To connect: it is something we do all the time. We measure speed of connection. We measure speed of bytes and bits. We enter, and change, and re-enter passwords. If we are so connected, why do we feel so torn apart? Authentic connection: it does not require a password.
Students in my class on “how to cope with hard things” recently said, “Social media, and the access to information that we have through the Internet, mean that we can access so much information that it is difficult to be able to hear anything with any kind of depth or any kind of substance. It comes in tweets and sound bites. What people say is taken out of context.”
If we explore reality by means of the screen - however big that screen measures for you - it can become quite noisy. If my email inbox is empty, I can respond immediately to a message. When it comes, I can be attending to the person I am writing to. I can enjoy the interaction and appreciate the exchange. I think my maximum e-mail inbox experience to date was some 3000 unanswered messages in the inbox. If there are unanswered messages in the inbox, it is as though each of those voices speaks to me simultaneously, and it is difficult to hear any individual voice above the noise. It becomes hard to answer anyone.
What is it that we are able to hear above the noise? What is it that we filter out?
My students felt this quality, that social media has so many voices simultaneously. They also felt that the internet gives so much access to information, but it is such very surface information that it is impossible to really know anything. They felt they are receiving access through the Internet to a great deal of nothing. I have felt the same way about TV channels: a hundred times nothing is still nothing….
My students asked how to work with this situation when the attention is drawn in so many directions, by so many voices, and yet, often, there seems to be so little being said. With all this on-line talking, so many people feel that they can never really be heard.
The on-line talking: it does seem, often, to be a great deal of noise. I have the sense that, in some way, the noise is itself a kind of scream, a collective human scream trying to be heard in advertisements for black Friday sales and news stories of the most recent way we cause each other harm. Sometimes, the interacting with life through a screen of some kind serves, in some ways, to mask one's own scream. How is it possible to have such high speed connection and yet feel so unheard, disconnected, and alone?
I offer for our consideration that connection – of a kind that feeds us deeply - does not require a password. True connection happens by means of the stillness, by means of the silence, and not through the sound.
Hindu tradition knows the word “bhakti”. It is often rendered in English as “love”. Most commonly, it is used to name a relationship between a Hindu practitioner and one of the Hindu deities - such as Krishna, for example - where there is a love relationship between the two. So this idea of “love” is also closely associated with respect, honour and devotion, and a deep spiritual connection which describes a form of “worship”, in the literal sense of treating something – or someone - in a way which acknowledges its “worthiness”, or worth.
The Hindu idea of “bhakti”, or love, understood as this kind of deep spiritual connection, grows out of a thousand year older idea of worship named by the Sanskrit verb “YAJ-“, to offer, to show worthiness by giving. The noun “yajna” names the ancient Indian fire offering. Food was placed on the fire in order that the smoke would carry it up to the realm of the gods. It is connecting in a deep spiritual way by means of offering, by means of giving. We honour, respect and love by giving offerings that represent the offering of the self. All offerings given to the one we love are offerings of the self.
The word “bhakti”, or love in this deep spiritual way, is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root BHAJ-: it means “to participate”. What is the defining quality of this deep spiritual connection? It is to participate. The Hindu deity, such as Krishna, for example, is experienced as participating in the life of the devotee. The devotee connects by making the offering, the gift, to the god.
The quality of the connection we have with ourselves - the quality of the connection we have with others - depends on our capacity “to participate”. It depends on our ability for offering, with this attitude of showing worthiness and respect.
How do we participate?
Can we witness ourselves? Can we witness those we love as we engage the journey of being alive? Can we see…can we feel…can we hear the shifting, changing textures inside one another as we engage a journey, with life, together?
There are relationships that I continue with the help of text messaging or the help of email. The means of connection, I would say, is less important than how deeply we are able to witness and perceive the experience of life itself as it unfolds inside of ourselves, inside of the one that we love, and in the dynamic of this shifting and changing relationship between these three: self, other, and the life itself that we share together.
Long distance face time and phone calls can be a way to deeply connect in the same way that such gadgets with screens can also be a way to cover up and mask our screams. I would say it is not the vehicle of this sound, but rather the texture of the silence, which indicates how deeply are we able to hear one another, how deeply are we able to see and be heard.
