Connection

Beggars can't be choosers
but when it comes to connection
I can't bear to settle for surface level
I want to be seen only by souls that can
understand my unique style of sin

Finding friends can be exhausting
when you feel the need to pretend
to put on a pleasing face for strangers
to push through the small talk
to taste the bittersweet fruit underneath

It used to be so effortless
falling into spaces where I belong
classrooms filled with all kinds of candidates
exceptional people swelling around me like the sea
transformation ignited by togetherness

That electric energy of engagement and laughter
has been slowly phased out of my life
leaving solitude and silence in it's wake
curiosity curtailed by fear of rejection
I shy away from all opportunities for connection

The Song

My heart sings for small towns
not for the crumbling, faded houses
or the hollow eyes that inhabit them
but for the spaces in between humanity
the thick undergrowth of untouched hillsides
the silence that surrounds you
as you emerge at the street's abrupt end

winding roads turning to dust
as they weave through valleys
and stitch the mountains together
no turns in sight as you faithfully follow
for miles to a singular destination
in the distant country, past oceans
made of tall grasses and grazing cattle

where the open sky is unhindered
by smog and skyscrapers
and you can feel yourself shrinking
beneath the infinity of distant stars
or cradled by the buoyant brushstrokes
of soft clouds in an endless canvas of blue
swallowed up, dissolved, and made whole again all at once

I've always found safety in the subtle symphony
of places far away from people
the silent prayer of bare feet against the warm earth
sunlight filtered through gently rustling leaves
the tender cadence of countless other lives
swelling and saturating every cell of my being
bowing down in reverence to this ancient rhythm

Separation from source
is the truest form of suffering
caged inside the arrogant design of human kind
cut off from the wind and light
set aside to sit in sterile cells
tangled up in selfish isolation
eating ourselves alive

No, I'd rather wade into the cool embrace
the filthy, glistening grandeur of the river
memorize the ever changing melody
of chirping birds and tiny insects
the healing buzz of their constant vibration
lapping at the shores of my truest self
reminding me of my part in the song

Where Do I Belong

They say that connection
is an essential component
of human happiness
buried deep within our DNA
we know we were not made
to stand apart

This obvious fact haunts me
and hovers above my timid heart
like a phobia of food and water
what I fear is other people
prickling skin and sweaty palms
is this what happiness feels like?

What a cruel, ridiculous irony
to be afraid of what you need
encountering so much pain 
alongside the brief pleasure
of each pathetic attempt
to belong

self defeating, sinful nature
I feel mostly bitterness
towards my own kind
I've forsaken them long ago
to find refuge 
somewhere else

I've learned to quench my thirst for connection
among the dirt and dust of forest floors
saying hello to passing birds
the innocent caresses of angelic animals
that offer me far more love
than I could ever hope to have from humanity

I was never proud to be a person
like every one else seems to be
I'd much rather place myself
with those I trust and admire
resting in the peace and simplicity
of my true brethren in nature

Connected

Why do I see this body
as the limits of my container
the pieces of matter that comprise me
continue on into the cosmos

even the air between you and I 
is saturated with shifting energy
carrying currents of information
through supposed emptiness

connection is everywhere I look
from the veins and tissues of this body
to the veins of mycelium and root systems underground
to the streams and rivers snaking across the earth

the illusion of separation is still poignant somehow
despite the new science that shows we are one
could I learn to feel beyond this form?
can I lift the veil of this life?

to recognize myself in all that I see
is to relinquish this unruly fear of reality
freedom is remembering a fate intertwined
uncovering a deep compassion for all of existence

To love myself is to love the world
to love the world is to love myself
we are inextricably intertwined
we are one in the same

Sonder

Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The sun was just beginning to set as we walked up to the big double doors of the small venue. March had carried spring in tow, threatening to blossom into an early summer. The soft, warm air was a balm to my soul. The rays of sunlight falling below the skyline did a lot to soothe my seemingly constant inner agitation.

Unlike most buildings that remain ever frigid with artificially cooled air, breaking through the threshold of security exposed a room that was even warmer than the outdoor air. So many bodies packed so tightly together, waiting in eager anticipation of the show that was about to begin any minute, produced a strong human scented heat.

Drinks in hand, we found our place behind the sound booth. I couldn’t help but glance again and again at the beautiful human at my side. What a joy to be here, with him. To see him smile, to hold his hand, as we waited together happily. The first band, one neither of us knew, was just beginning to set up.

