Connectedness and the web of life

Enjoy this monthly mindfulness post from Dave Johnson, PhD, CNS- BC, LMFT, employee assistance specialist.

I have a house that is a period reproduction of a late 1800 farm home. It has two open covered porches where I often sit, pause, and breathe relief after a busy or stress-filled day.  In summer months, one of my favorite activities is tidying the porch up just a bit.  It seems like having order in the garden and a place to sit and feel the breeze is needed to rejuvenate the spirit.

When cleaning the porch, I often notice intricate spider webs. Sometimes they are absolutely enormous and I feel a bit guilty disturbing them (but not enough to leave them).  Pausing with a bit of curiosity, I notice the web’s intricate pattern and painstaking detail. The whole web is masterful and beautiful. Sometimes, I playfully pull on one fiber. I notice it is strong, flexible, and definitely successful in “catching” prey for a lurking spider nearby.  Breaking one fiber from the web causes the whole structure to become a bit distorted. If I break several strands, the web begins to fold onto itself and rapidly disintegrate. 

As a marriage and family therapist and clinical nurse specialist, I’ve done a good deal of marital therapy and divorce counseling. I used the example of the spider’s web as a metaphor to help remind myself and others to see the big picture of connectedness and interconnectedness with the intricate patterns in life.  Awakening an attitude of curiosity, living intentionally, and coming off autopilot to be mindful is helpful to balance the wear and tear of stress. 

And so I ponder:

  • Relationship threads.  When relationships are strained all members of the system feel the stretch. Noticing the individual strands helps us see the intricate weave of life and the interdependence.  Recognizing your mindlessness in relationships can spur you to be a bit more intentional in tending to those who are important to your web.  Looking into the eyes of those you value and truly seeing and sharing goodness rejuvenates vitality.  Marriage, family, church or connectivity with other organizations, friends, etc. are the strands that build the tapestry of your life’s web, and are all vital to your well-being and sense of belonging and love.
     
  • Connecting with joy.  Noticing what gives joy is important.  Sometimes just a bit of tidying up a drawer, a closet, or a porch brings a sense of pleasure.  Taking time to notice how you feel in various environments helps to identify what is healthy and what perhaps needs a bit of change. Mindful living sometimes leads one to make change where change is needed.  Clutter and confusion is rarely calm and peaceful. Letting go of unnecessary “things” and being sure to nurture that which breathes life adds to the physical well-being of spaces you inhabit. 
     
  • Cultivating space.  We all need places to breathe – a garden, porch, favorite chair or rocker.  Sitting mindful meditation may be on a mat in a yoga studio or a pew in a synagogue or church.  Finding habitats where we can connect with others and ourselves in the pause is important. Places breathe conversation, laughter, serious dialogue, or simply beingness.  Intentionally noticing our connections with others and the places we inhabit builds our awareness and wake us up.  I put a chime on the corner of my porch and lean into the music of the birds, cicadas, breeze, and traffic of life.  Silence is rarely silent and cultivating mindful spaces helps me to enjoy the music near the web. 
     
  • Intentional touch.  When infants are born we put them skin to skin with their new parents.  This serves as a remarkable beginning of even deeper connectedness after the umbilical cord is cut (and lots of good chemicals in the brain are released).  When touch is perfunctory, habitual, or mechanical, we notice.  When it is intentional, meaningful, and a sign of love or respect it brings a deeper connectedness.  From simple handshaking, to hugging, to embracing with our eyes, noticing our patterns quickens within us life-giving force. Being truly present is vulnerable and life-giving.  Touch can be one of the most compassionate healing forces within ourselves, families, and communities.
     
  • Sensory awareness.  The web of life is a labyrinth. Threads are often broken and the wear and tear of pull and forces of daily life stretch and tear our attachments to what we thought or planned for or anticipated would be an idyllic life. Somehow images of our thinking ideal never quite measure up to Hollywood pictures.  Noticing our attachment to our web of thinking and overthinking and becoming a better observer is helpful.  When we back up and become a “watcher” of the complete web we can see it in its fullness and appreciate its strength, flexibility, and resilience.  Our body parts are sensors for noticing (eyes, ears, nose, tongues, hands), and are remarkable when paired with curiosity to sustain awareness of a bigger web that holds and supports this organic process we call life.  
     
  • Mind-body-spirit web.  We sometimes speak of the mind-body-spirit as a system of interconnectivity with neuro feedback loops that simply work and keep us relatively healthy without much attention on all our moving parts.  The web within us is just as important as the web between us.  When we experience a traumatic event or a serious illness, the system becomes “stressed” and pulled.  Bringing intention to healing responses within and between is needed.  Practicing this art is called mindfulness and the science of this integration is exploding.  But it is a practice.  Knowing we should do it is not good enough.  Actually being mindful of all the connectivity brings the equanimity needed for balance and healing.  When threads of the web are broken or stretched, building new strands of awareness invokes healing repair. 
     
  • Seeking resources.  Often community webs are messy or confusing and folks don’t know where to turn for help.  Mindfulness practice is more than a healthful, good idea.  It requires our intention, attention, and attitude of compassion, curiosity and non-judgment.  Finding resources to nurture and build this skill can be helpful.  I see mindfulness as beneficial for relationships but also for addictions (all kinds), pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual), and many stress-related illnesses. 

Try a guided meditation with Dr. Johnson.

   

Find a relaxing space and follow along as he leads you through a brief mindfulness practice*.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction practice has been extensively researched and proven helpful for coping with changes, grief, healthy eating patterns, pain, anxiety, depression and many other chronic disease and autoimmune disorders. For more on stress management programs and techniques, contact the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at (260) 672-6500. Dr. Johnson also provides on-site guidance for teambuilding and transformational leadership, among other topics. To learn more about Employees Assistance Programs for your company, call Business Development at (260) 373-9013.

*Dr. Johnson cautions anyone practicing this meditation to avoid doing so while driving or doing any other activity that requires your absolute concentration. 

Other resources:
InvisibleInklings.com (mindfulness resources from Dr. Dave)

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