Janet Ross has been practicing social distancing since 1977 at her rural retreat in Utah’s redrock country. Lifelong westerner and aspiring author of two books, Janet Ross tells stories about the land and people of the West. Ross is writing Quilting Life and Landscape into a Happiness Museum and A Ritual Landscape.
As I sit alone and look out my window I can only see wheat fields, Piñon and Juniper trees, the Blue Mountains, and sagebrush. I am very comfortable being alone, especially with so much natural beauty just out my door. It’s no real hardship. So, it’s hard to tell how much the world has changed during this pandemic until I go to town, go to a store, or to meet a friend. Everyone in face masks with gloves on. Elbow bumps, virtual hugs, six feet apart, pausing and remembering I cannot reach out for a hug. When I encounter other humans, I think about our biology and what makes us human—for me it is to reach out for that hug.
In the most basic sense we are just a collection of about 30 to 40 trillion cells, butwhen those cells are infused with love we are so much more. As humans, we require love to feel heathy and for many, touch is an integral part of love.Amazing as it may sound, each and every one of our cells behaves like a miniature human, says Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief. Inside you, forty trillion minute human-like cells work together. Cells work side-by-side, helping each other accomplish the pumping of your heart, the breathing of your lungs, and all the millions of other tasks that need to happen for the human body to function correctly. When we feel “in-love or loved” our cells, which are made of atoms, which are made of particles, are actually vibrating from the energy of love!
The movement of life, according to Dr. Lipton, begins with proteins—the primal elements of life that easily wrap themselves into organic wire sculptures and move in response to environmental signals. On the surface of each cell, receptor proteins receive environmental signals while the effector proteins transform into vibrations and transmit them to the brain where they are interpreted. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the difference between how these protein sculptures move when they are “in-love or loved” versus when they are irritated. If we download new beliefs of empowerment and love into our cellular memory, our cells can have new lovely tunes to play with lyrics that affirm our lovability.Love actually does make us healthier, happier, and live longer.
The physical act of a kind and warm touchlowers blood pressure and releases the “love hormone,”oxytocin. And it goes both ways, those that give hugs, for example, also have a similar physiological reaction. Touching is also a key factor to a lasting relationship. Touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response. If touch goes away, as it has in this time of pandemic, does love go away? Are we no longer able to be fully human or feel caring towards our fellow humans? Is it part of our responsibility as compassionate wise humans to take other life forms into our future decision-making?
But touch is also the pathway for this Covid-19 virus to be transmitted to others—the touch of hands in welcome, the touch of lips, the touch of two arms wrapped around another. Touch has now become a thing to fear, not embrace. How do we stay safe and still allow touch, and therefore love, to happen? If we lose our ability to touch one another, to hug, to shake hands, to kiss, many people may lose the ability to love each other, the earth, and other life forms. We may lose compassion. We may become so desolate and despondent that we no longer want to live because we cannot trigger a release of oxytocin, i.e. “the love hormone.” This terrifies me. I fear for our loved ones locked away in nursing homes unable to touch their loved ones, or nurses and other caregivers who cannot touch their families, or just the act of not being able to touch a neighbor or lover. I fear for the earth if we cannot feel and act in a loving manner based on science, compassion, and reason? Science does not yet know how long it will take for loss of touch to damage humanity permanently—if hugging your dog or cat, or a virtual hug is an adequate substitute to maintain compassion.
It turns out that love and fear are both ruled by oxytocin. After something socially stressful and horrible happens to you, like being touched non-consensually, oxytocin goes to work on your brain, enhancing your memory of the event. Oxytocin is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and it also increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.
So perhaps we need to form new social interaction memories that don’t require touch to feel love. We need to embrace a new form of love, internalize it, and continue to support it. We need to use our minds to raise our oxytocin levels of love without touching—other humans anyway. (Most other animals, trees, and plants are still ok to touch so far.) We need to learn how to feel love based on the outpouring of food, water, wood, money, time, and concern for our neighbors who are locked down on Native American Reservations with the highest infection rate per capita in the U.S. We need to learn how to feel love for the planet as we see how fast it is recovering, and use the fact that global carbon emissions have gone down 17% in just three months, to levels not seen since 2006, to guide our future actions. Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia said recently, “population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions. These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.”
Let’s figure out a way to make our global energy use drop permanently through systemic change before Mother Nature imposes another time out. Let’s figure out a way to live in harmony with all other life forms, not just for how they feed, clothe, and nurture humans but for their own right to exist and provide love and touch to each other. This is an incredible opportunity for a global reset. For humans to rethink what is important to the survival of ALL species. As change is inevitable, let’s love it, embrace it, and manage it. What a new normal looks like is up to us.