Conscious Connection

painted hand holding conscious connection

One of the great things about having lived in a few different countries is that you have friends all over the world.

One of the not so great things about having lived in a few different countries is that you have friends all over the world.

It is obviously wonderful in so many ways to be an expat and have friends all over the place, the hard part is maintaining and developing those friendships when you are far apart. It is far easier to get swept up in the day to day existence.

Whilst I do largely subscribe to the theory that good friends can always pick up where they left off, there is never a bad time to get in touch with a friend. Hearing from a friend is usually one of the highlights of my day, whether I connect with someone whether it in person, by phone or over the internet. The difficulty is staying in touch with a myriad of people around the world who you may or may not ever see again and still having some type of meaningful connection there (if you so choose!)

I have been feeling a bit bad about not having sent any Christmas cards or even a Christmas newsletter last year (just wasn’t feeling it for some reason). Last week I also wrote a post about feeling peripheral . This week it has felt like it was time to take the matter into my own hands.

It is fair to say I am a sporadic communicator. I don’t love Facebook and very rarely post there, it just feels a bit uncomfortable to me. I much prefer one on one personal communication, just my preference. I don’t mind sharing so much on Instagram, a photo of a moment in my day feels less voyeuristic in my view and somehow more intimate. But, instead of going the social media route, I decided this week to reach out to some of our friends around the globe to see how they were doing and give them a bit of an update about us. Whilst I had genuine intentions and wanted to connect, there was a part of me that felt a bit like was this was not a productive use of my time and then another part wondered whether they would also see it as a burden on their time too.

Now rationally I know both of the above statements are untrue. It is absolutely not a waste of anyone’s time to ever connect. But I also know, I and possibly ‘we’ (as people) have got so caught up in the doing, the crossing off the to-do list mentality that it is easy to get caught up in feeling that some things are ‘non-essential’, even if we do actually value them. That coupled with the pandemic where I still feel like we have retreated into our homes, our shells a bit more and have yet to find our equilibrium on how we manage friendships and connection with covid never too far from our thoughts. Yes, in 2020 there were the flurry of zoom calls with old friends, uni mates, whoever, but that all seemed to have evaporated and now it feels to me like social contact is tending to be more local and we just plod on with our lives, work, family a smaller narrower one.

Yet I know in my heart how I feel when I get a message from someone, how lovely it feels to hear their latest and know they are thinking of me or us. It is often something I list in my gratitude journal as something that has made my day that much richer. Yes, a few moments later having received the message, there may be the dawning realisation that I then need to reply to them which will take time and that it is probably best that I do it quickly so I don’t forget about it. But the real gold there is the connection.

So why do I, we, not choose to priorities our time in this way with connecting with friends and family more meaningfully. Is it time? Is it a fear that we have nothing interesting to say? Different priorities? Life is busy with work and kids? What?

I suspect its a mixture of all that. I know I certainly can have other things I need to prioritise that could be construed as more important. I also did wonder whether there was anything majorly interesting to write to people this week and that is from someone who, on the face of it appears to lead a pretty interesting life here in Spain in our newly renovated home. I don’t think it really matters what we say, it is more about keeping the connection and showing each other we are thinking of them. A message can take one minute and still be meaningful.

Having contacted a few friends personally, I was delighted to hear back from several of them, particularly an old colleague and another one from over 10 years ago in Australia who has had an extremely tough last year. We wrote back a forth several times and I am so glad I reached out to her for me and for her! We are now hoping to meet up somehow this year and reconnect in person.

Bronnie Ware wrote in her book ‘The Five Regrets of the Dying’, where she draws on her experiences and observations of those that she worked with that were terminally ill. She noted the following five things were people’s greatest regrets:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

I know I can relate to all of those to some degree. The one that I can probably act on most easily and swiftly is ‘Wishing I had stayed in touch with my friends’. If we are truly honest are we as good as keeping in touch as we’d like to be? Is it something we could regret?

I know I could.

Having reflected on it connection is actually a deep and essential form of self-care and not a luxury that we can’t afford.

So, what to do?

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Communication plan!

Ok, that might be a bit OTT.

BUT, if we really do want to stay in touch with friends whether it is a key group of 5-10 or 100, we need to make it a priority and have a plan, do it intentionally. What works for you?

  • We have some friends that post a lot on Facebook about their daily lives and very much interact with others via their posts and their friends’ posts.
  • One friend carved out a couple of hours a week to ‘correspondence’ where they sent lengthy emails or called one or two people that they chose.
  • Other friends are very diligent at sending a semi-personalised email or WhatsApp updates on a pretty much quarterly basis on how they are doing.
  • Some don’t use social media at all and very much have a conscious approach to developing their key friendships on a weekly basis via WhatsApp/Skype/Facetime and the odd WhatsApp message to others.

But I think for most of us it is pretty erratic, possibly a blanket message on Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp at Christmas and then maybe not much beyond that.

Clearly there is no right or wrong way to maintain and develop friendships and stay in touch. But what is clear is that it has to be done consciously, intentionally to make the connection work.

At present I would say my contact with friends is sporadic, I send an odd message when I remember to or if I see something that reminds me of them, for example. But I want to get more intentional about staying in regular touch with a key group of friends and be there for each other. This will mean a regular slot in my diary, even if it is for 15-30 minutes a week. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media or half-watching something – neither of which is something I plan for, but somehow end up doing reasonably regularly. I will plan in that time to send a personal message or call someone that I am thinking of and want to connect with.

By investing the time and energy, I have no doubt it will make my life that much richer with genuine relationships. Rather this than a vague sense of someone’s or my life via a FB status and nothing back as I don’t really share anything that way. I am not sure it will take more time, but it will require conscious planning and doing. It will require some thought and possibly some introspection about what I want to share and with whom. But aren’t those types of investment what truly make life worth living?

How do you communicate with friends near and far? What works for you? Any plans to change in 2022? Please do share your thoughts and experiences below.

Photos: Photos by Tim Mossholder, Fabio Bracht and kaleb tapp on Unsplash

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