On Nurturance, Connection, and Ear Hustle

I wanted all the animals to be my companions and friends. I do not call animals pets, I call them critters, I hang out with these guys...they’re friends. I don’t own them.
— Rauch, Ear Hustle

Thoughts on belonging have been playing out in my mind recently. I've been thinking about and questioning, what is it to belong? Is belonging where we gain our sense of connection and therefore we build some sort of self worth out of the experiences we have? Is to belong the same as being seen for who we are, like for who we really really are? I don't know if I have many people in my life who I believe see me for who I am and some of that is because I've actively pushed away the true parts of myself, or what I believe are the true parts of myself, out of shame. Either I internalised subtle judgments from others or I internalised actual judgments from others and locked away some of my authenticity.

What I really am interested in is figuring out how to feel nurtured when coming from a place of trauma. Is it possible to be nurtured when there was lack of love and care and true connection while growing up? To be without nurturance as a child can lead to displaying traits of trauma as we grow and can alter our abilities to be in connection with others and with ourselves.

Researcher Brené Brown pairs connection with authenticity. On the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett, Brown said, "I can go to a party, and I can be the belle of the ball and come home completely disconnected, lonely, anxious, because never once during that experience was I myself. I was who I thought they wanted me to be...I think, in some ways, it kind of sucks that your level of true belonging can never be greater than your willingness to be brave and stand by yourself." Ok, so what can it mean to be brave and stand by ourselves? That's a terrifying thought that leaves us truly vulnerable: to put away the people pleasing, to put away the cool kid points and the social capital and gossip, to come forward as yourself, honest and true. 

A lot of the time in our lives we do end up standing by ourselves, but still under the cloak of presenting as we think others want us to be. Sometimes others want us to be a certain way because if they were truly coming forward in authenticity, meaning no hidden subconscious notions holding them back, then they would be the vulnerable ones. 

What if, while growing up, a parent or guardian encouraged authenticity, encouraged vulnerability, encouraged emotional connection and therefore nurturing our ability to share intimacies in our relationships? What if we were given permission to show up as we are

I'm not saying that every child and every adult experiences the lack of connection, but I think a lot of us do. I think that dysfunction runs in every family; I read somewhere saying that if you have a family unit, there will be dysfunction. The severity of that dysfunction is the variable. Sometimes dysfunction leads to trauma which can lead to PTSD and/or BPD traits and/or other trauma traits. Some leads to codependency and substance abuse. Some leads to loneliness and anxiety. Some leads to all of it. Where the nurturance lacked so did the connection, so did the ability to become ourselves because instead of learning about who we were while growing up, we were instead fighting for survival. 

So where am I going with this? I'm thinking about how when a person has experienced the trauma of lack of nurturing, sometimes the way to break through the disconnect and step into the empowerment of connection doesn't always happen with fellow humans. 

Trauma can put such a wedge in between our ability to be close to another human, so what about connection with animals? There have been a lot of studies on animal companionship being a source of strong intimate connection. Dolphins, horses, dogs, cats, birds, probably every kind of animal out there some person has had a rewarding and emotional bond with.

In this episode of Ear Hustle, hosts Nigel and Earlonne talk about how the guys at San Quentin Prison find nurturance or rather, "looking out" while incarcerated. Ear Hustle is a podcast hosted and produced by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods and co-founded with Antwan Williams. Both Earlonne and Antwan are currently incarcerated at San Quentin. San Quentin is one of few prisons I've seen with my own eyes and it's such a strange thing because it sits in one of the most beautiful locations, on the waters of the Bay Area and Marin Headlands. Mansions surround it as well as a view of downtown San Francisco, this disturbing juxtaposition of extreme wealth against the concrete walls of the prison industrial complex. 

There is no greater way to strip a human being of connection and nurturance than to incarcerate them into a cage. In this episode, the hosts talk to Rauch (pronounced "Roach"), who found connection with animals at a young age. During his time in San Quentin, he has befriended and cared for various animals ranging from moths and crickets to swallows. “I take care of animals because they teach me what I can’t learn from people. Unconditional affection or appreciation, unconditional love is here," says Rauch. I think that when human love has failed a person, connection with animals can restore a sense of belonging in the world. 

To have animals in prison is considered contraband if it's outside of special programs like rehabilitation for dogs, yet Rauch still finds the ability to connect with the animal kingdom. In listening to this episode, we find that Rauch spends a lot of time solo or with his animal companions, drawing and painting and feeling into the earth. This is what standing alone can look like. Though the inmate population at San Quentin is about 3700 (about 700 people past capacity, see: over incarceration, disproportional incarceration, prison industrial complex), the isolation is real and the ability to be vulnerable is nil. To stand alone in a world of hell and find connection is a force to be reckoned with. Other guys are interviewed on what looking out can be like: writing and singing songs, calling home to family members, forming trusting relationships with other inmates, and finding the connection within themselves. 

Where do you find nurturance in your life? How to do you give it and are you open to receiving it? To reflect on tarot, pulling out the Empress/Emprexx or Three of Cups, or the Star, of Queen of Cups to adorn your altar or to just gaze upon might inspire feelings of connection. 

Ear Hustle: Episode Three - "Looking Out" is about 24 minutes long and I urge you to consider listening.


Drawing by Antwan Williams of the Ear Hustle team

Drawing by Antwan Williams of the Ear Hustle team

Rauch by Antwan Williams

Rauch by Antwan Williams

*cover photo by Mikkel Jönck Schmidt