Expanding Attachment Theory: Remembering the Infinite Arms of the Earth, the Cosmos, Existence, and the Divine
How often do you wish to be held?
How often do you wish someone would say, “It’s all ok”?
How often do you long for someone to look you in the eyes and say, “You are perfect and completely, infinitely loved just the way you are”?
How often do you wish that your mother or your father or a grandparent or a caregiver were around to do that, no matter how old you are?
And what if an answer to all of these longings were much closer than we remember or realize?
Do you ever sit under a tree and listen to the wind and feel the breeze moving over your skin?
Have you sat by the ocean and drifted on the sound of the waves moving in and out?
Have you let yourself wander up through a night sky and sit with the moon or even beyond, into the solar system, the Milky Way, or the infinity of the All That Is?
Have you laid in bed at night feeling sick or distraught and felt the arms of the divine or the light of God surrounding you or filling you, giving you a sense that you are not alone? Have you felt yourself shift into an overwhelming sense of joy or gratitude or deep, infinite love just from a “touch” of divine light?
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Twenty years ago, like many of us, I studied attachment theory in college and graduate school. I became a clinical social worker and psychotherapist specializing in trauma and attachment work.
I learned about the infamous Bowlby monkey experiment which demonstrated (with questionable ethics) that touch and attachment are key to life and well being. I learned that the attachment style that we develop as children follows us throughout life and is a crucial factor in determining the likelihood of us living happy, contented, emotionally healthy lives.
As a social worker and psychotherapist, I spent many years helping parents to care for highly traumatized children. My main focus was on helping the parents learn how to essentially salvage, as much as possible, the attachment development of children who had been severely abused and neglected.
That work was challenging, but the good news was that often, the children had caregivers present who were willing and capable of consistently providing them with love and caring.
In contrast, working with adults to help them develop a stronger sense of their emotional grounding, centeredness, and health was much more difficult, largely because as adults, we typically have no parental figure caring for us as we did as children.
Many, or perhaps most of us, as adults, would love to have a consistent, caring, unconditionally loving parental figure here to hold us, nurture us, let us know we are safe and ok and cared for always.
Some of us had that as children and some of us did not. Most of us had parents who were imperfect (just like we are) and our childhoods were a mix of positive and not so positive attachment experiences.
What most of us realize as adults is that, as much as we might long for unconditional holding by a caregiving figure, we either never had it or the experience is long gone.
Psychotherapists attempt to work with the reality of this void in various ways — through the unconditional positive regard in the therapeutic relationship itself, in various techniques such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and so forth.
Those approaches are often effective and absolutely have their place.
Over the past many months, the spirit world has been nudging me to recognize the revolutionary potential of expanding what we consider our “attachment figures” and the meaning of ultimate caregiving presence in our lives.
So here is what the spirit world has been reminding me: Even when we are grown adults, even if our parents have passed on, even if we never had parents or never had consistent, positive, loving caregivers, even if we did but they aren’t with us now, we are ALWAYS in the ultimate, infinite arms of the Earth, the cosmos, existence itself, and the divine.
We have heard the term, “the arms of the divine.” But have we expanded our concept of attachment to include the divine, the Earth itself, and the cosmos, and all of existence?
What happens if we do so?
What happens if our “attachment figures” are not just human caregivers, usually a mother and/or father? What if our concept of “attachment” extends to the Earth, the cosmos, all of existence, and the divine?
The reality is that we are literal beings of the Earth itself, the cosmos itself, existence itself, and the divine itself.
Therefore, just as we once were held in the womb of our mothers, we are always, no matter what, held in a “womb” of the Earth, of the cosmos, of existence itself, and of the divine.
One could argue that the model of attachment development that many of us learned in psychology classes and graduate programs is limited, even from a cultural standpoint. I was taught that we have a singular (or possibly two) primary attachment figures. This might be true for some upper middle class, Caucasian households in Western countries today. But, what if we place our notion of “attachment figure” into a joint family household or a village culture where a child is raised by many equally strongly present caregivers or even apply attachment theory to children who start full time daycare at 3 months old? How does this change our sense of attachment formation?
Furthermore, what if we venture to say that we are literally held by the Earth. Just as we are rocked by our caregivers as babies and children, we are constantly rocked by the motion of the Earth rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun.
The same is true of our relationship to the cosmos. We are in a literal, constant dance with the moon, for example. We only need to look to ocean tides to know that the ebb and flow of the moon’s pull on us is not trivial — even on a physical level.
If we lie out under a sky of stars at night and are able to see the expanse of the Milky Way, what incredible awe and wonder we tend to feel. When we look “up into the stars,” we are actually seeing a tiny part of the infinite cosmic soup of which we are a tiny dot. Imagine the holding that is constantly happening by that infinite cosmos with our Earth and therefore with us.
What happens if we remember for a moment that our need to be held is real. It does not go away. And that is for a reason.
And amazingly, the reality is that we also always ARE held — even when we think we are not.
What if we remember that?
What if, rather than longing for a mother or father or other caregiver that either did or did not exist, we are able to both miss our human caregivers, maybe even our village, and yet, at the same time, relax into the arms of the Earth who we are literally made of? What if we are able to sink into the knowing that we are held always in the infinite expanse of the cosmos and existence itself? What if, for those who believe in a divine presence, we are certainly always held in the never ending arms of the divine?
How does this feel in our bodies?
How does this feel in our souls?
How does this feel for our hearts?
How does this feel for our weary, tired, scared, worried, angry, sorrowful, grieving, sometimes hopeless, sometimes elated, sometimes overjoyed, sometimes transcendent, sometimes simply confused selves who are doing our very best to navigate this life on the planet we call Earth?
I think we need all the help we can get. And perhaps we are forgetting a huge “helping hand” we already have, if we simply remember that it exists.
I offer this as a question, as a prayer, as an invitation for exploration, reflection, and conversation, as a possibility for us to remember a reality that might help us to feel more held, to feel more known, to feel more centered and calm and cared for. We actually do have something and someone to lean on even when we feel like we don’t.
I would love to hear your thoughts, reflections, wisdom, and feelings on any of this.
I send this to you with love.
I send this to you with a hug from one being of the Earth, the cosmos, existence, and the divine, to another.
And so it is.