviours and patterns.
So words are important.
For the past two Januarys I’ve decided to select a focus word for the 12 months ahead.
Last year my focus word was AWARENESS.
I was going through a reawakening, a shift in who I am, of where I am in the world, of what I should be doing and who I should be doing it with.
And I felt that a focus on awareness would be valuable. It definitely proved valuable, in ways that are hard yet to quantify, and are not yet proving valuable in monetary or material ways, but I think are priceless at a deeper, more spiritual level.
For 2019 my focus word is CONNECTION.
CONNECTION to myself, to the person I am becoming, trusting that the path I am on is the right path and requiring me to disobey the urges I have to beat down the real me and continue to present a false veneer to the world.
At some level, this must be working. I met with a former work colleague recently, someone I always respected for his warm integrity and his sense of fairness and humanity. We had shared an office and many, many meetings for several months a few years back. When we met for coffee recently, he said to me, “It feels like this is the first time we’ve met.”
Such growth or expansion — I’m searching for the right word — is accompanied by a lot of pain and suffering. This trying to figure out where next without a map has been desperately painful for me, beset as it is by the incessant hum of self-loathing, the almost non-existent self-worth and almost ever-present self-doubt. It has also been desperately painful for those closest to me to witness all this and keep supporting me through it, while they and I struggle to understand or articulate exactly what is going on.
I am often stuck fast between the pain that finding my way inflicts on my loved ones in the moment, and the pain that recoiling from this path might inflict on them indefinitely. I greatly regret that this path requires that suffering, and I yearn for a Zen state of higher consciousness and calm, but I’m not there yet and I know it’s still some distance away. I choose the psychological pain of tackling the present moment head on instead of distracting myself from it, because I believe at some deep untouchable level that this is the only right choice.
To hear that from my friend and former colleague, that it felt like the first time we’ve met, that it felt like he was meeting someone new and different and maybe reborn, tells me that the pain of the journey is a worthwhile pain, and that further rebirths lie ahead if I can stick to the path.
So connection to myself, the true reality of myself, firstly. A case of putting my own oxygen mask on first.
CONNECTION also to others. A deeper connection to people who matter. Dr Zach Bush, one of the most phenomenal human beings on the planet, and someone for whom the future of the planet occupies a critical part of his thinking, told Rich Roll recently, “You and I are here together right now, and the odds of that are zero, so clearly we are here for a reason.”
“We are together right now, and the odds of that are zero.”
I think of that sentence a lot. When I allow it to — and my self-protecting lizard brain does its best to resist, and very often sabotages things entirely — that sentence enlightens and uplifts every moment I spend with another person.
So connection to others, too, and allowing the magic of those zero odds connections to change the world.
And CONNECTION to the planet. I spoke to Masami Sato of the B1G1 initiative for my podcast recently, and she told the story of how, in her 20s, she became so disillusioned by the world and the damage that all our countless small daily actions and transactions can inflict on it, that she retreated to rural Japan to try self-sustainability. After two years, however, she realised that it was an impossible dream, and that a better course of action is to participate in the world with the full intention of allowing those actions and transactions to impact in a positive way, rather than a mindless negative one.
Connection to the planet is hard when you’re scrabbling to put food on the table, and the green beans from Kenya and the avocados from Peru are on special offer in Lidl.
The interconnectivity of everything is mind-boggling. Being aware of that connection is a necessary first step, I think. At our home, we still don’t grow any of our own food or keep our own chickens, but I suspect it’s not far away. It feels necessary.
The Obstacles to Connection
All this superficial connection inundates real connection, drowning it out so that we find ourselves with 900 Facebook friends and almost no-one to call when we feel like throwing ourselves off a bridge.
There are obstacles to CONNECTION, and perversely I think, some of the biggest obstacles are the incessant connectivity we all experience virtually every moment of every day.
I recently downloaded the Words With Friends app to play with Lorraine and a few friends. The relentlessness of the advertising is obscene. (And yes, I realise I can pay a few euros and switch off the ads … and I realise also how logical and necessary just paying for something is as a first step to quieting the relentless advertising. Increasingly, the world in which we live is an ad-supported model, where we get everything for free but at the psychologically catastrophic price of literally endless messages aimed at selling us stuff we would rarely seek out and definitely do not need.)
Social media, where connection is literally the engine and the fuel and the destination, is increasingly a massive factor in killing our ability to truly connect at a meaningful level.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and others are incredibly powerful tools, allowing us the capability to join communities and build meaningful friendships with people on the opposite side of the world who we could never hope to meet in the ordinary world that existed just a couple of decades ago.
And yet we have lost something vital too, with all this superficial connection inundating real connection, drowning it out so that we find ourselves with 900 Facebook friends and almost no-one to call when we feel like throwing ourselves off a bridge.
We have limitless opportunity for connection, but this is a knife that cuts both ways, and the assault on us from outside is also limitless, and our brains have become conditioned to restlessness, which impacts on everything from our sleep to our energy to our productivity.
Disconnecting could be the route to reconnecting again.
Disconnecting will be different for everyone, depending on how desperate the need and how deep the yearning for the meaningful connection that can follow.
It can be as simple as killing all our phone notifications, or removing the social media apps. (Instagram, for those who use it, can be a real challenge, given that it’s effectively locked to your phone. WhatsApp is similarly phone-centric but it is at least a closed environment. And the ugly reality that Facebook owns all of these, and everything you do there, suggests that we are seeing just the tip of an iceberg that could sink all our boats…)
It could require something more, such as intentionally giving ourselves at least 10 hours a day phone-free (eight hours of restorative sleep and an hour either side).
It could require one day every week without our phone, which might sound like hell on earth to some, depending on the depth of the addiction.
Or it could mean a spa treatment or a retreat or a pilgrimage. Getting away from it all used to be almost exclusively a physical thing, but with our digital lives and responsibilities pursuing us everywhere we go, the need is more psychological than it has ever been.
Whatever the triage and the treatment, there’s little doubt, I think, that choosing to disconnect can bring about the most meaningful connection we’ve had in ages.
Connection to ourselves, to each other and to the planet. Connection where all of us are better off.