Love/Connection Tag

We have been invited by Nora Sorensen to hold a ‘Love Ritual’ for the ‘Monday Club’ on the 21st June. It is to be a sister event to the ‘Grief Circle’ we held on the 7th June.

We were hoping to celebrate the end of lockdown on this Midsummer Day, but our plans have been foiled by an extension to distancing rules. But the heart is a flexible organ, and we will offer routes in to love and connection despite, and perhaps because of the distance that remains at present between us in public indoor spaces.

Like ‘grief’, love is a four-letter word that includes many different feelings and meanings. For me, a way into loving and being loved – whether it is in family, friendship, sensual, sexual, community or other contexts, is to be in connection with myself. Our personal history, personality, cultural and gender socialisation all play their part too.

Connecting with my body, and my inner life is an ongoing process. I didn’t begin to unfold my own desires until I was in my forties. Tapping into our longings, asking ourselves what we want can be a huge adventure. It was also really helpful to learn skills that help build the capacity for intimacy.

After ‘me’, the next step is meeting ‘you’, the other. It involves noticing whether I feel safe enough to trust another person, whether I want to connect with them. Sometimes this is difficult, and sometimes I might do it too easily. Again, our patterns of relating play a part, as well as having the luck to meet willing others to explore with.

Then what happens when we land in a group. Can we be authentic together, and connect to ‘we’ space, (as Thomas Hübl calls it)? Our ability to open our hearts when it feels appropriate also comes into play in groups. “We are wired for connection,” as Sophy Banks says, “to be held in community”, but it can be elusive to find places where all of our parts are welcome.

In synch with the Summer Solstice, can we feel the warmth of sunshine and open our hearts? What is ready to blossom in us? Are we able to appreciate others blooming? Inviting the possibility of vulnerability and shared intimacy, will our group journey into the theme of love elicit tears of longing or the joy of coming together?








We have been invited by Nora Sorensen to lead two introductory workshops in Blackheath. One is on the theme of grief, the other with a focus on love. I am conscious that these two themes wind together almost inseparably. Love is probably the thing that brings us together, that drives us, that evokes poetry and art to inspire us. “Love is the only language I speak fluently” says graffiti artist Trusty Scribe. On this Brighton wall, there is an image of Bob Dylan by The Postman. I don’t know who gave him tears, but here they sit together – love and loss.

It is easy to confuse the word ‘grief’ with bereavement. While the death of someone close to us is often a huge and devastating experience of grief, there are many other possible reasons to feel pain. Grief is a broad church and can lurk for many reasons past, present and future. All our losses are worthy of receiving our attention; and some experiences of loss or change may be more significant than we realise. The absence of someone or something, or the presence of suffering can alert us to value the things we held or hold dear.

Bereavement is a significant source of grief precisely because it reveals how much we love and miss someone who has died. Similarly, when someone or something becomes beloved to us, the fear of separation or ending may haunt us.

The fear and pain which grief can cause us often makes us keen to keep the lid tightly closed on our feelings. This is often for much needed self-protection at a difficult time, and we may not even realise we have done this. These self-protective mechanisms may have been “our childhood heroes” (as Thomas Hübl calls them). We want to keep safe, and sometimes this comes at a cost to ourselves. In Grief Tending we invite bringing kind attention to these parts of ourselves.

Intimacy, presence and vulnerability are the language of love for me. These are the skills that bring connection – with self and others – for both love and grief. When I am connected to more of myself I notice I laugh more. When I am present, grounded and in touch with my tender emotions, I am also more sensuous, more available for spontaneous fun. Paradoxically, opening up to love can put me in touch with yearning, or the disappointment of the places in me that don’t feel seen and valued.

There is risk in daring to show myself, to express who I am, but it is also exciting. I am on a journey to feel more, to love more and increase my capacity to live compassionately, unhindered by outdated fears. Like going out dancing, Grief Tending can feel like an effort, and requires a little courage, but it always makes me feel better afterwards.

In my ‘before times’ life, I was a member of different communities and social groups that circled around festivals and events. There were many people that I could recognise and not name. My daily circuits of dog walkers, pram pushers, shop-keepers and local characters number many more familiar but anonymous faces.

My Face Book ‘friends’ include people I may have shared a brief, intense experience with (like a workshop), as well as people I would encounter regularly, but not know well (like on a dance floor). I can name many of these, but may misplace the origin of our connection. If we don’t meet for some time, they may be relegated to the bigger pool of un-nameable people from my circles of interaction.

‘Dunbar’s number’ is an orbit of around 150 people that roughly equates to the size of a village. Repeated research findings indicate that this is the average number of people that our brains are designed to handle in terms of useful communication and connection. Above this 150 meaningful connections might be about 500 acquaintances. Then there are 1500 faces, which might be recognisable. Below are smaller average units of 50 friends, 15 close friends and 5 beloveds.

I notice that in my own life there is a constant game of Snakes and Ladders between these circles of connections. Although the numbers maintain a rough equilibrium, people move up a ladder into the category of ‘Want to know you better as we are currently on the same wave length’, and slide down with ‘If it is always me who phones, are you more engaged with people who have more in common with you right now?’

This week, a person whose company I enjoy, but don’t know well introduced me to the concept of ‘Cactus Friends’. These are people who do not require regular maintenance, but when you feed them with the water of your attention, they respond with delight, as though becoming vivid green. I like the light touch this understanding can bring to a friendship.

I have moved in and out of communities, as I become more or less aligned with different interest groups. After this year of minimal social interaction, I wonder what the current Venn Diagram of my relationships looks like. I am reflecting on the friendships that have gone deeper, and those, which have got lost. Who inspires me? Who do I feel moved to reach out to? Who supports me, and who do I support? I no longer seem to have the capacity for the many micro stitches of attention and repair needed to foster healthy connections with all the people I used to see socially. I hope some of these will flourish from time to time as Cacti friends.

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

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.
O’Brien, Barbara “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva” Learn Religions Feb 11 2020