This blog follows up on my previous one, where the focus was on “acting as if.” A couple of weeks ago, I returned from Utah, where I was teaching a group of mental health clinicians how to treat people who are highly suicidal. This made me think of another area where acting as if is important – an area where it might be life or death important. For many years, sociological and psychological theories have emphasized alienation and a lack of belongingness as important factors that can fuel the desire to engage in suicidal behaviour. More recently, a researcher named Dr. Thomas Joiner, has included the experience of thwarted belongingness as an important contributor to the desire to engage in suicide attempts (you can read more about his ideas in the book Why People Die by Suicide). Feeling disconnected from society as a whole, or from an important person or group of people is extremely painful. The sense of disconnection that you experience when you were feeling alienated can colour your mood, thoughts, and actions in many areas of life. From an evolutionary perspective, humans were never meant to be disconnected from their social group. Indeed, being separated or disconnected from your tribe was dangerous; humans in that situation were unlikely to survive. Nowadays, you might survive if you are disconnected from your group, but you will probably still be in a lot of psychological pain.
So, how does acting as if relate to this? Well, many researchers, scientists, and spiritual leaders think that the idea that we can actually be disconnected from others is a total myth. We are all intimately connected in many ways. We depend on people we don’t even know for the things we need in order to live our daily lives. Something that a person we have never met in a far-off country does can directly affect us at any time. We are even breathing the same air and interacting with the molecules of anybody and anything that is nearby. While this might start to sound a little gross, the basic idea is that we are all part of everything. Although you might sometimes feel like an outsider, according to this perspective, there are no outsiders. Of course, this might just seem like a lot of talk or pie-in-the-sky ideas until you actually experienced the fact that you are connected. One way to do this is to act as if you are connected to the things and people around you. When you go for a walk, be mindful and notice your connection with the ground, the movement of the air, the birds, people, insects, plants, and animals around you. Notice how what you do affects many of these things. Simply walking down the street affects the movement of air molecules around you, triggers squirrels to scurry off in another direction, changes the activity of birds, insects, and so on. Your senses are in constant contact with the environment around you. Light particles are activating cells within your eyes and your brain, and sounds are causing changes in your ears. Whatever seems separate from or outside of you is also in a fundamental way part of you. Try to spend a little bit of time each day acting as if this is true. Think about what you would do differently if you were connected with the people and the world around you. Do those things, and see what happens. – Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych., Friday, April 3, 2015.