Within the paradigm of scientific materialism, over the past few centuries we have turned almost exclusively to trusting only what we can see and measure. If it can’t be recognized as some-thing, labeled and counted, then it isn't considered valid. Absence of proof equals proof of absence. Unseen is now synonymous with unreal.
Until recently, science said the universe was made up of a bunch of things: asteroids, planets, stars, and galaxies, all floating in a hollow void. But in the past three decades cosmologists and astrophysicists have begun to recognize an unseen, yet always present, background in which all recognizable material exists. Known as dark matter/dark energy, we now understand this invisible background to make up more than 95% of the universe.
How do scientists detect dark matter/dark energy? By its gravitational pull on every-thing: from atoms to stars (which, by the way, make up less than 1% of the universe). All recognizable matter is under the direct influence of a non-recognizable force that exerts its influence on every known thing. Indeed, dark matter/dark energy is, in this very moment, influencing and “bending” the arc of every galaxy in the universe.
Unseen, yet real.
So it is with AND.
Not dissimilar to dark matter, AND is always exerting its pull on our lives. Unseen and real.
The following image is an orphan in Iraq, who draws a picture of a mother each night and sleeps inside.
Yet again: we can’t not be connected.
We can’t not need AND.
AND is always hidden-in-plain-sight, calling the shots. Attachment research is remarkably clear: When a child experiences trusted access to AND, that child will be predictably secure and at ease in her life. We now have thousands of research studies from every continent, each arriving at this same conclusion. Some have begun to call attachment research "The Science of AND."
When a child can’t trust AND (when her caregiver can’t offer ways to mutually negotiate AND), that child will be insecure and will need to establish a protective strategy to avoid the pain of no-AND (absence).
I’m hunching you can’t think of a recent novel or movie dealing with the human condition (whether written recently or 500 years ago) that didn’t center around AND. The drama and difficulty at the heart of any story happens because the key players require AND, are seeking AND, while struggling to negotiate AND.
Here's the heartbeat of what every child needs to learn about AND:
"I am with you.
You are with me.
No matter what happens, we will get through it together." You. Me. Us. You. Me. AND.
I have never seen anyone outgrow a need for this core requirement of shared companionship. Always carrying a sense of you, me, and us into each of life’s circumstances is both good and healthy.
THE PLOT THICKENS: RESONANCE & POTENTIAL SPACE
As an attachment researcher I've come to recognize that infants and young children, as they are forming their view of how AND manifests in their lives, require two central themes from their presence-givers:
1. Predictable, steady, and tender availability.
2. Support for an ever-changing experience of fresh possibility.
Babies are hardwired for what we call resonance: presence that has both stability (steady predictability) and flow (non-formulaic attunement to the moment-to-moment shifts in a child's emotional state.)
Donald Winnicott also had a name for this other aspect of a child's need. We already know half of Winnicott's equation; here is the second half. Children need an underlying holding environment that simultaneously offers, in each new moment, what he described as potential space.
Presence must be both unchanging/unconditional and always-new. See how this works with baby Oliver:
Resonance is the opposite of static, rigid, robotic formulas. Resonance has no agenda or manual. It is attuned to the flow of another's ever-changing experience.
Attachment research keeps returning to the same conclusion: healthy, secure relationships always include room for the uniqueness of each individual and the richness of the AND that connects them. (Interestingly, a significant characteristic of many insecure adults is the habitual denial and devaluation of the connection they most need. "I don’t really have needs. It's all up to me. I'm alone, I know we’ll all die alone and I'm courageous to admit it.")
In every culture thus far studied, genuine security in children (and adults) always includes the capacity to trust in AND.
Me. You. Us.
Sadly, trust in AND isn't as common as we'd like to believe.
Our first relationships don’t have to be terribly bad in order for us to eventually feel both terrible and bad. Momentary cues for being-with from an infant that go unrecognized by the caregiver ("I want you here with me, and I need you to slow down to my pace and my rhythm"), are not experiences that most of us would consider dangerous or severe.
Attachment researchers spend a great deal of time watching babies with their caregivers in millisecond interactions. We notice how infants are always paying very close attention to the willingness of their caregiver to follow their lead.
So, as an attachment researcher it is my job to pay exquisite attention to how infants pay exquisite attention to the quality of AND between their caregivers and themselves. In the following observation of video freeze-frame you will witness baby Lindsey experience AND as a question: "Are you here with me now? And now? And now? Will you stay with me as I change moment to moment? Can you say YES to all of me or are there places in me where you start saying Maybe yes. Or No Way?"
