My transition toward Connectivity started with the ending of a sixteen-year marriage and with readings from Karen Horney’s writing. Dr. Horney’s writing introduced me to something I’d used most of my life but never given a name to: the tyranny of the should and the concept of an ideal self (an internal critic).
My ideal self included what I should always be but wasn’t: completely rational, logical, objective, calm, productive, fair, and much more. It was an ever-present internal punishing agent, demanding and ruthless. An imagined critic with one function: telling me I was wrong, stupid, inadequate, lacking. It formed a split that created an “I hate myself” circle with my ideal-self hating my real self because I never measured up.
My real self just wanted to be “me”, spontaneously open to sensing and enjoying life as it came. The ideal self wanted to impose restrictive demands and attempt to control situations by telling life what it has to be before even encountering it.
Before finding the labels “tyranny of the should” and “ideal self”, I had tried for years to disengage these structures and reduce my self-hate. I wanted to stop beating myself up. I wanted to become more aware of what made me feel bad so much of the time. But my efforts were primarily cognitive; I was too stuck in the shoulds and couldn’t see through them by using the same structures that gave them power to hold me: concepts/word-tools as the only way of knowing.
I wasn’t getting anywhere using thinking/cognition. I wasn’t able to change negative feelings about myself and my life through direct means. My typical ways of trying such as setting goals, creating plans, analyzing, and sticky notes with reminders, simply didn’t work.
Although some of these may have contributed just a bit, the lasting reduction in self-hate came indirectly as I began to feel more Connectivity with other people. For me, connecting with the outside helped me reduce the separation I’d created inside.
I realize now that they are mirror images: my interaction with the outside, which was dominated by enemy mode, reflected the battle going on inside which was ideal self vs real self. The separations I thought were so real between me and others were a reflection of the separation inside me.
Connectivity with other people seemed to be aided by a couple of different shifts in perspective. One was realizing that other people’s problems were similar to mine, no matter how different they seemed on the surface. Another was showing myself that judgments of other people never accomplish anything except tension and unhappiness inside of me.
I began to see my criticism of others as surface stuff, and at the same time I realized there is always a deeper core underneath that surface stuff. I also saw that my judgments of other people were just forms of Flaw Finding and Crazy Thoughts.
Noticing I could find flaws everywhere and anywhere, and noticing the frequency of my crazy thoughts, helped me recognize the ability to direct my attention. If I could find these anywhere and frequently, I could find positives anywhere and frequently too. If I could direct my attention to that store clerk’s incompetence, I could also shift my attention to the friendly energy she carried as she apologized for the wait and thanked me. But when all my attention is locked-onto the incompetence, I’m unable to see the friendly energy, the apology, and the thanks. The incompetence label simply doesn’t allow anything else to enter its this-not-that bucket.
As I looked beyond other peoples’ surface characteristics, I began to look beyond my own, and to sense the deeper selves that sat peacefully beneath the surface problems and “faults”. It’s as if the deeper selves were all waiting to be unearthed and recognized as connected.
All these word-tool mental pointers were helpful. But internalizing Connectivity came less from word-tools and more from feeling. Feeling the simplicity of Being around other people made me want more of it. The feeling of simply Being with someone had been almost nonexistent when I was 100 percent dominated by word-tools. But as I loosened my grip on conceptualization as a security blanket and shifted away from continuous mental judgment, gradually feelings of acceptance, liking, and even affection arose and became a more frequent part of each day.
For example, while in my car at a traffic light, I watched a very obese woman cross the road in front of my car. I started with the usual initial reaction of negative judgments. But as I continued watching, I thought of her being a little girl growing up, and wondered about challenges she had faced throughout her life. I wondered how it might be to look into her eyes and get to know her, and how it might feel to hug her and be tender or to laugh and have fun with her. By the time she reached the other side of the road, I was filled with affection. Through that shifting process she became a human being like me.
My affection was clear, alive, and flowing over. Its intensity shocked me given my reactive judgments when I first saw her. I couldn’t believe (cognitively) that my feelings could change so quickly. And yet they did – the transition inside me was real.
By shifting my thoughts, my feelings changed, all in the short time it took her to cross the road. I felt connected to a human being, rather than immersed in judgments that turned this woman into an object to look down on.
This experience, along with many others like it, brought a sense of “with-ness”. Seeing through the temporary surface nature of my negative judgments helped bring to light the unreality of my misuse of word-tools and the mental/emotional goings-on that come out of that misuse.
I practiced shifting while looking at people of all shapes, sizes, nationalities, sexual orientations, degrees of cleanliness, and every other negative concept that struck my mind. Again and again I shifted attention away from evaluative labels that first came to mind, toward positives based on sensing the Being that was deep down, even if those positives and that Being were not readily apparent.
I reminded myself of the still, quiet eye contact with friends and acquaintances that formed experiences I call Grateful Being. These experiences brought a sense of connection so deep that it felt like my source self was embracing the source self of the other. It felt as if we were touching the Whole of Source and honoring life itself by means of our connection with each other.
So for me, connecting with people was an early and significant step. Connecting with my body and the natural environment came next. This may be unusual. I can imagine people who are lost in concepts connecting with their body and nature first, and with people after. Then I remind myself that there are many roads to the same reality and that each of us finds our own road.
Once while sitting in a coffee shop, I thought, Isn’t every person here an exciting expression of a combination of word-tools and the Being that is life itself (Source) which underlies them?
That day, without talking to anyone in that coffee shop, I felt deep gratitude and appreciation for the existence of every person and every thing.
As I felt more and more Connectivity with all sorts of people at work, walking in the streets, at coffee shops, at the gym, anywhere and everywhere, I began to notice more and more Connectivity within myself. It was as if I were mending the wounds of my own internal split, through mending my attitudes/outlooks toward the “outside” including people, nature, and the earth. It created a feeling of being with people and my environment that I’d never experienced before.
By creating more wholistic interconnections outside while letting go of we-vs-them enemy thoughts, I discovered a more wholistic, interconnected flow inside. I began to better manage my internal we-vs-them thoughts, including the ideal self vs real self thoughts that made me an enemy to myself.
I can still recall exactly where I was when I had a surprising awareness that really shocked me: Wow! I don’t think I’ve criticized myself for the past day or two! My self-hate and shoulds had diminished. That was the first time I remember consciously noticing freedom from the self-critical, should-based inner voice that had dominated most of my life. It felt so good to begin to sense that it was possible to experience a day or two without feeling criticized. The battle between the ideal me and my real me had lessened just a bit.
I uncovered Connectivity with-in after opening up to Connectivity with-all, which included with-all people and with-all my surroundings.
I don’t think I could have experienced this opening up to Connectivity by directly wanting, striving for, or willing it. My direct control rested in shifting attention, which then led to more constructive and connected interactions. And this shift of attention included being more conscious of my words. I had begun to: “Use words in such a way as to highlight the Connectivity from which they come rather than the separations to which they lead.”
All this generated enjoyment of people who are different on the surface. And then it seemed to flow over into enjoying different voices inside me, including my real self that became much more playful. It even included telling my critical ideal self to “shut up” occasionally. (You’d have to hear my tone of voice to know how affectionately playful my real self sounded as I said it. Even though shut up can seem negative, the shut up I used carried a cute, almost flirty tone without any negativity.)
It makes a difference to me when I cognitively view reality as a Whole, as a web of interconnections. But feeling that web is what made the biggest difference to my life. The feeling, not the cognitive viewpoint, is what uncovered Connectivity as a reality for me. My sense of peace, joy, and flow with life has become so much more through Connectivity with-all and with-in.