Paying loving attention to attachment

Lindsey at A Design So Vast wrote a recent post, “There is something holy in authentic presence,” that got me thinking about attachment.

Lindsey’s post is about the intense power that authentic presence has on people, as evidenced by artist Marina Abramovic who has a piece going at Museum of Modern Art in New York right now.  The “art” or “performance” or whatever one might call an authentic human sitting and giving full attention to whoever cares to sit across from her at a table in a taped off square in a busy museum space.

Person after person eventually ends up in tears, profoundly moved by Marina’s authentic and unflinching presence to them.  The photos of these people’s faces are fantastic—with tears coming down their eyes, each one is so extraordinarily beautiful, and in a way rather different from features and symmetry and instead revealing the universal beauty of the soul when it has a chance to shine from within the body.

Lindsey’s post reminded me of infant attachment studies I had seen coming out of Harvard where very young infants and mothers were videotaped.  The tapes showed how babies seek mothers’ eyes, engage with expressions of wide-eyed interest or smile, and then the babies disengage (as if it is too intense to stay plugged in), but after a brief break they seek the mothers’ eyes once again.

If the researchers, however, cruelly suggest that the mother not respond to the baby’s seeking to make eye-contact the baby will initially make bigger gestures but if the mom stays disconnected, the child can be seen deflating into infant depression right before your eyes.

Beyond feeding on demand and helping create a secure attachment via soothing, the parent-child bond is essential to the development of the baby’s sense of self.  It would seem fairly self-evident that the amount of gazing into other people’s eyes that adults generally do in our culture is fairly rare and typically fleeting.  This sort of gazing might occur in a sexual relationship, but even then not typically (and probably not over the years).

Thus is makes total sense that when Marina gazes, like some Great Mother, into the eyes of museum goers, they are so nourished and moved by this profound soul-experience that it unlocks beauty, life-spirit, tears that relate to the experience of being truly seen (and if you do not feel truly seen and understood, you cannot feel truly loved)—and is little short of transformational.

Once I attended a mindfulness conference, and there was an activity as part of a smaller group process where we were instructed to do a gazing into the eyes exercise with whatever stranger was sitting beside us.  While this did not unlock tears in two or three minutes (Marina takes over an hour with some of the folks who sit before her), it did allow one to see the beauty in the other in a much different sort of way than looking at people with judging, or evaluating, or even giving eyes.  Just seeing to the soul of the other, or the spirit or whatever one would call the authentic Self, struck me as exactly what Martin Buber means by “the essential deed.”

While I would not necessarily think to do therapy sessions in a public space at MOMA, I sensed some parallel between what Marina was demonstrating and what therapy sometimes seeks to offer—connection in the service of growth and healing.

Given the power inherent in seeing and being seen in Marina’s accepting, patient and free of expectations manner, it would seem like this sort of gazing is absolutely something we aught to be trying at home.  And if our kids are too old and the grown-ups around us too chicken (as this is truly the resistance, not lack of time), we can always start at the mirror and see if we cannot offer a profound and open connection to our own Selves.

While the eyes may be a window (certainly not the window) to the soul, who knows if we here in this blogging world might not be able to offer something akin to Marina’s accepting openness, but at a vibrational level—a spirit sort of seeing or holding of a space meant to engender love, trust, growth, creativity, resilience and authenticity between us all—and then placed in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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15 Responses to “Paying loving attention to attachment”

  1. Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point Says:

    Fascinating, Bruce. Staring is a no-no in our culture, even considered rude, and we quickly learn this. It seems the key to presence is in the un-learning. But how? Oh I wish I could’ve sat with Marina. I’ll be trying this with my son tonight. If I get giggles, I’ll take it.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Yes, staring has alpha connotations of dominance, submission and challenge, while gazing in this mutually agreed-upon manner is all too rare.

      I love that Marina’s generous sitting inspired Lindsey to blog which inspired me to blog which inspires you to deepen your loving gaze for your child.

      As Lindsey says, below—we may be connecting with each other via some sort of “virtual gaze,” touching and evoking soul in some dimly understood manner that we all yearn for—to simply see and be seen as we truly are.


