C43H66N12O12S2 , a chemical formula for world healing? You may ask what a chemical formula is doing in a poetry blog? ‘Poem’ comes from the Latin poma, from Greek poima meaning to create. Poetry requires the use of a language in composition to display emotion. The above is a language that conveys love but cannot be love itself. I call it a poem of sorts. It sits at the edge of the invisible world translating emotion into form and never quite managing to capture the mystery.
There are many levels of understanding; creative, bio-chemical, mathematical and spiritual explorations help map matrices of an integral reality, so we may see many layers of understanding. It makes sense that a representation of love can be artistic and scientific, with issues of choice, love and power enveloped in both our words and in this chemical formula. Both have a poetry of the adventure of us continuously becoming what we are. We are a mystery learning to recognise itself. ‘Trust’ and ‘love’ are invisible to the eye, except for the affects of their presence or absence. Yet now scientists are saying we can see the structure of love, or vital components that transmit that awesome power.
This chemical known since Italian scientist Nicholas Farraye in 1835 discovered it is released in large amounts during a woman giving birth and while breastfeeding, is now linked more broadly with bonding and love in general. ‘Trust’ and ‘Love’ are both verbs (doing words) and abstract nouns (nameable things though we cannot see them). Their influence is so evident as building blocks of the universe, in spite of their invisibility, that those two chameleon words are some of our most used. You will have heard the words in many languages, perhaps this name for trusting love is less known; C43H66N12O12S2 , 9 amino acids creating a neurotransmitter. It is one of the only known hormones released by the human pituitary gland to act at a distance yet is triggered by touch. I can see the alternative valentines cards now; ‘I C43H66N12O12S2 U’.
Healing traditions have harnessed and transmitted the power of oxytocin for millennia without knowing the pattern of molecules they were helping to create . Together with other skills in the sensory world, touch that can nurture and heal trust and the ultimate need for humans to live in community. The language of massage, for example, uses touch to heal. It has age old names in ancient Greek, massein in Arabic massa, in Hebrew mashiah. Energetic and spiritual healing, swimming with dolphins, equine assisted therapy and the ancient art of hugging all utilise the power of connection as part of their sometimes miraculous healing power. I have three four legged furry oxytocin generators in my home. Faiths, traditions and social norms across the world recognise the power of touch in nurturing emotion. Traditions direct both how to harness this power and when it may be more appropriate not to touch. These social and spiritual lores differ like our languages and I wonder at the invisible language of chemicals we create and how we each translate and share.
As someone with a work and study background in arts and in areas of human coexistence and security, and a love of the sensory world, the poetry of this chemical formula draws me. Peace, interfaith work and healing work have no doubt always been aided by oxytocin. Recently there has been much talk of how chemical structure affects our feelings and responses towards others, just as other chemicals inspire aggression. Oxytocin is present when attraction turns to feelings of romance and tenderness, when acquaintances become friends, when families form and grow, when people find peace with one another. It is found less when these bonds fray or when excess hormones triggering aggression and stress over-ride the triggers of affection and trust. Yet we are not robots without choice. Collectively and individually we create the chemicals that bring trust or conflict. Under certain circumstances oxytocin indirectly inhibits release of adrenocorticotropic stress hormones and cortisol. In other words if we are busy feeling trustful and full of the joys of love we feel less stressed!
The representation above of oxytocin has a little of my own artistic interpretation. Interposed within it is a symbol that echoes the structure of this hormone and also speaks of connection, stability and generative powers. The 6 pointed star illustrates balance of male and female energies and of spirit and sensual worlds. It is also a symbol of tikkun olam; universal healing and completion. For me this illustrates a point at which we see how the bio-chemical, psychological and sensual worlds are united. Philosophical, theological and mathematical and medical worlds converge in complex debates:
Is the synthetic manufacture of this hormone of 9 amino acids a love potion number 9, dangerous in the wrong hands? Is it a valuable addiction to relationship counselling and a precious treatment for children with autism? Is it snake oil or a way for slippery dealings to pass unchecked by natural twitches of distrust? Is it an aid to parent-baby bonding and breastfeeding? For me this recent research is a welcome door into reexamining relationship structures and healing practices. If we know that oxytocin is formed in relationships and communities that build upon closeness, how might this affect the structure of our lives now?
We know that bonding time increases feelings of security, empathy and trust, which in turn foster words and actions of peace. Yet board rooms and chambers of power rarely recognise the value of bonding and trust building. It can be considered a crime to be ’emotional’, while aggression is considered vital by many for leadership. Aggression is born of emotion. Uncountered it is likely to foster irrational behaviour in all affected by and creating this aggression. Surely we can better structure proactive trust into our lives? We hear of excess of testosterone blamed for violence and posturing between men, while women are blamed for being ‘hormonal’ or ‘hysterical’. The word itself comes from the Greek ὑστέρα “hystera” meaning ‘uterus’. Women in the west occupy only 5 % of roles in top down decision making in politics, business and faith. Men occupy only a minority of care roles, instead more often expected to be dragon slayers. Our infrastructure seems to limit balance, partnership and trust and result in aggressive psychology and governance structures. We say these structures are governed by greed, but we may also be governed disproportionately by the hormones in the houses of power as well as by our own imbalance.
It becomes vital then that we understand how we may learn, to some degree to balance the hormones we produce. This is also true in the United Nations and in the drawing of terms for peace. I heard how marriage therapy was using oxytocin sprays finding men and women more likely to communicate calmly and to listen to one another. I then fantasied about unilaterally nose spraying all those in prolonged and messy peace negotiations. While writing my masters in human security, studying among other things, our complex structures of violence, in a cold flat in Nottingham, I cuddled a hot-water bottle in the shape of a cow to keep me warm. At points when the complications of a problem threatened to overwhelm me, sometimes this simple act grounded me. To only ask where the love is would be simplistic to say the least, but to forget to add that question in with all the others bleaches out all other meaning.
Too often we arrive at what is often called ‘negative peace’, a state in which armed violence has stopped but in which trust, capability of coexistence and sense of justice are yet to be found. Such incomplete peace can often turn again to armed conflict, inequity and injustice. Conflict then returns in cycles. Positive peace requires trust, yet we do not prioritise rebuilding or reactivating community trust in the rebuilding after war. Trust is a form of ease. It is the part of any kind of love that opens and connects us. It provides that feeling of ease. Destructive and violent conflict and oppression can be defined ‘dis-ease’. They are insecure, volatile states and yet our lives often nurture this. Excess adrenaline and cortisol too easily become directors in our lives and in the infrastructures around us. We need to build more infrastructures of trust.
Security or peace or conflict are not one dimensional because reality is not one dimensional. I love using an illustration of oxytocin because it depicts a structure, with mathematical and moral dimensions, that forms part of a bio-chemical roadmap to peace and security. To me it works as a creative representation of love and trust in this world, with whole and fractured elements uniting. At the core is what could be a six petaled flower, one petal loose where the Oxygen and Sulphur don’t meet. Elements that sit one on top of the other in the periodic table forever reaching out towards and making vital space for one another. Some would paint the space between them as absence or void. Others draw this space as potential, the bridge or protective shield. Others, like me, envision this space as all the above and more. I see that space between elements as infinity. I see all these things and more within the chemical formula of Oxytocin, in such building blocks of life. Love includes a cocktail of chemicals but also goes beyond the chemical. We care past distance and the fluctuations of hormones.
May the Oxytocin be with you … and may you use it wisely