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Lately, I’ve been doing a great deal of crying.

It is not because I am depressed. I actually feel a great sense of happiness for who I am, what I know and where I have come from. I celebrate a deep gratitude for the life that is uniquely mine.

The tears come for the great connection I long to feel to the earth and those who inhabit it and that I am often looking for ways to bring people together. This feeling seems to overwhelm me as I seek to intuitively foster and nurture positive, genuine social connection.

I heard Hugh Mackay speak at a community conference last week. I was interested to hear him speak about his recent publication Australia Re-imagined, because he was able to articulate so clearly what I had been observing on the ground, my personal experience of a loss of faith in what we hold as truth.

He talked about the facts, one of which points to an epidemic of mental illness and an increase in the suicide rate. The second fact, that of a society that is becoming increasingly fragmented.

The contributing factors point to:

  • Income inequality
  • That people do not take the time to talk to each other because of the ‘busy” epidemic
  • High-rise, high density housing
  • Lack of trust among neighbors
  • That more and more people are choosing to live alone.

In other words we live in close proximity to each other without really knowing, nor appreciating with whom we are actually living. We have become self-absorbed and somehow lost our sense of social cohesion.

I thought it was absolutely classic, that in London they have appointed a “Minister For Loneliness”. I know I would be fantastic at that job!

He talked about the paradox of our online social connection versus the community social disconnection. Fragmentation therefore has caused the rise in mental illness. Evidence points to greater addiction to technology causing greater social anxiety and thus isolation.

How do we mitigate and manage a healthy consumption of technology? Leaving children to their devices has simply become an inability to communicate, a tactic for avoidance. In this space the internal voice is amplified and the device at hand a tool with which to ‘speak’. We can’t be bothered having a conversation because it takes effort, even when we are in the same room!

The question was posed how do we nurture our neighbourhoods?

Our intuition, our DNA is hard-wired for social connection. Lyn McTaggert , a UK Scientist writes about this in The Bond, and provides evidence to back up the notion of exploring the space between us. As Hugh Mackay also illustrated in his presentation, people are made to be social beings. He says that social isolation is the number one global threat to our health as a species. He states that those who are suffering of this social isolation are often looking in the wrong places. They think that they need more control and seek to be secure, but as a result become more insecure. In order to fill the void, they buy stuff, they are surrounded by stuff that constantly reminds them of their insecurity, that in turn distracts them to buy more stuff!

 A few years ago I attended a women’s sustainability conference that cost me a gold coin donation, where I participated in a food meditation. It involved taking a piece of fruit from a selection on a plate and savoring it in my mouth, mindfully visualising its evolutionary journey. Where had it come from? Who had grown it? How long had it taken to grow? I was to appreciate the flavors, a product from the earth, nourishing my sense of purpose.

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I cried then too, a daughter of Italian immigrants, farmers, who could grow food, this meditation of the senses, I was a child sitting under the orange trees on a winter’s day peeling a navel by hand, the smell of citrus prickled my nose, clung to my fingers and the sweet, cold juice dripped from my chin. Salivation tripped my memory and guilt induced tears flowed easily, a sense of abandonment, that I had left behind a simple life considered ordinary, seeking ambition in red shoulder padded suits, enticed by the myth of the superwoman.

How have we become so disillusioned by seeking more, when what we had then, now seems so perfect? This memory is ironic, for Hugh Mackay’s observations also indicates that as a result of social isolation, people have also become more nostalgic, seeking to live in ways we have since left behind.

Hugh continued to speak about the loss of sense of belonging, becoming obsessed with the self and the loss of sight of the needs of the people that surround us. That what our society needs is to value and demonstrate greater compassion. That compassion starts with the self, that communities are made not by the bricks, mortar or infrastructure, but that at the heart of community are the people.

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