As the first chords rang out through the theatre, the loosely packed crowd began to swell and tighten, threatening to suffocate me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise as my heart resisted this perceived danger and discomfort. A few deep breaths and it was all okay again. A swirling sentiment of togetherness and companionship swelled within me. These people are all here, filled with hope and happiness and most likely alcohol, just like me, and right now, in this moment, I love them all.

Without the distraction of songs that held personal meaning for me, there was a budding curiosity that took hold. What a beautiful thing to see this small opening band standing in the spot light, living their dream. How lovely it is that I get to be here to see it, to support it. That we are all here, this crowd that is my family for one sensational night. Tears tottered on the edge of my eyelids. Each song felt like a message being sung just to me, just for my partner and I, as we swayed gently together in the darkness.

Somehow I ended up liking the opening bands even more than the headliner. While the main band played, I found myself becoming listless and distracted. How long had we been here? How many more songs would be played? Just as I began to fidget and fret, I shifted my focus back to my new family, this crowd of perfect strangers. I was overcome with that strange love once again as I watched them in rapturous, animated, happiness. What might these songs mean to them? What story brought them to this band? What is the significance of this night in their distant, unknown lives?

I was overcome with the fascinating reality of the many lives that pass by me everyday unnoticed. The feeling of connection and disconnection tangling around me simultaneously. The mystery hidden behind the eyes of my fellow humans. The heart opening experience of reveling in the joy of others we do not, nor will we ever, truly know.

As we filed quickly out of the crowd and stumbled down the packed streets to the car, my heart felt fuller than it had in a long, long time. It held a precious lesson to itself in silence. There is always happiness if you’re willing to look for it. There is no difference between my own happiness and that of another. Sometimes it’s just as enjoyable, perhaps even more so, to share the pleasure of another, especially when we find ourselves struggling. Human connection is a strange, magical thing, and the other party may not even realize it’s happening.

Devotion

It’s an incredible feeling to be devoted to someone or something. There are many causes that I feel passionately about: environmentalism, feminism, veganism, etc. There are far less people that can illicit that same feeling of motivation and energy in me. When those people do come along, I am captivated by them. There is nothing more spectacular to me than having a relationship to such a magnetic, awe inspiring person.

I think part of the reason that these charismatic figures in my life take my breath away so easily is because of the comparison to all the other people I encounter. It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of the human race. I find our species to be particularly vile in most aspects. In addition to that, the vast majority of the population seem utterly dull to me, exhibiting no personality whatsoever. So when I meet someone that draws me in so completely, I can’t help but be amazed.

In general, I view myself as a pretty spineless, selfish, stingy, resentful person. I usually do what’s best for me and don’t feel compelled to help others unless I have a good reason. This small group of special people that have been sprinkled throughout my life have a transformative effect on me, though. It’s as though they inspire me to be who I’ve always wanted to be. I genuinely want to go out of my way to be of service to them in any way that I can, despite any personal inconvenience. The mere thought of their acknowledgment and praise brings me such pride. It brings me immense pleasure to be positive and helpful to them. But somehow it’s even more than that. It’s honestly a sensation that I can’t adequately describe.

I am so grateful to have known even the handful of these people that I have. I am grateful to have a few of them in my life right now. For someone that has a difficult time relating to most people, it is a special kind of joy that I feel in response to these deep, meaningful bonds. These relationships are some of the most cherished parts of my life. Few experiences rise above them. I feel there is almost a spiritual, cosmic connection that we share. Something so genuine, so unique, simply beyond words.

I am so moved by my encounters with these people and the devotion and admiration that arises in my heart for them, it makes me reconsider my perspective of human beings all together. I’ve been considering the way that some people view Pit Bulls as viscous, violent dogs that should be banned. However, just because some Pit Bulls are trained to fight, and all have the potential to cause severe physical injury to others, does not make them inherently bad dogs. This seems so obvious to me and I have nothing against Pit Bulls due to the ones that have been raised to be aggressive and dangerous. Why then is it so hard for me to apply this same logic to my own species?

Why do I hold humanity down to it’s lowest common denominator rather than it’s highest potential? I guess I’ve just been raised to give more agency to a human than a dog, despite now knowing that we are all equally a product of our genetics, environment, and experiences. When it comes down to it, even human beings have very little choice or “free will.” And this is just another area in which those I am devoted to help me strive to be a better person.

It’s inexpressible the gratitude and appreciation I feel knowing that these important people accept me for who I am. They’ve seen my many flaws, but I never feel judged by them. It feels safe to be imperfect. I feel seen and understood and empathized with in all of my complexity and eccentricity and idiosyncrasy. The idea that anyone could ever see who I really am and still love and respect me moves me so deeply. It makes me want to extend that same grace, that same compassion and forgiveness to others. To learn to see the good in everyone, rather than focusing on, and condemning them for what they lack.

