A teacher recently advised our daily meditation group to seek “connection free from attachment”. This is a wise practice for me. But what does it mean in the context of meetings? Surely we sometimes become attached to people we meet? Isn’t creating and strengthening attachments one of the desirable functions of meetings? So what is the relationship between connection and attachment when people come together?
Last week I was exploring paintings at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts when this work by John Singer Sargent caught my attention.
Although Sargent is chiefly known as “a portrait painter who evoked Edwardian-era luxury“, this painting of Venice shows something different. Instead of “focusing on iconic views of Venice”, Sargent “offers a glimpse into everyday life”.
I see this painting as a depiction of an event about to happen: two people meeting, a foreshadowing of connection. I could be wrong because what we see is ambiguous. It’s possible that the man will turn away and continue his walk. But perhaps the woman is about to turn towards the man looking at her; they will connect in the alleyway. Perhaps they are about to enter the wine cellar and connect there.
My fanciful, though perhaps plausible, interpretations of Sargent’s painting illuminate how I think about the relationship between connection, attachment, and meetings.
Connection and attachment
Connection is something that happens in the moment. As another meditation teacher put it: “Nothing to get. Nothing to get rid of. Just this.”
In contrast, attachment is a description of a complex fusion of past, present, and future connections. It’s a historical construct. Even if we connect with a person once, that only creates attachment through our continued memory of the experience of the moment. Attachment is about our relationship with others. Our attachment to people is created and strengthened by one or more moments of connection with them over time.
Traditional meetings and connection
At meetings, as in life, connection happens with another person or, sometimes, in small groups. Not while someone is lecturing in a room full of people.
At traditional meetings, connection happens almost exclusively outside the formal lecture-style sessions. It’s inefficient and random. Even if someone asks a question at the end of a session and you want to talk to them more about it, you have to hunt them down in the hallways or socials.
Traditional meetings offer minimal opportunities for connection, attachment, and ensuing relationships.
Luckily, we can do better.
Creating connection and attachment at meetings
For decades, one of my core goals for participant-driven and participation-rich meetings has been to facilitate connection around relevant content. In our meetings, we need to provide plenty of opportunities and support for moment-to-moment connections around relevant learning. The resulting connections lead to attachments, and to valuable relationships between meeting participants that endure into the future.