Connecting "through a glass darkly"
When I was in Victoria, Canada earlier this year, I spent time with Heather Parker. In addition to being a long time friend, Heather is an inspiring mother of five and helps lead City Harvest community food co-op. During discussion at the JOMO book launch at the Robert Bateman Centre, she shared some profound connections between vulnerability, separation and connection. I share them with her permission here:
"I was recalling a Q & A session with author Gordon Neufeld after he gave a talk at my daughter Beth's school. Someone asked about maintaining attachment through physical separation. He talked about the value of "bridging" behaviours when saying goodbye: "I will be with you in 10 days" or "I'm looking forward to reading this book with you today after school" etc. and using objects as reminders. A very deep, primal habit, really.
The return, he explained, the coming together again, is a deeply strengthening moment. Hope is fulfilled, trust is built, the bridge is complete, and the capacity for attachment is deepened. For small people and big, it's a growing, stretching process, with just a bit of pain. We only get to experience the relief, and discover a reward for trust and patience if we go through that pain successfully.
Every layer of our being, every aspect of our soul is involved: rationally, we see that what we said to each other is taking place; chemically, physical proximity releases dopamine; through touch, the sound of a familiar voice, and eye contact, synaptic pathways are formed, and we are at peace. Our resilience against anxiety and depression is strengthened, our ability to focus is maintained. In some ways, it dawned on me, our drive to overcome separation, to reach the other side of the bridge we build in the air when apart, is the greatest drive we have, because that moment of coming together again holds so many pieces of our wholeness. All the great stories through the ages and across cultures, and the great stories of faith, are of this journey, and the waiting, yearning, and searching at either end.
Hence, now, our fascination, obsession, addiction to finding and using ways to bridge the gap. I can see how it's like the dopamine high from crystal meth: a sinister counterfeit, and an instant overdose of the very serum of interdependence our bodies release in forming and sustaining one another's lives. (It's like filling a kiddie pool with a fire hose. The water is fine, but the volume and pressure destroys the vessel.) The virtual communication, connection, and validation provided by texting, social media, and even phone calls and emails, are at best an unsatisfying substitute, and at worst, that temporary, instant, synthetic high that causes us to crash and hunger for more.
I've noticed that those with the greatest vulnerability to addiction are those with the greatest capacity for connection. We all have those needs. And it can begin so simply, and innocently. We are truly reaching out, making ourselves vulnerable. When we are validated by likes, favourites, reblogs, or replies, that first high comes. It's just a substitute, a mere glimpse or shadow of a warm embrace; there is no touch, no scent, no warmth, but it somehow, in that moment, feels like the real thing. Often from many people at once. For a time. Often, by the time we realize that we're only connecting with each other "through a glass darkly", it's too late to stop comfortably.
So how to think about the place in our lives for our virtual connections? Maybe this: we can give one another emblems, icons, to carry us through the times of separation, but we do not fawn over them continuously when apart. Any more than a brief caress of the ring on our finger or the chain on our neck would be infantile, obsessive, indicative of pathological grief. And when our loved ones return, we set them aside and reach out our real arms for their real presence."