Attunement

Attunement

After birth, babies and parents meet.  What’s mysterious about this is the way babies respond to their mothers’ (and to a lesser extent, fathers’) faces.   They lock on.  And then, if the mother’s heart is open and her mind attentive to her baby, the process of attunement begins: a non-verbal interaction between mother and baby.  This process can be delightful for both mom and baby, and it’s absolutely crucial to both in the coming months and years.  It’s crucial to the baby, as s/he cannot verbalize needs and wants to the mother.  The mother, in turn, needs the intimate connection to her baby so that she can provide her/his needs.  I also postulate that mothers need that connection so that they’re capable and willing to provide the 24/7 care an infant needs.

In his book review of A General Theory of Love, Kirk Honda writes: “Infants have an instinctual attraction to faces and a pre-programmed understanding of facial expressions (p. 61).  This multitude of inborn brain structures encourages survival by fostering a bond between parent and child, so the child may be protected and taught by the parent.  Along these lines, research has found that a lack of nurturing love will damage the human brain forever (p. 89).  Grim evidence of this can be found within findings that extreme emotional deprivation can even cause infant death (p. 87).  Human children are pre-designed for attachment and they need it for biological and practical survival.”

But even before birth, mother and baby are deeply interconnected through the mother’s heart.  In his book The Biology of Transcendence, A Blueprint of the Human Spirit, Joseph Chilton Pearce cites the research of the Heart Mind Institute into the “torus”, an electromagnetic field generated by the human heart that can be detected twelve feet away.  The mother uses her torus to regulate her baby’s heart in utero, and again while nursing her baby.  There’s even research that indicates that since human mother’s milk is so thin the baby needs to be fed at least every four hours, feeding enhances the bond of mother and baby, as well as the growth of the baby’s heart and brain.

Attunement also seems to function in the speech of human adults.  An old study put the percentage of non-verbal communication at 93%, with verbal at just 7%.  However, that ratio only seems to apply under certain circumstances.  For instance, in an email verbal communication would have to be rated much higher than non-verbal, while face-to-face communication could be rated closer to that old study.  Perhaps the old ratio is most useful when our subconscious is constantly monitoring other people’s non-verbal communication: tone,

facial expression, body language, syntax, emphasis, and so on, during speech. Some psychologists refer to it as the ‘adaptive unconscious’; more recently, it’s been linked to ‘limbic resonance’. Our subconscious almost immediately picks up conflict between the words being said and the nonverbal stuff. However, it may or may not be able to get our attention to let us know there’s something wrong. First, we may not be focusing on the other person’s communication because we’re too busy waiting for them to shut up so we can tell them what we think. Second, it’s the subconscious trying to let us know there’s something wrong.

That’s a very small voice trying to get our attention, so a lot of the time we ignore it, at least during communication.

One of the most interesting thoughts I have about attunement is called “transmission” in Buddhism.  It’s supposed to be a “mind-to-mind” transmission, so it sounds a lot like attunement.  In Rinzai Zen, which uses koans to help a student achieve enlightenment, if a student verges too much into words when trying to communicate the essence of a koan, his teacher will dismiss him by ringing his bell, a nonverbal communication of “get out of here, you’re wasting our time”.  I can see a lot of focused, intense meditation coming up for that student.

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