One of the greatest challenges we face as we travel the world in these vehicles of flesh and bone is that it is easy – too easy – to feel separate from every other being or thing that surrounds us. That is my personal definition of hell: when we forget that we are connected to all beings, all things. Conversely, I think heaven happens when we remember that glorious interconnection.
One of the biggest problem with the economic downturn is that it has created an unfathomable number of disconnects: people are being disconnected from their jobs, disconnected from their homes, disconnected from the wealth and security built throughout their careers. And when families and couples face economic hardship, they often disconnect from each other.
As I've mentioned before, when people lose their fortunes, however big or small, they often experience a sense of profound shame. That shame causes people to disconnect from the world and withdraw to a quiet corner where nobody can see what has happened to them. I am certainly guilty of doing just that.
It's easy to give in to the impulse to disconnect, especially due to the societal shifts that have occurred during the last few generations. Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, we became the "Me Generation". I think it culminated right around the time George W. Bush was defending tax cuts for the rich by saying, "It's YOUR money! You should keep it". Those in control wanted to defuse the power that is created when people band together collectively for a common goal. They wanted us to believe that there were people different from us who were trying to steal what we had worked so hard to earn, and that we needed to cling to our own personal assets and distrust collectivism. It was a ruse that hurt the interests and needs of the common American – and unfortunately, it worked.
In these challenging economic times, we need to band together more than ever. Sadly, many of us have forgotten how.
A few generations ago, we lived in our front yards and on our front porches where we could easily interact with our neighbors. Now, safely ensconced in menacing SUVs, we drive into our homes from the back, or quickly pull our car into the garage and close the automatic door. The modern home design is set up like an island, separated from our neighbors, who in turn separate themselves from us. We grab our money from ATMs, we buy online, and automate our lives in ways that severely limit our interaction with other humans.
Every day, it becomes more and more apparent to me that the only way we will survive as a society is to find ways to reconnect.
First, we must start by reconnecting with ourselves. Between TV, internet, and cell phones that have evolved into mini portable computers, we are constantly bombarded with distractions that connect us to everything but our own selves! I have chosen meditation, yoga and journaling as a way to turn off the world for a little while each day. I seek out quiet moments when I can simply sit and think and be. You may find other techniques that work better for you, but I hope you'll find some way to take at least a few minutes each day to turn off the world and just listen to yourself.
Everything grows outward from your personal reconnect. Find ways to reconnect with your family. Start with one evening a week, and turn off all the electronic distraction devices. Spend time together. Play a game, talk, go for a family walk under the trees, eat a meal together.
From family, move toward a greater connection with your community. Find organizations that can help you while also allowing you to help others in need. Find groups that share common goals and dreams. If you can't find a group that suits your tastes and inclinations, create one!
This is the best time to make the shift toward connection, because one of the blessings the economic downturn has given many of is the gift of extra time. Much of my career, I worked, 60-, 70-, even 80-hour weeks. Nowadays, I could categorize my career as a part-time affair, but I've downsized my lifestyle and I'm OK with it. Now that I'm in my 50s, I regard time as more precious than money, and I want to spend it wisely.
Be generous with your time. Be generous with yourself. Use some of your new-found spare time to connect with others. It will help you through your challenges - and it will help those around you, too.
“From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other - above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” – Albert Einstein