Do you feel disconnected, untethered, or adrift? Have you lost your community or opportunities to make meaningful connections? Do you miss your in-person group classes and events?
I have felt this way many times over the years, even before COVID and the world of Zoom. As a young girl, I craved being included. I wanted so badly to “fit in.” I was not super athletic, I didn’t have older siblings to help me, and my parents divorced when I was 18. During my young adult years, I had lost my way and felt disconnected from my family and my small town community. I went to college searching for a group of friends to be a part of, maybe a boyfriend who would love and accept me for who I was, and a degree or work that was meaningful to fill the void in my heart. I didn’t have the language to explain what I was searching for at the time, but now as an adult I understand that I was seeking the feelings of love and belonging.
Humans need humanity. We need each other. We need to belong. We are relational beings on a search for others—for love and friendship, for the bonds that endure.
Brené Brown shares with us in her new book, Atlas of the Heart,
“Love and belonging are irreducible needs for all people. In the absence of these experiences, there is always suffering.
True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
Reading and understanding this definition has helped me identify the pain and suffering I have felt when I didn’t belong. To find true belonging I have found myself either creating connections with individuals or joining groups. Some of those connections have turned into my most treasured relationships and others have dissolved. Although I still find myself wanting to be included and “fit in,” I am learning that the most important sense of belonging is with myself.
How Do We Cultivate Meaningful Connections?
I looked again to Brené Brown’s grounded theory research on cultivating meaningful connections. She defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Her research supports three major actions that support cultivating meaningful connections.
1. Develop Grounded Confidence. This includes a commitment to learning and improving; feeling embodied and connected to Self; practicing courage, compassion, and empathy; and staying curious.
I am now aware of why I was so attracted to practicing yoga in my early 20s when I was searching for a place to belong. Although I was usually many years younger than the average yogi in the class, I felt welcomed and supported by likeminded seekers. I was inspired to practice and learn more about how yoga honors unity and diversity. It was during these early years when I began the journey of creating meaningful connections with others who helped me learn how to practice the ability to be present with my whole Self and all of the messiness I felt in my body, mind, and spirit, as well as the ability to be present with others in community.
Has there been a time when have you were curious and stayed connected to learning about yourself or something new? Did practicing compassion and empathy help create a more meaningful connection?
2. Practice the Courage to Walk Alongside. This includes practicing non-judgment, being relational, setting and respecting boundaries, and sharing “power with” and “power to.”
As I read and learn about this second category, I am reminded of how important and powerful it is to walk alongside someone and honor our differences without judgment, blame, or shame. We can be of service to others and connect with compassion, empathy, and non-judgment.
Although I did not grow up learning these skills or watching others model this behavior often, I have slowly begun to develop them as an adult. I am inspired to change the narrative and share “power with” and “power to” in the classes I teach and the communities I serve. Instead of telling others what to do and how to do it, I invite them to listen within and practice in a way that is non-harming and respects their own boundaries and comfort level. Honoring our differences allows more people to feel included. I believe this is what makes the practice of yoga accessible to all.
Is there a time when someone walked alongside you? Did they honor your boundaries and listen without judgement? How did it make you feel? Do you feel more seen and connected?
3. Practice Story Stewardship. This includes honoring a story as sacred. It is also knowing and applying the language of human experience and emotion; listening, discovering, and staying curious with the person who is sharing the story, and building narrative trust by believing, acknowledging, and affirming the storyteller.
Learning about this practice reminds me how important it is to ask questions and actively listen to someone else’s story without assuming or taking over the narrative. I have become more conscious of the trust someone has given me when they take time to tell their story. I am also working on staying present with the person who is talking instead of hijacking the story and shifting the focus to me.
Think about a time when someone told you about their experience. Were you able to stay curious with the person who was sharing the story? Did you give space for them to share and speak their truth? How did listening this way affirm the other person and create a more meaningful connection?
Connecting to Our Community
As I shared in the beginning, many of us feel isolated and disconnected from each other. Although I still struggle with the desire to “fit in,” I now have the language to help me understand what I am feeling and remember how important it is to be myself and invite others to do the same.
Coming together in community is healing for the mind and body. Think about times you’ve sung, danced, exercised, prayed, etc. with a group versus by yourself. The energy and feeling of togetherness is palpable. There is power and wisdom in community.
I transitioned to teaching classes on Zoom as a temporary solution to the pandemic. I didn’t think meaningful connections could be made through a computer screen. But I was wrong! I have been pleasantly surprised to find over the past year+ how the sense of community is felt when we practice together online. The energy is there. The feeling of how everyone commits to showing up for themselves and each other is there.
My online studio is no longer a “temporary solution.” It is a place where people can come, wherever they are in the world, to practice yoga and learn together. If you haven’t joined us yet, I would like to invite you to our Resilience & Grace community. Email me for a coupon code for your first class free, and start to make new meaningful connections.
OM Shanti (Peace)