I’m sitting next to a mother as she perches on her chair’s edge, looking toward a video monitor placed in front of us. Monica is a highly successful young professional seeking help because her four-month-old daughter Lindsey, “just cries and cries, unable to calm herself down.” After a brief pause she adds, “Maybe I spoil her, because she seems so ungrateful.” I’m about to show a recently recorded videotape of this mother and daughter in a standard laboratory interactive session. The screen displays Monica as she sits on a folding chair directly facing Lindsey, who is leaning back in a car seat looking in the direction of her mom.
As Monica and I watch the monitor, we see how she is smiling broadly, eyes dilated, intensely focusing upon her daughter. This mother, utilizing her signature upbeat intonation, calls out to Lindsey in a high-pitched voice. “Hey Linds! Watcha doin’n?” Her daughter, head at the back of her chair, returns her mother’s smile for several seconds and then looks out beyond her mom, then down and to the right. Monica immediately shifts her weight, bringing her head into alignment with her daughter’s new position. With a cheerful, bubbly voice mom chants “Lindsey, Lindsey! Hey, Linds!” Her daughter’s shoulders shrug briefly as she momentarily meets her mother’s gaze. They both grin, each smiling, but this time Lindsey’s smile seems slightly odd, almost forced. The baby’s eyes quickly move up past her mother to the lights on the ceiling. The mother’s smile falters for a few tenths of a second, then seems to ratchet up a notch. Monica raises her right hand and commences to gently, but insistently poke her child’s tummy. “You like to be tickled don’t you? Yes, you do. Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha.” As she finishes the third repetition of “gotcha,” Lindsey winces briefly, then begins to whimper. Not yet crying, it is clear that she soon will. Mother momentarily shifts her gaze out and away from Lindsey, frowns slightly, and with a barely discernible irritation turns to face her daughter. This mother’s tone is suddenly flat, the cheer fully vanished. “I think you’re just sleepy. You just get so cranky when you need a nap.” Now turning away, she begins rummaging through her purse. With a voice slightly aloof, almost curt, she intones: “Let me find your Binky.”
From a clinical perspective, what we’ve just seen is a mother whose hope for shared happiness makes it hard to read her daughter’s bids for personal space and a slower, less frantic rhythm. Because of this mother’s inability to dial-down her own need, her child eventually winces and whimpers, cuing ever more directly that mom’s intense agenda is simply too much. Unfortunately, when Monica notices her daughter’s distance, she misses an opportunity to experience the relationship from her child’s perspective. Instead, because she is feeling momentarily rejected this mother withdraws her warmth. She’ll back off, but with a sense of confusion and growing resentment. Sadly, they are moving into a relationship where neither mother or daughter will feel they can get things right.
Moments of not meeting. Moments of void.
To paraphrase Winnicott: It is easier to remember difficult, even traumatic events, than it is to remember moments of absence, where presence was needed. How do you remember nothing happening when an attuned response was needed? How do you remember the specifics of emptiness?
What we’ve seen here certainly wouldn’t be defined as neglect or abandonment, at least not in the way we might typically understand these terms. Even so, four-month-old Lindsey has begun to experience something of what it’s like to feel unknown. Naturally, instinctively seeking an experience of AND from a mother who is well-intentioned but unable to read some of her cues, Lindsey already has a dawning sense of being a stranger in a strange land.
How is Lindsey to make sense of the fact that the central figure in her life, the one teaching her the structure and nuance of relationship, is unable to read her requests for less pressure and more personal space? How, at four months old, is she to understand the sense of absence she is already beginning to know?
Years later, unable to decipher persistent feelings of isolation and a tendency for self-attack, Lindsey might find herself speaking to a therapist. “It makes absolutely no sense. I had an almost perfect childhood. My mom was utterly devoted to me. But, inside I feel lost, like no one actually ‘Gets it. Gets me.’ I’m never really happy, or even satisfied. There’s something really wrong with me. I’m such an ungrateful bitch.”
There she’ll still be sitting, feeling terrible and bad. There she'll sit blaming herself for an emptiness that makes no sense.
She will sit in absence, yet she won't feel completely alone. Lindsey will have something bad about herself and her life to focus on, and she'll have a persistent, harsh, yet ever-present Voice keeping her company. Unfortunately, I see this in therapy patients like a grown-up Lindsey all the time.
