All who make up the Recovery Cafe Network are invited to gather in San Jose in April. We’re excited that Johann Hari will join us. In his most recent book, “Lost Connections,” Johann Hari shares that the surge in depression and epidemic of loneliness in our larger culture are, in part, forms of grief for connections we have lost as a society; connections that we desperately need; connections on which our emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological well-being depend.
I’d like to name just three connections which many have lost to varying degrees, but still need: a connection with unconditional love, a connection with authentic community and a connection with a purpose greater than ourselves.
First, we all need a connection with unconditional love, which goes by many names. The voices of our dominant culture tell us we’re not good enough. We need to do more, accomplish more and buy more. Those voices demand more and more of what doesn’t work and will never satisfy our deepest longing or bring us true joy. In short, our larger culture encourages us to attempt to meet deep, internal longings with shallow, external fixes.
Most of us know deep inside that it is what we give to others that brings us true joy, and that the gift of our own, truest self is the greatest gift we can offer another. Most of us know deep inside that many of the demands of our dominant culture are in conflict with our own deepest values. But the demands of our dominant culture are relentless.
How do we withstand those demands?
We can set aside time each day to nurture our connection with that place of unconditional love within us. Maybe that time is a quiet walk in a park, or sitting in silence for 20 minutes. Howard Thurman reminds us that the voice of unconditional love within us is the only true guide we will ever have, and if we cannot connect with/hear that voice “we will spend all our days on the ends of strings someone else pulls.”
Another connection that many have lost, but that we all still desperately need, is a connection with authentic community. In a recent study, fifty percent of Americans reported being lonely. Thirty-nine percent said they do not feel close to anyone.
The Cafés making up Recovery Café Network define authentic community as the place where we are both deeply known and deeply loved. Some of us have places in our lives where people seem to love us, but don’t really know us. They don’t know where we struggle. They don’t know our shadow sides. And some of us have places in our lives where people do know our struggles and shadows, but don’t really love us.
We all need authentic community where we are both deeply known and loved if we are to become all we were created to become and all the world needs us to become. Creating such communities is what all Cafes in the Recovery Cafe Network are all about.
Finally, a third connection that many have lost, but all still need, is a connection with a purpose greater than ourselves. Of course, creating Recovery Cafe communities is a purpose greater than ourselves. But we can become so weighed down by the demands of creating and operating our Recovery Cafe that we forget – simply being fully present to the person right in front of us is our primary purpose greater than ourselves.
How often do we look past people? How often do we fail to see fully the person right in front of us?
What if our primary purpose greater than ourselves is simply to see others fully? To see their gifts and struggles, their light and shadows, their joy and pain?
Two years ago on Christmas Eve, Joan had just begun to play her flute when Mark stormed into Recovery Café. Mark was particularly mentally anguished that night. Skye tried to help him find a seat and eventually he plopped down on the front row, a few feet away from where Joan was playing her flute.
It was the first time in years that Joan had attempted to play her flute for others, so I was nervous that Mark storming into the Café would rock her confidence. Instead of becoming distracted, Joan focused intently on Mark and continued to play. She told me later, “I decided the person who was hurting the most in the room that night was Mark, so I set my gaze on him. I focused my attention on him. I played my flute just for him as if no one else was even there.”
When we are truly present to the suffering of another, that connects us not only to that person right in front of us. It connects us to all those who are suffering throughout the world. Likewise, when we allow ourselves to be an instrument of transforming love to the person right in front of us—and allow that person to be an instrument of transforming love to us— we become connected to a world wide movement of transforming love. We play our flutes for and with the entire human family.
We are grateful beyond words to be on this journey of deepening connections with you,