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The soul that can speak through the eyes can also kiss with a gaze. –Gustavo Bécquer

Dan Siegal continues, ‘…deprived of the mother’s, gaze, look and face the area of the brain that coordinates social communication, empathic attunement, emotional regulation, and stimulus appraisal (the establishment of value and meaning) will be faulty. 

Infants who are deprived in this way are more likely, Siegal tells us, to develop ‘insecure attachment’ including losses in self-esteem; the subsequent feelings of not belonging are magnified.  Infants who are ignored become agitated and distressed.  Not surprisingly, children of mothers who display postpartum depression tend to become anxious and distressed themselves.

We have, thankfully, come a long way.  In the 1950s, when I was young, the popular wisdom was for parents to raise self-reliant, well-behaved children – they should be treated as miniature adults.  One consequence of this was to initiate the child into the ‘real world’ by having the child experience the types of alienation that comes with being an adult.

The behaviorist, John Watson, had a powerful impact on parents.  ‘Never hug or kiss children.  Never let them sit on your lap.  If you must kiss them, then a quick kiss on the forehead will suffice.  In the morning greet the child with a hand-shake.’

I remember when I was ten years old standing in awe of a father hugging his son.  I was repulsed and attracted at the same time.  As an adult I decided to hug my father whenever I was with him and I can still recall with great emotion the day that I entered the room and he opened his arms to me and hugged me first.  I made a commitment to myself that if I ever became a parent that I would hug and hug and hug some more my child.  I did have two children and I did hug them and hug them and hug them.

Not only is touch ‘both the alpha and omega of affection,’ as William James noted, touch is connected to our body’s production of the hormone oxytocin – the ‘module of love.’

As human beings our evolution required us to emphasize touch and emphasize the gaze, the look, and the face.

Other mammals are born when their brains are, more or less, ready to control their bodies, human babies can do little for themselves.  Once outside of the womb, babies need constant care.

Our first experience of being loved by our mother teaches us that we are love-able.  We come to trust the gaze, the look, the face and this enables us to trust others.

Anyone who has been entrusted with the parenting of an infant knows, first-hand, the patience, the stamina, the selflessness and the rewards of providing a loving gaze, a caring look and a compassionate face – at times, hourly.  Today, when I look into my daughter’s eyes and when I look into my son’s eyes I am confirmed that my gaze, my look and my face have been worth sharing with them.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. –God

 

 

 

You can’t just give up on someone just because the situation is not ideal. –Dorothy H. Schwietz-Smith (My Mother)

Although I was ‘full-term’ I weighed 2 pounds when I was born.  I was not expected to live.  For the first three years of my life I was in and out of the hospital.  I lived almost entirely on milk and chicken broth.  I could not keep anything else in my stomach.  When I was three years old I weighed 19 pounds and contracted whooping cough and coughed up a ‘mass’; part of my mother’s uterine wall had broken off and I had swallowed it.  After I threw up the ‘mass’ I began to flourish.  Because I was not expected to live my family was in a constant state of pre-mourning.  Because I was so ‘sickly’ I and was in and out of the hospital a lot I did not receive the family ‘attention’ that ‘normal’ infants receive.

Dan Siegal’s research confirmed an infant’s need for ‘mother’s gaze, look, and face.’  Infants deprived of these are more likely to feel disconnected from others.  I remember sitting alone and crying when I was 5 years old for I was feeling so alone among a home full of people (four siblings and two parents).  Even today, I can be with people that care about me and feel absolutely alone.  When I see a person alone or when I see a person ignored I immediately feel a pain in my heart – a physical pain, an emotional pain and a spiritual pain.  I was blessed because my family did not give up on me.  I continue to be blessed because I have chosen not to give up on others and others continue not to give up on me.

Siegal noted that infants who experience this powerful disconnection generally develop at least one addiction in order to ‘fill the hole that is not fill-able’.  My first therapist told me that ‘an addiction is a prayer gone awry.’

Siegal also noted that visual interaction between mother and infant ‘primes the moral organ in visceral ways.’ Siegal continues: ‘Through mirroring, attachment to caregivers helps the immature brain use the mature functions of the parent’s brain to organize its own processes.  We learn to care, quite literally, by experiencing and observing the caring behavior of our parents toward us.’  As a result of this experience, by the time the infant is 7 months old, he/she has developed emotional resilience.

