Finding Emotional Closeness as We Stand at a Distance

Nothing replaces the in-person acceptance, kindness, rapt attention-listening, loving hugs, tenderness, grace, honesty, curiosity, compassionate energy presence of another human being. Nothing.

At 14 years old after a mental meltdown or the first of many types of spiritual awakenings, I lived for two months in solitary confinement. I surrendered all my clothing and eyeglasses in exchange for a thick short-sleeved green covering. This garment felt nothing like a gown.

I felt a bone-cold chill in my lean naked body underneath that garment inside that all-white room.  A thin mattress and one blanket did not prove to provide much warmth. Because I had extreme near-sightedness, the staff appeared as blurry, ghostlike blobs entering the room to bring the trays of food. I engaged all my other senses including interoception-the ability to sense ones’ internal body, visceroception-the ability to sense body signals such as hunger, and proprioception-the ability to sense one’s body in relationship to the surroundings such as the floor beneath your feet.

The sound of keys jangling meant a human being approached and would soon be unlocking a door. I won’t ever forget the jangling keys.

I vividly remember the scent of grape bubble gum of the staff member whose energy felt consistently kind. When she managed to get close enough, I noticed her long, thick, straight black Cher-like hair. Another staff member consistently yelled at me. Filled with anger, she interrogated me with, “Do you know why you are here?” Because I never knew, even to this day, the answer to that question, I did not speak. This eventually became an existential question that I continue to ponder. This morning I asked myself, “Laura, do you know why you are here?” Fortunately, I eventually collaged an answer together that continues to shift a bit–kind of like looking through a kaleidoscope.

I continued to encourage him. I knew in my heart that he was really good.

Once released from solitary confinement I began to interact with my other bin mates (a term I created). I befriended a young man who loved playing his harmonica. The staff let us know that a talent show would be happening soon. Staff encouraged us to sign up because both staff and bin mates were welcome to participate. I began to encourage my friend to sign-up. I let him know that he played the harmonica with great skill and passion. I loved listening to him play and told him so. He kept saying he wasn’t good enough to play in the talent show. He did not believe in his talent, his gifts. I continued to encourage him. I knew in my heart that he was really good.

One day I looked at the sign-up sheet and spotted his name. I felt much joy. When I saw him later that day, I gave him a big hug. He began calling me his Lil’ Con Artist.

The day arrived for the talent show. I sat right next to my friend. His hands shook. I kept smiling over at him, looking into his eyes with reassurance, and whispered, “I believe in you.” His turn to perform came. He walked to the front of the room. He played his harmonica with all his heart and soul. When he completed, the room erupted. Everyone rose to their feet cheering loudly, clapping, chanting his name. Tears streamed down his face as he received our love, our appreciation. We cheered louder.

The gifts that I gleaned from these experiences include a keen ability to notice people’s energy states even if their mouths fake smile at me or their words tell lies about their true gifts and passions. I notice when people light up when talking about their joys. I notice when people are completely busy in their heads and not grounded in their bodies. I know all these states in my own self.

I know in every cell of my body that nothing replaces the in-person acceptance, kindness, rapt attention-listening, loving hugs, tenderness, discernment, grace, honesty, curiosity, compassionate energy presence of another human being. Nothing.

I know that we all have more than five senses, that some people have cultivated a keen inner emotional GPS alongside proprioception, visceroception, and interoception. There’s an awareness of what’s happening with the body, heart, soul, and mind in relationship to life and other people. There’s an ability to live life and not just solely mind.

What keeps people distant from one another includes criticism, fear of criticism, self-loathing, comparisons, unhealed shame, limited thinking from unexamined beliefs, betrayals, lack of trust, abandonment of self, sense of unworthiness, sense of entitlement, all the stuff of the terrified or traumatized victim self, and more. Various combinations of these keep people disconnected from the arena of their souls, locked outside the domain of their vulnerability, their failures, emotional bruises, and the humanity that we share.

With protected and cloaked hearts people remain at a distance from other people in all those places and spaces.

What brings us emotionally closer to one another quite simply remains vulnerability. We must feel safe enough and brave enough to break through the hard shell we’ve created around our hearts. We are connected in grief and in love with one another. We are part of the interconnected web of existence. We are here to hold compassionate space for our hurts, failings, foibles, and cheer for one another’s gifts, strengths, and skills. We are here to love and be loved by one another.

May you experience emotional closeness with those you love and care about even as we stand at physical distance from one another. May you know the experience of being valued by another human being no matter your flaws, failings, or foibles. May you become the person that your heart knows you are. 


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. Oh Laura.. When I read your work I lose language. I feel so many feelings that they seem to crowd out my ability to put words together to express myself. Your work is so powerful. Every story unfolds like a movie in my mind. You capture the very essence of what it means to be human.

