Parents can attune to their children by matching their bodily affect. For instance, when my niece starts to share her day, I can be attuned to her words while showing her with my body that I am understanding her. As she frowns, so do I. As she smiles, so do I. As she cries, I reflect to her the pain in my eyes.
If you’re like me though, sometimes it can be hard to do this with others when I am so busy. When I have dozens of tasks to do to make sure that I can eat (i.e. earn a living) and my niece is wanting my attention, it’s hard to slow myself down and match the emotions of a 7-year-old who thinks the world is coming to an end because her sister is not sharing with her.
The selfish part of me wants to say, “You know how trivial this is, right?” But that’s her world. And, ironically, as I become present to her, I slowly begin to realize how trivial my own worries are. Because this is what really matters: connecting with those that I love. So, I practice attunement by matching the bodily reactions of those around me and empathizing with what I see in their body actions.
Only recently, I was filled with anxiety about how I would handle several problems in my life. I could have been focused on those, but instead, I set those difficulties aside to be present to a dear friend of mine who was struggling with a medical condition. I matched her emotions and truly tried to feel what she was feeling. In response to empathizing with her, I scrunched my face in concern when her brow was furrowed. I shook my head when she was frustrated. I smiled when she smiled. These were not gimmicks to relate but bodily actions to enter into her emotional landscape. It was a beautiful moment of friendship. And I was happy to be there for her. I made sure she knew the truth—that I did see her!
And ironically, those anxieties that I was experiencing earlier had surprisingly disappeared for several hours—long enough to experience some amount of needed rest. This was all because I chose to attune to someone else’s life and forget my own for a while.
Perhaps, this is what is meant by the words of Jesus, when he says, “Anyone who loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life will find it” (John 12:25). In other words, if we remain so focused on our own fears and needs, we will never experience the freedom of love.
St. John Paul II, one of the primary authors of Gaudium et Spes from the Documents of Vatican II, revealed the depths of this verse when he said that “man… cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” to others (Gaudium et Spes 24).
How are well are you attuning to those in your life? How well are you giving the gift of yourself by receiving loved ones through bodily presence?
Gabriel Milano has his Master’s degree in Theology in Marriage and Family at the John Paul II Institute and is a content creator and speaker for TOBET. He also writes fantasy novels for children and young adults, under the pen name G. M. Dantes.