How do we love one another? When we hold another’s mind in our minds this is called “mentalizing”. Mentalizing it is part of the nurturing that helps infants grow into themselves as individuals: the caregiver holds them in their minds and attends to them by attuning to them affectively – to the infant’s feelings as they show up on their face and in their bodies. In doing so, the caregiver holds space for the infant selves to mold, gel and finally solidify.
What happens when we do this with each other as already fully formed selves?
As we have all experienced, we don’t always feel “in form” but actually fractured, fragmented – or as many call it – broken. When an other holds us in their minds and attends to our affect with non-judgmental attunement (responding accurately and empathically to our non-verbal and verbal cues) they help stitch us back together.
It’s like the phrase “holding space” except the sacred space we are holding the other in is within ourselves – our hearts and minds or bodymind.
Have you ever had the experience of someone randomly coming into your mind and then they contact you or you connect with them soon after? I now take this for granted that if someone comes to mind it is for a reason: either they are thinking about me or something is happening in their lives that may require my attention.
If this generative activity – mentalizing, that is wired into us as a part of the caregiving apparatus of our bodymind – can happen automatically (if we are connected to ourselves), then it means that we can use it intentionally for the purpose of caring, attending, protecting, healing, and transforming an other.
This brings me to an experience many of us have been having these days (and in particular, brought about by the pandemic and polarizing world events). So many of us have felt insignificant, weird, overthinking, lost and isolated. Missing our life energy and connection. This experience can feel like we are irrelevant – and perhaps, as if we don’t even exist. However, when an “other” attends to us we begin to exist.
What does that mean?
Sees us with their Eyes: noticing the nuances of our skin tone, eye gaze, muscle tone in our facial expressions.
Hears us with their Ears: tunes in to the tones of our voice and listens deeply to the words that are spoken, into and between those words unsaid.
Feels us with their Body: Notices how their own nervous system responds to our presence – the feelings, sensations, associations, memories and thoughts that we evoke in them.
When they get the whole story of our being, they are holding us in their bodymind and now we exist fully to the other and we are not alone. We are held. If we can begin to attune to one another in this way, then we will have the safe-enough ability and emotional capacity to have the conversations that are required to navigate this complex world.
Losing the Art of Attunement
Someone asked me the other day, “How did we get here?’ “here” being that we cannot seem to dialogue about challenging issues or coexist without figurative or literal war breaking out. In part, we have been losing the art of attunement (dare we call it love?) and we need to remember how to do this.
I want to touch upon two important pieces that I will expand upon next week:
Curiosity is a necessary ingredient to motivate one to attune and listen deeply.
Safety (or safe enough conditions) is required for curiosity to blossom. We need to cultivate both for us to steward this earth and eachother.
Lets talk about how…
Kathlyn McHugh RCC, RSW Counselling Practice takes place at the Vitality Clinic in the West Shore Area, close to Victoria BC.
Visit the website at: Home – The Vitality Clinic