Interconnected: Embracing Life in our Global Society

 

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the second chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday May 31st at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 2  TRUE CONNECTIVITY Summary

Three years before COVID-19 upended our lives, His Holiness opens this chapter on true connectivity by stating that “we are living in a paradoxical moment.”  He points out how we are highly connected to each other in a technological way but this type of connection leads to us feeling more isolated.  A lot of research is being devoted to this now and the research validates Karmapa’s conclusion.  However, in this time of COVID-19, we are living more digital lives than ever before.  Karmapa gives us strategies to be online wisely so we can feel connected to our world in deeper ways.

He reiterates his statements from Chapter 1 about how interconnected and interdependent we are. To enhance our true connectivity technologically, he states that we need to look at our obstacles to feeling more connected, and this will help us use our technology more wisely.

One factor that increases our feeling disconnection at a heart level is the online emphasis  on the outer differences between people instead of the commonalities. One way to counter that effect, for example when seeing economically disadvantaged people, is to think how it is often people in that economic situation who make our clothes, or grow our food.. They benefit it us.   He concludes that despite all outer differences, we are all connected by our common desire to be happy and free from suffering.

GOING BEYOND VIRTUAL REALITY

Technology has the potential to bring us closer together if we use these tools wisely.   Many have been online for the first time or on-line in new ways during COVID-19, and have had birthday parties, weddings, Passover, Easter and other important events together with friends and family, some of whom would not have attended an in-person event.

Examples of using technology in ways that disconnect us, is the internet’s emphasis on extraordinary people and their conditions, and competition that pushes us to exaggerate our good qualities.  Everyone seems to be having such a fantastic life online because we often don’t post our embarrassing situations and mistakes.  We thus we end up interacting with others online “as an illusory electronic self, interacting with illusory electronic versions of other people.”  We forget the pixels on the screen are not the person, and interacting with an online friend does not convey the “human warmth that we all need.”    Karmapa states that online connection can make us feel lonely and sad because it is not real or nourishing.  We are sitting home alone with a screen wanting to feel a true connection.

Before COVID-19 how did you view technology and connection with others electronically?

Now that we cannot see our friends, has your opinion of online connection changed?  If so, in what ways?  If not, why not?

DON’T LIVE A LITE LIFE

We have so more access to information online that we can process in our lifetimes, but we have not made “the shift from intellectual to emotional engagement.”  Karmapa states that the sheer volume of information available prompts us to remain on the surface and not go deep and feel how the information impacts us. One example he gives is our tendency to respond to a friend’s news online by clicking on an icon instead of reaching out with condolences or congratulations.

Karmapa suggests we can look at how technology impacts us by asking ourselves:

What does it do to me to engage with technology in this way?

How does it actually make me feel?

What am I willing to give up in order to gain those benefits?

 He states it is a fallacy to believe that our screens and other external objects can bring us happiness.  Happiness “can only be found within us and emanate out from there.”

 EMOTIONAL DISCONNECTIVITY

Karmapa states that many who connect online feel dissatisfied with their connections, and even when they are connecting with one person, they multitask and connect with someone else at the same time. Even people living in the same house text each other instead of talking to each other.  He contrasts this with the way he grew up, and his connection with natural surroundings. There was a lot of labor in a rural farming community and people worked together. When the work was done they spent time together, enjoying the company of others, which was very satisfying to him. His Holiness asks us to reflect on our what we are losing through our digital connections.  He is concerned that our digital connection could lead to a negative cycle of less satisfying connection, trying to find true connectivity in the digital world, which leads to further dissatisfaction, loneliness and isolation.

In our time of COVID-19, some people are spending more time with housemates for better or worse, and others are stuck home alone.   Digital connections are all some of us have.  Others are now conducting all of their work on-line.

How has this time of COVID-19 affected your emotional connections?  Are you connecting more or less than before?  Are you feeling more or less isolated now?  Maybe you alternate?  Are you making any resolutions about connection when our forced isolation ends?

INTRODUCING HIS LONELINESS

His Holiness describes the loneliness of being an exalted pubic figure.  He compares that to the super image of ourselves that we project online, only showing our best selves so we get the most likes or retweets.

In addition to our digital disconnection, he states that other causes and conditions like our self-reliance and emphasis on individuality can produce loneliness. If we feel disconnected, even being surrounded by people will not make us feel connected.  Truly, being around people and still feeling lonely is a terrible feeling. Reflecting on our interdependence, can help us feel more connected.

Even if you are stuck in your home alone, can you feel the connections you have with others?  People who you talk to directly, and the people you don’t know but who have made your food and clothes, the person who built your home, electronics, or created art, books or music that touches you.

 COME IN FROM THE COLD

Karmapa advises that to “ease loneliness, we first need to find friends within ourselves…by connecting with our own positive qualities.” We need to support these positive qualities by surrounding ourselves with warmth and appreciating our positive qualities.

What positive qualities do you have?  Can you increase your appreciation of them by reflecting on the benefits they bring to you and others?

 OUR NATURAL CAPACITY FOR CLOSENESS

We have an innate potential to be feel close to others and connect with them, evidenced by the natural way that babies and young children can connect with others. As we age, this ability “is eroded by doubts, fears, and suspicions. He believes that this erosion is from habituation and conditioning about how different we are from others.  Reflecting on our good qualities and on interdependence can also help us reconnect with our innate ability to connect and feel close to people.

What stops you from connecting with people? Think of the elevator example His Holiness gave.  How do you typically react?  Why?

 RECOLLECTING KINDNESS

Another exercise to help us feel our interconnections is with a practice called “recollecting kindness.”  In this practice we bring to mind situations in which others were kind to us. He suggests not only reflecting, but he suggests conducting some research to help bring more abstract helpers to mind like those who make our clothes, and really connect with them. We could even express gratitude each time we get dressed for their kindness. Our appreciation could also then motivate us to act further in terms of trying to benefit them, for example contributing to organizations to help them, not buying from companies that use sweatshops, etc.  We can use this exercise to appreciate anyone who has helped us directly or indirectly. The result of this exercise is more gratitude, connection and benefit for self and others.

 THE VALUES OF INTERDEPENDENCE

“Bringing heart and mind together, gratitude is an affective state that can be produced by an awareness of interdependence.“  Training in gratitude for the kindness of others makes us feel good.  This training can extend to everything and everyone until you feel that everyone is benefiting you. This feeling will make it easier to connect and feel close to others, and have a more positive outlook.

Sit and bring to mind one or more people who have benefitted you directly. Contemplate how they benefited you.  Feel how connected you feel to that person.

 THE KINDNESS OF ANIMALS (and NATURE)

Animals and nature are straightforward, so if we have feelings of suspicion or doubt towards the intentions of others, animals and nature may be a good place to start generating a sense of connection and closeness. Watching animal videos about animals taking care of each other can inspire us to develop our own caring qualities.  We can also reflect on the suffering of animals and our planet to help foster a more compassionate attitude towards them.  Turning compassionate thoughts into action is the next step.

Reflect on the suffering of animals or the planet.  Is there something you can do to help them?

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