John Bowlby, the founder of ‘attachment theory’ noted that ‘if the caregiver is responsive to the child’s signals and interacts with sensitivity, a secure attachment will be formed, reinforcing the child’s own positive emotional states and teaching him or her to modulate negative states.’

Siegal continues, ‘deprived of the mother’s gaze, look and face…’ (to be continued)

All bonds are built on trust; without trust you have nothing. –Anonymous

For she had eyes and chose me. –William Shakespeare, ‘Othello’

A number of days ago I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop reading.  A young woman entered the shop.  She was carrying one of those portable baby carriers.  She set the carrier on a table.  She sat down and adjusted the carrier so that when she looked up she would be looking directly into the carrier at the face of her infant.

I watched her for some minutes.  She would attend to getting herself settled and then pause and look with such love at her infant that I found my heart beating faster and tears began to form in my eyes.  She held her gaze for 30 or 40 seconds and as she did so she smiled.

After some time, I took a walk and ended up standing behind her so I could see her infant.  At most, it appeared, as if the infant, her child, was 6 months old (4 ½ she told me later).  Her child was looking around as infants do.  Yet, when the young mother paused and lovingly gazed at her child the child would focus on mother’s face.

We learn about the world from our mother’s gaze, look, face.  Our mother’s eyes are the safe-haven, the refuge, for us and they confirm our existence and, more importantly, our love-able-ness.  Via the mother’s gaze, look and face the infant learns about, via direct experience, connection, bonding, love, caring, compassion, etc.  These affirmations are, mostly, non-verbal.

The experience, by the by, reinforces for us that the non-verbal is more important than the verbal.  When the verbal and non-verbal are in harmony then the impact of the experience is multiplied exponentially.  When they are not in harmony – when we experience dissonance, a disconnect, we become confused and rely upon the non-verbal (but I digress, just a bit though). (Another aside: What I just wrote about the mother also applies to the father or to the person who is the primary care-giver; in our Culture the primary care-giver for infants is still our mother.)

George Eliot, in her novel Middlemarch, called this look ‘the meaning eyes of love.’  Dan Siegal, a ‘parental bonding’ guru and founder of IPNB (InterPersonal NeuroBiology) confirmed in his research that every child yearns for – indeed, must have – the gaze, the look and the face of love.  Without this trio the child will not develop in health-full ways and might, at the extreme die.

I am remembering an incident in England during World War II.  Close to 100 infants had be gathered together in a hospital – some were orphans, some had become separated from parents and some had been ‘left’ behind.  They were all placed in a huge ward and two or three nurses were assigned to ensure that they were fed and cleaned.  Within a week or two some died.  Why?  It turned out that the nurses did not have time nor energy to spend but a few minutes each day with each infant.  It was discovered that those infants who were thriving were the noisiest and most trouble-some – makes sense, who wants to listen to a wailing infant?  The ones who were dying were the ‘good infants’ – the quiet infants.

Dan Siegal’s research confirmed this.  Children deprived of the gaze, the look, the face – the love-gaze, the love-look, and the face-of-love – will experience disconnection, will have a difficult time connecting with others as they age and might well become sociopathic (an inability to emotionally connect).

(To be continued…)

Every time I look at you I’m reminded of how I can never stop loving you. –Hafsa Shah

ACTOR-OBSERVER. .

Being open to new information AND to different points of view is crucial to our being awake and aware, to our being fully present ‘now,’ and to our being mind-full.  We know that ‘actors’ and ‘observers’ have different perspectives.  For example, if I am late for an appointment I will generally ‘blame’ the traffic or my alarm clock – ‘circumstances’ become the reason why I am late.  If another is late I tend to blame the person; ‘he/she is not responsible’ or ‘this is who the person is, what can you expect.’

Once we become awake and aware of views other than our own we have an opportunity to learn that there are as many different views as there are different observers.  This can be liberating and even affirming.  For example, in the past (not too distant past I might add) someone has said, ‘Richard, you are really closed and rigid when it comes to this topic!’  I thought I was being quite flexible and open.

Now if there is only one perspective then we both can’t be right.  However, by becoming awake to and aware of multiple perspectives we can begin to accept that we are both right.  We can then focus on whether our remarks had the effect that we wanted them to have [Here are two guiding questions: In saying this, this way, does it get me what I want?  What do I want?].

I have learned, a hard lesson it was, that when I cling to my point of view I am blind to the impact on the other.  On the other hand, if I am too accepting of the other’s perspective – their definition of me and of my choices – I feel misunderstood, if not demeaned.