  2. Lindsey Says:

    I love the imagery of unlocking – how the gaze, the patient attention, the simple, open witnessing is enough to UNLOCK something that may be otherwise dormant, or locked. I love this. Thank you.
    And my next thought is about the virtual ways we can turn our gaze and presence onto others. I feel it, always, when i read your words. And that is an immense gift.
    Thank you.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Lindsey, thank you for your post that lead to this post, to this interchange. It’s nice to marvel together at the authentic spirit that so often goes unseen and unseeing, but which floods us with eminently human feeling and a sense of aliveness when unlocked. Only connect because this seems to be the key that unlocks.

      Thank you for your kind words, and for your willingness to see and feel deeply.

  3. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Insightful, to say the least.

    I remember years ago, relative to an essential relationship, being asked: “What do you want?”

    My response: “To be seen.”

    That particular answer was never understood. A different language from that of the asker, who thought it was stuff or behavior or even time. Love is illusion without actually seeing the other. It may be partially illusion anyway – and why not? But entirely illusion, and there is no connection. No seeing. No being seen.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Perhaps in our actual and virtual seeing we heal ourselves, allowing the seeing and being seen that has proved so rare in the world in which we’ve lived—but not in the world we wish to inhabit.

      Sometimes we must be seen before we are able to see, and I suspect that your boys are more than able to see. And even though parenting is often about giving what we didn’t get, I think that sort of bittersweet seeing exerts a healing force upon us.

  4. Kelly Says:

    This reminds me of the African Massai custom to greet each other with “I see you” and then responding “I am here” — as though to say, until you see me, I don’t exist.

    That’s what we’re all searching for, right? Confirmation that we exist, that we’re here, that we’re seen and understood and accepted just as we are.

    It’s what we give to and (hopefully) got as children. It’s what we crave as adults.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      That’s beautiful. It also brings to mind the African term “ubuntu,” which means “I am because you are.”

      Perhaps the ultimate confirmation we are seeking to create is the wider recognition and confirmation that WE exist (as a unified field of humans, animals, nature).

      My hope is that those of us who didn’t get this as children can give it to each other, which serves all of us and all our kids.

      This too is why I’m partial to “namaste” meaning “the light in me recognizes the light in you.” Lot’s of ways to say what our clear and loving eyes say in a universal language: we love each other, we are each other.

  5. stephanie Says:

    I really enjoyed looking at the crying faces and it made me start to cry. I kept looking at them, then I got interested in the demographics relative to the time of each shot – I thought I saw a pattern – Men crying @ 27 mintues, women crying in either under 15 minutes or over 40 – until I found one participant there for SIX hours! and another for three – what I want to see now is Marina’s face.

    Thanks so much for sharing this Bruce.


    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Yes, the faces of humans being so beautifully un-defended, so real and so feeling is magnetic and mesmerizing—life affirming to see the essence of universality mingled with the unique beauty of each being.

      I like that seeing real tears evoked real tears in you—like babies who cry when other babies cry; our affinity and empathy for each other seems so natural, and so important to unlock in the face of a culture that compels us to don masks.

  6. Saska Says:

    When we gaze and the gaze is returned something profound takes place, as if the generations of patterns and memory, so deep and unbroken within us, are replaced with the primal forgiveness and cradled gently by the embrace of belonging: at the end of each gaze is a gazer and at the end of a gazer is a gaze. Until we see each other in each other we can not truly love.

    Thank you for bringing Marina to us, her work and her courage is very inspiring, and so is yours Bruce. I adore the photographs!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      What seems exiting as well is the feeling we seem to all be picking up on that this gaze and gazing is moving from a one-to-one experience toward a widening circle in which the group gazes at the group, awakening our capacity to love (without negating our individuality and uniqueness) as a unified force once again, with each other and with the undefinable totality in which we dwell (and in which we yearn to love, to see and be seen).


  7. Reality Check | Big Little Wolf's Daily Plate of Crazy Says:

    […] Lindsey at Design so Vast recently wrote eloquently about “The Artist is Present,” a performance work by Marina Abramovic, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Abramovic sits, and simply looks – genuinely looks – at whomever sits facing her. She doesn’t speak, nor does she look away. Apparently, the experience of silence – and connection – is extraordinarily moving. The psychological dynamics of this sort of interaction and attachment were further explored by Bruce…. […]

  8. How not to have an operation « Just Add Father Says:

    […] from Privilege of Parenting: Paying loving attention to attachment […]

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