Do you feel lonely? Loneliness is the plague of the 21st century.
Despite having more tools for connection than we’ve ever had, we are more isolated than we have ever been. Current medical research tells us that loneliness is a major contributor to mental illness and chronic physical disease. We are relational right down to our DNA; just read Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief.
How do you feel less alone in a Western culture of rugged individualism, competition, and comparison, where most of us have more online interactions than human interactions? Try becoming an intimate participant in your world as a vulnerable observer. Okay, that sounds great, but how?
Learn to attend to the world around you – witness, notice
Taking on the role of observer is an action of consciousness, a move that pierces through your preconceptions and stereotypes about others and the world. It forces you to move from being a tourist safely sequestered in the predictable comfort and security of your attitudes and beliefs that separate you from the spiritual marrow of the world around you. Instead, you leave this refuge and recognize that your knowledge, values, and methods of engagement are extensions of your personal psychology and cultural system.
In simpler terms, when you place your attention on others around you as a curious observer, witnessing who is in front of you, rather than who you imagine is in front of you, you are pulled out of your loneliness and isolation into a present, intimate moment with another person, even if that person is a stranger to you.
Attending to the “other” requires you to honor and respect the person or community, who have much to teach about survival and resilience. Listen and learn about their worldview and traditions. Ask what you have done (and can do) to actively invite discussion and share their beliefs and practices. Consider the historical context of the person or people in front of you, connecting psychological issues with problems of poverty, racism, and discrimination, among others. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and set your intention to witness and learn.
Witnessing means you understand that the world does not exist as a thing-in-itself, separate from you and independent of interpretation; rather, it comes into being only in and through your interpretations.
Traveling to someone’s “world” requires suspending your emotional boundaries between self and other. By traveling to their “world,” you can understand what it is to be them and what it is to be yourself in their eyes. Only when you have traveled to each other’s “worlds” are you fully revealed to each other.
Perceive your relatedness – seeing through bias
Noticing others in this way means you are willing to be vulnerable. In order to notice others, you must also expose yourself, and you will be taken somewhere you couldn’t otherwise get to. Not only are you as the observer vulnerable, but so are those whom you observe.
When you see through the eyes of your vulnerability, you engage the world through what my mentor Dr. Helen Lorenz calls “improvisation, discovering the shape of creation along the way, rather than pursuing a vision already defined…instead our visions are products of growth and adaptation–not fixed, but emergent.”
You must enter the divide between what you know and what you don’t know, and dare to be transformed by the encounter with the other. Going other means going different. You become more intimately related and connected to life and to your own authenticity as you leave the isolation of your fixed identity to communion with multiple identities, and become tethered to all of humanity.
Perceptual flexibility – transcendent function
Witnessing the other isn’t an interaction that only happens out in the world; it is a dialogue that also happens on your internal terrain. Perceptual flexibility is fluidity of mind in which the magic of the visible world is revealed by releasing your preconceived notions and nurturing fresh vision.
You learn to tolerate and embody contradictory perspectives and antagonistic opposites inside yourself as well as out in the world in order to give birth to new energies. This process of engagement with your deepest subjectivity and your connection to others is itself a spiritual practice.
Jung has described a process he called the “transcendent function” that can arise out of extreme conflicts within an individual. Jung noticed that if the tension of opposite possibilities in a person can be held, if both sides can be heard and symbolized, there is often a third possibility from conflict, a new image that unites the opposites in some previously unimaginable way, giving you a rush of new energy and creative possibility. The self that emerges from this resolution is more aware of its multiplicity, unconscious edges, silenced possibilities. Conflicts are accepted, perhaps even treasured, as periods of psychological insight and “soul-making.”
So what does this have to do with loneliness? As a vulnerable observer, you see depth in your social landscape and the possibility for rupture and remaking of who you are at your core through observation and sharing yourself with others. You feel that you are being held within, held by, and always touched by the human community, earth and air. You are “in” the biosphere as opposed to “on” a planet. A profound sense of interconnectivity replaces loneliness even if just for a moment.
The imaginal self – numinosity, oracular knowing
A vulnerable observer finds one’s niche in the Earth’s living system and occupies it actively, encountering the soul of the world in the process. Through your daily, conscious observation, you listen with your imagination to hear the ephemeral speaking in and through the ordinary landscape of daily life. Are you familiar with the saying, that “if a message comes to you three times, from whomsoever, pay attention?”
The world becomes your oracle, full of messages, information, and inspiration that you may not have noticed before you started paying more conscious attention. Oracular space is a realm where the senses open wide, time hovers in suspension, and the soul is brushed by a mysterious “something” that offers knowledge or direction. A numinous experience in its most obvious form is mysterious, uncanny and awesome; it obviously comes from beyond the ordinary realm, filling you with astonishment and wonder. It is also alluring and fascinating, often leaving you feeling blessed and humbled, entranced and transported.
While reading The Mists of Avalon, I had the strongest premonition that my best friend from childhood was pregnant. I re-read the same book 4 years later, and the same premonition reoccurred. In both instances, she was in fact pregnant and had not made her intention to conceive a child public nor was she aware until my call that she had in fact conceived. In both instances, she immediately took a pregnancy test that confirmed my strong feeling that she was.
Chance encounters, synchronistic occurrences, dreams, premonitions, and intuition replace the empty silence of disconnection. The vulnerable observer greets every day with a profound sense of curiosity and imagination, and comes to know the actual origin of the universe is you surging into existence anew with every breath.
Place Your Focus on Another – make the invisible, visible.
Who is the most invisible person (group or community) in your life? Your doorman? A professional competitor? How about your Tea Party (or Green Party) neighbors? Cross the divide and jump into the magic that awaits you.
In psyche and spirit,