Finding creative ways to connect to ourselves and to others is more important than ever in these days of social distancing.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | April 2, 2020 | 4 min read
By David Kopacz, MD, University of Washington
Our primary public health measure at this time is not getting too physically close to one another. However, we know from research that socialization has a positive effect and isolation a negative effect on our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. What we need right now, for our personal and collective health, is not social distancing, but physical distancing. We need to find ways of being social and connecting without physically touching or being in close physical proximity. We need to find ways of staying connected, inside and out.
Connection is what gives our lives meaning and purpose
Carl Jung coined the terms introversion and extroversion, recognizing that some people are energized through focusing inwardly and some people are energized by focusing externally. Regardless of which of these currents is stronger, we all have both of these currents and we need to harmonize them, even more so during times of stress. We need to be able to connect to our inner selves as well as to our outer communities. Let’s start by looking at inner-connection.
The hallmark of wisdom is finding the opportunity for growth within suffering. Holy people throughout the ages have sought out periods of being alone in a desert, cave, forest, or on a mountain top. Isolation is part of the initiation process for holy people. We may not aspire to become a holy person, but we still benefit from being whole. Holy, whole, hale, and healthy all share the same Old English root hal, meaning “entire, whole; unhurt, uninjured, safe; healthy.” If we go back in history even further, the Proto-Indo-European root, “kailo means “whole, uninjured.” Any way that we can make ourselves more whole is a way of making ourselves more healthy. Inner-connection is half of staying healthy.
12 ways to practice inner-connection:
1) Meditate, practice mindfulness, watch your breath, and/or do guided imagery.
2) Practice embodied movement, like yoga, tai chi, and/or stretching.
3) Listen to music without distractions.
4) Practicing mindful eating. You could even try a silent and mindful meal with your family if they’re willing.
5) Be creative–paint, draw, dance, or sing.
6) Make music.
7) Write. Journal, poems, short stories, or start writing that book you have inside you.
8) Read. Find a book on your shelf you’ve been meaning to read. There’s also something called lectio divina from the Christian tradition of divine reading. Try reading something short and inspirational and then meditate or contemplate it in a quiet space.
9) Pray or engage in spiritual practices.
10) Walk in nature by yourself or practice a silent walk with a friend or your family.
11) Sit in a patch of sun, close your eyes, feel the warmth, and breathe.
12) If you feel a void in your life, embrace the void.
Carl Jung wrote in his book “Modern Man in Search of a Soul,”
“… come to the very edge of the world, leaving behind … all that has been discarded and outgrown,” and that we stand “…before a void out of which all things may grow.”
Outer-connection is something we understand more in our extroverted culture. Right now, we are experiencing restrictions and limitations on connecting physically with others. We have been spending so much time and energy adjusting to new levels of restriction and there is a focus on what we cannot do, but what can we do still? Social connection helps us to get outside of ourselves and to create community. Sharing, giving, and storytelling are key elements of what makes us human. How can we create connections when we cannot be physically together? A wise friend of mine recently said, “Technology is the new architecture of how people gather.” How can we use technology to bring us together?
12 ways to practice outer-connection in a time of social distancing:
1) Set up video chats with friends and family. Then schedule a follow-up for your next call to continue to strengthen connections.
2) Connect with someone you haven’t connected with for a while.
3) Write to others. This could be an email, text, blog, maybe even a snail-mail letter (being mindful of the increased risk of passing along infection through physical objects).
4) Chat with your postal delivery person from a safe distance.
5) Smile at everyone you come across.
6) Practice a lovingkindness meditation or similar way of wishing others well. Even if you cannot see them in person, you can connect with them in your heart and wish them lovingkindness (to be happy, safe, healthy, and at peace).
7) Find something positive, beautiful, or inspirational to share with others.
8) Walk in nature, listen to birdsong, notice the slow unfolding of spring around you.
9) Take photos of beautiful and interesting things and share with others.
10) Think twice about all the potential exposures that happen each time you order something from the internet: the health of the people packaging and delivering your items, and placing an order that is not a rational need, or is made out of boredom or your emotional neediness.
11) Notice how much your children’s and pets’ well-being increases from hopefully increased time together.
12) Try new recipes to stimulate your creativity, nourish your body, and share with your family.
It’s more important than ever during the pandemic that we strengthen our inner and outer-connections, becoming more hale (whole, healthy, and holy). What creative and meaningful ways of inner and outer-connection can you enjoy?
David R. Kopacz, MD works in Primary Care Mental Health at Seattle VA and is an assistant professor at University of Washington. He has a national Education Champion position and teaches Whole Health with the VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. He is the author of three books including his latest, with co-author Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), “Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.”