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.