WELCOME TO THE BASIC CONNECTION PHENOMENOLOGY COURSE
My name is Gabriel Kram, and I'm happy that you are here. I'm the Founder of Applied Mindfulness, Inc., the Convener of the Restorative Practices Alliance, and the Co-Founder of the Academy of Applied Social Medicine. I'm a connection phenomenologist. A what, you ask? Connection Phenomenology is a discipline so old it hasn't been invented yet. For the past 25 years, I've been working across six primary disciplines to deeply explore the question: how do we turn on connection–to ourselves, one another, and the Living World? And what gets in the way?
For 99.9 percent of human history, the way that we lived was all about connection. The function of culture, says deep nature awareness teacher and connection phenomenologist Jon Young, is to connect. It’s very purpose it to connect us to ourselves, one another, and the Living World. At the level of neural circuitry, the level of biology, there exists a Connection System, a component of our Autonomic Nervous System, which was identified by Dr. Stephen Porges, the developer of the Polyvagal Theory. He calls this system the Social Engagement system. This biological system wires together the neural regulation of the face and voice with the heart and the breath, and brings us into physiological regulation and attuned relationship with others when we feel safe. It is the neurological architecture of connection. The Connection System is, biologically, the root of health and well-being. Can you hear that? When that circuit is online, you feel well. The purpose of our work is to bring online and stabilize this connection system as the physiological baseline for humans. Ancestrally, bringing this system online and stabilizing it was the job of culture. We can conceptualize culture, and the evolved nest that Dr. Narvaez speaks of, as the set of practices whereby the connection system is evoked and stabilized. This is what Indigenous and ancestral childrearing practices do. Culture is a set of practices that contain neural exercises for teaching humans to become baselined in this Connection System. Each cultural element that we have studied is connected, and one of our mentors has mapped 512 of them, is connected, in some way, to this objective. When a culture operates from this baseline, it has certain predictable features. Its people exhibit moral behavior. They have a sense of being connected to something larger than themselves. They display high levels of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. They exist in harmonious relationship with the Living World. Take one look at modern society and it is painfully apparent that we are completely failing across everyone of these domains–so catastrophically in fact that it threatens to undermine the integrity of the terrestrial biosphere.
It is important to note that the doorway to turning on the Connection System is an embodied felt sense of safety. To make this abundantly clear: In order to be healthy, you have to feel safe in your body. Take this in, because we live in a culture that inequitably distributes safety. We have taken a basic human right (safety) and turned it into a privilege, one that those who possess it take for granted: so deeply that they don’t know it is the foundation of their own well-being. To have access to safe drinking water, to have enough food, to live in a neighborhood where you are not afraid you will be shot: these are rights that have become privileges in our highly unequal society. To be able to walk down the street without being aggressed because of your gender, or gender presentation, your race, or your religious beliefs. For many of us, safety was never promised. And so, let’s start here, because safety may not be generally available. Even for those to whom it is perhaps more available, based on economics or social location, Dr. Vincent Felitti’s landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study has shown us that more than two thirds of Americans have experienced early adversity. Early adversity is the rupture of safety. We have to repair safety to be able to access connection, and we have to access connection in order to be well. But how do we do this repair work?
Our recognition that this work of repairing adversity and turning on connection has not been categorically developed led to the creation of the Restorative Practices model. This is necessary because, ancestrally, in all Indigenous and traditional cultures there were bodies of restorative practice in place to bring the people back when they were deviated from connection–in community. These cultures knew that safety and connection were the baseline, and that when it was disrupted, we had to actively engage in practices to bring it back. The modern world has forgotten this. At the heart of these restorative practices is this imperative: repair adversity so that we can turn the connection system back on.
There are myriad ways to do this, and all of them involve relationship and awareness. We can begin with ourselves, we can begin with one another, or we can begin with the Living World. Jon Young invites us to ask, What do we feel connected to, and how did we get to be that way with that thing? If you feel connected to a pet, or a place, or to your deepest sense of self, how did that happen? What was the pathway to connection? There was intent. There was time, and intimacy, moments of curiosity. There was presence. There was contact. Rupture and repair. If we look at the pathway to connection, we see that it unfolds and deepens gradually, through experiences, through moments of care. It is spontaneous, unplanned, creative. The San bushmen of the Kalahari talk about
We have to set out to connect, to break through the veil of disconnection.
“How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?”