In our culture we observers are less flattering of others than we are of ourselves.  When I am awake and aware I can see that a single gesture, remark, choice or behavior between me and another can have at least two interpretations: rigid versus flexible, impulsive versus spontaneous, hard versus soft, intense versus emotional, etc.

These examples give a sense of ‘either-or’ and this is not the case; there are potentially, even with only two observers, many interpretations available and certainly with more than two present the possibilities increase exponentially.  Every idea, concept, act, person or choice is potentially and simultaneously a number of things depending upon the perspectives, the assumptions, the values, the beliefs, the prejudices, etc. of the parties involved.

A number of years ago when I was in Singapore, I had the privilege of being introduced to a man who is a Hindu.  That evening we went to dinner.  I asked him if he wanted a steak; he laughed and said, Richard, a steer to you is a steak; a steer to me is a sacred object.  Now, I knew this, but I was not awake to, aware of nor present to my guest.  It is important for me to continue to develop my capacity to be awake to and aware of the many possible perspectives that can emerge when two or more folks get together; the possibilities are, in a real sense, limitless.

In developing my capacity to hold ‘many possibilities,’ it does help me to affirm that others probably have perfectly good reasons for their behavior; especially for the behavior that I deem to be ‘negative.’  It is crucial for me to believe that people are rarely intentionally inflexible, indiscreet, lazy, late or frustrated, for example.  For the most part, I don’t believe that others intentionally cultivate qualities that irritate me.  I do believe that virtually all behavior can be cast in a negative or more positive or justifiable light.  For example, I can judge the parent who takes their child out of school in order to have a long weekend together as caring, fun-loving or irresponsible.  Of course, I really know that they are caring parents – of this I am sure and if you disagree with me then you are the uncaring one!  OOOPPPS….there I go again.  So much to learn!

 

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. –Isaac Newton

I awoke this morning thinking about walls.  No, not ‘Trump’s Wall.’

As I was thinking I remembered that after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem all that was left standing was a wall.  For centuries Jews would make a pilgrimage so they could touch and pray at this wall, the ‘Wailing Wall.’

We humans love to erect walls; one wall we have erected is a wall that stands between us and God.  We continue to add layers to this wall and so the distance between God and man increases.  Like the Jews we must approach our wall in humility and prayer.  Prayer is one way we can penetrate the wall, erect a bridge and converse with God.

For many of us, however, we do not remember or know how to find the path that leads us to the wall.  We seem to be afflicted with a severe case of loss – loss of our way and perhaps loss of what the wall looks like.  We are not awake and aware enough to discern the path much less to discern the wall itself.  Our distractions, our hurry sickness, and our addictions have dulled our spiritual senses.

We have constructed and erected our wall; we have chosen ‘mammon’ rather than God.  Our wall enables us to remain divided from God — from the spiritual breath that provides us light and nurturance.  So, we live in darkness and are ravaged by a hunger that the world cannot satisfy.

Our spiritual blackout, our spiritual depletion, our spiritual starvation seems to be increasing daily.  Consumerism prevails, opportunism prevails, dehumanization prevails, and our spiritual wasteland is growing like the wasteland that emerges when the rain forests are depleted.  We continue to be seduced by and say ‘yes’ to the profane as we turn away from the sacred.  Individually we are living into the dark night of the soul; collectively we are living into the dark night of society.

There is Hope.  The darkness, the profane, is neither final nor complete.  We still have the power to choose (power = one’s ability to act rooted in moral reflection).  We can choose to pray and believe that our prayers will move through the tiny crevices in the wall and we can then choose to be still so that God’s whisper will be heard and guide us.  We can embrace the darkness and be open to the little pieces of light that God always presents us; the light that will sustain us and guide us out of our dark night.

Together, in community, we can bring the little sparks of light and the whispers of hope so that a brighter light and a louder voice of hope emerges and challenges the darkness.  If we do so then for the second time God will say, Let there be light!  And there will be. . .

When we begin to build walls…we are more surely imprisoned than any prisoner behind concrete walls.–Mother Angelica

We learn to care, quite literally, by observing the caring behavior of our parents toward us. –Dan Siegel

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue to briefly explore a few of the major tap roots that for eons upon eons continue to feed nurture and sustain us.

