I’m going to tell you the cure for Attachment Disorder and its many related ills in this simple two-part blog. But as the good witch Glenda told Dorothy, you won’t believe me until you experience it for yourself.
I recently spent several weeks absorbing an astonishing talk by therapist Dr. Tara Brach (above), “Releasing Barriers to Unconditional Loving.” A good way to start experiencing cure would be to watch this. [Click here for video]
“Enlightenment,” she begins, quoting Zen master Dōgen, “is just Intimacy With All Things.” [FN1, FN2]
“Just,” Tara laughs. This shrink’s crazy, I say to myself. Yikes, I’m supposed to let All That inside me and be intimate? “Intimacy!” she dances on, “Intimacy with the Life inside you. Intimacy with someone at work… Intimacy with a cousin or a sister… with the person sitting next to you even if you don’t know them. What does it mean? What’s the quality of heart?
“Intimacy with the squirrels that eat the bird seed at the feeder… intimacy with the weeds…intimacy with the wind. Can you begin to sense the quality of openness, of awake-ness, of tenderness, that unconditionally makes room? The “heart space” where Everything That Is, is welcome? Intimacy is our potential to realize, and trust, and live from, Loving Presence.
“It’s also a need. We need Love, to develop in a healthy way. We need a certain amount of loving attention, intimacy, loving presence from others, for our neurons to grow. Research shows that even rat pups who don’t get enough attention, don’t grow as many neuron synapses.
“So we have a longing for love and we flourish when love is there, when there’s a sense of belonging. The poet Hafez says: ‘The subject tonight is love, and tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact there’ no better topic to discuss, until we all die ‘.” “When you figure out love is all that matters after all,” says Carrie Underwood, “it makes everything else seem so small.”
Yikes again, did she just put meditation together with attachment love from a good mom, as if it were the same thing? This shrink’s crazy. She doesn’t bother to say we need someone else to do it, or specifically with us. She just says we need loving intimacy and she’s calling that Attachment. To her it’s the most natural transition in the world – but to me it’s like jumping over the Grand Canyon.
OK, I have a regular meditation practice, I’m used to the meditation concept “be present with my breath, the sounds, the flowers, with my friends at the restaurant and the calamari.” But it never occurred to me to draw a comparison between Present on the one hand — and loving another human being on the other, let alone to say it’s identical. Astonishing. Simply being present with another person constitutes loving them? Whu Nhu? I guess the words “loving” and “intimate” get sexualized too much?
The real reason I’m so shocked is: I can’t even begin to imagine my mother being Present like that. Tara says: “And that’s all we need from Mom, to simply feel she is Present.” But what a leap from Presence with my breath, to intimacy from my mother! She was so compelled to performance, doing something, getting somewhere. I can’t imagine my mother just sitting and being gently Present with me. Just saying it sounds like a stark staring mad idea.
Then I notice what’s going on in my gut.
“Ahhh, Yes!” every jangling, anxiety-ridden cell in my body cries out, “this is the source of our attachment disorder, all us cells down here need Love! We don’t feel loved or wanted, we’re terrified of being alone. Skip the new age Intimacy blather, we need love and we need it now! Hey, what’s playing on Match.com? Let’s get this Search for Love on the road!
“Us anxious cells were programmed from birth to be practical and to get things done, Skeeter. Yeah, we read that “General Theory of Love” book by the three shrinks who say “Too many Americans are spurred to achieve, rather than attach.” [FN3] You said it brother – we cells were programmed to achieve. We’ve got to get to work and get things done! If we don’t perform, nobody will ever love us.”
The Separate Self and Fear
Hold on, I tell my cells, Tara’s only at minute 4:25 of an hour talk. OK she’s a little nutty but let’s see where she goes next.
It’s another whopper. “Then,” says Tara, “We have Rilke, who says: ‘For one human being to love another, this is the most difficult of all our tasks.’ The human realm is filled with misunderstanding, conflict, hurt, anger and insecurity — because we have a basic perception of separation.
“The primal mood of the Separate Self is fear. It’s core in our conditioning to feel separate, to have all the fight/flight activity from separation. We start with fear, and due to that, we don’t trust belonging easily. To the degree we don’t feel a sense of belonging, we don’t trust anyone really loves us… It brings a real deep mistrust… A core wounding that appears… is a basic sense that “I’m not loveable for who I am. I don’t belong, I can’t trust belonging, I’m not loveable in a real way.”