    • Thank you, Kimberly, for you all these kind words, reflections. I am especially humbled by “You capture the very essence of what it means to be human.” I am moved to tears, once again and oh, so grateful for you. The heart keeps opening so wide. I appreciate your kindness more than you may ever realize-your ability to receive these stories, this writing with such compassion. For years I carried around much shame about my hospitalization, After I was released from the hospital, I returned to my parent’s house. No one in the household ever spoke of it or asked me what had happened. The topic, my experiences moved into a kind of basement vault -never ever to be opened-not by my family. I’m profoundly grateful for the opportunity all these years later to break my silence. And I know I have eluded to this experience in the comments section of other essays. Thank you for being you, my friend. Your brave inspires my brave.

  2. Your ability to see, taste, smell, sense what your bin-mate needed is the true gem here. “I believe in you.” Your willingness to look beyond your own pain and extend yourself to another human being is gold. “I believe in you.”

    How many times in life have we heard the opposite: “Get over it!” “Stand on your own two feet!” “You’re not living up to your potential!” “You can do better!” Those all contribute to the padded rooms we can so easily inhabit if we don’t have others whisper to us “The cell door is unlocked. Follow me. I believe in you.”

    Thank you for being you, Laura, doesn’t even come close.

    • Thank you for all your meaningful reflections, insights offered, and incredibly kind words, Jeff. I totally observe that we can create all kinds of “padded rooms” or “prison cells” of lockdown confinement -especially with limiting beliefs or fears based on past experiences. Having lived the actual experience, I know that true freedom begins in one’s heart, soul, and eventually the mind-the mind can be such a holdout of chattering incessant nonsense and lies. And often it’s easier to see in others what we have struggled to see about ourselves. To have other people in our lives see, hear, and value us as perfectly, imperfect beings-to listen for our gifts, passions, talents…yes. I’m grateful my friend found his brave self and allowed those words to touch a deeper place beyond the cacophony of his critical voices. I appreciate you more than you may completely realize. Thank you, Jeff.

  3. Tears rolling down my face as I read your words, Mark. I have not ever forgotten my friend the harmonica player (or many other vivid-in my DNA-memories of that time period). His courage and willingness to allow some of my words inside of his heart, to take the risk, allows me to see that receiving another’s encouragement and belief (even when you might have walked around blind to your own gifts and passions) can be such a bold moment for your soul. And please know that every single time you offer your thoughts, heartfelt reflections, I have this experience. For as much work as I have done to experience my own value from deep inside (separate from other people’s expectations, assessments, etc.) there’s something exceptionally meaningful about being seen, heard, valued by you and people you deeply admire and utterly respect. God bless you too. Thank you for being you and for being my friend. I’m humbled and I know my 14 year old self feels held with kindness and much compassion. Thank you.

  4. Oh my, Laura… You’ve done it again! Your courage, candor, and self-awareness are simply astounding! This: “I know in every cell of my body that nothing replaces the in-person acceptance, kindness, rapt attention-listening, loving hugs, tenderness, discernment, grace, honesty, curiosity, compassionate energy presence of another human being. Nothing.”

    The kindness and compassion and attention you showed that young man with the harmonica likely changed his life. I’m with Mark O’Brien in that I’m speechless. Truly, you’re a gem and I’m grateful for you!

    • Oh, thank you so much for your kind and affirming words, Melissa. To see clearly and been seen fully, to hear and be heard, to value and be valued, to love and be loved in return seem to be what deeply nourishes the soul of human beings. Your comments touch me deeply. Tears continue to roll down my face. Sometimes we have no idea how much or the breadth at which our words and presence have the potential to alter the trajectory for another human being’s life. I want you to know that you’ve done this many, many times for me and many other people. I’m so grateful for you, too. Grateful still is not a big enough word and only points to an experience where words cannot venture.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and insights, Darlene. We were designed to be in connection with one another through touch, time, presence. Yes, nothing can ever replace this as people may begin to notice being touch deprived or skin hungry as this remains in our hard-wiring for thriving. I deeply appreciate you, your kindness. My fourteen year old self can finally experience a long-awaited peacefulness, a setting down of what was yearning to be expressed. Thank you for shining beams of light. I’m utterly grateful.

  5. Laura, I find at least 3,647,921 things amazing about you. Here’s one of them:

    Even in the depths of your darkness — a point at which despair could rightly have compelled you to be terrified, guarded, defensive, closed to everything — you opened yourself compassionately to the young man with the harmonica. You couldn’t have had any idea what might happen. You couldn’t have had any idea of the potential emotional toll. You didn’t care about those things. You cared for and about your young friend.

    Here’s how you can tell you’ve done something mind-boggling, heart-arresting, soul-stunning: You render this loquacious Mick mute. I truly have no idea what to say or write in response to generosity like that … except this:

    God bless you. Thank you for being you. Thank you for sharing this story with us. And thank you for being my friend.

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