Connection, attachment, and meetings

connection attachment
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.

connection attachment
John Singer Sargent, A Street in Venice. Image courtesy Clark Art Institute.

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.

2 thoughts on “Connection, attachment, and meetings

  1. I experienced this often at physical education conferences during my teaching career. I often found the individual sessions inspiring and stimulating but many times the connections I made outside of the regular sessions proved to be more valuable I established relationships w/ other physical educators that served me well and were maintained for years.
    I think this points to the value of meeting and spending time w/ group members outside of. our formal meeting times. Making the time to develop relationships w/ other members of the group leads to intimacy and friendship.
    PS. I was also struck by this painting. Such. a simple scene but it left me wondering what happens next. Will they connect or will they go their separate ways? Are they friends or perhaps brother and sister? It suggests the possibility of developing or expanding a relationship. Could they be potential lovers? The painting was powerful in it’s simplicity and many possible scenarios in the next moments. I was really drawn to it.

    1. John, your description of the value of connections you made outside of regular conference sessions match mine and those of many people I’ve talked to. Such experiences led me to work on designiong conferences where valuable connection is built into the sessions. And, yes, groups that get together outside of their regular formal meetings have extended time to informally build relationships and intimacy. Finally, isn’t it great how a painting like Sargent’s can suggest to the viewer many possible interpretations? I feel the same way about it.

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