The changing colors of leaves makes for moments of charged awareness as the beauty of reds and oranges remind me of transition, transformation, shedding and the coming quiet bareness of branches. As the trees let go of their leaves so gracefully I muse about how difficult it is to let go as parent. Rowan at 15 months strides farther and farther away from me, even as he still clings close in the moments when I have to leave him. I muse on my attachments – and attachment in general (from a psychological perspective) – that force of attraction at work everywhere in the universe, and especially crucial between parent and child. As psychologist Gordon Neufel says in Hold Onto Your Kids, “Attachment is a force of attraction pulling two bodies toward each other. Whether in physical, electrical or chemical form, it is the most powerful force in the universe. It holds us to the Earth and keeps our bodies in one piece… It gives the universe its shape…”
Just as the falling leaves vacillate between holding on and letting go, I walk the delicate balance between staying close and letting go, separateness and relationship (which ultimately never ends), and letting myself fall back into life as a “separate” being free of the body of my son in every moment. I feel the pull of gravity towards Rowan and home, as well as gravity towards creative inner space, solitude and venturing outwards ‘alone.’ So too Rowan must feel the gravity of staying close contrasted with the gravity of venturing outwards in the never-ending circles of learning and individuation.
The backdrop of this dance for both of us is the closeness of attachment parenting – one of the most beautiful dynamics I’ve ever lived into. While my culture tends towards calling it ‘difficult’ (co-sleeping, child-led breastfeeding, baby-wearing – all hallmarks of attachment parenting), I find it the most natural, instinctual relational process (and gravitational force) I’ve ever entered. Within its tenets I feel into the millions of years of human evolution, and feel a part of the 90% of the world’s parents who sleep next to their children and carry them in slings. Regardless of other pulls, the force of attraction between myself and my child is strong beyond measure and requires my undivided heeding. Our babies need us close in a world that separates most of us at birth and then again and again through the routines of work and life in an industrialized society. So many contraptions and systems meant to make life ‘easier’ actually pull us apart from one another. In many ways, relating closely (and ‘attaching’) with our children (and one another?) has never been more difficult.
The whole cultural notion of ‘independence’ boggles my mind – and I often wonder whether my bubbling inclinations towards my own ‘space’ is a culturally created construct. From a spiritual perspective, motherhood has expanded my understanding of ‘self’ to include ‘other’ in a way that blows the whole western industrial complex’s fallacy of ‘individual’ so far out of the water I marvel at the multiple cultural strategies in place to hold on to the revered status of Self, Alone. (And isn’t it interesting how we move our babies in the direction of Self, Alone as early as a newborn?) I dance on the edge of a loosening of the required 100% (literal) Presence with my child – the felt melting of our edges moving from one to two back to one to two and back again. There he goes, there he comes. Here we are. Where I end and he begins (began?) calls me to the mystery of what the Mystics have pointed to for millenia – the One versus the many, interconnectedness v. individuality, the Sacred dimensions of Breath and Life. At the heart of this dance I am called to not let the habits of culture whittle away at the strong gravitational pulls of Love. I am called to take the time needed to transition mindfully and gracefully between togetherness and separateness, all the while acknowledging and honoring each of our needs for close connection mixed with sacred wanderings apart.
Our children are born from an experience of profound interdependence and thus need closeness in a way that rubs the edges of our sharply individualistic and independence oriented society. From the womb to birth to early months and years – they need more than our help; they are absolutely dependent on us to live. Their needs call us to set the more self-oriented parts of ourselves aside in honor of embodying nurturing, ever-present abiding. Feeling a tangible part of a web of relationship with Rowan, he teaches me the palpable pull of heart strings and connectivity that I am ultimately rooted in not only with him but with everything. After all, I exchange breath with the trees I gaze at – the changing colors not only mixing with eyes and mind, but the dance of oxygen and carbon happening in every moment – an intimate dance of life transcending any false notions of I and you.
How quickly we are taught that we can supposedly stand alone, disconnected somehow from all that supports us into sustaining Life. Instead, I choose to re-learn relaxation into mutually arising needs that never end, even when we grow into adulthood. I choose to abide closely with my child – mirroring relationship like the aspen trees that learn to stand side by side but with roots deeply connected and mutually supportive of growth – all the while one vast organism in the forest of Life.