The typical U.S. lifestyle has become increasingly more isolated, thanks in part to our iPods, the Internet, and communing online. If we become too attached to our impersonal, electronic gadgets, we run the risk of disconnecting ourselves from those we love and the world at large, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, a weakened immune systems and disease. Not good! To reinforce a feeling of wholeness, a connection with the Earth and those that live on it, it makes sense to unplug, take the focus outside of yourself and reach out to the world around you. Simple acts of giving, including spending face-to-face time with friends or nurturing a pet, can help boost feelings of well-being and add richness to our lives. Holistic health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, recommends following these eight processes of connection:
1. Nature and Earth. Whether it's a lunch break in the park, a walk in your neighborhood, or a long hike in the wilderness, connect with nature and observe the wonders of the earth. Gardening is another nurturing way to commune with the earth, and the process of weeding, planting, and tending a garden or flowerbed can be spiritually rewarding, as well.
2. Animals. My cat, Soleil, proves this one. She's just shy of her fifth birthday, and I can't imagine life without her. Research shows that people with pets have less illness than those without. Pet owners also recover from illness faster and tend to be happier. They are a responsibility, but it's a highly worthy duty. They ask for love, attention, and care (and food, water, and maybe a litter box) and in return, they'll give you years of unconditional love. When I'm sad, Soleil knows, and she crawls up on my chest and sticks her nose in my face or licks my hand. And I feel better.
3. Family. We can't live with them, we can't live without them! Like it or not, we want and need the intimate support of our families, no matter how large, small or dysfunctional. Most of us don't have the large extended family or "tribe," and if we do, most of them may live far away from us. We can, however, extend our families in some ways. The members of our church or spiritual community become like family. For others, it may be another type of social network. For me, my local running community feels like an extended family, with warm generous souls of all ages - from teenagers to veteran runners in their 70s - all coming together to do something they enjoy. Which brings me to...
4. Community. People from all walks of life coming together for a common goal. We must often work to create this community, but it's vital. Your neighborhood, sports team, book club, or any other social club can play a key role in an enriched life.
5. Service. True service means giving your time, talent, and/or treasure with no expectation of getting something in return. To give of oneself in this way can bring us out of our ego-driven mindset and into the world at large. In addition to helping to further a worthy cause, service is a way to acknowledge that we are all one, and that the happiness of one can positively affect the happiness of others. And the happier we are, the healthier we become, individually and collectively.
6. Loving. To love is to experience connection in its highest, purest form. Not to be confused with romantic love, which is one aspect of love, but unconditional love can be shared by all - between friends, coworkers, family, and the man on the street. We have an unlimited supply to give, and the more we dish it out, the more we receive in return. I grew up in the South, where strangers almost always wave and say Hello to one another, whether on foot or in their car. It's endearing, and appreciated.
7. Touch. We need to touch and be touched. Research shows that individuals deprived of physical contact are insecure, poorly adjusted, and more prone to illness. Our society runs risk of becoming touch-deprived; the result of which can lead to more violence. It's easy to do: a hug, a touch on the shoulder, a squeeze of the hand, all make the giver and receiver feel good.
8. Higher Power. Call it what you want:God, Buddha, Allah, the Goddess, The Force, or just plain consciousness, but there's a power operating in the Universe that's greater than ourselves, and we are a part of It. Believe whatever and however you choose, but know that those that consider themselves a part of, and supported by, a higher power tend to live less fearfully and more healthfully that those who don't. There's a reason the 12-steps programs work. They call into play this energy, whatever we choose to call it.