“The primal mood of the Separate Self is fear,” I walk around muttering for a few days. OK, this one’s definitely is not crazy. Everyone in brain science says that being born is absolutely terrifying; it was warm, now it’s cold; it was dark, now it’s blinding; it was hushed, now it’s scary loud; “and what’s this stuff in my lungs?” says Bruce Perry.
I know that fear, I’ve felt it all my life, because Dr. Perry also says the baby is designed to feel stress chemicals when this shock hits, so that it cries until the mother holds it, because if it didn’t and she didn’t, the baby would die. And when she does, the stress chemicals stop and they both get a flood of reward (feel-good) chemicals like oxytocin. [FN4]
Or not. If mom doesn’t respond, or the baby’s locked up in a glass box in incubation for a few weeks and then after that mom doesn’t respond, the stress chemicals never stop, and the fear continues unabated until it’s overwhelming. Which is how I lived my entire life until I found that Peter Levine book. [FN5]
“Conditioning” in Buddhism refers to the false beliefs imprinted on each living thing from birth by external culture and family, the habit patterns of the unconscious.
“The biggest way conditioning gets solidified is the imprint of parenting,” Tara continues. “I’ve kept a long time this cartoon, a little boy with goggles on a ladder spraying paint onto the wall. It says ‘I need love!!’ But his mother and her friend are talking and she says ‘He’s just doing that to get attention.’ [audience laughs] ‘I need love!!’
“But when the love doesn’t come, when there’s neglect, major criticism, abusive behavior, even just a lack of attunement, then the child has to protect from the pain of that. A lot of our personality becomes how we protect ourselves from that raw pain of ‘I’m not loveable as I am.’
“So the fear of love, the fear of intimacy, is also a universal conditioning. We have this perception of separateness, and our nervous system is wired for it, we’re kind of stuck with it.”
“Omigod” say my wounded cells, “we need love, we can’t live without love – but the basis of our entire central nervous system is to FEAR love. You thought we were freaked out before, now we’re really screwed!” “Wait a minute,” I say, “Didn’t Henry Cloud identify that as the ‘Need-Fear Dilemma’ and explain in depth how to get out of it? [FN6]
But Tara’s just getting started, and she sees a way out. If we study this need-fear mess we make of love and see how we’re creating the mess, she says, we can use Dōgen’s “intimacy with all things” to stop messing, heal our bad conditioning, and find the love we need. Let’s explore, says Tara, “what makes Love so difficult… and how to bring our practices of awareness and heart so we can wake up from our conditioning.”
Huh? I say. This shrink’s crazy. So why do I trust her so much?
Then she makes another gigantic leap and says: “I’ll name the basic principles at the root of any inquiry into waking up in relationships, and one of them is that love is intrinsic to what we are.
“In the most real way possible, we belong to this living world. We’re made of stardust, we all are composed of the same stuff. We’re breathing in this world, we’re breathing out into it; everything effects everything else. We belong, that’s the basics.
“And when the heart experiences that truth -– in a visceral, vivid way — the experience is love. Awareness, when it’s awake, when our awareness is aware of our own Presence: we belong to the world, and the world is part of our heart. It’s intrinsic.
“The yearning to realize love is universal. Just like a flower wants to bloom, each of us wants to unfold into our wholeness, realize who we really are, and live in that, that’s universal.”
Love is intrinsic, it’s already inside me? This shrink’s crazy!! Now even my cells are blowing a raspberry, all in unison.
“Oh phooey! We don’t believe we’re made of stardust for a New York minute,” my cells yell — at me, Tara and the general public. “Everyone knows we’re made of 98 cents worth of chemicals, meat and bones. Plus we’re all drenched in anxiety and stress from all that fear that we ain’t getting no love, which floods us with cortisol poison at the drop of a hat.”
Hmmm… Wait a minute, dear cells, I say, now perhaps that’s circular reasoning? Why all the cortisol? Maybe it’s our bad conditioning?