At the end of the day, these rare people light a fire inside of me. They help me grow in so many ways. They help me see the world with fresh, loving, curious eyes. They give me hope. They make me yearn to some day be able to extend all that they’ve offered me to another person. To someday be that spark, that object of inspiration and devotion to someone else. To give someone else that same feeling of being seen, of being appreciated, of being understood, of coming home.

The River

“Oh, the river!…I know it’s like me…I know that I belong to it. I know that it’s the natural company of such as I am! It comes from country places, where there once was no harm in it—and it creeps through the dismal streets, defiled and miserable—and it goes away, like my life, to a great sea, that is always troubled—and I feel that I must go with it!”

Charles Dickens – David Copperfield

There has always been something about large natural bodies of water that calm the restless turmoil within my soul. When I stare out at the gentle, undulating movement of the rivers and seas, a stillness settles over me. All of my life I have found refuge alongside the riverbank. The wretched, polluted waters have become a part of me over the years as I’ve poured endless tears out into them, and refilled my own cup with their timeless wisdom.

I too know that I belong to the river. It is like me. We are intertwined in a sacred, ancient union. I can feel it calling to me – and I too must go with it. I offer up to it all of my regrets, all of my fears, all of my sorrow. I let it carry them all away to become tiny specs in the vastness of the sea. I listen to it’s soft hiss, ever so slowly smoothing the rocks along the shore. I come to the banks to be smoothed just the same, to blunt my jagged edges and have my troubles tumbled into soft sand.

How many times have I found myself here, asking it’s sage advice? How many times have I been comforted by these dark, whispering waters? How many secrets have we shared in all these years together? When did it first begin to feel like coming home as I found my way into its profound presence? How could I possibly hope to explain this connection, this gratitude for the spirit of the earth and eternity lingering in these waters?

What a comfort and a joy it has been to have such a constant companion. This flowing life force has carried me through every stage of my life. I know that I can always rely on the river to bring me back to myself, to remind me that everything is okay. Not a single moment I’ve gazed at the river has it been the same water. Not a single moment have I been the same as the moment before. We are both eternally shifting and changing, flowing and forming into something new. Yet, somehow we are still each considered a consistent entity, something concrete and tangible. So different yet so similar.

The river is my reminder. It is an opportunity to stop and listen to the universe as it endlessly unfolds, a perpetual mystery, a beautiful, unknowable absurdity. A chance to surrender to the unstoppable flow of life and existence. A confirmation in my soul that we are all one, as I gaze at my distorted reflection bobbing happily in the rough waves, wondering where we began, and where, someday, we’ll end.

Charisma

All my life I’ve admired people that are seemingly comfortable in any situation, amongst any group of people. In my experience these individuals are extremely rare. I’ve never met more than a handful in my whole life. Yet these are the people I feel myself gravitate towards. There is an indescribable energy around them that soothes me, that makes me feel seen. My inner most character unfurls before them like a flower, that somehow I know they will appreciate and understand.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that these people possess. I’ve defaulted to describing them as charismatic and leaving it at that. My attraction to and preference for these individuals has come at a cost though. I seek them out to the exclusion of all others. I feel guarded and uncomfortable around most other people. Rather than pushing past that and making an effort to connect, I close myself off with the belief that they’ll just never “get me.” At times I even begin to judge and dislike others for lacking this charismatic quality that I so desperately need.

I’ve often confided to these charismatic friends and acquaintances of mine that I feel like there are not very many people with whom I am able to have a deep, meaningful, insightful conversation as I am with them. Occasionally they will agree, but just as often I’m met with a look I can’t quite place. It makes me wonder exactly what these people are capable of. Maybe there are not special souls that read one another’s energy and their innermost unspoken qualities in an instant. Maybe there are just special people that can open themselves to anyone, thereby receiving that transparency and comfortable vulnerability in return. Are the wonderful conversations I have with these select individuals the types of conversations they have with everyone they meet? What a life that must be.

This also makes me curious how I might learn from these special people how to improve my own ability to connect with others. How, if possible, I might become more like them. I think I’m pretty good at winning over a room. I can crack jokes and make pleasant conversation with just about anyone. However, the difference is the level of sincerity behind my words and actions. There is an undercurrent of energy betraying my strenuous effort. I’m working very hard when I do this little dance and I believe that bleeds through a bit. While I’m funny, I’m not exactly genuine. While I’m friendly, I’m never vulnerable. Therefore these encounters of mine never go far beyond the surface, nor am I able to transfer this act into one on one conversations where I feel even more pressure to perform rather than be present.

