The Nature of Connection

Posted by on Mar 24, 2013 in Creativity, Joy | 10 comments

The Nature of Connection

I found this remarkable video last weekend courtesy of a Facebook friend. (Go ahead, watch–I’ll wait!)

The story goes that these two performance artists, Marina Abramovic and Ulay, had been lovers, and parted several decades ago. They didn’t see each other again until this exhibit  in 2010 when Ulay turned up for his minute of attention from Marina. (Turns out the “story” is a little iffy—Ulay had been in touch several times and seen her earlier in the day, so the surprise was that he turned up in the queue, but not that he was around at all.)

The link to the video went to this page, where the comments, as you can see, range from people in tears to people correcting the misconceptions in the description of events to people accusing the whole thing of being fake, a setup, or just plain stupid.

Apparently not many people saw what I saw when I watched the video.

The elusiveness of connection

How often do you notice the people you’re with? I mean really notice them? Your friends, your family…those are easy. What about the cashier at the grocery store? Your pharmacist? Your next-door neighbor? We talk while we’re packing up the groceries or getting the mail, and we focus more on what we’re doing than we do on who we’re kinda-sorta-but-not-really interacting with. Can you even imagine spending one minute—just one minute—looking into the eyes of another person?

Most of us can’t do it. We’re so used to distracting ourselves, even from the people we love, and a minute of eye contact isn’t something you can multitask. That minute can feel like an hour. When I was in graduate school, there was a healing circle workshop that had us partner up and spend some time making this sort of eye contact with each other. Believe me, it’s hard.

Your first instinct is to laugh a little, because you feel uncomfortable. Then you decide to try harder, and you stifle the laugh as you try to pretend that you’re more comfortable than you are. You feel like someone’s staring into you, and like you’re doing the same to them. You wonder if that’s okay because you feel like you’re invading someone’s privacy, and yet you’re both there for the exercise, so it must be.

Connecting and Disconnecting

I think the point of the installation in the video is to force you to connect with someone this way for one minute. I think the table is there to give you a sense of distance, to mitigate that intense 60 seconds of really paying attention to someone else. And I think that we’re meant to realize how we take connection for granted, how we devalue it, and how we deprive ourselves of each other, and of really knowing ourselves, as a result.

The other thing I see in the video is the way that even eye contact for a solid minute doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not still hiding behind our personal walls. When Ulay sits down, you can see the emotions on Marina’s face. I would argue that she knows quite well how intense this sort of connection can be, and is fighting to hold herself in a safe place in spite of her connection with Ulay. And eventually, she can’t do it, and reaches out across the table.

Connection and Creativity

Brené Brown often says that “we’re hard-wired for connection.” None of us can live without it. We try, and some even succeed in living hermitic lives, but just based on my experiences of temporary hermit-dom, we lose something when we go for too long without other people. I notice that I start to become reluctant to leave the house if I haven’t been out for too long. (When I was teaching, I had to make a rule that, during the summers, I had to leave the house and interact with another person at least once a day. It was just too easy to hibernate in my own space, and even though I didn’t feel good if I did it for too long, it was hard to get back out.)

Without connection, we don’t laugh as much. We don’t remember that there are other souls out there who can enrich our lives—and that we can enrich theirs. And I have no data to back this up, but I am pretty sure that no connection = no joy (or at least an awful lot less of it). How can we come up with new ideas, much less put them into practice, if we disconnect from everything around us? We can’t.

Consider your connections. Consider how you interact with your world. Look into someone’s eyes for a minute, if you can, and see what you learn about yourself when you do.


  1. Very interesting post!
    I have seen this video so many times and it is super powerFULL… I had follwed their work in the past and was quite sad when they decided to go their separate ways…. so bittersweet to seem their souls reconnect… and I am left wondering what happened after this meeting…..

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    claudia Olivos recently of creative healersMy Profile

    • Thanks, Claudia! I had never heard of them before, but the video is amazing. I was so disappointed in the cynicism of the comments that I just had to present a different view. (And I don’t think anyone watches this video without wondering what happens afterwards!)

  2. Nancy,this seems a good place to thank you for your blog ! I enjoy it very much and your heart felt sensitivity to how deeply we are all entwined. It was a happy day for me when my iPad went into its oudji-board thing and got me into your DECLUTTERING class.I never did accomplish my goals but I did get a clear workspace where I have managed to produce 62 Soul Collage cards.
    Have a beautiful Spring ……always with gratitude, Jan

    • Hi, Jan! It’s so good to hear from you!

      62 cards is fantastic–I am sure they’re lovely, especially since you’ve made them in such a lovely space. It was a happy day for all of us when you joined the class, and I’m glad that you got the bonus of a SoulCollage® deck. I hope your spring is shaping up well. :)

  3. Hi Nancy! I love this. And I want to share that after years of yearning for connection with an old friend, and not getting any response to my letters (yes actual letters!), I finally heard from a sister of my heart and we are getting closer to hearing each others’ voices again.

    Some connections just persist, don’t they? And now that I’m in my sixties, I find it becomes more and more important to be and express the love and gratitude in my heart.

    In general, as well, I totally get the no connection=no joy thing. I live and work alone, for the most part, and it’s critical to get out, see others, and smile.

    Blessings to you, blessings and love,
    Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest) recently posted..How do you cleanse, dedicate and renew? How do you love without grasping?My Profile

    • Hi, Sue! Thanks for this lovely comment. :) I agree–some connections persist (the friend you haven’t seen in almost a decade but when you finally do, it’s like the last time was just yesterday) and others are not as strong. They’re all important in their way, though.

      It’s absolutely important to express love and gratitude–and to get out enough that you can do those things. :)

  4. Thank you for this, Nancy! I love making connections – not with minute-long eye contact, but I often make a point of noticing people I’d usually pass by. I wonder what the person behind the deli counter is really like, and then I’ll chat to them for a bit – it’s easy here in Ireland, people are used to chatting, and sometimes you discover amazing things about people in just a short span of time.

  5. I can so relate to that hermit-ness. I love to be a hermit, but after a couple of days, I feel disconnected from the world, and hermit-ness feels bad. I’ll have to think about more eye-contact and connectedness. xxx
    Donna recently posted..OnTheBeach: Stop Feeling Powerless and Become A TerrierMy Profile

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