Darkness on the Edge of Town
Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny
Something they just can’t face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them ev’ry step that they take
Till one day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag them down
Where no one asks too many questions
Or looks too long in your face
In the darkness on the edge of town
A song by Bruce Springsteen
I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, what is now called “Silicon Valley” – home to the businesses of Google, Apple Computer, and Facebook. When I was born, I was full of joy. I think babies are whole and feel connected to all of life – everyone and everything. I took the criticism of my parents, teachers, coaches, siblings, and friends and began to criticize myself. I tried to be good. I blamed myself for many things that had nothing to do with me – my dad’s temper or my teacher’s angry outbursts. In turn, I learned to judge others, and I felt better by comparing myself to others. At least, I was a better football player than him. In my family, school, and later work, I came to realize as an adult that our American culture was one based on harsh judgements and conditional love.
Our culture has a strong belief in independence – doing it yourself. This strength of character has its faults. Due to this rugged individualism, we are lonely and isolated in many ways. It is true that we may connect with our iPhones or other computers, yet many of us live in communities where we are strangers to our classmates, neighbors, family, coworkers and – even – ourselves.
Here is a list of what people are wanting socially in their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces (from a North American research study):
- Having neighbors with whom you can interact freely and comfortably.
- Being able to share deepest feelings with someone.
- Having friends who value the same things in life.
- Being in a group where you can discuss your most basic beliefs and values.
- Having friends you can always count on when you are in a jam.
- Having people in your life who are never critical of you.
- Being part of a group that helps you grow spiritually.
- Having cooperation rather than competition with people at work.
- Having people you can turn to when you feel depressed or lonely.
- Know more people in your community.
One doctor found out about this in his research. Dean Ornish, MD, wrote: “At first, I viewed our support groups simply as a way to motivate patients to stay on the other aspects of the [heart-disease prevention] program that I considered more important: the diet, exercise, stress management training, stop smoking, and so on. Over time, I began to realize that the group support itself was one of the most powerful interventions, as it addressed a more fundamental cause of why we feel stressed and, in turn, why we get illnesses like heart disease: the perception of isolation.”
There are reasons why we separate ourselves from others. The answer lies in this research. People attending a community building workshop were asked to rate significant barriers to connecting with others:
- Hard to find people you can trust (before workshop-65%, after-32%)
- Fear of being judged (61%, 13%)
- Fear of being rejected (55%, 10%)
- Feeling misunderstood (52%, 16%)
- Unable to lower my defenses – social mask (48%, 0%)
- Too shy (42%, 21%)
- Fear of appearing weak (35%, 7%)
- No opportunity to meet people interested in connecting (30%, 16%)
How do we find community? One answer can be found in the research of Daniel Siegel. When we are mindful, we are more able to change in order to face the challenges of every day. Being mindful is just being aware of what is going on around us as well as being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. When we are mindful, we are not overwhelmed with worry about the future – the test tomorrow or the baseball game next week. We live in the present and our mind and heart is liberated from much worry and emotional suffering.
When we are mindful, we are paying attention to the unfolding of possibilities in every moment. Attunement is how we focus our attention on others and perceive their communication at all levels – the sad words they chose, their eyes shamefully looking downward, or the fearful look on their face. I need to take these and other signals from the other person inside my mind and be aware of them to be attuned to this other person to whom I am listening. I can think someone is angry at me, because they look mad. If I ask my friend, “Are you upset with me?”
My friend may say: “Am I mad at you? No way. It is Bob who I am so angry with!”
Now, I am getting more attuned to my friend. I understand what is going on inside her. I need to carefully set aside my assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling to see and hear clearly what they are really feeling and thinking.
When I am present, I am open to others and the wisest parts of myself. When I attune to others, I work to become aware of what the other person is thinking or feeling. At a wedding, they often say referring to the couple: “Two shall become one.” Resonance is when I connect with another person in a special way.
Resonance is when we both attune to each other and we are changed by the thoughts and feelings of each other. Daniel Siegel writes: “When such resonance is enacted with positive regard, a deep feeling of coherence emerges with the subjective sensation of harmony. . . Two literally become linked as one. The whole is larger than the sum of the individual parts.”
The word used for this is synergy. This is a relationship between people or things who rise to a new level, because of the quality of the relationship. Groups can be high in synergy or low in synergy. David Goff writes: “Synergy, therefore, is a way of describing the qualities in a relationship (that produce the likelihood of a greater or lesser whole). A good example of this difference is one that most people have experienced. Some groups generate positive energy, the way members interact makes the group smarter than any member would be alone would be. Conversely, the way members interact can create a negative synergy, which makes the IQ of the group lower than any given member.”
In 1978, I went to work at the Rustler Steak House in San Jose, California, USA. I was fifteen years old and worked with a group of employees who were around my age. We spent a lot of time together away from work doing the things that teenagers often like to do: playing football and baseball, going to the beach, going to movies, and going to parties. I loved spending time with my friends from work. Our connection with each other changed the way we worked together. The quality of our relationships improved as a result. The performance scores of our restaurant dramatically improved when we were evaluated by the area manager.
Food is something I love. We can find synergy in delicious food. Recipes, which often combine the same ingredients in different proportions, or add or delete certain ingredients for different effects. When I cook spaghetti sauce, I use many individual ingredients: tomato sauce, basil, sausage, oregano, mushrooms, onions, thyme, and peppers. If I were to eat a raw onion by itself it would be an unpleasant experience. If I took a handful of basil and ate it, I would not enjoy it. Yet the combination of ingredients in the spaghetti sauce with pasta and cheese are magnificent. This is synergy!
In this video, Tim Locke describes the “We Psychology” of Fritz Kunkel and the barriers that keep us from connecting with our own creative center as well as others – our parents, classmates, siblings, friends, children, spouses, and significant others.