Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sacred Space

When I wrote down the stories for my book Earth Divine – Adventures of an Everyday Mystic I wanted to get across the idea that if we pay close attention to the incredible world that surrounds us and form true relationship with it, it responds in miraculous ways. Focused communication with people and pets as well as trees, birds, our wild four-legged friends, even rocks hold messages of wisdom and guidance. They offer us a sense of comfort and belonging, but only when we learn to be present and listen deeply. By staying present I found out it is possible to connect on levels I would never have believed until I knew the moment of NOW and realized the impermanence of things. I discovered the sacredness of direct contact and communion with all my relations.

Technology offers contact with humans. It is now possible to send messages to almost every part of the world. It also isolates us unless we have a dedicated intention to get out there and be with it all. What’s often missing is communion.

There are many advantages to technological access. I understand there are times when we want to connect with what the internet offers. At the same time if technology takes away from real-time connection with other humans and the world we are one with, where are we headed? Without down time how can we expect our imaginations to soar and dream and create? Without going outdoors for extended periods how can we have any hope of receiving essential messages from our non-human friends – messages that enhance our time here on earth? We are not using technology wisely. Before you tune me out, please listen to this five minute TEDx talk: https://youtu.be/UNGvhO8XNrE

I’ve been thinking a lot about cell phones – the kind that do everything but get you dressed in the morning. Cell phones are my biggest pet peeve. Why? Because they usually go everywhere with their owners and get in the way of live human interaction. I love the scent and sensuality of people – the little plastic attention robbers that take people away from where they are in present time, not so much. I want to know who you are today and who you hope to be tomorrow, what you care about, and what motivates or stirs you. I want to hear it with my ears and see it in your eyes.

I refuse to have anything but a simple phone. Friends and acquaintances snicker at my antique, my dinosaur of the techy age. If my phone, which does no more than connect me with (hopefully) a live voice or the occasional text message, is a simple dinosaur then so am I. I am happy to compare myself to those ancient creatures who lived as peaceable giants, who fed on plants and small fish, in families, herds, packs, and in strong social communities.

An article from Scientific American, written by Helen Lee Lin, social psychologist, says that the mere visual presence of a cell phone reduces the intimacy, trust, and empathy of a relationship. This is based on studies rather than biased opinion. You may read more here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-your-cell-phone-hurts-your-relationships/

I’ve felt the punch of being in the same space with someone on cell phone Wi-Fi just as I imagine many other dinosaurs have. We may as well be by ourselves if the other person is more interested in what’s happening on the phone than they are in the person they’re sitting next to.

When two or more people sit in the same close space using their devices, MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle calls it being “alone together.” She says, “Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends, and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But this relentless connection leads to a deep solitude…as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down…we’re lonely but we’re afraid of intimacy.” Listen to her TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together

I’ve observed people having lunch together, engaged with their phones so much as to not know what else is going on around them let alone with the person they arrived with. Would they notice if someone nearby was choking? I’ve witnessed those in attendance at a concert in glazed-over obsession with a tiny lit screen instead of paying attention to the people on stage. As a performer myself, I know this has got to be hard for any performer who feeds off the energy of the crowd. What we don’t realize is how much we need tangible meaningful connection in any interaction. Phones are not only a distraction but an adverse step in the direction of forgetting how great and healthful real eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart communication and connection can be.

It can be too tempting to hide behind your little black box and not have to deal with the feelings and musings of another living, breathing, vulnerable person. A lack of face to face contact leads to complacency, anti-social behavior, loneliness, and erosion of emotional health. In Psychology today, Christopher Bergland wrote, “Phone calls and digital communication, with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression." These days people have fewer close friendships, decreasing social skills (especially children), reduced language skills, and increased social media bullying (both adult and youth), and technology addiction. As a society, we are forgetting HOW to talk to each other.

Communication via technology tends to be quick, short, and impersonal. Years of research proves that ninety-three percent of communication is non-verbal. In online conversation, you have no way of knowing for sure how your recipient will receive and interpret your message. If you “talk” via the “waves” it’s too easy to react and say something you will later regret. You may be present with your own response but fail to be present with that of the other person. There is no voice inflection or tone. No body language or facial expression and little chance of coming to an understanding if a comment is misconstrued.

Growing up, I remember the mailman stopping by for coffee at the homes of his friends. He lingered and joyful chatter filled the rafters. My family had dinner with friends and nothing interfered with the flow of catching up, who did what when, and how it all went. The smiling faces caused by intimate conversation imprinted on my mind: Mom and Dad, Mr. and Mrs. Shea, Myrtle Stone, The Halls, my high school pals, and so many more. Most are gone but they live on in my heart because I paid attention when they were with me. They told jokes, shared concerns, offered praises, sympathy, and congratulations. When we were together it was rude to answer a ringing phone, turn on a television, or play the radio unless it was turned way down. Two or four or ten people engaged with each other full on, telling stories, listening - hearts buzzing in tune with each other. It didn’t matter if the story was new or had been told a thousand times. What mattered was connection and I always came away with a sense of being supported and necessary to the whole. The place where two or more gathered became sacred space. The same for solo moments. Alone time was a sacred time without distraction for inner contemplation, soul-searching, rejuvenation, and much needed quiet and rest from the cares of the world.

In yoga, I learned the ancient Sanskrit greeting Namaste – a term that means, “the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you.” Yoga philosophy urges to do no harm. With these yoga teachings in mind I dream of a world where we care enough about each other and ourselves to enliven the sacred in our relationships and nurture them by making room in our scheduled lives for at least half an hour a day of intentional, meaningful conversation where we put aside all technology in favor of bonding with those we love. I envision when two or more are gathered we revere that time and space as sacred. Light a candle, hold hands, link arms, share a sunset. Even the non-verbal can be intimate and meaningful when technology doesn’t stand between us. When we are outdoors, alone or with others, we take time to quiet our thoughts and listen to the wisdom that waits in the hollows, the mountains, the creeks, the birdsong, and the serenity of stillness.

May peace and wonderful conversations be part of your every day!