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All About Connection

by eloepthien on June 2nd, 2011

When we connect “[…] we experience a resonance of our two brains, our two limbic systems, and our central nervous system begins to calm down. Our brain is the only organ that does not regulate from within, it regulates on the outside through another brain. We need each other to regulate our brains.“ Hedy Schleifer at TEDxTelAviv

Just listened to Hedy Schleifer’s TED talk. She and her husband Yumi are psychologists teaching a unique integration of philosophy, appreciative inquiry, relationship skills, re-evaluation counseling and much more. You can find their website at http://www.hedyyumi.com.

She describes three invisible “connectors”:

1.     The SPACE between us all

Quoting the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber: „Our relationship lives in the space between us. It doesn’t live in me or in you or even in the dialogue between the two of us. It lives in the space that we live together. That space is sacred space.”

Hedy Schleifer says that if we don’t know how to live in this space, we will actually pollute it. This happens with a word, look, reaction, withdrawal, criticism or judgement. All this is making the space uncomfortable, even dangerous, until we can stand it no more and start to react – by either exploding or withdrawing. We are reacting to the danger and pollution that we have co-created in the first place.

How can we change this dynamic?

2.     The BRIDGE to the other being

We would need to bring our full presence to the other person. First we ground ourselves, calm down, breath deeply and get present. Feel thankful for being alive in this moment. We then need to walk consciously und deliberately and leave behind on our side whatever we think we are.

Hedy Schleifer tells us to not to bring anything from us to the other side of the bridge. Instead listen with an open heart and see with new eyes and mirror back what we are hearing and seeing: “I hear you say…, did I get you…?” This is where the true encounter starts, she says.

3. Meeting the ESSENCE of the other

Next thing we know, we experience resonance of our two brains. Creating a connection leads to our two limbic systems resonating together. As a result our central nervous system begins to calm down. Our brain is the only organ that does not regulate from within, it regulates on the outside through another brain. We need each other.

Our mirror neurons become alive during the encounter and the plasticity of our brain allows it to grow more empathetic and relationally intelligent.  All this happens on the measurable level of biological facts.

The Other Dimension and “Goldberg’s Survival Suite Story”

Now what is this essence of ours? What is our soul? Hedy Schleifer tells a Jewish story to illustrate it:

Mr. Goldberg the tailor is visited by a customer who wants to buy a suit. The man says to him: “Oh, this sleeve does’nt fit at all.“ “Yes, answers Mr. Goldberg, for that sleeve, you need to hold your hand like that.” “Oh, ok”, says the man and holds his hand like he is asked to. “Well, but look at this arm, and this leg, they do not fit either.” Mr. Goldberg gives him more instructions how to position his other arm, leg and shoulder, and being fine with the result, the man pays and leaves the store.  As he walks out, a woman passes by and sees him. She bursts out: „What an amazing tailor! Look, he made something for a man in this condition and the suit fits him perfectly!“

We are this man, says Hedy Schleifer. We have accumulated so much stuff around our essence and think this stuff is us, whereas in reality this is just a survival suit. Inside this stuff and our polluted thinking and feeling we are our essence. Now in the moments when we truly connect, our spirit is being nourished and our essence becomes revealed.

Transformation needs Connection

To me this moment carries the potential for transformation for both people, the one who is witnessing as well as the one who is witnessed. By crossing the bridge to another being, we are able to see things that we did not even know would exist. Our horizons can expand in unexpected ways, transforming our way of looking at the world, each other and ourselves.

Connecting to Nature

And this connection is not only possible between human beings, but also between us and nature. Everyone having a pet knows that. Animals help us to cross the bridge without our survival suit because they often don’t wear one at all. They show their essence freely, witness our essence first and help us open up and clear the relational space between us.

