Connection: Our Happiness Depends On It

The power lines outside the house I live in on Locust Ave are a major highway network for the squirrels in this neighborhood. Sometimes I like to enjoy a glass of water on the front porch after waking. October has brought a chill to the air and as I’m sitting there I see my breath as it escapes in a yawn. I notice one lively squirrel crossing diagonally along a thin power line from a light pole across the street. He teeter totters half way across. Oh! Be careful little squirrel. I think to myself. I ponder whether they ever actually fall off the lines and into the road, meeting a squished existence.

When the squirrel finally reaches the light pole in front of my house, with a mouth full of what appears to be green walnuts, he scurries up and sits atop the pole for a moment. He makes a short descent to where a major artery in this light pole highway system connects to the pole, and sits. For several minutes we seem to have a staring contest. He’s just sitting there, almost looking down at me, and this makes me so happy. Weird, I know, right?

I find squirrels to be fascinating. Since I was a child I have enjoyed watching them scurry up trees and leap fearlessly from one frail branch to another, hang on tightly, swinging, and then climb up and keep on going. When I was a kid I liked to climb trees (I still do), and I would sometimes imagine myself as a squirrel, wishing I had their agility and fearlessness.

This isn’t really a story about squirrels.

It’s a story about connection. What we’re all seeking, but so despairingly afraid to cultivate.

I’ve been thinking about this for months now. My life has been incredibly busy, as I’m sure yours has too, but Seth Godin would say that’s only an excuse. When it’s your turn, you’re never too busy to ship.

I’ve been shipping. Only for other people. This blog has always been for me. This is a story for me, that I have been procrastinating writing, and for anyone who feels a little lost, confused, jealous, depressed, insecure or just outright pissed off at what is going on in America on TV right now.

“I ponder of something terrifying
'Cause this time there's no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it's that we're all battling fear
Oh dear, I don't know if we know why we're here
Oh my,
Too deep
Please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound”

If you’re a fan of Twenty One Pilots, you’ll recognize the short poetic words above, and if you’ve never heard of them, go watch this music video on YouTube.

Whether you’ve heard the song or not, the words speak truth. We’re all battling fear. Fear of failure, disappointment, betrayal, not being good enough and probably most importantly, loss.

The biggest barrier, for me, in making the authentic connections I need so badly, is a deeply ingrained fear that once that real connection is made, I’m going to lose it. It will abandon me or be taken away. This fear drives every other negative emotion I have: jealousy, anger, frustration, confusion and doubt.

If you know me really well, you probably get it. If we’re in a work circle together you might be surprised. I seem so upbeat and outgoing. I’ve been battling this fear all my life, and it has resulted in some deplorable behavior that is not appropriate to express here. Everyone is at battle.

A journey of connections

I made a commitment to myself, almost two years ago now, to build up my armory with new tools for that battle. Over the past several months, almost unknowingly until now, my journey has been 100% about cultivating connections with others, coming to better understand the connection with myself, and being patient with myself as I go out on the battlefield.

Embracing the mystery and magic at YoJam 

At the 5th Annual Floyd Yoga Jam back at the beginning of September, one of the first yoga classes Pam and I, serendipitously, took was about tools for the spiritual battle. We worked through a series of traditional asanas that if practiced regularly, would leave us ready to face the world in all it’s horror right now, and be part of the army of light that will eventually help heal it. We spent four glorious days practicing yoga, growing, and learning to embrace the mystery and magic of life. Without our normal crew there, we were forced to be brave and make connections with new people. We came away with new friends and the knowledge to empower us to win this spiritual battle.

Connecting the community at C'ville Veggie Fest 

The next few weeks after that were all consumed by planning the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival for me. If you have event planning experience you know the amount of work and stress that can be involved in orchestrating all the moving parts to bring several thousand people together during a ten hour period. The Veggie Fest brought people together in celebration of living lighter on the Earth and learning the benefits of a lifestyle and diet free of animal products. We connected people that might not otherwise be exposed to some of the ideas presented there or each other. I felt it was an immense success, and I created a lot of meaningful connections by organizing the event.  

Cycle to Farm connects people to landscapes, farms, food and fun

Immediately following the Veggie Fest I was down in Asheville, NC at the New Belgium Brewery there helping out with the second Cycle to Farm this year. These events always leave me astounded. They are truly one of the most well organized, fun and exciting ways to create connections. A group of about 150 cyclists rode through the stunning landscapes of Sandy Mush to visit farms there, sample the food, commune with one another, purchase the products on these farms, which are grown and harvested with love, and then meet up for an afterparty of brews, a farm to table meal, and good times at New Belgium Asheville. The non-profit beneficiary of it all: Friends of Connect Buncombe, which is all about trying to build a greenway system throughout Buncombe County, NC to connect people and communities. I mean it just doesn't get more connected than that.

Evolution Glass is transforming our connection to glass

All the while I’ve been on a behind the scenes mission to organize a campaign that will spread awareness about how we connect to our day-to-day resources, and how we can transform what seems to be waste into something beautiful and functional. I wrote a story about Evolution Glass last winter, and how this startup is a catalyst for changing our perceptions about waste glass. Yesterday, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money so we can increase capacity and efficiency. Today, we’re celebrating that launch at IX Art Park during a concert with two awesome bands that, synchronously, are such a perfect fit for the energy and passion behind this art. It’s an opportunity to build new connections and share our positive message with a new crowd.

Tiller is reconnecting people to their spending and what really matters...

More publicly I’ve been on a mission to create connections with people around how they engage with their money. If you’ve followed this blog, you might understand my perceptions about money. Money is only a tool. Tiller, another startup I work with, is enlightening personal finance. We’re aiming to help people understand where their money is going, and how to improve their financial situation by learning to spend in line with their values. Money will make or break this world, unfortunately. We all vote with our dollars.

Glass Gardens connects people through plant therapy

Every month I get the chance to help John Wharton curate and promote awesome Glass Gardens events in the Hampton Roads community that bring people together to grow, not just plants, but each other. John is a master at creating connections and he is a true inspiration. I really admire his ability to put himself out there and really be vulnerable (even when he thinks he's not).

Self love is the ultimate weapon on the battlefield

The greatest connection I’ve been working to strengthen though, has been with myself. I say this over and over again. Self love is key on the battlefield. Wendy Vigdor-Hess has given me mounds and mounds of the necessary tools and cleared space to cultivate this key. Maybe I’ll never really win the battle, because I’m human, but this Small Act, of taking the leap, like that little squirrel, to connect with others and face my true self have meant immense, and sometimes painful, growth for me. I’m not perfect at it. I still shut people out and want to run and hide when the going gets tough. Four years later, I still cry because my mom’s not on this planet anymore, and I have days when I have to force myself out of bed. I’m learning to love and accept those parts of myself. I might always be learning that lesson.

Yesterday, I heard a quote at the end of yoga class. "You're right where you need to be...what you're seeking is right in front of you, and has been there all along." Someone close to me has been telling me this for a while. Finally, I understood the message. It was for me, and exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. A powerful reminder. I don't need to struggle. Just be okay with where I am, and who I am, right now. 

Be vulnerable.

In the end it’s about facing that fear of being vulnerable, and taking that leap. I know introducing myself to the new yoga instructor at the end of class or exchanging a few words and a smile with the girl at the checkout register is going to make me feel better. We need each other. All of us, no matter our skin color, political orientation, gender, age or tax bracket, need meaningful connections with others. It’s the key to a long and happy life. Don’t believe me? Watch the Ted Talk below.

One Small Act to practice today: give a kind word and a smile to a stranger and see how your heart lights up.