Can we participate with each other as we engage the experience of life itself together?
The gadgets – the phones and such, the objects themselves – are, in theory, very neutral. It is how we engage them that is either skillful or unskillful, that either builds our connections or builds our walls…as thick and deep as fire walls.
Often, I find that the depth, and subtlety, and texture of connecting is more complete, however, if an interaction does take place as people without the intermediary of keyboards or screens. True connection - the participating – often happens most articulately, I find, in a sharing of silence that comes from a being together in person.
What we most need to say, what most deeply needs to be heard, often doesn't require words at all. It does require a connecting to life itself as we bear witness to it in our experience of ourselves, and others, as persons participating in being alive together.
It is not mechanical, although from time to time it may suffer from system breakdowns, or communication system errors that may require a type of re-start, as we find one another again after a period of harshness or distance.
The finding of one another again happens, though, not by means of a password. It happens by means of the giving and receiving of an open heart and an open hand.
The Hindu idea of “bhakti” – honour, respect, devotion, showing “worthiness” and love - is seated, as I have said, in the ancient Indian ritual fire offering: the offering of life-giving foods on the fire so that it would be carried by the smoke to the gods.
All First Nations traditions in my awareness, and many contemporary practice traditions, also will make a smoke or incense offering of some kind to connect with spirit. The first nations land in Canada that I am speaking to you from is Mikmaq land. Here, by tradition, it would be a sage, cedar or a sweet grass offering made with fire, and one would give tobacco. We connect to one another, we connect to the spirit of one another, by means of giving.
In old India, they said, the capacity to give of one’s self defines what it is to be human: of all the animals susceptible to being offered in the fire offering only, the human can both give and be that which is given. There is no evidence in the ancient literature that humans were ever literally offered on the fire to the gods. It is a tradition where food stuffs, that which gives life – rice, barley, milk, clarified butter or ghee, the sweetness of honey - all of these are understood as being symbolically representative of the person.
Anything that we give, with an attitude of honour, respect and devotion, we give as an offering of ourselves. It is a giving of ourselves, a letting go of ourselves, in order to permit the deep, spiritual connection to take place.
We give and receive with an open hand. This is what it is to connect: to give and receive with the open heart and open hand, to offer one's self in stillness and silence as we bear witness to the unfolding of life in ourselves and in those that we love.
It is perhaps the attitude of honor, the sense of respect for ourselves and others that characterizes the quality of deep connection. We honor life when we hear what is said in the silence beyond words.
If you are feeling hollow, empty or disconnected, unseen and unheard - that there is noise in the online world that smothers, or covers, or silences - if you feel alone, and it is not clear to you who would receive what you have to give with your outstretched hand, if this quality of online connecting is so noisy, it leaves the inside feeling fragmented and somehow disconnected or falling apart….
I bow and humbly offer the suggestion that you seek a way to connect to the natural world.
We can do this in natural landscape.
We can do this in a human landscape.
As we come to the semester’s end, many of the students in my class who posed the question will finish time of service or volunteer work that they are doing in hospitals, in daycare centers, or with senior citizens. You could find a way to connect like that as well. It would also be possible to find volunteer opportunities in animal shelters, for example, if you feel inspired to offer kindness to the four-footed ones and somehow feel shy to offer kindness to two-footed ones.
Connect to life itself by bearing witness, by participating, in the experience of living. Fostering and supporting life in others will help you to feel fostered and supported. Connecting to life itself through our experience of others can help our inside fragments to begin to feel whole again. As we reconnect to life in the outside world, we reconnect to life in the inside world.
If this volunteer activity is not a fit for you in your context, then feed birds: offer food, as an offering to life itself, and let it be carried through the skies. Foster and support life of the winged-ones. Walk in the woods. Look at the stars. Water plants. Make offering of life itself, in some way, to that which is alive.
By this honor and respect of life, we ourselves will come to feel more deeply honored and respected. In this silence, bearing witness to the unfolding of life itself, we ourselves will come to feel more deeply heard.
If you have a question that you would like us to think about together, please let me know: you can reach me at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2018, Adela Sandness