The same thing happens when you’re outside in nature in an open, aware and somewhat meditative state of not thinking very much, instead letting in what surrounds you. For a child this means self-forgotten, unstructured play outdoors or gazing at a fire like the boy in the picture. For an adult it can be sitting still, laying on the back to watch the clouds or gardening. All this has the same calming effect on our nervous system and the reason for me is that it is as well connecting in a deep way, meeting the essence of another natural being, may it be a plant, a cloud or our mother Earth.

Connections – Connectors – Connectivity

It seems that the more we connect with others and with nature, that for one, these individuals and beings can reconnect quicker and quicker. When I go to my sitspot at one particular tree, the moment my body touches the trunk I can feel my own essence stronger again. This tree has become an anchor for me, just as my best friends, who make it easier and easier for me to cross the bridge and leave behind what is not serving me nor them.  The beings I connect with often have become especially powerful connectors in my life. Also the beings that I generally spent more quality connection time with than having just random interactions, which is evident when I meet people again that I have seen only once in my life, e.g. when traveling, or when I go to places in nature where I deeply immersed myself, even if it was just once.

The other effect I have observed, is that when I connect more often, my connectivity seems to be heightened even with new persons and beings. As if with more and more visits to the essence, the pile of stuff in between becomes smaller and smaller. And in children as well as adults I can see how connecting is possible even beyond the realm of conversations, by creating a thoughtless open space for an encounter, something we often just call “play”.

Culture of Connection

At a program where connection is being fostered, it almost seems like a field is being created that makes it easier for anybody to open up and cross the bridge to one another. To me this proves that connection is really contagious AND that a culture of connection is actually possible. If it works on this micro-level, why couldn’t it work for a whole tribe? A whole nation? It reminds me of many stories I heard about the San bushmen of the Kalahari who survived centuries of oppression keeping an incredible lightheartedness. Their childlike happiness often used to be disregarded as naiveté, until they started to share about their complex spiritual world view with researchers like Bradford Keeney.

Like many indigenous cultures they regard connection as a core element in the universe. They see all beings as connected through ropes that go from belly-button to belly-button. These ropes get thicker as the connection is growing.

Clearing the Cluttered Space

What the San also have is a sophisticated system for clearing the cluttered space. In a recent conversation with nature connection mentor Jon Young, who visited the San in the last two years, he explained to me that the bushmen’s trance dance can completely clear the air from any tension among the people. Other indigenous people have rituals around grief and anger, too, like this grieving ritual of the Dagara people in Burkina Faso, shared by Sobonfu Somé who lives half a year in her traditional village and travels the rest of the time teaching people in many other countries of the world.

At a workshop in California in spring 2010 she emphasized how essential it is that grief needs to be witnessed by others. So here again we have the need for connection for us to be able to see and feel our own essence as well as the essence of the people around us.

Honoring the Bridge

Hedy Schleifer closes her TED-talk with the vision of an International Day for Crossing the Bridge, starting some time in fall 2012. My idea is to take some time every day to reflect on how and to whom I have crossed the bridge and to also talk to my 4year-old son about his daily experience with me and with other people and the beings in nature.

A really powerful tool to use among people can be two questions to ask your friends:

When do you feel connected to me?

And:

When do you feel disconnected?

A Blessing from Neuroscience

According to the German neuroscientist Gerald Hüther connection is one of two primary life experiences that already an unborn baby makes. We are wired to re-seek this experience throughout our lives and it will always be one of our deepest longings as well as greatest pleasures.

The other primary experience is growth, our ability to meet challenges. Now isn’t it amazing that we can actually grow best right when we are connecting?

…and from Eastern Philosophy

In Taiji I heard was the idea of a mysterious Silver Line in the yin-yang symbol between the swerves of black and white. It was said to be at the essence of the Taiji practice and it reminds me of the Sacred Space mentioned in the Martin Buber quote in the beginning. Sobonfu Somé calls this third entity the “Spirit of Intimacy”. To me it is a magical place in between you and me and all of us, where all creativity is born.

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