Did Time Stop For You? Being Fully Engaged Helps You to Flourish
I recently visited with Maureen, my daughter’s childhood friend who gave birth to Fawn, a tiny beauty with porcelain skin and clear, searching eyes. Maureen and I are emotionally connected. Her high intelligence and kindness has enriched my life for nearly thirty years. A successful marriage has temporarily transported her to the West Coast, so I do not see Maureen often. This brief visit with Maureen and her long hoped for daughter was very special. “Maureen, how is your Ph.D. going?” She is plodding towards a Ph.D. while caring for a baby.
“It’s hard to write, “she began, “because Fawn’s schedule keeps me busy.” And, as I sat with them I could see what she meant. Unlike her customary focused gaze, Maureen drifted in and out of our conversation. Checking on the petite treasure that lay in her arms, she would catch the eye of the infant, smile her huge Maureen smile at Fawn, and return to our conversation without missing a beat of our dialogue. “But I do the best I can. I need to turn in a draft soon. It worries me. It is hard to concentrate on the Ph.D, because I want to be playing with Fawn. I forget about time when I am with her sometimes, it is so amazing to watch her develop. David and I feel very blessed. ” As she spoke, Fawn began to become drowsy, and Maureen, feeling the energy change in her arms, immediately began to rock the baby as she talked with me. Masterful at double tracking, Maureen managed to stay quite engaged with me while being emotionally attached to her infant, but her priorities were clear.
My feelings were not hurt. Maureen is providing her daughter with the emotional bonding that is at the heart of human trust and self esteem. Maureen and Fawn are fully engaged, fully bonded, alive in the emotional moment of one day after another. Maureen is quite simply teaching Fawn what it feels like to flourish in our world. Lucky Fawn.
Optimal lives center around being emotionally connected to another person Being fully present means connecting with another in the moment, and pushing away other commitments, future tasks or past events. As humans we need to be heard, to be seen, to know we matter. When I am with someone who is double tracking, they can often seem disinterested , giving me partial attention and looking away as they speak, leaving me with the concern that I am being disregarded. It is easy to feel unimportant.
Full engagement creates productive and creative interchange with someone you love. When I look fully at someone to see them as they are, I can even sense what they are feeling. If I then check in with myself, I can feel myself become available to the other person, which creates a moment of vibrant energy between us. Psychotherapy relies on this moment. It takes seconds to produce. Time stops for a short period as both people become lost in the interplay between them Rational thought gives way to a moment of intense stimulation. This fully engaged interaction circle is the foundation of human attachment, and is at the very heart of living a flourishing life.
Infants attach to parents or parent surrogates to survive. The bonding they feel allows them to feel safe in our world when they are too small to care for themselves. Our pets do the same thing. But adults require as much security in loving someone else in order to thrive internally. Dr Susan Johnson writes clearly about securely attached adults who have positive views of themselves, their partners and their relationships. Comfortable with intimacy and independence they move in and out of a state of connectedness, concentrating on the stuff of their lives, then returning to the emotional relationship they call “home.” One can attach to a partner of gender, a child or other family member, a close friend, or a pet. Living fully connected to another person allows us to take wing and soar in our lives. And, as Maureen creates a safe emotional home for her treasured Fawn, Fawn learns to feel secure in our world and to explore it on her own. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
To Consider: Where is my emotional home? Do I attach securely to my partner, my friend, my child or my pet? How does this secure connectivity enable me to live a better life?
To Read: Susan Johnson. Hold Me Tight. Little Brown. NY 2008