Love/Connection Tag

These hands belong to a close friend, who lives in a care home. He often struggles with confusion. His life was impacted by a sudden event. Surgery and a spell in hospital followed. Both the original event and its treatment were traumatic. Some months later, a sudden improvement in his condition gave him more awareness of what had happened to him. This ‘insight’ in itself, a greater realisation of the radical changes in his life, might be described as another layer of trauma.

During the Corona virus pandemic, he has been stoical, and is cared for brilliantly. However, he has been deprived of regular visits from friends and family. These visits usually provide hugs, support, a sense of orientation, identity, and a feeling of being loved. A phone call for someone with this kind of impairment just doesn’t communicate well. Now visits are possible again, but under very strict protocols. I am present, yet at 2 metres distance, for a short time, outside. I wear a mask, that doesn’t reassure like a smile. I watch the hands that I can’t hold, notice the finger-nails I can’t clip, and feel for those who are denied the proximity of loving touch.

I rarely foray beyond the distance of a dog walk. Travelling on the tube is now a novel experience. Passengers, disguised by paper, cloth or moulded fibre masks stay divided, moving along the platform as though pushed away by negative magnetic poles. We step on the train like a game of Connect 4. We make strategic moves to sit in seats that block consecutive diagonal or straight rows. This deliberate spacing interrupts the flow of my micro interactions. I notice how the separation amplifies a feeling of estrangement. Those without masks have become renegades, subject to stares from the obedient. I try to expand the expression possible with eyebrows, wonder if anyone knows I am smiling? A man plugged into headphones opposite me in the carriage has shaking shoulders. I am concerned at first by what looks like sobbing. Then the angle of his head lifts, and I recognise laughter. Perhaps this conceal is a great relief to the introverted, to those who prefer to travel incognito. I notice that I can slacken my jaw, rest the crinkles that habitually pinch into a smile. I value the street currency of nods, benedictions of kind looks, and mirrored grins from the colourful. I enjoy paying my way in “Good mornings”, and exchanges of friendliness with open faces. The absence of choice makes me feel uncomfortable, the ushering in of fear growing from this distance. The other may now be perceived as a source of threat, but the real risk of infection is unknown. In this new world order I am being cautious, but I choose connection, touch and self-revelation.

 

‘Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears’, the Connected Baby guide to attachment by Suzanne Zeedyk, is a straight forward introduction to Attachment Theory for a wide audience. It includes plenty of colour photos, and is illustrated by the experiences of a parent, a ‘boarding school survivor’, a self-identified adult who used to be ‘one of the difficult kids’, three primary head teachers and two members of the police. ‘Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears’ takes us from the basics of Bowlby’s Attachment Theory in which “babies are skilled at keeping their parents close” by developing core behavioural strategies to manage their anxieties. Zeedyk also explains: “it is also about the repeated moments by which we learn the core elements of human relationships: how to trust and how to forgive.” These patterns go on to effect us as adults, and impact how we connect with the wider world. In recognising the importance of how we are imprinted by life, (she is keen to encourage rather than blame care-givers), she highlights the possibilities for transformation for the next generation, as well as attending to our own healing as adults. Neuroscience is helping us to understand how these patterns are set up, but can also be changed, through the neuro-plasticity of our brains. Dealing with uncomfortable feelings is something that we learn. “When an adult responds affirmatively to a baby’s emotions, whatever the emotion is, then the baby discovers that this is a feeling that can indeed be shared with another person. The neural connections in his brain are built on that expectation of sharing.” If we take heed of this growing body of science, and apply it in our lives at the micro and macro level in practical actions, it would change our relationships, and build resilience in our societies. Each of the people who tell their stories in the book, are examples of pioneering front-line attachment activists. “We need to foster self-reflection for individuals, families, organisations and communities. We need to see what we are cheating ourselves of when we can’t listen to our children’s emotional needs.”
‘Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears’ Dr Suzanne Zeedyk connected baby.net

There is a change to our regular physics of interaction. Like pairs of magnets, people are either driven together or pushed apart. It feels as though each household is trying to find a new equilibrium through being alone and seeking ways to reach out, or being together and seeking autonomy. Sewn into my wedding shawl, my mother embroidered me these words by Khalil Gibran, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness”. They speak powerfully to my need for ‘self-regulation’ time alone. We walk as a pair on the marshes observing a strict two metres from other members of the local community. We dodge people on the pavement as though we are avoiding the cracks. At home we come together in a group then break apart, creating an ebb and flow of connection. This motion allows us to share food, build conversations, cuddle up, but then we return to our individual spaces to work, to be creative, or to contemplate. I imagine a cosmic eye observing this molecular pulsing dance.