We're back at square one.
Many of us didn't actually know resonance (either holding or potential space) at the level we most needed it when we were building our definition of "reality."
The questions we need to ask: Can we change? Can we find AND now? Is it too late to know being-with?
Here's where the best hint I know begins: AND isn't to be found in the ways we're used to finding something. Because AND isn't a thing. Rather, it's the hidden-in-plain-sight, dark matter, unseen background being-with that is always present. For everything and everyone.
AND holds galaxies, atoms, and everything in between.
AND holds each of us, whether we know it or not.
When Piglet says "nothing," Piglet is naming the unrecognized, yet always present background, the AND that, once recognized, becomes holding personified.
AND isn't a thing. AND holds all things. AND is resonance-between-things.
When Piglet says "nothing" he is saying "no-thing." Piglet is saying, "What I most need is no-thingness. I need not-thing-ness. I need the AND-that-holds; resonance. I need the non-thingness at the heart of all things shared with you."
Moments of meeting. Moments of trust. Hidden-in-plain-sight.
Out of no-thingness, holding and newness continually arise. As Meister Eckhart said 800 years ago: "There exists in the present instant, a now which, without end, is ever new." Presence is synonymous with emergence. AND is being born now. And now. And now.
No-thingness is actually the opposite of our procedural experience of "nothingness." Those of us who are afraid (or certain) that we live in a universe of random nothingness are actually reliving and describing the vacancy of our learned absence. This is memory now masquerading as "reality." Nothingness-as-worldview confirms itself, becoming increasingly rigid and ultimately static. It was cool and distant when we were young allowing all of reality to appear impersonal and vacant now.
But no-thingness is vital, fresh, and filled with caring.
Being-with is never some-thing. It's the utterly obvious but all-too-often unrecognized resonance of between-ness. Space that appeared empty remains space, yet it is now (and now and now) activated, alive, new . . . with shared presence.
Whenever we open to AND, we experience presence. Whenever we deny AND, we reconfirm absence.
I once heard a man say that he had decided to choose his religion by whichever one had the best imaginary friend. Donald Winnicott might have agreed. Winnicott believed that a young child’s holding companion (what he called a transitional object) was offering an essential relationship that was both imagined and real; more real and more essential than a rational mind can comprehend.
Paraphrasing Winnicott: "My fuzzy friend is partly me and partly you. My friend is me-with-you; you-with-me. Me AND you. Otherwise I’m only me . . . alone.”
Transitional objects allow us to, well, transition: to bring being-with with us. They also allow us to loosen our grip on "reality." Children can be given the luxury of not having to decide between the "real" world and a world of deepening, rich, relational complexity, one that includes me, you and us in the essential form of tender, ongoing (wherever I go there you are) companionship.
We are hardwired for relationship. We are hardwired for an experience of me with you; you AND me. This need never goes away. When allowed, young children don't outgrow their gentle companions, rather they bring this trusted presence with them into each encounter from that point forward.
As adults, can we give ourselves the option that securely attached children are given, the option of not having to decide between the “real” world of consensual reality and a reality that offers shared presence deeper than proof? Rather than wishful thinking, our willingness to risk and trust may be precisely how we enter a realm that can only be experienced through a combination of uncertainty and confidence. It just may take more courage to risk trusting in the unseen (almost) known than to remain safe in our predictable, procedural ("It's up to me alone, but at least I'm not kidding myself") certainty.
I Pick Up a Hitchhiker
After a few miles, he tells me
that my car has no engine.
I pull over, and we both get out
and look under the hood.
We don't say anything more about it
all the way to California.
- Jay Leeming
BACK TO AND
As is true with dark matter/energy, we can’t see AND. But, from the perspective of developmental psychology, AND is the “context” that is always actively influencing the “text” (bending the arc) of every life: child or adult.
If AND is such a central player in all that we’re about, if AND is always present and negotiable when we’re secure, yet limited and not-so-negotiable when we’re insecure, maybe AND has something to do with the underlying structure of the universe we were born into.
Our hardwired need for AND (simple, attuned presence with us) is definitely no sentimental pretense in an otherwise “real world” understanding of things.
AND is never a secondary factor in our lives.
When AND isn't present we always suffer. Can you think of a time when the loss of a genuine experience of AND felt good? Isn't the inability to experience AND at the heart of your deepest pain, either past or present?
Finding ways to directly access AND becomes, from my vantage point, the central task of our lives.
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