When I was in yoga class recently we all chanted OM at the beginning and end of class, as we always do. It is a single sound, but when chanted aloud in unison it has a resonance, a shared vibration, which travels throughout the room in a beautiful way, connecting us all. Hearing this "om" and feeling its vibration in my body and throughout the room reminded me of the invisible connections and interdependency that we all share. Yet why is it that we often feel so disconnected?
As much as we have made major advances with recent technology, in some ways we are more disconnected than ever. We are disconnected from each other, from ourselves, and from our planet.
You need go no further than a restaurant or the dinner table or perhaps your own bedroom to see how cell phones and other devices have taken us away from face-to-face interactions. While in some ways social media allows us to stay in touch with hundreds or more through likes and comments, how much less do we pick up the phone and have an old fashioned conversation? I have talked with so many people who have hundreds of Facebook friends but feel lonely nonetheless.
We are also disconnected from ourselves. In this fast paced sound byte society (at least where I live) it is so easy to be on overdrive and miss the slowing down that allows us the space to connect inward. There is so much to catch our attention at any given moment on our phones, computers and devices, and the added hit of the feel good brain chemical dopamine that accompanies this contributes to our developing mini addictions not only to our own busyness but to the buzz of our electronics. We often miss the opportunity to connect in with our internal experiences such as noticing what is happening in our bodies, noticing how we are feeling, and noticing what we might need in the moment to nurture our well-being.
We have also become increasingly disconnected from our natural world. With the processing of foods, and the hurried way that we often eat, we miss the connection of our food to the earth from which it came. We drive more and walk less. When we do spend time outdoors, the phone is usually right there along side, and sometimes front and center.
Now I am not suggesting that we need to chant, or go to yoga class (though it might not hurt), or unfriend everyone from Facebook, or lock up our devices (maybe once in a while...). But there are some things we can do to connect more to our communities, our selves and our natural world. Here are a few suggestions that take only a few minutes in your day:
1. Take several minutes throughout the day to pause. Think of this as a moment to take inventory. Notice physical sensations in your body, and the sound of your own breathing. Take note of emotions that you are feeling. What might be hiding just under the surface if you pause long enough to listen?
2. Reach out to someone today and make a face-to-face connection. Sit in the presence of a family member or co-worker or friend and notice how they are really doing. Listen attentively, take in their body language, the sound of their voice, and what they are communicating in the silence between the words. Notice the invisible ties that connect you, and how sharing space together fosters this connection. You might even do this with the grocery clerk ringing up your groceries, or with a pet.
3. Eat a meal slowly and mindfully. Take a moment to think about where the food came from, how and where it was grown, and by whom. Close your eyes and savor the flavors. Put away your phone and computer for just a few minutes.
4. Spend some time in nature. I dare you to stand in the sunshine with your full presence, or listen to the sounds of the birds, or watch the branches of a tree dancing in the breeze and not feel some connection to nature.
It doesn't take much time to come back into connection, but it does take intentional and repeated effort. As often as you check your phone or email, consider taking one or two minutes and using your five senses to engage with the world around you, or turn your focus toward your inner self. We need not abandon our technology, but we can be more mindful of stepping away from it from time to time.
For me, discovering the power of"Om" means looking no further than my own window and hearing the rain now as it falls on the roof and nourishes the earth. It is a coming h-om-e to myself and the world around me. How might you discover the power of "om?"
Beth Kurland is a clinical psychologist and author of the book "The Transformative Power of Ten Minutes: An Eight Week Guide to Reducing Stress and Cultivating Well-Being".