Connection Is a Social Muscle
Most of us function better with some amount of solitude – time to collect our thoughts, digest our experiences, and settle into our bodies. But the new normal that followed in the wake of the pandemic seems to have perpetuated a degree of isolation for many, even those living with spouses and family under one roof.
As a counselor, I have the unique privilege of speaking with people from all over the country, from most age groups, with different careers and personal circumstances, and I often spot trends. One of the trends spotted in 2021 is a biting loneliness that many clients are confessing to, often in hushed tones, embarrassed, as if it were a personal failure. We seem to think of loneliness as a reflection of our worthiness of connection. How untrue and harsh that stance is. Yet even among those with thriving families, healthy communities, and strong partnership, this theme of loneliness is popping up. Why?
We could blame technology, though I consider our uses of technology to be a result of our disintegrating social fabric, not a cause.
From my vantage point as a counselor, it appears that loneliness is one of the symptoms of a culture digesting massive change, and its naturally resulting grief.
Rearrange or take away any part of our social fabric, anywhere, and you leave a hole. The pandemic left a lot of holes. Filling those holes and reconnecting all the threads takes time. And in the meantime, we feel the absences. The absences may existentially sting. We might grow a little numb to counteract the pain of the sting.
Connection and togetherness are social muscles that can atrophy from disuse. It's not that we forget how to have conversations, or hold parties, or gather around the dinner table. We may go through the motions while the felt act of connecting does not complete. Connection requires an energetic reach – a “latching” that we do forget (or innocently, unknowingly drift away from,) and must exercise to remember.
Pre-pandemic, we may have taken much of our social connection for granted, not really understanding how meaningful each and every player in our communities was. Post pandemic, we may have successfully repaired the tears in the fabric, replacing the holes with new material, new stitching. But we may not yet have forged all the new energetic connections. It takes time.
The root of the word latch is the Germanic word læccan, "to grasp or seize." It implies less of a passive receiving, and more of an act of drawing in to oneself. Interestingly, the Sanskrit word for planet, graha, also means “to grasp.” We are often in the “grasp” of the planets. We are in their electromagnetic field. They latch onto us. We are in relationship to the planets, just as we are in relationship to the entire natural world. All relationships have their magnetism and part of our evolutionary practice, post-pandemic, is to strengthen our energetic reach to receive, draw in to ourselves, the connection being offered.
One of the reasons this energetic connection takes time is that the grief caused by absences takes time to digest. And during grief our energy moves inward, so the outward movement of actively drawing in connection requires much more personal energy. If you are feeling particularly lonely, consider finding ways to actively process grief. It might help to have the support of a well-resourced friend or therapist or group. Many are finding that their old stand-by’s are no longer available though, and in this case, the natural world is a great and compassionate receiver of our active grief.
As we approach the holiday season, ask yourself, how can I pro-actively exercise my ability to receive connection with those whom I love? What is my role in strengthening our connection? What must I grieve first, to have energy available for connecting?