Cultivating Connection

by Carolyn Lebanowski

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”   — Brene’ Brown

Picking up your life and moving to another country is one subject. Moving to another country in a pandemic will take us to another level of conversation.

Full transparency, the lockdown offered up many gifts as we found our way in a new culture with unfamiliar surroundings and a language we have not yet mastered. And yet, we found a simplicity with minimal social interaction and depth in our discovery of all other things relevant. We mastered 5-mile walks by the ocean and experienced deeper and more thought-provoking conversations.

And the day came – the lockdown ended.

We tiptoed into social gatherings with caution and found ourselves hungry for connection. At this stage in our life, the connections we will make will not be attached to our work, our children, or people we have known for years. I had this internal nudge that this time was going to be different…more mindful, intentional and authentic. I wanted connection – real connection. Not superficial, not surface, not small talk with sweet pleasantries.

As we ventured out and began meeting people (all strangers till they are not), I was committed to connecting with my heart with no agenda.

This does not always come easy and demands intention and practice.

Listen with your ears and your heart: The ears part here is easy; listening with your heart requires an open space that is internally noticeable. It feels expansive and curious in the center. There is a willingness to listen from a space of vulnerability and discovery.

Observe your distractions: These most likely will be the pure breakdown in connection. Some may be hard to avoid – the idea here is laser focus. The common criminal (stealer of connection) is your phone. If you want to make people a priority, it asks of us to be purely present in the presence of another. The phone can wait.

Stay in your own lane: Opinions are personal and formed by our own experiences and paradigms. Most likely you won’t always agree with a differing view. This has been the edgy sharp part of our current societal landscape and the most difficult to embrace. Find the confidence to speak your truth gently and powerfully. Don’t shrink, don’t puff up – just stand your ground. Use your words to express your courage, make personal connections and share your compassion. Arguing or defending breaks down connection. Speaking your truth with confidence while staying in your own lane builds connection.

Authenticity matters: Be genuine with your words and your actions; most people have a ‘bull shit’ radar, and the walls begin to build. Being disingenuous breeds a loss of trust, integrity, and interest. Authenticity takes confidence and courage without ego. Authenticity builds trust, safety, and connection.

There are still moments for me of hesitation and holding back.

Being here in a new country sometimes feels like being in 1st grade and meeting your new classmates on the playground; scary and exciting all in the same breath.

As we begin to discover our new landscape and meet new people, I have made this my compass for connection. I am learning to reveal, offer and surrender my authentic self in the presence of others. It is amazing to feel the friendships that are being birthed from this new space.

I am grateful, humbled, and connected.

“My fear of being real, of being seen, paralyzes me into silence. I crave the touch and the connection, but I’m not always brave enough to open my hand and reach out. This is the great challenge: to be seen, accepted, and loved, I must first reveal, offer, and surrender.”

―Anna White, Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith

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Carolyn Lebanowski serves as the COO for First Unity Spiritual Campus in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is an experienced and respected senior level executive with expertise in strategic development, organizational communication and executive coaching. She has 27 years of proven success with corporate organizations in organizational development. She served as the Executive Director at Unity of Houston in Houston Texas for 12 years.

Carolyn is a strategic leadership partner with a clear understanding of the relationship between the development of human potential and overall business success. She is excited to be a part of the creation of the ILLLI offering her business acumen and spiritual consciousness.

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