This is my year for connecting. Or rather, it’s my year for reconnection, and it’s got me thinking a lot about the relationships we have, those we think we’ve lost, the meaning of it all. And how connection with the people in our lives whom we think we left behind long ago lies dormant like a seed buried deep within a forest, only to spring to life after a forest fire has made it pop and given it the space and energy to grow.
This month I travelled to Israel. Some of you will already be tutting and muttering, but please stay with me for the moment and suspend judgement until the end. Like many of my generation I was a kibbutz volunteer in the 1970s. Wherever we are when we’re 18 or 19 carries significance for us through our lives, and for me that place was Israel. I found freedom and friendship, struggled with relationships like you do at 18, got connected to my Jewish roots, and committed myself, for a while at least, to living in a way that was fairer and more equitable and thoroughly pleasant. I last visited in 1982, just before the war with Lebanon. After the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, I could not go back. I felt ashamed as a Jew that the Israeli army had allowed it to happen, had not intervened. After all, if others had intervened to challenge the horrors inflicted upon us in the past, we may not have lost 6 million in the holocaust. But there were signs that I should go back this year. First of all, I’d been in touch with a long-lost friend with whom I’d volunteered, thanks to that wonder of our times, social networking and the internet. Then we found out that there was to be a kibbutz volunteer reunion tour this summer, and it seemed too good a chance to pass up. After a bit of dithering, I got a Facebook message: “Signed up for the trip. Coming?” And I realised that this was something that, for whatever reason, I had to do. And so began a most remarkable fortnight. The country had changed, that was for sure. Four lane highways criss-crossed the country where once had been country roads. Towns had spread like ink on a blotter. Citiscapes replaced forests or wilderness. But the people, oh the people I’d left behind 30, 35 years ago…it was as if time were a stone tumbler that had polished them until they emerged in their full splendour. “How have we changed?” I asked my 70 year old friend who looks to be nearer 48. She paused, searching for the right English words. “We have changed,” she said, “Life changes us. We are different. And we are the same. Inside we are the same.” Taking my hand, she said, “The connection doesn’t change.” And a good heart is a good heart, this much I have learnt.
There are other kinds of reconnection. I once left a job at odds with most of my colleagues. It hadn’t been a good time for me, and my shadow self was in her element, convinced the world was against me. But time heals, and staying angry or bitter serves no purpose that I can see. One of those former colleagues has recently done me a massive professional favour, and I hope he’ll let me take him out, if not for dinner at least for a good bottle of wine!
If it’s true that for the first 50 years or so of our lives we’re travelling out from the centre until we reach the edge and begin our homeward journey, then that homeward journey offers us the opportunity to put things right, to do the things we missed on the outward voyage, to fill in some of the omissions, complete the unfinished, repair the broken. At 22, I started to train as a counsellor, and yet it is only now, on my homeward journey, that I am fulfilling that promise and working as a coach. Yes, reconnecting with yourself is vital too. My trip helped me to do that in ways that were sometimes surprising, but always exciting and real.
So what gets in the way of keeping the threads that connect us shiny and vibrant? I think the yogic concepts of Perusa and Klesa offer the clearest insight. Apologies to my teachers if I haven’t got this completely right, but this is how I understand it. We each have an inner light. You know when you meet someone whose light is shining: they have a particular kind of clarity about them. With any luck, you’ve experienced that yourself. Those times when you know you’re seeing clearly, when all your intuition and senses are alive, when you’re truly present in the here and now. When you can connect with another with clarity and utter understanding. But it’s hard to keep that light clear all the time, and we lose our way. We lose clarity, we allow events to knock us off balance. One of the obstacles that prevent us from seeing things as they really are may be described as ego. We need some sense of ego in order to survive, but when our egos start to dominate, when we perceive every knock-back as a slight, when our ambition to be in the spotlight, to win, to dominate takes over, we lose our balance and clarity, there is discord instead of harmony. We do not see things as they are. A second obstacle may be described as excessive attachment. How many of our friendships and relationships have been harmed by our wanting too much, or wanting what someone can’t give, or being eaten up by jealousy? This is a big one for me. How have we stunted ourselves by clinging to what is no longer useful or relevant? And then there’s the third obstacle, blind rejection. This is what happened with me and Israel: I seized upon one aspect of this very complex country, and I cut myself off. I cut it out of my heart. This stopped me from seeing the beauty in the people I was leaving behind, it made me blind to the work that peace-loving people of all communities were engaged in, and in rejecting everything about the country, I also rejected aspects of myself and my history. What purpose did this serve? And the fourth obstacle is fear, and in particular, fear of death, even if we don’t recognise it as such. Fear of change, fear of upset of status quo, fear of the unknown…How is fear holding you back right now? How is it holding me back? The more I think about life’s journey, the more this model makes sense. And as I treasure newly restored friendships and marvel at how beautiful my old friends are, I feel a little sad at the power of the negative to cloud our lives and prevent us from living life with an open heart, freedom from fear, integrity, and joy. How lucky I am to be experiencing all this now, to have time for the journey. Have a look at TKV Desikachar’s “The Heart of Yoga” for more about this.
So I’ll close now with a few thoughts that others wiser than me have had about human connection. And I urge you to polish up your connections and find a long lost friend today!
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
— Chief Seattle, 1855
“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.”
— Susan Sontag
“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe