Last week, among the granite walls and centuries-old trees of the Yosemite Valley, I found myself thinking about connections. Seeing trees that are older than our civilization and a sky full of stars that are quadrillions of miles away, I felt small and insignificant. We worry about trivial things every day. Buildings, organizations, plans, accomplishments. All these things will fade away in less time than it takes for a giant redwood to grow, yet we spend the majority of our short lives on them.
No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life…as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures.John Muir
Being reminded of my insignificance in the face of the majesty of nature is a good thing. I am prone to becoming preoccupied with the things in my life and seeing myself as more important than I am. When that happens, two things always follow.
First, I start missing out on the joy that is all around me. I stop seeing the sunrise because I’m in my office early for meetings. I don’t notice where I am because I’m in a hurry to get somewhere else. I miss out on small details like the smell of the wind and the sound of insects because I’m too busy making another phone call. It’s simple really.
Second, I lose connection with people. This one is more complicated.
In “American Utopia,” David Byrne tells us in pleasant but measured tones that babies’ brains have hundreds more neural connections than we do as adults. Adults, he tells us, keep only the connections that are useful to us. The ones that are left define who we are as people. This is profoundly true.
As children, we have the capacity to absorb significantly more input than we do later in life. Children learn faster, make friends faster, and adapt faster. As adults, we shift from being fast to being efficient. Our brains reinforce the connections we use (and therefore are deemed useful) and let go of the connections we don’t use.
In simple terms, what we do the most becomes the most important and, therefore, the most “connected.” If what we do the most is “stuff” then that is what we are connected to. Therein lies the problem with being preoccupied with things and believing I am special. I let my brain think that work and stuff are what is significant, and I let go of my connection to people.
John Muir was right that no temple made with human hands can compare with nature, but nature isn’t the only temple not made with human hands. Human relationships and the communities that result are a creation not of our hands, but of our hearts. As much as I love Yosemite, I cannot thrive there or anywhere without people, without community.
My trip to Yosemite was about community and friendship. It is an intentional annual week of making and remaking connections that are more important than stuff and accomplishments. However, I need to be intentional all the time, not just one week each year. I need to make sure that in my adult efficiency, I don’t forget to make friends like a child—and keep them. Connection with one another is what makes us human, and it is The Kimray Way.