Harlow’s monkey along with teaching us about the needs of the infant for physical touch in order to develop emotional resilience and psychological stability also taught us that the more physical interaction received during adulthood, e.g. hugging, touching, the better is one able to cope with crisis and the stresses of every day life.

Dear Loves,

I have been thinking about incarnation – what it means to be embodied. These thoughts have been simmering in me for days, like so many ideas do.  I have learned about myself through the years that I am a slow cooker. Phone conversations and texts with loved ones add meat to the broth, books and articles I read stir in vegetables, my own experiences sprinkle particular seasonsings and out of the mix comes something perhaps nourishing.

My own feelings of disconnection, or altered ones at most, have left me feeling somewhat disoriented, a vague sense of malaise making me feel as if I’m walking through a fog. My brain literally hurts from too much screen time—cell phone calls, texts, zoom meetings and classes, webinars, Netflix, Youtube, Facebook– like the pathways of neurons inside of it are being crossed and rewired as they reorient to this reality. And though sometimes it really does feel connective and healing, lifesaving even, it is the paradox of our times that the ‘social’ technology that has been developed in recent decades to keep us connected, and which is now seemingly vital, leaves us feeling strangely disconnected. It has grown too much out of proportion to our humanity, perhaps. I suspect that the low level dis-ease that it has been fostering for some years is now being more fully revealed and expressed, like a cancer that has been growing unnoticed and is suddenly causing pain.

Personally, I find myself needing more and more tangible physicality—whether it be with the earth—the planting of flowers, long hikes, or visiting the pond–  or face to face with a real human being. My son and his wife stopped by to dig out some ferns for their beds on Sunday. We sat 6 feet apart on the back patio afterwards. I felt human and whole for those few minutes. Laughter helps to, as if it stirs something stagnant inside my belly and clears it away.    

Don and I got out of our wooded village for a drive over the weekend.  The spaciousness of the sky always helps- feeling that bright openness on my face. He and I played some gin rummy that day too, with actual playing cards, rather than the computerized version we’ve been playing with our friends. I picked up a real book – I’ve been ‘reading’ the virtual ones on Kindle or listening to audio ones on my cellphone. All of these helped me to feel real, I suppose, embodied rather than a walking head.

Of course, I’ve been thinking about Algonquin– I would be there this month—missing it, and appreciating more and more how much it brings me alive, precisely because it gets me more fully into my body and out of my head, I suspect. I’ve known for so long that the feeling of pure embodied presense that I experience there makes me feel whole, intact. These days, I know more fully how the polar opposite of that experience makes me feel.

I need to get out of my head.

But I have been thinking –about incarnation, how little we honor or even understand ourselves as embodied beings. I have been thinking about Harlow’s psychological experiments with infant monkeys, the way in which those socially isolated and deprived creatures craved the physical comfort of the warm overstuffed ‘mothers’, running to them for comfort, even when the wired facsimiles provided food. What might that tell us about today’s enforced social isolation? We turn to the wired technology for necessary food, but we are starved by it at the same time?

Of course, these experiments apply not only to monkeys, or even to children, no matter how much we like to believe (inside our big brains) that as adult humans we are immune. I am aware that some children in cities (friends of mine) who cannot get outside or engage in play with other children are exhibiting signs of stress—biting themselves, for example. These examples should help us to more readily see and appreciate the stress that all of us are experiencing, despite the illusion that in our ‘adulthood’ we have developed ways to cope, perhaps, or to cover, or, more often for some of us, to blame ourselves for feeling the way that we do rather than recognizing that the environment we have been thrust into is unhealthy for us.

The body knows.

I’m recalling my last pregnancy, now 30 years ago, in which I was being monitored daily with a uterine contraction detector, how it was that one morning I needed to drive to the elementary school a mile away to deliver a forgotten musical instrument. How that uterine monitor registered the stress in my body of an ‘ordinary’ daily task in our modern world. That experience has continued to inform me through the intervening years of the hidden stressors in our world, things a human body (and soul?) is not designed to endure, at least healthfully. (In this case, perhaps we are not meant to move at such speeds? There is a dissonance between what the body knows should be and what the senses are bringing into the mind. I have read that folks who experience car-sickness are victims of this evolutionary/biological conflict).

My hope is that we learn from this time. I dearly hope the lesson is not that we can get by without human contact—as many businesses are figuring out how to survive—or that we can ‘adapt’. I dearly hope that the lesson assumed is not that social isolation will keep us safe. I hope that when this is over, we will throw off these chains and see them as chains. I hope that we feel in our bodies the relief, the joy of reconnection, and understand our human need for actual, physical, connection in a deeper way. For embodied living with one another and with the earth. For touch. For intimacy. For the real.

And for smallness. Yes, smallness. Perhaps those links on the World Wide Web are not what we need nearly so much as staying linked to the human being whom we can touch. Perhaps the global economy is not nearly so necessary as the economy of the body. Perhaps small communities of actual caring might be birthed in this time, out of our desire for true intimacy.


May it be so for you, my love. May it be so.

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