I think the secret ingredient in interacting with charismatic people is their unflinching sincerity and transparency about who they are. There is just something refreshing about dropping all the charades and really being fully in the moment with another person who isn’t pretending, who isn’t judging. Perhaps that’s one of the things holding me back from creating this energy on my own. I’m a pretty judgmental person. It can be hard for me to accept everyone just as they are. I can’t even accept myself most days. And while I would never express these critical, possibly hurtful thoughts, they still have an influence on the interactions I have undoubtedly. Yet when I perceive that someone else sees and accepts me for exactly who I am, I finally feel unafraid, and I can’t help but become endeared by even their faults.

Charisma has a quality of bravery and curiosity. I hope that with time and practice I might come to embody some of those qualities myself. In general, I’m not very fond of people, but when I see the way my charismatic friends bring out the best and most interesting aspects of everyone they meet, it inspires me to look deeper. I’ve gotten into the habit of forming opinions and writing people off fairly quickly. I want to learn to keep my heart open to people so that their true character may reveal itself to me. It saddens me to think how many fascinating, lovely, interesting people I may have carelessly overlooked.

How to Keep a Conversation Going in English

The Mind-Gut Connection

The Mind-Gut Connection featured in upcoming Lunchtime Learning Presentation

The more I learn about the human body and the world, the more obvious it becomes that every little supposedly insignificant thing matters and everything is inextricably connected. The bad news is there is no cheating your way to health or fitness or happiness. But the good news is, although it may seem harder, the tried and true methods of slowly achieving success are always available to us. If we treat both our bodies and our minds well and show them patience and compassion, health and happiness with inevitably follow. A lot of people will find this obvious and uninteresting, but I’ve never been one to base any of my opinions or actions on good faith alone, I usually require a more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms going on behind the scenes.

The emerging science of what’s going on backstage in our own bodies is truly stranger than fiction. Most of us know (although we don’t like to think about it) that our bodies contain lots of microscopic organisms in addition to our human cells. Our skin, our hair, our nails, our eyelashes, and of course our guts are teeming with strange little lifeforms, the majority of which are harmless. It may be a bit unsettling to consider, but the bacteria inhabiting our bodies are actually even more than harmless, they are helpful, even necessary for us to be healthy. Before reading The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, I thought my vague comprehension of that fact was sufficient. Gut microbes are good for us, case closed. Now I’m discovering that the role these little organisms play in our digestion, day to day life, decision making, and ever our personalities are far more complicated than I’d ever imagined.

Apart from all the implications this information sparks curiosity about in the scientific community, my philosophy centered mind goes straight for the larger existential questions we are now faced with. Who is really running the show? Are we this human form shown to the world, or are we actually the bacteria pulling the strings deep inside our guts? Perhaps we’re just the passive hosts without even realizing it. Or maybe it’s not even possible to make a clear distinction between the human and bacteria cells within us. For now it does appear as if we are one in the same.

Whatever we may be, Dr. Mayer’s book is an excellent example of the way looking deeper into the natural world leads only to more marvel and mystery. The complexity and intricacies of this existence are an endless source of fascination that I don’t think we’ll ever truly be able to decode. However, we have now learned at least a bit more about this magical little world within us. So here are a few of what I found to be the most interesting things laid out in this book:

Personality & Decision making

These bacteria in our digestive organs do a lot more than help us break down our food. They are also influencing our mood, disposition, and the decisions “we” make. We all know that our cells communicate and deliver signals and chemicals to the brain, but what I didn’t know was that these bacteria are doing the same. I was shocked to discover that our gut produces the majority of serotonin in our bodies, not the brain. This is one of the reasons we experience that familiar cozy, satisfied feeling after a good meal. This also explains the way our diet affects our mental health. It’s not just a placebo effect. Eating healthy, fibrous, fresh, unprocessed foods really does make us feel better all around.

One of the most incredible things I learned was from a study that showed transplanting the gut microbiome of one rat into the gut of another causes the latter rat to begin expressing a personality and behaviors more similar to the donor rat. For instance, a shy rat given the microbiome of an outgoing rat, will now begin to appear brave. It’s honestly a bit frustrating to realize what a big role the gut microbiome plays in our mental state. Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve faired so well without my paxil is because I’ve been drinking pro & pre-biotics every day since before I began weaning myself off the drug. It makes me wonder what kind of success, if any, I may have had in my battle with social anxiety if I had known this information before starting an SSRI.

