Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Aimee: Welcome to Joy Lab. So I'm Aimee, here to introduce this next lesson of our pod nearing the end, actually, only about three or four left, I'll have to check. But most of all, I hope you have found these lessons helpful. In this one, Henry is talking about an obstacle that is really sneaky.
We call it the illusion of separation around here. It's an illusion because no matter what, we are always connected. We are not separate. We are deeply connected to the world around us, to everything. So we'll follow, we'll dig into that and then we'll follow this lesson with a meditation as well so that you can take action. So that'll be in the next episode. So listen in. And do know that you are connected. You are supported.
Henry: In this section, we're going to talk about creating connection and belonging. I think I've mentioned this before, but there are two things that I think really start to shift the whole conversation around recovering from depression. The first is something we've already talked about, and that is creating greater self-kindness, self-acceptance, self-compassion. Changing the way that we hold ourselves.
The second, which we're talking about now is to create a greater sense of connection with others and breaking out of this feeling that we're really in it alone. I want to open this by reading the first lines of the movie, Love Actually. Pretty good movie.
"General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed. But I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy. But it's always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9 11, as far as I know, none of the calls from people on board were messages of hate and revenge.
They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around." I believe that.
I believe that what we need in the form of relationships, love, connection, is all around. The problem, much of the time, is that we are not able to take it in. Pema Chodron, who is a Buddhist teacher, uses a metaphor that I just really like for this.
She talks about the human heart as being like a sea anemone.
A sea anemone is a creature that lives on the ocean floor. And it's just kind of rooted there. It doesn't move around, it just stays there. And it's food floats right by it. And when it's open and able to bring in that nourishment, then the anemone has these tentacles that are just spread out and draw the nutrients out from the water.
But when it is threatened or feels threatened, it closes down, it brings the softness, it brings the capacity to draw nourishment inside, closes up tight and protects itself.
And the human heart is in some ways not so very different. When we're threatened, when we feel insecure, when we don't feel safe, we bring our softness in and we close up tight and we protect ourselves.
Now there's actually nothing wrong with that. It's a healthy, natural, normal response when we feel threatened or unsafe. The problem is not in closing down, the problem is if we don't open up again. If we let ourselves stay closed, we can be surrounded by love or kindness or goodness and not be able to draw that in.
So this section is really about learning to open up again. And it's really important. The Dalai Lama was quoted as saying,
"We can live without meditation and religion. But we cannot survive without human affection."
I want to read you a quote from a, another very different way of looking at this, but coming to much the same conclusion, and this is from a neuroscientist, a book by Lou Cozolino called The Neuroscience of Human Relationships.
Here's the quote:
"The individual neuron, or a single human brain, does not exist in nature. Without stimulating interactions, people and neurons wither and die. In neurons, this is called apoptosis. In humans, it is called depression, grief, and suicide. From birth until death, each of us needs others who seek us out, show interest in discovering who we are, and help us feel healthy and safe.
This understanding the brain requires knowledge of the healthy living brain embedded within a community of other brains. Relationships are our natural habitats."
There is a phrase that I like to use in talking about this. It is called the illusion of separation. It's a phrase that really comes out of the Buddhist literature, but it could be equally true from virtually any of the major religions, the spiritual traditions, because they know that in fact we are not isolated, independent, separate beings. We are connected at a very deep level in very meaningful ways. Whether we see that or realize that or not. It's still true that we are connected. And so one way of looking at depression or grief or severe anxiety is that it is a call to community. It is absolutely telling us how imperative it is to break through this illusion of separation and create what the poet David White calls a house of belonging.
I want to tell you a little story about creating a house of belonging and what that means. The term I think is really evocative and to me it means very much like what it sounds. You, you build it. You, you plan and design and then you build this sense of connection and community. It doesn't always happen just on its own.
If it doesn't, then it requires us to think and plan and act, and just like building a house, you have to start with your own thoughts, your own ideas, and you create it first from within and then from without. The story I want to share is, a few years ago, my family and I, built a cabin. And we did it in a style of building called timber frame.
If you're not familiar with that, it is posts and beams. It's not a cabin per se, it's just building the frame or the infrastructure. And then you build around it. But this technique is very detailed, it's a huge amount of work, because you're creating these joints for the posts and beams without using any hardware. You're creating them so that they just fit together, kind of like a hand in a glove.
And it's really time consuming. So we did this at a school that kind of works with old arts and crafts, it's called the North House Folk School. And we invited friends to come. And we set kind of a wide net. We didn't really think we had this many friends. But because people heard about it and started talking about it and they thought this sounds like such a cool way to build community, we ended up having 50 people come and help us do this work over a period of two weeks. And I can tell you that, this is not just my experience, but I think many people would say much the same thing, that this is one of the most kind of profound experiences of community that I've ever had. And in many cases, these were people I have never even known before. But, it brought us together. And we had, you know, something that we could work on together. Which is a really nice way of building community.
I like to think that our ancestors were doing this kind of thing frequently, because they needed to. They needed each other. And in times of crisis, even now, you will see this happening. Natural disasters, even, you know, um, terrorist attacks, these horrible things that none of us want, do have a way of bringing people together because we need each other.
So how can we start to build this? How can we create this house of belonging and this sense of greater belonging and engagement? Again, we can start by working on our own thoughts and our beliefs and then taking that into action. So I would invite you to practice the heart opening meditation. To practice it often. Because being able to open your heart is really the vehicle for this being able to happen at a deeper level.
Another way to think about this is that if you work on creating a greater sense of generosity toward others, you will find that that draws others to you, that that creates a sense of community. There's a, a really lovely practice in Buddhism called sympathetic joy, which is where you learn, rehearse or practice internally, to be joyful or happy for other people's success and happiness.
I've heard it said, more poetically than this, but if you are able to be happy when others are happy, because there's so many people in the world, you've just increased your own chances for happiness by about 7 billion times. I can tell you this really works. If you can cultivate the ability to be happy and grateful and generous for other people's success instead of feeling like there's not enough to go around, we're competing for this and I've got to try and get mine, you will change your ability to connect and you will grow your community really quickly and really richly. So I would also invite you to do the sympathetic joy meditation, the ability to be generous and happy for other people's success and wellbeing.
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