Being close to others, experiencing a sense of connection, is a very profound need. It is at the root of our humanity. It starts with the gaze between parent and infant. This close connection is the training ground where we, as infants, develop the ability to modulate our emotions. As adults, the rhythms of our interactions continue to have a deep influence on our ability to modulate our emotions.
What is this process of co-regulation? Think of it in terms of getting in sync with each other. Think of the sense of harmony that happens as you dance together, or sing together. Think about attunement, progressively getting in tune with each other as we fine-tune our connection. Much of this happens below awareness, at a sensing level rather than a cognitive level.
What makes our connections satisfying is not just the content of what we talk about. Much of the satisfaction comes from feeling a sense of connection. We intuitively sense that there is a mutual intention to be with each other. We get attuned to each other’s rhythms of voice and facial expressions. What happens then is an organic process of co-regulation. The safety and the sense of support that we unconsciously perceive allow our individual nervous systems to shift from reactivity to a more mindful state.
In neuroscience, the Polyvagal Theory states that:
– there is a nervous system circuit that mediates mindfulness,
– this is the circuit that has to do with social engagement.
This gives further weight to the experiential finding that there appears to be a bi-directional link between being mindful and being connected. That is, being connected makes us more mindful, and being mindful helps us strengthen our connection.
That being mindful helps connection is widely acknowledged. In fact, this is one of the reasons that motivate people to engage in mindfulness practice.
That being connected helps mindfulness is not as widely noted. And yet, think about what opens up when you apply this finding.
You focus on fostering the experience of connection, as a situation under which mindfulness naturally arises. This is in sharp contrast to thinking of mindfulness practice as developing some sort of “mindfulness muscle,” the way you would train to achieve high performance in sports. What we’re talking about here is “effortless” vs “efforting”.
It goes without saying that this is not to put down deliberate mindfulness practices. Just to draw your attention to another path, which you may want to explore interactive mindfulness.