On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
One of the downsides of loneliness getting a lot of press with Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book, Together, and others, like Johan Hari’s, Lost Connections, is it can lead folks to shame their lonely feelings.
There is no shame in loneliness.
In fact, loneliness can be a really good sign. It means your human systems are letting you know you need more connection or that you need to help your brain fully see and receive the connection you have!
If you are feeling lonely right now...your systems are working. And if you don’t totally dig feeling lonely that makes total sense. The feeling motivates you to go out and get connection.
And if you are feeling lonely right now and dig the bittersweetness of it, you are not alone. Olivia Wilde’s book, The Lonely City, is a gem. You can read more about it here. For many, loneliness ushers in a kind of poetic reservoir of creativity if one can tap into their resilience while experiencing loneliness.
I have two ways I react to my own lonely feelings.
The negative stuff I do with lonely feelings includes:
Ick. Not fun.
The positive stuff I do with my lonely feelings include:
Rather than something to be controlled, lonely feelings are something to notice and be with and let them inform our choices and livelihood while at the same time not letting them rule our life. Our loneliness always deserves and requires our care and attention.
When we don’t take care of our lonely feelings and when the world doesn’t create more connection, what Dr. Murthy and Johan Hari so nimbly point out, is we create a world of illness. Mental illness. Physical illness. Addiction. Violence. Injustice. These ills start from loneliness.
Go back and listen to the podcast with Spring Washam. Life is a wild ride. Blocking feelings blocks aliveness so practicing cultivating a fierce heart to welcome in loneliness is a practice. And when we practice we impact ourselves and those around us.
I am a fan of not making any one thing we experience as a human bad. So no “war against loneliness” or “get rid of loneliness” or “end loneliness” or “loneliness is shameful” but rather let’s create a connected and caring world. Let’s start right here, right now with you. Let’s create connection and caring about all the parts of you. All the parts of me. Then we can love and care about ALL the many different kinds of people and their parts. Let’s love so much bigger than we ever imagined possible. Loneliness can make us sick or it can remind us to love.
Four people turned up tonight - FOUR magical unicorns.
Within minutes I felt the same level of heart and openness and shared willingness to grow and learn that I have felt over the years in San Francisco at Sidewalk Talk. We each went around and talked about what drew us to sitting and listening and how our experiences in our lives shaped how we view people and how we wanted to serve as a listener.
I mean seriously...how often do you have a first meeting with strangers in a different country and get to come together and co create and be vulnerable all at the same time like this? I am still pinching myself. Real intimacy in a first meeting.
We already have date number two set up.
As we parted ways each member hugged me and said goodbye to me in German. I beamed as they did. All night we had been speaking in English. This felt like a grand gesture that they hugged me and said goodbye and safe travels in their native tongue. What I felt was “you are one of us now”. I told them so. They smiled. And we all left energized.
And so it is with this project - the often under-talked-about magic bond among chapter members where strangers come together to build something special. Some of my dearest friends and people I admire so much are the people I have met listening on sidewalks. We gather month after month to listen and then have dinner together. It is a family of kindness and belonging.
Many people move to new cities and think it will be easy to make friends like university days. But without that vehicle of college, it is hard, really hard. I have done it...twice.
Tonight, I feel so much more hopeful and expansive.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.