In 1977, I was both captivated and alarmed, along with the rest of the movie-going world, when Steven Spielberg’s dream movie came to local theaters. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a sci-fi movie hailed for its child-like wonder of the unknown. The phrase close encounters of the third kind refers to human encounters with extra-terrestrials.
An unintended consequence of a worldwide pandemic was the loss of connection experienced face to face, person to person. Simultaneously, the unexpected up-front and close-up contact we now have with the people we live with was amplified. Encountering one another in a world that feels alien, uncertain, and impossibly challenging asks us to stretch in ways that our relational muscles object to.
Awe and Wonder
I recently invited a group of people on zoom to explore their connection with awe and wonder. We know that awe is close cousins with both pleasure and fear. After watching a brief clip from Louie Schwartzberg’s Tedtalk on awe, we dipped into our own experiences and access to awe. We agreed that the vastness of the world could absolutely literally take our breath away. And there seemed to be a general consensus that the everyday moments of slowing down, being present, and staying with the minutiae that captures our attention could also render us awestruck!
People, places, things
When we open up to what is before us we take the risk of being transformed by what we see when we see it anew. What would that mean for us in the myriad encounters we have with each of the people who cross our paths? How would we experience one another if we could set down all of the preconceived notions that we carry into our conversations, engagements, and interactions?
The ability to see the world in a grain of sand, to forego all sense of time and place. Living in the moment wholeheartedly. Returning to innocence and living joyfully. What if THIS is the way that we change the world? What if every day I commit in some small way to tend to awe and wonder, how would I be transformed within? And when I am changed within, how does that ripple out to the world around me? When the world around me is a wonderland of new and exciting possibilities, what does that mean for the space between you and me?
Context, Choice, and Connection
Polyvagal theory tells me that when I have an anchor in my ventral vagal safety, my brain supports the concept of possibility. I have choices, I ground in context, and I welcome connection. My biological imperative to be in a relationship with myself, the world around me, and the intimate others in my life is met.
Is it over yet?
Living in a semi-permanent or post-pandemic society has impaired the ways in which I connect. I forget joy, awe, and wonder. I slip into a sustained state of alertness or drift downward to stillness and collapse. I need reminders to slow down and review the stories that I am feeding. I notice what I say and do that supports the story. I name the emotions and explore if I can sit with them, allowing the 90-second life cycle of the emotion to unfold.
I play my harmonica!
I breathe more, meaning I exhale more! I move my body, looking for the next smallest action that helps me to tolerate what I am experiencing-my feelings and the physical expression of my survival response. Then I can look for the next smallest action that brings energy to my state and moves me up my autonomic ladder towards connection. I put a harmonica to my lips and blow!
In between you and me
What does this mean for me in my most important relationships? When I can look at you with wonder and awe, I am delighted. I reconnect to the reasons that I first fell for you! I laugh more and touch you more. I want to be touched by you. I co-regulate with you, and our nervous systems move from a survival dance to the slow beat of the tango, where we speak with our eyes and our hands, and the language between us is ours and ours alone. All that is distracting falls away, and we are present, together at this moment.
Hayley Hoffman Hayley trained as a psychodynamic clinical counselor focusing on helping couples and individuals to live relationally and to navigate life’s terms. She works from an empathic stance, helping clients through the process of noticing, identifying, and understanding patterns of behavior that, while once useful coping mechanisms, are no longer working. Together with her clients, they explore attachment meaning, past and current dynamics, somatic experiences, and ways to consciously connect in relationships with self and others.
Hayley’s practice is rooted in “unconditional positive regard,” creating a safe haven for exploring vulnerability and change, and a spiritual approach to life’s ups and downs, drawing on the lessons she has learned in Imago Therapy, Polyvagal Informed Therapy, 12-step work, and psychodynamic clinical theory. Her client base is focused on adults, individuals, and couples.
After obtaining a Master’s in Clinical Counseling from Northwestern University, she became a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. She is an experienced Getting the Love You Want Workshop Presenter. She also offers the Keeping the Love You Find relationship workshop for individuals. She is certified in the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) and has trained with Deb Dana in Polyvagal Theory and the applications of this theory in therapy.