Promoting Well-Being through a Sense of Connectedness
The subjective experience of feeling consciously connected with others and with our environment or that which is larger than ourselves has been found to promote physical and mental health, or well-being. Until recently, connectedness was considered unsuitable for scientific study. With improved instrumentation and new scientific interest, exploration has begun.
So far, a sense of connectedness appears to be more fundamental than is commonly recognized.
Over the past 30 years, a significant number of studies have documented some measures of connectedness and its effects. Noncontact therapeutic touch, which is now used in hospitals worldwide, has been well documented. This procedure involves moving one’s hands close to a patient while maintaining a strong sense of connectedness and usually an intention to heal. It has been shown to reduce pain and anxiety and improve the rate of wound healing when patients could not have known when or even if they were receiving treatment. The research evidence suggests a significant connectedness between participants.
Other controlled experiments have been conducted in which participants were isolated from one another such that no known means of sensory interaction between them was possible.
Results have shown a wide variety of subtle communication anomalies. Consistent changes in EEG patterns have been recorded when distant persons attempted to remotely communicate with others. Some studies have measured congruent autonomic reactions between distant participants. Over 40 studies have indicated that the prayers and meditations of widely separated individuals are significant in promoting health and beneficial behavior in and for others. The effect of remote attention on biological as well as electronic systems has proven significant in over 500 studies.
Participants isolated from one another have shared their thoughts and experiences in controlled experiments, and a meta-analysis of 39 similar studies yielded a probability of these results occurring by chance alone of less than one part in a trillion.
Selective attention may play a role in these findings. Studies in cognitive psychology suggest that attention provides the glue that integrates separate things into unities. Controversial neuroscience supports this, suggesting that consciousness may actually be constructed out of an attention-induced synchrony, causing the brain’s perceptual centers to connect information that would otherwise remain disjointed.
Attention may thus serve as a connecting link for people conventionally shielded from one another. To this effect, a series of tests was conducted by the Mind Science Foundation yielding significant results. The autonomic nervous system activity of one person was strongly correlated with the focused attention and intention of a conventionally isolated second person.
A one-way closed circuit video system allowed for the periodic observation of a volunteer by an experimenter. A series of volunteers were monitored for autonomic nervous system reactions during both observation and non-observation (control) periods. Volunteers did not know when or for how long they were observed, and results remained undisclosed within automated computer memory until each stage of the study was complete.
In another group of studies, volunteers attempting to influence their own psychological activity were only somewhat more effective than experimenters, who, in a directly comparable test, attempted to influence a similar series of volunteers from a conventionally shielded and distant location. Both studies utilized identical techniques and a relatively large number of individuals. As remarkable as it may seem, a nonsignificant difference was found between remote and self-influence (p=0.08, two tailed). Overall, remote influence by a second participant was nearly as effective as self-influence.
Not only do we seem to be connected with each other and our environment, but these results raise the larger question of whether humanity shares a common consciousness.
The scientific evidence suggests that we do share an interconnected rapport with others and our environment. However, this seems to contradict our everyday experience of separateness.
One possible implication is that humanity may be suffering from a form of dissociation. This may even be purposeful. For instance, we might be maintaining a sense of separateness as protective camouflage to avoid conscious awareness of what may seem to be too self-effacing or too vast to assimilate as useful or meaningful. Could such self-limiting behavior be considered a form of denial, motivated by fear? In other words, are we attempting to control our fear and circumstances by limiting or denying what we can know in predetermined ways?
If so, how did such self-limiting behavior originate? Perhaps it began with an evolutionary adaptation, one that has saved us in the past from treating other animals and plants as aspects of “ourselves.” Such sympathy might have curtailed our lives because we would tend not to feed upon that which we perceived as ourselves. The nature of self-regulated organisms may have inherently demanded individualized psychophysiological terrains under most if not all circumstances. For these reasons, our psychic diversity may tend to eclipse our sense of unity.