Hunger, Satiety, & Weight

The microbes in our guts also have a big part to play when it comes to our appetite. They have a direct line to our brains with the capacity to influence our hunger signals. What I once thought was a definitive sign that my body needed more calories or nutrients, now may very well just mean that my gut bacteria need more fibrous matter and pre-biotics to snack on. These little buddies also have a hand in our sensitivity to our satiety signals, in other words our cue that we are full and want to stop eating. These bacteria are also responsible for how much of the food we eat is absorbed and stored in our bodies.

Just as in the other rat study I mentioned, the same effect can be observed regarding the physical weight of the rats. Give a skinny rat the microbiome of a heavy rat and it will begin to gain weight and vice versa. This is a stunning insight into just how little we actually comprehend about nutrition and how to influence our own body weight. There really is no “one size fits all” diet when it comes to weight loss or gain, and it’s got a lot more to it than just genetics.

The Best Diet for a Healthy Gut Microbiome

This book also gives suggestions about the best foods for us to eat if we want a gut microbiome that keeps us healthy and happy. The author particularly emphasizes that diets high in animal fat lead to a state of constant inflammation and physical and mental health complications. Not surprising. He also says that diets high in fibrous plant foods lead to more helpful strains of bacteria flourishing in our guts. Now it seems obvious to me that the extrapolation of that information points directly to a vegan diet. No animal fat, tons of plant foods. However, this author is clearly attached to his flesh foods, because based on anecdotal evidence of healthy tribal peoples who eat a mediterranean diet (basically vegan, plus fish) he decided to label that the best diet. He gives no explanation on how the fish part is necessary or beneficial. The actual data he provides seems to say the opposite. So I think it’s safe to say eliminating the last “bad gut” food, would be best, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, he goes on to say that even a drastic change in diet isn’t going to have a huge effect on the types of bacteria living in our guts. However, it will change the kinds of metabolites the bacteria we already have produce for our bodies and brains, which is nearly as good.


In summation, the information I’ve learned from this book has completely changed the way I view my body and even my mind. I fluctuate back and forth between being excited and terrified about this new knowledge and what it means. At the very least, this book shows just how important our physical health is when it comes to our mental health. The two are inextricably linked for better or worse. Really all we can do is work with the gut-microbiome we have. They are as unique and diverse as each individual they are house in. Treat them right, give them lots of healthy vegan foods to eat, and they will repay us in kind.

Connection and Awe

Growing up in Christian household, I never quite understood the reverence and awe people felt in the presence of religious iconography. My grandmother had crosses, rosaries, and paintings of Jesus all over her house, but I never fully understood why. Even in the Eastern religions which I am now more familiar with, I never quite grasped the purpose of the shrines people make with pictures of their gurus or other’s they admire and aspire to embody.

At the same time, I knew that similar rituals and symbols were very meaningful to all different types of religions all around the world. Many times I have been tempted to make my own little yoga shrine, but never have because I don’t know whose portrait I could possibly add to it. I don’t really have a guru or any particular religious or spiritual figures that inspire strong emotion in me. If anything, anyone that I could imagine adding would just make me feel awkwardness and embarrassment instead of admiration. It always felt like there was something important about this that I was missing out on though.

Finally the other day I was presented with an interesting alternative way to spark feelings of awe, connection, and wonder. The comparison was made between religious feelings and the feelings some of us get when we immerse ourselves in nature. Nature! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? The forest can be my church, the plants and animals my gurus and teachers. Now that creates meaningful emotion for me. Not the image of some imaginary demi-god or revered old man. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection sooner.

Nature is what humbles me and fills me with wonder and awe, not human beings. Why would I admire a human being when I can admire mother earth instead? I don’t need a religion. I don’t need gods or gurus. All I need is the natural world all around me. Nature is what I honor and respect, what makes me feel connected, not mankind. Especially when all my life, humans have come off as proudly separate from and even above nature. Whereas I have never felt special or superior for being the species of animal that I am. In my eyes humans are more of an abomination than a miracle of nature.

I thought it was a beautiful idea to replace the ritual of church on Sundays with a weekly morning nature walk. I want to make more time for quiet reflection in the woods, alongside the river, or even just in my backyard. I want to meditate on the feelings that fill my heart when I watch the sun setting or listen to the soft cadence of rain. What could be more beautiful? What could be more awe inspiring than the miraculous mystery of this Earth? Instead of placing pictures of spiritual leaders up in my sacred spaces, I can add acorns, rocks, dried flowers, etc. These items fill me with much more joy.

I thought I’d share this idea with anyone that may also be interested in actively incorporating more reverence and awe in their life, but who doesn’t identify with any particular religion. Let me know if you decide to give this a try or if you have any other things you use to stir up feelings of connection and wonder.

Main | Nature NB