  • Justice/Fairness: These tap roots enable us to learn about the rules of reciprocity, autonomy, reputation, revenge, discipline and punishment. They are the tap roots that enable us to enact and embrace laws and rights and enable us to enact and embrace the dark side of self-centeredness.  They also enable us to seek to balance Justice with Mercy.
  • In-Group Loyalty: Our very survival depends upon in-group loyalty.  This tap root enables us – perhaps requires us – to engender and embrace patriotism, family-tribal pride, and a willingness to self-sacrifice for the family, group, community, etc.  This tap root is also a major reason we automatically treat out-group members differently – and almost always for the worse.  This tap root is a boon and a bane for us – as our current political climate here in the United States demonstrates daily.
  • Authority-Respect: By nature we are hierarchical.  Thus we are instinctually attracted to charismatic leaders.  We also, inherently, respect our elders and we inherently revere – often to a fault – tradition.  We can be led to embrace the higher angels of our nature and we can be led to embrace the devils that are waiting to be called forth.  History tells us – it strives to teach us but we are slow learners – that, good people will engage in the most inhumane activities and do so freely.  Nefarious charismatic leaders prey upon our loyalty and tribalism and desire to follow and please the leader.  For example, ‘Good Christians’ have – and continue to – guilt-free kill others in the name of ‘God’ and do so even though Jesus-the-Christ was a pacifist.
  • Sacredness: This tap root feeds and nurtures our moral emotions.  It enables us to seek the divine in all creation.  It enables us to look into each person’s eyes and see the face of God.  This tap root enables us to co-create the sacred and thus honor the ‘Creator.’  The dark side of sacredness enables us to demonize the other and to guilt-free kill the other.  Combined with tribal loyalty the dark side of sacredness enables us to guilt-free shun, ignore, and   incarcerate children on our borders.  The dark side of sacredness allows us to guilt-free embrace being ‘anti’ (think: being anti-Semite for example).

The first two tap roots, harm/care and justice/fairness focus on concern for the individual.  The other three focus on the concern for the community.  Together they enable us to honor and/or disparage individuals (including one’s self) and groups.

We have choice as to whether we develop and embrace and engage these for good or for ill.  What is crucial is to remember that at our healthiest we are living paradoxes of good and evil – we must always be on our guard lest we forget to choose wisely.

The universe is all about balance.  The forces of light and darkness are meant to keep a check on one another. –S. Nath

A group of cooperative altruists will outcompete a group of selfish cheaters. –Marc Hauser

Morally wise humans are paradoxical works in progress.  As I have noted in previous posts, we are, at our healthiest, living paradoxes: We are moral and immoral, and at times, amoral, beings.  Now, Gentle Reader, it might be a surprise to you that it is primarily our emotions that enable us to be moral beings.

Our logic-obsessed Culture has taught us that ‘reason’ is the tap root that feeds and sustains our moral life.  Wrong!  Our emotions, not ‘reason’ form the tap roots of our moral life.  Consider this: without our emotions the most logical, rational, reason-able human being would not be able to be empathetic, caring, loving or compassionate.  In short, without our emotions we humans would not be able to be morally sound (nor fully human).

Our moral-ethical lives are guided by – at times are dictated by – complex, in-the-moment interactions between our limbic system (which is the garden for our emotions) and our neocortex (which is where reason, language, and analysis are rooted).  Our neocortex is also the garden of our moral imagination (think: our ability to step into the feelings of the other).  As humans, we contain all of the tap roots necessary in order to feel as the other feels.  These tap roots enable us to embrace altruism.  By-the-by, ‘Altruism’ is rooted in the Latin root ‘alter,’ or ‘other.’

As moral-ethical beings we are nurtured and sustained by a number of major tap roots.  They are similar to the tap roots that nurture and sustain our language faculty – learn the parts of speech (keeping straight nouns, verbs, adverbs) and put them together into sentences that are meaning-full.  Our moral faculty is nourished by – and derives meaning from – these major tap roots.

Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) called these major tap roots, universal moral foundations.  Haidt’s research continues to support his idea that the following are truly universal and have been for forty thousand years.  Here are a few of these major tap roots that have fed us for eons upon eons.

  • Harm/Care: We are social beings and we survive via interconnection and interdependence. We hurt when the other hurts and our response is to care.  We feel the threat that the other feels and we move to protect the other from harm.  This major tap root nurtures the seeds and fruits of kindness, empathy, caring, love, and protection.  As with each of these major tap roots there are paradoxes residing within ‘Harm/Care.’  I close this morning with one of them:

We are softened by the sight of one hungry child, but hardened by the sight of thousands. –James Q. Wilson