Among the many difficulties and stresses we face daily and through different seasons (like COVID-19, wild-fires, elections), our ability to stay connected to ourselves moment to moment is incredibly hard, but immensely important.
As the title of this article emphasizes, bridging the gaps within is what’s necessary to make and maintain connection.
Philosophers, therapists, coaches, pastors, healers, and all, focus their efforts around this idea of helping people become more connected.
Being connected to yourself helps you be in tune with all the parts of you–the strong, the scared, the passionate, the hurting. This gives you the best chance of being fully present, engaged, and grounded, in all situations. Your body functions in sync with the senses—what your heart feels, in unison with your mind creating meaning and understanding while your soul/essence effectively guides you.
This idea of being connected within yourself looks different for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean you're happy and outgoing, or kind and considerate at all times. When you’re connected and in tune with yourself, you can move through moments aligned with the deeper purpose within you. Your identity doesn’t waver. You can safely feel the highs and/or lows of any situation and find a foundation to stand on. You can navigate messy moments, experiencing the chaos and/or confusion fully while remaining curious and actively present.
This is easier said than done.
Being able to bridge the gaps within yourself to live a connected life, requires holding tension. (For more on this, check out my article: The Importance of Holding Tension and How to Hold More…”)
Holding tension is literally what a bridge does; it bears tremendous amounts of tension for people and vehicles to cross.
Sitting with the grieving, crying with the mourning, navigating hardship, celebrating accomplishments, resting with peace, problem solving with clarity, and working with joy–all require holding tension between different parts of ourselves. A tension of what is, what was, and what could be.
Recently, my mother-in-law called me to ask me a question that required both of us to hold tension, and through this interaction we generated greater connection within ourselves and with one another. When I answered the phone, I could tell she had something she wanted to talk about. We exchanged pleasantries and then we got to the point. She was planning to go through all of the family’s stored belongings and keepsakes with her two daughters (one of them being my wife). Why this was relevant to me, was that she wanted to find out if I was planning to come. She proceeded to give me permission not to come, as she explained it might be a difficult process and didn’t know what I would be able to help with.
As she continued talking, I had two immediate senses. I felt an uncomfortable tension growing within me. I quickly identified one sense–I could be offended that she didn’t think I could help in some way with cleaning out a storage room full of keepsakes (FIGHT). The second sense was for me to be calm and complacent, passively telling her that “I’m fine” with not coming and helping–when truthfully, I wanted to be there (FREEZE/FLEE).
Instead, I found a third way. I bridged the gap between those two different sides of me as I moved through and beyond each sense. I created a connection within that helped both of us move forward.
I became curious about why she expected it to be a difficult experience and asked some more questions. While listening to her, internally I had to engage with that feeling of offense I initially had. I had to allow myself to entertain the idea of being passive and move through both of those feelings to find what the true part of myself needed.
Being able to move across the gaps we bridge that hold tension, helps us honor the true sense within us, which we discover because we are connected.
Through our conversation she expressed appreciation, knowing that I cared about those keepsakes and her process. She felt valued by my questions, and it led to her open up about the difficulties she was facing and hardships in the family. We were able to become more connected as she acknowledged the tension she held, explaining what she needed. While she believed the best about me and my ability to help, she also did not want me to be hurt by what could happen as we cleared out the storage area.
Effectively navigating moments of tension like this, requires us to stay connected to ourselves. That experience with my mother-in-law went the way it did because I’ve been intentionally practicing what I need to stay connected within myself.
All the way from how I wake up in the morning—drinking water, meditating and writing, breathing with intention, working out, and eating a good breakfast—to how much I practice self compassion and self tolerance each day, helps me stay in sync with all parts of myself. Being present throughout my day to care for myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—the four main parts of ourselves, lends more capacity to maintain tension with others.
Bridging the gaps within yourself requires you to be present with your own needs. These are the gaps within us that need to be validated and satisfied.
When our own needs can be identified, they can be met. While they may not be fulfilled the exact or initial way we think or hope for, we will be able to move forward into a more unified place.
In the case with my mother-in-law, there were multiple needs from different parts of me that arose, but a few demanded my attention. These “gaps” generated ideas of assumption from the feelings of offense and passivity.
That first sense was from the Offended part, yelling how I needed to be treated like a man–able to tough it out through any situation and fix the problems. The second was from the Compliant, murmuring how I should be above reproach and unaffected–willing to lay down my life like a good caring person does. I’ve had to work at befriending the parts of myself that have these needs.
For most of my life, the way I learned how to handle these inner voices was by either ignoring them or destroying them! (Can you relate?)
Only in the last few years have I realized where they came from–that they are parts of me. They are parts of my shadow-self (as I described in the article I wrote, “Transforming the Pass or Fail Game and What You’ll Gain...”). They are immature, hurting, afraid parts of me, but parts of me nonetheless. Discounting them, removing them, or shaming them did not help them grow or heal, and doing that only made the foundation within myself more unstable. Listening and validating those parts of myself (even if they were at odds with other parts) helped me develop more ability to live from a connected place. This is how more and better bridges could be built across the gaps and disconnections within me.
From this place I could navigate conflict with more self assuredness–not having to prove myself. I could be more innovative to find a third way to respond to hard moments–rather than fight an unnecessary battle or give up and roll over. I could honor the true sense within me that seeks the highest good in others.
Following that conversation with my mother-in-law, I was able to come back to her with collaboration and we worked together to discover a way for me to help that we both felt excited about. I told her my desire to come and support the process, no matter how productive or difficult it became. In response she felt grateful and at peace, and even came up with more ideas of what I could do to help. We both finished the conversation with more clarity, connection, and hopeful anticipation.