Pain of Disconnection
In this short video clip we see how quickly a baby suffers distress when communication with her mother freezes. First there is joyful connection ( which we call the ‘green light’) and then the mother’s face goes still ( red light). The baby experiences a crisis of disconnection ( yellow light). When communication is restored, the mother is able to soothe the baby. But if communication isn’t restored, the baby might shut down. It’s difficult to watch this little experiment, but I think it’s important that we do because this pain of disconnection happens to us all the time in our conversations. We don’t writhe and cry like a young baby, but when the communication barrier goes up and the flow of connection stops a distress signal goes off deep within us.
Sometimes the disconnection isn’t a barrier at all, but the simple reality of endings. Yesterday, after a short visit with my dad in the nursing home, I kissed him goodbye and left the room. In the hall I turned to look back at him. Seeing him alone, sitting in his wheelchair looking out the window, I felt overcome by sadness and guilt. Then I remembered that I was in that ‘in-between stage’ , symbolized by the flashing yellow light, the distress signal of disconnection. I noticed how I fill the gap with self-recrimination. you should stay longer, you shouldn’t be so selfish, you’re just running away. I should have done or said this…I shouldn’t have said that..
Simply noticing how easily mindlessness sets in, like an infection in a wound, I remembered to stop and simply feel the pain of saying good bye. Mindfulness is like reconnecting to an inner mother. I felt reassured, remembering the voice of my mentors and teachers. Awake body, tender heart, open mind. Feel the sadness but don’t complicate it by turning in on yourself.
Contemplative psychology teaches us that the story of our lives is created moment by moment. We all carry the burden of familiar habits and frozen reactive patterns from the past but in the present moment our options are open. Paradoxically, the proof that we’re fundamentally connected lies in the fact that disconnection feels so painful. So within us there is both the distressed child and the nurturing mother. Instead of shutting down, simply being present with the pain can reunite the two.