Last week as I lay on the operating table trying to breathe deeply and think positive thoughts, I had one of those profound life moments. However good we are at self-talk and positive thinking, going in for surgery is scary. Like it or not, as the medical staff wire you up, transfer you onto the table and swab you down, any sense of control is swept away and we are at our most helpless. Try as we might to stop it, the level of the stress hormone cortisone begins to rise. I had been so calm and at peace, but I could feel it happening.
Then, suddenly, a nurse was holding and stroking my hand, stopping and looking deep into my eyes and telling me it was OK to be vulnerable and that I would be OK. In that moment something profoundly biological happened. I could feel it. The ‘happy hormone’ serotonin flooded my brain and my body until my anxiety – that pesky cortisone rush – went down. I experienced one of those powerful moments of love, nurture, attachment and safety.
When I was a young teenager I was inspired by Mother Teresa who left the security of her home in Albania to travel halfway across the world to nurse the dying poor. There was an overwhelming love in her for others. She believed utterly in the power of love and gave her life to it. Yes, she was human with her foibles, but ultimately she embodied the human capacity for love and nurture.
I believe it too, and see in my day-to-day work the power of positive relationships. I lecture about love and the importance of nurture as the foundation of all learning and development, and that’s why attachment and safety are a baseline of the Developmental Play Pyramid. Relationships are so powerful, and last week I experienced it in a new and profound way. It was like a cosmic shift. From vulnerable and anxious, to seen, affirmed and calm, it was a physiological, neurological and spiritual phenomenon.
Research on pain relief, building the immune system and recovering from surgery, as well as some research on cancer prognosis, shows that positive thinking, and feeling unstressed and loved have a huge impact. As Sue Gerhardt says in her book “Why Love Matters”, love and nurture underpin our social and emotional wellbeing, our longevity, our response to illness and the way we structure our societies. Without nurture and love we are lesser.
It was with some disappointment last week, then, that as soon as the new COVID vaccine success was announced, headlines were all about shifting share prices, economic growth and global recovery. Why this preoccupation with acquisition? What I discovered last week was how much more important than financial capital is the importance of nurture capital, the capacity for care, love and affirmation.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, I hope it will be that we recover our human potential. We have all danced with the shadows of uncertainty in some way or another over the last year, and our responses have gone one of two ways – deep into the reptilian brain where we have embraced fear or anger or have been frozen in our powerlessness; or we have chosen to climb out of this primitive response into the limbic system and sought to love, to cherish and to value our humanity.
My prayer for the new normal is that we take stock of what we have seen, acknowledge our primal fears and our vulnerability and then embrace our capacity for love and nurture. Love matters and NURTURE CAPITAL is the best investment any of us can make in 2021. It feels so much better than the alternative.
Caroline Essame 2020