In an age where conversations are often reduced to 280 characters, and where the relentless pace of digital life erodes the depth of our connections, the question "Do you know Sam Cooke?" rings out as a clarion call for a return to authentic, conscious connection. This was a question my Uncle Barry, a long-term sufferer of schizophrenia, asked every Thanksgiving. It was a beacon in his turbulent mind, a tether to reality, and, for all of us, a reminder of the power of listening and connection.

Schizophrenia, a mental disorder that affects thinking, perception, emotions, and behavior, began its relentless assault on Uncle Barry in his early 20s. A gifted baseball player with a bright future, he was suddenly in a world where invisible voices drowned out reality. 

Through the chaos of his mind, the soulful melodies of Sam Cooke, the '60s singer and Civil Rights activist, remained a constant. Uncle Barry's recurring question, "Do you know Sam Cooke?" was not merely an inquiry about the singer's popular hits; it was his lifeline, his method of reaching out for connection in a world that often felt overwhelming and confusing.

Observations of human interactions in our current society frequently take me back to those Thanksgiving moments with Uncle Barry. I see conversations filled with responses and words, yet no real connection. I see people, lonely and isolated, yearning for connection, their minds seem caught in an endless loop of wanting acknowledgment, understanding, and to be heard. Uncle Barry's struggle becomes a metaphor for the modern human condition – our inability to genuinely connect and listen to each other-even when we have the mental capacity. 

In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a decades-long quest to determine what brings us happiness in life. Their conclusion was unequivocal: our social connections. Nurturing our relationships enables us to flourish. Dr. Robert Waldinger, the project’s director, said, "Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster." Multiple studies corroborate these findings, emphasizing the mental and physical health benefits of mindful and intentional connection.

And yet, we find ourselves in a world where judgment is more prevalent than understanding, where our thoughts are broadcast to strangers on social media platforms, seeking validation and agreement. We have become connection zombies, and our wellness is at risk.

We are trapped in a loop of sharing without truly connecting. To promote mental wellness, we must strive to consciously connect, stepping beyond ourselves. In our complex world, conscious, intentional connection is vital. We need a strategy to help us look beyond our screens and genuinely see each other.

Take a moment to audit your daily habits. Are you so engrossed in your thoughts, problems, and objectives that you neglect your mental wellbeing? Are you living your life on auto-repeat, or are you consciously connecting with those around you?

When I think of Uncle Barry's life in his care facility, I often wonder where his endless walks and pacing take him. Is his movement a relentless search for connection, a quest for something lost — the ability to connect consciously? 

The challenge for each of us is to harness our capacity to consciously listen and engage. What are you in search of? Have you found it? To improve your mental health and wellbeing, become a story collector, a connections chef. Curate precious world-changing ideas and protect your mental well-being.”

Author Talia Fox. Image: courtesy of Talia Fox

Talia Fox is CEO of Kusi Global & M.Ed in Counseling Psychology and shares insight from her forthcoming book "The Power Of Conscious Connection: 4 Habits to Transform How You Live and Lead in a Disconnected World."