The Chemistry of Connection

A rip tide caught up two teenage boys on boogie boards, and was sweeping them out to sea. Their family, horrified, swam out to rescue them – and were themselves trapped by that rip tide. All eight were on their way to watery doom.

But when people on the beach realized what was going on, they instantly formed a human chain reaching out into the ocean, and rescued them all. And once those rip tide victims were safe, everyone in that chain just went back to what they had been doing before.

That spontaneous act of shared compassion happened at the public beach in Panama City, Florida. Such a welling up of coordinated altruism among a random scattering of strangers speaks to a capacity latent in all of us, just waiting for the right circumstance: the magic of connection.

In our lives such connection can be in relationships of all kinds from love and parenting to friendship, communities and far beyond. I’ll be part of an exploration of those heart-to-heart links in Chemistry of Connection, a workshop this May at the Aligned Center in Irvington, New York.

I’ll join my wife Tara Bennett-Goleman, whose book Mind Whispering in part inspired this program – inviting to join us in this collaboration with people who she had featured in the book. She shows how emotions can either separate or connect us — and how we can enhance this connection through her integration of Eastern and Western psychologies and practices, in what she calls an inner secure base.

Mindful discernment and empathic attunement, as Tara describes, help us track signs of disconnection, where distorted perceptions can lead to misunderstandings. Awareness, compassion, and repatterning disconnected emotional habits foster a secure base, individually and collectively.

I’ll draw on my research into emotional and social intelligence to share the brain basis for our connections. And Indian dancer Seema Mehta, with tap dancer Jason Samuel Smith will demonstrate the power of the arts to connect across differences.

As developmental psychologists tell us, in a secure base we feel confident, safe, seen, able to take smart risks, and open to others. Connecting from this enriches relationships of all kinds, not only with ourselves but in the widest sense as compassion for our shared humanity — a sense of interconnectedness and a deep wish for everyone to be free from suffering, and acting on those wishes whenever we can.

One of the most challenging life tasks is conflict resolution – and the need to cooperate offers an antidote to conflict while offering a basis for resolving disagreements. Aaron Wolf, a hydrologist at the Oregon State University, has long mediated disputes among hostile nations and groups who nonetheless must find a way to cooperate to manage a shared river or water system. Finding commonalities in our spiritual or emotional lives, he shows, begins to forge bridges across such divides.

In any relationship—from inner, to interpersonal, to global—if we engage from what disconnects us, we’re far less likely to work through our differences. A secure base begins inside us, and can radiate outward to our families, colleagues, and well beyond to build interconnection at every level.

Please join us at the Aligned Center, May 21 and 22