Maybe our brain stem received bum programming from conception to 36 months, when nobody remembers anything? Forty-five months is a long time to be in adversity for helpless cells. Plus Bruce Perry says that the brain stem gives rise to the rest of the brain and nervous system, which drives the development of our viscera – so if our brain stem got fried, significant parts of our insides got fried in development.
Tara’s got a plan for us to Feel Loved 24×7: we start to really get it that we are stardust. Hey, now I think of it, it’s physics and biochemistry that we’re made of stardust. So obviously we are loved 24 x7, by the Creator of the stars, no less. No small deal.
Except we don’t feel that way; we often feel like cr–p, ‘cos of our bum programming. So much happens every day to cause my cortisol to rise. Bad news from the doctor or the bond market, no time for a good breakfast, traffic, freeways, meetings, hordes of emails in my in-box.
So here’s the plan: let’s take Master Dōgen at his word and try this Intimacy with All Things bit. Let’s try to be intimate – be Present – with everything and every one we encounter, and do that more and more moments of the day. Tara says the more we do that, the more loved we’re gonna feel. Ultimately if we want to feel Loved 24 x 7, we need to be Present with everything and everyone we encounter 24 x7 – they’re all stardust, too. Sound’s crazy but what have we got to lose?
Tomorrow for just one day, let’s try to implement the Dōgen Plan. For one day, or as big a part of a day as we can hack, we will put 100% of our effort into being Present with What Is. Come what may.
Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.
FN1 Brach, Tara, PhD, “Releasing Barriers to Uncondtional Loving” Pt 1A (5-15-13) www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHiEAykuvvY&feature=player_embedded
Books: Brach, Tara, PhD: “True Refuge,” Bantam Books, 2013 and “Radical Acceptance,” Bantam Books, 2003
Audios & Videos: www.tarabrach.com/audiodharma.html
Some of my favorite videos:
1. Learning to Respond, Not React 8/3/2011 (46 min)
2. Reacting Wisely to Desire 8-10-11 (50 min)
3. Releasing Barriers to Uncondtional Loving – Pt 1A (5-15-13)
4. Releasing Barriers to Unconditional Loving – Pt 1B (05/15/13) www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5-AC3re9Ak
5. Being to Being: Loving Beyond the Trance – Part IA (5-22-13)
6. Being to Being: Loving Beyond the Trance – Part IB (5-22-13)
FN2 Dōgen Zenji: “Do not be concerned with the faults of other persons. Do not see others’ faults with a hateful mind. There is an old saying that if you stop seeing others’ faults, then naturally seniors are venerated and juniors are revered. Do not imitate others’ faults; just cultivate virtue. Buddha prohibited unwholesome actions, but did not tell us to hate those who practice unwholesome actions.” Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto (1200 – 1253).
FN3 Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. Great link (check it out): www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/
FN4 Perry, Bruce, MD, “Born for Love: The Effects of Empathy on the Developing Brain,” speech to Annual Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference “How People Change: Relationship & Neuroplasticity in Psychotherapy,” UCLA Extension, Los Angeles, March 8, 2013
Perry, Bruce, MD, “Overview of Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT),” www.childtrauma.org, 2010
FN5 Levine, Peter A., PhD, “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9
FN6 Need-Fear Dilemma in my blog Excommunication Blues
“We have a need in our heart for love, but when it’s wounded or hurt or unavailable, something very bad happens. We don’t just sustain need. If my Mom dies when I’m age 7, I can’t just wait 20 years and say ‘OK now I’ll find someone nice to love me.’ Instead, when we have unmet need or injured need, something bad develops called the need-fear dilemma. What we need the most, we begin to fear. If it’s needing love, then we’re uneasy around love. If we need understanding of our weaknesses, we get very uneasy about being weak.”
– Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture, April 2002 (CD), www.Cloud-Townsend Resources.com
“The insecure resistant ambivalent child shown in the video is experiencing what has been referred to as the need-fear dilemma; he both needs the mother for comfort, but something in his history with this mother has instilled fear, and distrust whether he will find what he needs. The video is of the Strange Situation, developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s to describe secure and insecure attachment. These two attachment patterns are vividly seen in the interaction of two mother-child pairs: http://youtu.be/DH1m_ZMO7GU ”
— Gerson, John, Phd, “Understanding Secure and Insecure Attachment,” www.theravive.com/research/understanding-secure-and-insecure-attachment
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