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  • Sharon Cabana, MA, LMFT

Heart to Heart: Fostering Connection

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of reality shows. The other night however, after getting sucked down the Tube of You, I found some auditions from Britain’s Got Talent (yup, you read that correctly), and saw a magician perform a trick focused solely on emphasizing the connection we have with each other. As much as I know it was a trick and there are probably a hoard of amateur magicians breaking it down all over the internet, I realized the real magic of the performance was how the magician tapped into something so many of us are feeling. In an age where we are more connected than we have ever been, when it’s just as easy to talk to someone in Tigard as it is in Tokyo, we feel more isolated, alone, and disconnected than ever before. When everything happens in an instant, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we still have time for connection.

Perhaps, it’s no surprise that in an age where information is literally flooding our neural nets, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on a singular person, activity, or event. In fact, our brains are wired to sift through information and simplify it so that we don’t feel overwhelmed by everything our senses perceive. And our senses perceive so much. Information theory says that we sense 11 million bits of stimuli per second. Imagine if you were mindfully aware of all of that stimuli! Talk about information overload! The drawback to this is that we get stuck in patterns. Our brains stop processing the new in favor of finding the easiest way to get back to what they know. It’s sort of the neurological equivalent to Occam’s Razor, or the idea that the simplest solution is often the best one. So, how can we learn to connect in an age of disconnection?

Horses teach us a lot about connection. Herds move together. Anyone who has ever watched a horse show fail video on Youtube knows that when one horse spooks, so do all the others. Horses groom, play, fight, and protect each other. When our chiropractor came out recently to work on a couple of horses in a herd, the oldest of the horses (and incidentally the lowest-ranking one in the group) came over to her friends to offer support. She cuddled close to them and observed everything happening. Horse herds are families, connected together by the mutual needs of the herd to be well-cared for and survive. And herds are not restricted by fences. Whenever our boy Roy is left alone in his paddock while his buddies go to work, he immediately runs to the far side of the paddock to visit with his other friends. They whinny and nicker for each other. The connect through movement, sound, and touch.

Horses have other ways of helping us connect, too. One of the things that make them such amazing healers is their ability to connect with us on a deep level. Horses share limbic similarity with humans, which allows them to connect to us neurologically. They reflect back to us how we are feeling inside, even when we don’t know what it is we’re actually feeling. It’s almost like looking into a mirror, a giant 1,200 pound mirror. Moreover, a recent study in Japan also showed that horses healing power comes from the spine to spine connection of horse and rider combined with the subtle rotating movement of the horse’s hips at a walk. When a horse walks that connection helps riders to regulate emotionally, coming down from states of anxiety. In the case of children with Autism Spectrum or sensory processing disorders, this can help them to regulate following overstimulation. And this is just the beginning of the neuroscience behind the animal-human bond.

But connection is more than neurons and synapses. There’s also a something special about that moment when someone, whether two- or four-legged, sees us. When we look into their eyes and realize that we’ve been accepted, exactly as we are. Connection doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be an 8-hr marathon conversation with a stranger or a mosh pit in the middle of a punk rock concert. To truly connect to others only takes an instant. It’s holding the door for a stranger walking into Starbucks. It’s smiling at a cute baby in a shopping cart. It’s complimenting someone’s shoes, tie, dog, hair, or whatever (without being creepy!). It’s turning your phone off an hour before bed and asking your partner or children, “How are you?” It’s standing on your porch with a cup of coffee and taking a deep breath to connect with yourself and the world around you. Because connection is all around you, if you have the presence of mind and heart to embrace it.

For instant connection, it only takes an instant.

How will you embrace connection today?

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