I am not a key worker. I am not experiencing a life endangering situation. This household is currently well. I am conscious that anything may change at a moment’s notice. I am choosing not to take more risks than necessary. However, this leaves me feeling powerless and impotent. I feel as though I am not offering much to my local community. I love seeing pictures of rainbows made by children appear in windows as I walk past each morning. So, I made this banner to offer a simple expression of love, of solidarity. Some people look and smile as they pass. It felt as though this was something I could actually achieve. I hope it may serve as a reminder to value kindness, and to feel connected.

I am devoted to connection face to face, through touch, heart to heart, and in community. Restricted from happening in person, meetings beyond our household now take place on line. From the vantage point of my childhood, we are now in Star Trek technology. I feel deeply conflicted about virtual engagement, but also see the advantages of connecting far and wide without leaving home. Those who can’t afford or can’t cope with the technology are penalised. I feel reluctant about holding space on line. Others lead as I join meetings, share feelings in this way. Communicating using both face and the sound of your voice hold me closer than a disembodied voice alone. Recently I have followed my Pilates class, while seeing the décor of each student’s home. I have lain under a blanket while others snuggle up elsewhere for a sound bath. I have breathed with a screen full of other open mouths and rising chests. I have attended work meetings with participants across the UK, and I have jiggled as a tiny form on a tessellated screen with dancers around the globe. I am curious to watch how our digital selves will evolve. Most of all I value the people I am lucky enough to be in proximity to. Opportunities for skin to skin connection, for conversations within two metres are highly prized.

Away from the cavernous temple hall, with PA system and meditating monk, I climb upstairs to the balcony. From here I can see the roof, and look down on the umbrellas of women who grill sweet potatoes and corn on the cob. Turning a corner, I find a secluded shrine to Avalokiteshvara, which pulls me in. Many shiny gold arms wave at me. I catch my breath in this quiet spot, find the space to pay attention to my own practice. This involves saying thank you for the things that spontaneously spring to mind. I thank those who guide and help me. I speak an intention. Then I ask for blessings for all beings. A very versatile bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, (pronoun they) are known with many names, including Kuan Am in Vietnam. They are represented as male in some traditions, female in others. One head, five, or eleven, symbolise the many ears to ‘hear the pain of the world’. On hearing, they are willing to bear the pain of the world. They have many hands, usually 2, 4, 22 or 1000, which may carry useful tools to deliver acts of kindness. Their hands symbolize reaching out with love in infinite ways. This personification of compassion, represents the archetype of kindness. Avalokiteshvara shapeshifts taking the most suitable form to each situation, when appearing in the human realm. For me, trying to be kind starts with myself. Then expands outwards, to use my surplus energy to be in service to life. This small rupa seems to be talking to me. I’m listening.
www.learnreligions.com/avalokiteshvara-bodhisattva-450135
O’Brien, Barbara “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva” Learn Religions Feb 11 2020

In my early twenties I experimented with the ‘perfect’ Christmas. This involved a huge production number of card making, finding small but thoughtful presents and expensive decorations. It came to an abrupt end after a row with my mother. I stormed off (to my regret), taking refuge with my boyfriend’s parents. After we split up, I went on Buddhist retreats, neatly avoiding the festive season. I have currently arrived at a formula that seems to avoid seasonal stress. No presents, no shopping, no particular effort. Cards may be sent, but not to any deadline. There will be some delicious food, but there are no fixed rules about what or when. I would like to be a little more generous and a little less humbug, but I am wary of other people’s expectations. I love marking this time of year with simple rituals and spiced treats to eat. I don’t want to buy into a consumer binge. I enjoy having a relaxed quiet time, watching ‘The Crown’ with people I love. Today we have been quietly working separately and then sharing an annual review of 2019 and a visioning of what we want to focus on in 2020. Remaining ‘connected’ is my star, my guiding word for the year ahead.
www.yearcompass.com

 

There are some jobs which can be done quicker, faster and more efficiently with a cable tie. In an ideal world there will be no unessential plastic. In the meantime, I would like to praise the re-usable cable tie. This packet cost just a little more than the disposable single use cable ties in the DIY shop. The word ‘reusable’ on the label is easily missed. They look almost the same as regular ones, but a clever flange allows them to be closed then released to open again. Be a connoisseur; when rope or string just won’t do, invest in re-useable to make essential connections.

This feels like a moment of profound contentment. The suckler and the feeder both generate oxytocin in this primal act. My own mother’s milk slowed down and I was weaned at six months. I defiantly refused to exchange cow for mother’s milk. I have remained an avid lover of oral soothing from thumb sucking to kissing. I devour non-dairy creaminess – coconut yoghurt, oat cream and Ombar Mylk chocolate. I continue to be a fan of breasts. Holding the baby later in a sling, she falls asleep on me and I feel the intimate connection of our hearts beating alongside one another. This is one way to grow love.