Finding healthy and grounded ways to connect to the mystery of life can help us cope with our anxiety and stress, and it can help us find meaning, joy, and delight. It’s important to be grounded in reality and deal with our shit, but this doesn’t mean we give up experiences that touch the fantastical, non-rational parts of ourselves. I like the metaphor of the tree here: if a tree is to get closer to the light (the sun), it has to dig its roots deep into the dirt. We too need to dig into our dirt and darkness to access our light.
There’s nutrition in that dirt; when we avoid it, we can’t flourish. We don’t tell a tree that it’s impractical or unrealistic because it’s reaching for the sky—its reaching is a sign of health. As humans, we can let our work of acknowledging our own darkness fuel our openness to the beauty and splendor of life.
Andy Fisher, author of Radical Ecopsychology, talks about our need to be connected to nature because it provides us with a larger context to hold our suffering. He says that “to stay above the healing threshold we need a context for containing our pain that is larger or stronger than the pain itself.” When we don’t feel connected to something bigger than our pain, our pain overcomes us and we focus more on strategies to avoid pain rather than embracing life to its fullest.
There are lots of ways to experience this connection with something bigger than ourselves. You might already have beliefs and rituals that help you do this, you might be questioning your current beliefs, or you might not have any rituals or beliefs that feel meaningful. I encourage you to give some of the suggestions below a try even if you already have some practices in place. See which ones resonate for you. One thing is for sure: this is not an intellectual endeavor; it’s experiential. It’s not something we can just think about or study. A point of view that goes beyond what we can rationally wrap our minds around can offer perspective and clarity. I think that the most settling and reassuring feeling state we can cultivate is that of knowing we’re not separate from anything, that we are held in this larger web of life. So, whatever we call it, it is this thing that reminds us of our true nature—which is that we are deeply and intrinsically connected. This thing allows us to see each other as part of a larger whole. Everyone equally valuable and lovable.
To explore this idea in a different way, take a moment to contemplate its opposite. Think of a moment when you felt particularly terrible—anxious, depressed, lonely, or apathetic. I bet that in that moment you felt supremely alone, unsupported, or disconnected. I bet in that moment you felt separate and like life had no meaning. If separation is the disease, connection is the cure. Finding ways to connect to something bigger serves to remind us that we are part of something and that we are not alone. It can help us make sense of our suffering as well. It’s easy to let our life be a series of tasks and responsibilities where we are rushing from one thing to the next. When we take time to pause and feel into the ineffable, it can give us perspective and a sense of meaning, even awe.
Do you have a relationship to something bigger than you? How do you access wonder? If you don’t, how might you cultivate this connection? Write or draw your answer.
From Peace from Anxiety: Get Grounded, Build Resilience, and Stay Connected Amidst the Chaos by Hala Khouri © 2021 by Hala Khouri. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.