The Simplest Gift
A few weeks ago, I was invited by Adam to join him at his office in New Jersey. The point of the visit was to not only meet with him in person, but to hear about his latest business venture—an app called HearMe.
The simple premise behind the app is to connect people from across the country and globe in real-time to have open, honest conversations about whatever is on their mind. And as the subject of HearMe would have us do, Adam and I wound up having a more fulfilling talk that expanded beyond branding and business; delving into something more personal about ambition and purpose. As a matter of fact, it reminded me of an experience I had had just earlier that week.
A couple days prior, I was invited to partake in a sharing circle. At the time, I didn’t know what to expect. A friend had invited me along because I had recently lost my job and she didn’t want me to spend the evening alone. Upon arriving at the space, I was warmly greeted by the women who work there. Large pillows were arranged in a circle around a beautiful display of lilac roses and marigolds, intertwined to form a ring of their own. At the center was a large piece of rose quartz, which would later become the sharing stone.
As others arrived and the evening began, we all started with a meditation. The theme of the evening was the release of the old story to welcome the new. It was perfect for what I was going through—all of this by pure chance. Once the meditation ended, it was time for us to speak. Saga, the woman leading the circle, was the first to do so. She reached forward to retrieve the fist-sized chunk of rose quartz and started with an introduction. The nine of us who were present chose new names, partly to maintain an air of anonymity and partly to absolve ourselves of our identity. It felt good to be called something else, as if all the weight attached to my given name could be placed on a shelf if only for a temporary stretch of time.
Naturally, it took a moment for people to warm up. The act of sharing your deepest truths with eight strangers is, of course, daunting. We as a society have come to fear being honest about what worries us. We fear judgment and separation. We fear being the only one with our respective troubles. But as we began to open up, the more we realized how safe the space actually was. And one thing that kept resurfacing, no matter who was talking or what the topic, was the feeling of loneliness.
It goes without saying that at some point in our lives, we have all been weighed down by the same, aching feeling of loneliness. We feel isolated from our family, our friends, the world. Somehow we get it in our head that there is no one who can understand what we are thinking or going through. We get this crazy idea that out of the seven and a half billion people on this planet, we are the only ones enduring whatever pain we are holding onto, though this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In almost every conversation I’ve had recently, I have referred to Gwyneth Paltrow’s podcast interview with Oprah. The reason being is because there is so much wisdom and insight Oprah shares, that I find it applies to almost any situation. But one particular bit of insight she imparts comes from A New Earth by author Eckhart Tolle. As Tolle says by way of Oprah’s explanation, “There is no experience that you can have personally.”
And I do believe this to be true. I don’t think there is anything in this life that we can singularly feel or experience that is so profoundly unique to anyone else. We are all connected in many ways, and to this extent, no one is the exception. But then why is it still so hard for us to forego our own thoughts and feelings of loneliness?
Conducted by Cigna in May 2018, the U.S. Loneliness Index found that almost half (44%) of Americans feel lonely. (1) Some of the findings reveal that people feel left out, misunderstood, and devoid of meaningful relationships. Perhaps what is most shocking is that this commonality is higher in younger generations, and has very little to do with the impact of social media. (2) In addition, the Index states that loneliness and feelings of isolation are equal to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day and is considered more dangerous than obesity when factoring their effect on general health and mortality. (3)
So, how can we change this? What are the steps to lowering the percentage of people who feel alone? If loneliness has such a strong tie to our health, imagine the impact on our lives and those around us if we were able to minimize the burden. Thinking back to my experience at the Sharing Circle, the wounds were deep, and when grazed upon, they often came with tears. Such is the power and effect of feeling alone. But do we need to attend such events as sharing circles in order to find a connection? Is this the only way to alleviate the pain and realize there is actually someone out their experiencing something similar?
Unfortunately we don’t all have the benefit of such safe spaces. Considering smaller, rural towns and places like nursing homes, not everyone is in direct access of such open and therapeutic spaces. If the thing that stands in the way of us and defeating our loneliness is creating more genuine connection, how can we accomplish this?
This is why I’m excited to see what the launch of HearMe brings to the world—because it aims to bring what could otherwise be inaccessible within reach. If we all had the ability to openly and honestly connect with someone, what change could it institute? How many people will find a new friend and companion? And how many lives will be improved just because they’ve been heard?
We all suffer from loneliness, or have at some point in our lives, and if listening is all it takes to connect us to a healthier, more purposeful life, it just may be the simplest yet most powerful gift we have.