The following is taken from my book, Metamorphosis: Make the Change; Emerge Magnificent.
We Need Human Connection to Survive and Thrive
Human connection is a biological imperative, and science shows us that we can affect each other far more than we may realise. So many of our vital functions, from healing to creativity, require us to feel safe and connected. This is a function of our vagus nerve, which controls our autonomic nervous system. When stimulated, the vagus nerve activates our parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’). The better our vagal tone, the more easily we can switch on our parasympathetic nervous system after a stressor.
When we mobilise our sympathetic nervous system, we’re in fight-or-flight mode. This means our body prioritises the functions needed to fight or flee at the expense of other functions such as our immune and digestive systems. We can’t heal, digest, or create when we’re under stress.
I’ve read a few books on achieving creativity and productivity within teams. These include The Culture Code by Daniel Cole, Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. and Creativity Inc., the story of Pixar by its founder Ed Catmull. A common thread struck me: in order to produce great, creative work, we need to feel safe. Once I read Stephen Porges’ Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory, I understood why this is the case.
As I mentioned above, when we’re in fight-or-flight mode we are operating with a tightly edited set of bodily functions. We are in emergency mode; we simply cannot thrive. Think of the parallel with managing your workload. Projects that are important but not urgent tend to get sidelined by urgent tasks. Our bodies operate in a similar way. When we feel stressed, we are not in homeostasis, and essential, but less urgent, functions are paused. We’re in a defensive state that cannot coexist with a growth state.
But what does this have to do with human connectivity? As mammals, we rely heavily on each other for the necessary social cues to allow ourselves to feel safe. As Porges puts it, we ‘reciprocally regulate each other’s physiological state’. He explains: ‘Basically, our nervous system craves reciprocal interaction to enable state regulation to feel safe.’
In other words, our nervous systems are designed to require certain social interaction with fellow humans to generate the necessary safety cues. And when we get them, we can thrive. This is because the neural pathways of social behaviour and interaction are the same neural pathways that we use to support healing and growth.
The positive effect of having social or familial support when recovering from illness or injury has been well documented. Porges says:
This has been treated as if it were just an issue of – we’ll give people social support. That’s not the real issue; the real issue is that appropriate social interactions are usually using the same neural pathways that support health, growth and restoration.
In short, we can help to heal each other because the benefits of social interaction on our nervous system are so great. In the same way that chronic stress is known to play utter havoc on our bodies, human connection is a critical way for us to demobilise our sympathetic nervous system and access a state where we can heal and grow.
Malcolm Gladwell illustrated this point in Outliers when he investigated the citizens of Roseto, Pennsylvania. The community was entirely composed of emigrants from Roseto Valfortore in Italy. The town boasted an exceedingly low rate of disease despite a less than ideal diet, as well as obesity and smoking. Local scientists concluded that the exceptional level of social interaction and support among everyone in the community was the likely cause of its good health.
Our Energies Connect Us All
We know that we can connect and communicate with each other in ways that we cannot always explain. It’s been suggested that women in close proximity tend to regulate their menstrual cycles to coincide, as do female dogs. Premature twins thrive more when they lie next to each other. The power of group prayer has been well-documented on various occasions. We think of a friend and they call us out of the blue. When someone tells us a story, our neurons can mirror those of the storyteller. Scientific tests show that our heart waves can affect someone else’s brain waves, and vice versa.
In her book, Energy Medicine, Jill Blakeway details Princeton University’s Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) programme, which created a random event generator machine (REG). Over 28 years of experiments, the programme showed that humans could affect the machine’s numerical output in a tiny but statistically significant way. What’s more, two people working with the machine had a stronger effect than one, and a couple that was emotionally attached had the strongest effect of all.
Since PEAR shut its doors, the Global Consciousness Project has undertaken many similar experiments, in particular around large-scale, emotional events such as New Year’s Eve and Trump’s inauguration. The GCP finds that while compassion is one of the most effective emotions as far as the REGs’ data output is concerned, fear also drives data deviations. Blakeway quotes Roger Nelson, creator of the GCP, as saying that ‘we are designed to be interconnected. And there is a potential awakening for us, to reach a more unified field of consciousness, to create a layer of intelligence for the earth.’
Thanks to quantum physics, we know that we are not matter; we are composed of pure energy. We are forged from the stars. I don’t believe it’s a big leap to see that we are all interconnected. I’m not sure that many of us, myself included, spend enough time pondering on how deeply we can connect with each other beyond the physical realm, or why we co-exist in this interconnected way.
In my view, some of the most beautiful and meaningful explanations for both the cause and form of our human connections come from people who’ve experienced the other side of life: that is, death. Psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson has greatly impacted my world-view with her beautiful books, The Light Between Us and Signs. Jackson’s incredible gift has given her a perspective on life that the majority of us lack. In fact, she argues that we only see around fifteen percent of what is around us on earth: ‘The rest is unseen energy and light connections.’
Jackson believes that ‘earth is a school where we are all learning a collective lesson in love. We are spiritual beings here to learn about connectivity and kindness.’ She elaborates that we are not just following our own paths; we intersect with others’ paths, allowing us many opportunities to add meaning to each other’s lives. She talks a good deal about the cords of love and light that bind us in, and beyond, this life. Her books don’t just detail what happens to us and our loved ones when we cross; they paint a beautiful picture of why we’re here, what actually matters in life, and why the connection between us all on earth is so much stronger than our logical, Newtonian frameworks can possibly illustrate.
If Jackson’s impression of life is valid, then there is absolutely nothing that matters more than human connection. There is nothing more worthwhile or noble than leaning into our gloriously messy, flawed, and complex fellow human beings and in doing so, weaving ‘a magical tapestry of meaning and love and forgiveness and hope and light with each other’, to quote her once more.
Jackson’s world-view is very similar to that of Anita Moorjani, who, as I mentioned in Chapter 6, returned from a near-death experience (NDE) to find her body rapidly shedding all signs of the cancer that had taken her to multiple organ-failure. Since her NDE, her world-view has completely and utterly transformed. She sees now that: ‘in the tapestry of life, we’re all connected. Each one of us is a gift to those around us, helping each other to be who we are, weaving a perfect picture together.’ Her understanding now is that the universe is made up of unconditional love, and we are all part of that love which means we cannot be separate from each other. We are all one.
As you can see, I somewhat fell down a rabbit-hole of reading about the afterlife; I read Jackson’s two books and Dying to be Me in quick succession. I have to say that reading them gave me a transformative perspective-shift. In the next chapter we’ll talk about choosing models of reality that serve us. What if the world is a place full of miracles that we’re choosing to ignore? As we discussed, Einstein reminded us that we can live our lives as though nothing, or everything, is a miracle. What if my sense of duality from other humans is a false perception, and I am tied to everyone I pass by cords of love and light? What if I could open myself up to see the light in everyone? In a world where we are fully at liberty to choose and use the models of reality that serve us best, I find this to be a magical perspective that elevates the meaning of my human interactions.
Wherever your beliefs fall, from a physical perspective we all share the same fabric; our bodies can welcome each other’s blood and organs. Whatever perceptions of ‘us and them’ we manufacture, we’re all made of the same stuff. We really are no different inside.
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Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash