I closed the previous blog with the central question: How do you best connect with God? I offered a glimpse of my belief that you do not make the best connection with God in a church, synagogue, or temple. That is not to downgrade any religion. I just believe in the value of taking action. Which specific action? I believe in the value of giving to others. I am convinced that by giving to others / connecting with others, you will better connect with God. Look at Wayne Dyer’s philosophy. You enter life with nothing; you leave life with nothing. So, life cannot be about getting; life has to be about giving. For me, that is the key action for increasing your spirituality: the act of giving.
Confucius, the Chinese social philosopher of 500 BC, expressed his perspective that compassion and giving were the two cornerstones for living the good life. In fact, he professed that the key to becoming a good person was through the act of giving. I am well aware that some people connect with God through prayer or meditation or yoga or some other activity, framed by silence. However, how often are our minds truly silent? The average person has 45,000 – 60,000 thoughts per day. The average man speaks 3,000-4,000 words per day; and the average woman speaks 9,000 – 12,000 words per day. For most people, their minds can remain “silent” for only about 11 seconds. For most people, that is not sufficient time to connect with God – and certainly it is not a path for connecting with others.
Gloria Steinem once asked: “Where do you replenish yourself? Each of us needs a free place.” In observing people I think that individuals replenish themselves through their interaction with others. Renewed energy? Renewed mood? I think those transformations do not occur without the interaction with others. More importantly, I think disaster strikes when you lose the habit of connecting and the habit of giving. Look at all of those people who run amok, shooting in theaters or schools, blowing up marathons or buildings. Do those people share a common denominator? It is not a specific mental illness. It is the lack of connection with others. And how do the victims of those horrific events survive and recover? They recover through sharing and giving.
Think about that fact for a moment. We have all witnessed the process on national television. A parent has just lost a family member, sometimes a child. What could be worse in life? But there is that parent on television, sharing the loss. Later, the parent progresses from sharing to giving. They reconnect with others, taking up causes for the greater good. Reconsider the events after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They progressed from grief to sharing to fighting for gun control. That was their avenue for giving. The specific type of sharing and giving does not matter, but the process is crucial. If you want to recover, if you want to regain your humanity, you have to get back to sharing and giving; and if you do, you will find solace in your own renewed spirituality.
What type of giving do I recommend? Any type that works for you. It can be a simple compliment to someone. A helping hand. A gesture of good will. It does not have to involve money; it just has to involve some personal sense of connection. Today that sense of connection is more important than ever. In 1950 around 9% of Americans lived in a solo residence. Today around 28% of Americans live in a solo residence. We are becoming progressing isolated. Yes, we have 1.1 billion people on facebook. Yes, we have half a million who utilize twitter. But what is more valuable? Typing a set of characters or giving someone a hug? Clearly, our social isolation is part of the problem that seems to be plaguing the world. If everyone had more of a sense of connection, don’t you think we’d have less global and personal conflict?
Here’s the irony. Physically, we are incredibly interconnected. Walt Whitman used to say: “Every atom belonging to you also belongs to me.” Scientifically, he did not know the accuracy of that statement. With each breath, we inhale 10 (to the power of 22) atoms. During the course of our lives, we inhale atoms that have passed through every species on this planet. We inhale atoms that have already passed through every historically figure. It’s an absolute truth. When one person exhales, another person inhales. We do more than pass around diseases. We pass along atoms. They don’t disappear into space. They are just recycled among the living, connecting all of us.
Do you want another irony? That connection is actually healthy. The studies in the animal kingdom show that connections (and friendships) are crucial for health and longevity. Monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons, horses, elephants, and humans: we all live longer when we make connections, when we have friends. Elephants grooming each other show lower blood pressure and slower pulses. Monkey with friends / companions show lower levels of stress hormone. Once again, it is those acts of sharing and giving. They are not just advantageous to the other person; they are life saving for each of us. It is the joy of sharing and giving that repair more than your spirit; it can actually repair your body.
What do I recommend? The current statistics in the United States document that the average parent spends 4-30 minutes 1:1 with his spouse and 1-20 minutes 1:1 with his child. So, why not start the sharing and giving at home? Why not push aside that work (or that household task) and spend more time with the family? Why not get off the couch, turn of the television, and actually talk to your family member? Why not get up each day with a repetitive goal: to help someone– again nothing financial – every day? If you could just develop that habit, you would feel more connected to others. You would also feel more connected with God. From my perspective, spirituality is an attitude. It is an approach to life. You need it. Surely, our world needs it. Give it a try. It can start with a single person.