GOING THE DISTANCE
How Connection Is Our Natural Process Of Becoming
Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.
- Henri Nouwen
NOW THAT we know just how separate we really are – not only from our world, but from ourselves as well – what do we do with that information?
Many people fear the prospect of being cut off from people, places, and things. Panic and anxiety well up in us at the idea that we might end up isolated… or die alone. Being cut off from needed relationships with others has been shown to negatively impact physical and mental health. In the 2014 paper “Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health? A Review on the Psychological Aspects of Loneliness”, Mushtaq, et al state with dire certainty:
Loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. It also leads to various physical disorders like diabetes, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease, hypertension . , obesity . . . physiological aging, cancer, poor hearing and poor health. Left untended, loneliness can have serious consequences for mental and physical health of people.
We seem to sense this instinctively, as many of us will do just about anything to avoid being alone. We flock to concerts, movies, nightclubs, standing in long lines for hours and paying good money for the opportunity to be crammed into a closed space with hundreds, even thousands of others also looking for a way to keep from feeling alone. Fear of loneliness keeps us living with abusers, and it makes us turn up the radio when we’re all by ourselves in the house. Open work spaces proliferate, as the belief that togetherness is superior to solitude permeates business practices. It’s a rare individual who is completely comfortable with their solitude, and those who aren’t may view “loners” as anti-social, even dangerous.
And now I’m telling you that we cannot ever possibly be in closest contact with anything or anyone? Even to me, it seems a little cold-hearted.
It certainly can be scary to realize just how separate we are by our very nature. When I first realized the truth of my own innate separateness, I felt suddenly cut off from everyone and everything around me – alone. Irredeemably alone. Any impression I may have had of connection with anything or anyone, now seemed like an elaborate illusion that I’d willingly constructed, for fear of what is: division, separation, distance from the things and people I loved the most.
I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. We all want to be in direct contact with our world. We want to be immediately involved with our sensations and interactions. We feel safer when we are held close by a loved one – or anyone. We like close encounters with our world, without gaps between ourselves and others. And we trust the most what we sense / experience “up close and personal”.
We are so trusting and dependent on our senses that even if we’re standing on a stage with a hypnotist and know we are being tricked into experiencing something that can’t possibly be true, it may not actually scare us. Even when we act and react in ways that are ridiculously vulnerable – e.g., taking off our clothes in front of an audience when the hypnotist tells us we’re feeling hot – if we experience the sensation of heat immediately, we’re not put off. We may actually enjoy the whole drama. We are safe in the belief that we are sensing our world directly. At least, that’s how it feels.
We want to believe our senses. We need to believe our senses. But now I’m telling you that everything you think about your ability to directly experience life isn’t even close to being true. For most of us, that’s not a pleasant thought. If we are really riddled with gaps and clefts and chasms (and we are), and if our senses aren’t ever really immediate (they’re not), what can we trust? What can we know? If we can’t believe our own eyes and ears, if we can’t reach out and touch something and prove to ourselves that it’s there, how can we ever know anything… at all? What do we do with that knowledge?
We can dismiss it, telling ourselves that it’s just an exaggeration that’s much ado about almost nothing. We can shrug our shoulders and say, “Yeah, whatever,” refusing to believe it matters. Or we can face the void and take a closer look. We can find out how in the world we manage to live our lives as fully as we do in an essentially fragmented state. It’s scary, but I believe if we really dive into the substance of our innate separation and examine how our physical systems handle distance, we can find useful clues about how to live. There’s something else at work with all these holes which makes us whole – another piece of this puzzle that’s every bit as native and central to our lived experience as our separate state.
That piece is Process – the human body’s unfolding interaction of electricity and neurochemicals, the interplay of axons and dendrites and astrocytes and what happens in the space between them. It’s the continuous networked interactions of data leaping myriad gaps to convert signals into information transfer… proceeding to convert that information to knowledge and then into action… which results in yet more data detection. Like the air we breathe, but cannot see… like the solid ground beneath us we take for granted… like the reliability of an ATM… our bodies make the process of connecting across distance look so easy, it might as well not even exist. Indeed, until you started reading this book, it may have never occurred to you that the any separation existed in you at all.