Of our three innate drives – to be competent, self-determining and connected – it is ‘connected’ that resonates least with people.
Being competent is very clearly something we desire, and being self-determining is increasingly desirable as we realise that it means not having our red zone triggered by someone or some event, making our behaviour much more determined by us, giving us choice in how we respond. The increase in the use of mindfulness reflects this desire. It is through the practice of mindfulness that we can increase the range of circumstances in which we are self-determining.
Connection, though, is trickier. Connection splits into four domains - connection with place, with ourselves, with other people and with a larger purpose.
We don’t immediately see these connections as being important, we don’t see what these connections do for us. Therefore, we don’t strive to be more deeply connected.
However, for children severely damaged by a poor upbringing the very first thing they crave is a safe place, a place where they are physically safe. For most people this is not really an issue, so we don’t think about it.
We largely take for granted that we are not well-connected with ourselves – low self-esteem, the impostor syndrome, anxiety – are just seen as how we are as humans and we don’t immediately aspire to being better. Yes, it is a shame that we are like this, but it is just the way we humans are.
Similarly, we connect with others in many superficial ways – wholly transactional or where our red zones are triggered, and we dislike or are bored or we feel superior to the other, or we avoid connection altogether. Once more, this seems just to be the way things are with no urgent drive to change.
We are mostly driven by conventional desires to be successful, to be well-known or to be admired by others. These are all external goals given to us by others, by society more generally. Again, although we might talk about having a higher purpose, there is very little hunger to seek it out and then live our lives to draw closer to its fulfilment.
It is only through experiencing greater connection that we learn to value it, and to seek more of it. A student in the presence of an outstanding teacher – a teacher practicing encounter – will go out of their way not to disappoint or let down that teacher so that the experience of deep connection continues. And such a teacher will have a lifelong impact.
The unconditional regard of the student for the teacher increases the teacher’s own mental well-being, improving their connection with themselves.
Frame these interactions within the larger purpose of helping others to grow into healthy adults and we can rebuild the appreciation of what it means to be connected.
John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.