I had the great honor of being with Dr. Michel Odent in Honolulu as part of planning the Mid-Pacific Conference on Birth and Primal Health. At one point he made the statement, “human beings are contagious.” I will never forget his words because, despite their truth, they are rarely recognized let alone consciously utilized. When was the last time you thought about how you are affected by and, in turn, how you affect the people you are with? Let’s consider the possibility that our states of being are affected by the people near us every day, all the time.
Dr. Odent’s statement reminds me of the Oxytocin Loop, which is a term I invented to describe the contagious effects of oxytocin both within ourselves and among one another. At the time, my intent was to highlight how much better it would be to enter a birth room as an oxytocin contagion, not as a fight-or-flight contagion. In other words, let’s support the hormonal cocktail that bolsters mom and baby rather than depleting them. If we are in a calm, connected state when we walk into the birthing room, we can infect everyone else in the room with that state. If life experience isn’t sufficient evidence of this, we can cite the animal studies of Dr. Kersten Uvnäs-Moberg. Dr. Uvnäs-Moberg infused a rat with oxytocin and then placed it in a cage with other rats; eventually all the rats had more oxytocin in their systems. It seems humans are not the only contagious species on this planet.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, fear, sadness, and rage are also contagious. Stand next to someone who is angry and tell me you can’t feel it. Look a depressed person in the eye and tell me it doesn’t impact you. The impact may not result in a replication of their behavior, but the impact is certainly palpable if you are paying attention. One person’s bad mood can alter the mood of an entire room, can it not? Could it be possible this plays a part in our accepted notions of “appropriate” and “polite” behavior? Because isn’t the aim of these righteous concepts to essentially stave off infecting others with your emotions?
Here’s the thing: human beings are emotional and contagious. So, even if we are trying to suppress those emotions in the hope of being polite and appropriate, they are, in fact, bleeding out onto everyone within range. To complicate matters even more, consider the impact of obscuration: those being infected are confused as to what is actually happening to them. Maybe your mood change appears random or inexplicable, when it’s actually the result of feeling the intense sadness that woman with the huge smile on her face is holding deep inside, trying to hide it from anyone who may call her inappropriate.
Now, let’s extend this idea of human beings as contagious beyond dyadic relations and into community relations. I believe our emotional states impact our communities. What does that mean? Does it mean we had better run and hide when we feel emotional? NOOOOOO! DON’T DO IT!! Isolation is not a form of healing. In fact, isolation only makes us crazier. “But if being emotional means it will affect others and it’s not appropriate or polite to infect others with my emotions, what I am supposed to do!?”
The answer is why I’m writing this blog: I’m inviting you to consider the possibility of utilizing our contagious natures to bring about healing instead of further insanity. I’m inviting you to be the contagion of healing.
In Holistic Peer Counseling we talk about our Counselor’s Attitude. We develop and cultivate an attitude I equate with perpetuating the Oxytocin Loop: we adopt an attitude of love as we give attention to our client. When we do this, we are essentially offering our clients an oxytocin contagion; we offer them the opportunity to enter an oxytocin state themselves. Should they accept this invitation, chances are they will uncover possibilities to release pain that is keeping them from their own inherent pleasure. We can learn to recognize when a person needs loving attention, assess whether we are capable of providing it, and then discern our level of desire to give our community member the gift of loving attention.
Likewise, we can learn to monitor our own emotional states and assess if we are in need of loving attention ourselves. If we are, we can seek out community members and ask if they are willing to gift us some moments of loving attention so that we can facilitate our own healing. When we can bring our emotional experience of life into our conscious awareness, we can begin to make deliberate choices that bring a new level of interconnectedness and maturity to our greater society.
Now, let’s think big: what if our society were trained in the skills that recognize the emotional body, and then respond to it in a mature and responsible way? If society feels too big, let’s start with community. What if communities were trained in these skills? If that’s still too big, let’s start with you. What if you were able to recognize and acknowledge feeling distress, and you knew where to get the loving attention you needed to release the pain keeping you from your inherent pleasure? What if you could tell when someone else was in a distressed state and you knew how to respond in a way that didn’t magnify the impact of the pain, but could facilitate healing instead?
What would a community of people practicing these skills be like? What would a society practicing these skills be like? Do you think you could more actively engage in this type of society and be less able to isolate? If human beings are actually contagious, I ask you: What are you doing today to be the type of contagion you want to be infected by?