Whatever the case, a sense of connectedness has been shown to improve individual health and well-being. Others have gone further by asking whether meditators practicing a sense of connectedness could promote global health and well-being. To date, over 40 studies conducted within a period of 14 years by 42 psychologists, statisticians, and physicists at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, have affirmed this to be a strong probability.
Socially and internationally, humanity may be maintaining a dissociative disorder analogous to the multiple personality disorder (MPD) of psychiatry. Bennet Braun, M.D., director of Associated Mental Health Services in Chicago and author of one of few authoritative texts on MPD, recognizes two principal causes in individuals: an inborn biological-psychological capacity to dissociate that is usually identified by an excellent responsivity to hypnosis; and repeated exposure to an inconsistently stressful environment, in which one receives love and abuse for the same behavior at unpredictable times. The result is that many poorly related personality structures develop that are characterized as defensively autonomous and symbolically “two-dimensional.”
Remarkably, the various personality structures carry distinct, measurably different physiological and medical predispositions. Often they draw upon unique knowledge bases, while there is usually one personality overseeing or caretaking the others. Ultimately, they all seem to fear integration as it connotes loss and death instead of enrichment. Such knowledge of MPD at the individual level raises issues that may pertain to a possible greater human dissociative disorder.
Global stability may depend upon humanity as a whole confronting what may be a dissociated state. Ironically, strong cooperative efforts are needed now to solve our severe global problems. Perhaps, if we innately possess an integrative synergy, it may now be awakening to these challenges as they are brought to our joint “attention” through the world press.
Finally, it may be possible to encourage the vitality of a collective consciousness and survival instinct, should they exist, by responsibly focusing public awareness. For example, an international television documentary designed to explore the evidence for a global consciousness might help achieve this. Since healing has proved to be most effective when the healer, the patient, and the environment are experienced as “fundamentally one,” can we promote global health and well-being by individually developing a sense of connectedness?
Free at Last
Nature has apparently designed us to evolve into a more unified, awake state of consciousness. Many religious teachings for millennia have pointed to the realization of this unity as the highest attainment of a human life. Mutual devotion to this level of realization on the part of countless individuals has led, over thousands of years, to our current process of awakening together. There is a growing interest today in the potential of cultivating a common sense—both inter-subjectively and socially.
Our capacity to share a commonly sensed consciousness may be the next step in human and cultural evolution, an integral element in the maturation of the universe, and even essential to our survival as a species.
Over these last hundred years, many of the realizations described in ancient texts have been explored by western science. As one such example, Hinduism teaches that there are aspects of ultimate reality whose interaction accounts for all experience. The so-called Sat-Purusa (“real” soul) is a void that gives rise to an unchanging spirit—the point that radiates consciousness through all points, as a colorless light.
As the oneness in every life form and in all of humanity, spirit is the essence of both the individual self and the universal self. Contemporary research has examined what appears to be essential for cultivating conscious community, finding that a shared sense of emptiness frequently precedes social integration.
My own ongoing research in attention management and group intelligence shows that the quality and presence of our attention—whenever we are aware of the void-like nature of our awareness—significantly enhances our ability to receive and reflect and feel as one. The experience produces the evolution of a “common sense” that can be cultivated and popularly embraced. When collective attention is undivided and aware of itself, people can recognize a profound altruistic way of being together.
This is a subtle process requiring a deep sense of shared relaxation and the gradual development of “effortless concentration.” Our minds and bodies then serve as a lens—as do our eyes and ears—for attending to whatever we choose to notice; to receive, reflect, and be whatever we attend to.
This author is developing plans for a movie that will cause hundreds of people—at once—to share a life-changing experience of being awake as one. Inside of 90 minutes, an entire audience may claim they have always known each other. It will seem natural to feel love with total strangers. The intent of this film, future films, and related media will be to help shift the separatist mindset of humanity, so “the one we all are” is felt and thought intuitively by every human being, with great application for the enhancement of well-being in every sector of our world.