When I read about oxytocin, I was relieved. Now I have a word to make sense out of all the emotional distractions I've felt since I was a young girl. The feelings I first noticed if a small child came near, took my hand, or sat in my lap, the sudden concern for a crying baby, deep feelings when I would see an old couple struggling through a supermarket , even affection for a puppy or a kitten –I can blame it all on oxytocin.
The intense feelings in a woman to want to care for another have been linked to a chemical release of oxytocin , the "tend and be friend" hormone (so nicknamed by psychiatrist Dr. Michael Gurian.) Researchers say that women simply have more of it. What I interpreted as weakness was actually the call of nature to transform a self-absorbed twenty-year-old into someone who would be able to take care of a child. Was it the beginning of a long road of transformation that might lead to a somewhat more selfless character? Now that I have travelled it, I can say yes.
As Gurian describes it in his latest book, "When a teenage girl hears a baby cry in a crowded the- atre, her oxytocin level rises just slightly. When she hears a baby cry just next to her, it rises still more. When she sees a baby nearer her, or sometimes, even just on a television commercial, her oxytocin rises still further, compelling her to want to help the baby. When she holds the baby, oxytocin surges again. The imperative to intimacy in a young girl's brain is unmistakable ."
In PET (Positron-Emission To mography) scans, Robin Gur of the University of Pennsylva nia's n eu ral imaging unit found th at among males subjected to the same stimulus for tending and caring as were females, oxytocin ch a n ges in the brain a re minimal by comparison.
Srila Prabhupada, while explaining th e view of the Vedic literature that women sh ould always be protected , offe red the example of a travelling sixteen -year-old boy. He said a boy of that age who sets out a lo n e to travel aro und the world will have more freedom and less d ifficulty th an a sixteen-yearold girl. According to Dr. Gurian , IIMales find it easier at times to remain ind epende n t and sto ic for months on end because they don't have an intern al female h ormon al cycle returning them, repeatedly, to the int imacy impe rative.1I
So, shall we just attribute emotional drive to a chemical such as oxytocin and leave it at that? Is being more emotion -driven than someone else an inferior condition ? Did Krsna invest some people's bodies with extra emotion just to feel a kaleidoscope of ever changing feelings and never see any reason for it?
No. First and foremost we must always remember that we are not the body, whether t hat body is male o r fema le, young or old , sick or well, rich or poor. We are the soul who expe riences life t h rough the limiting medium of a body, much as a dr iver has a limited view from inside his car. T he "car" of the body may provide a t our of the feminine or masc uline experie nces of life, and it may be fueled by a slightly d ifferent set of chemicals, but it has n othing to do with the constitut ion of the observant person riding insid e. That person , temporarily inside the physical body, is the spirit soul, a n d all spirit souls a re equal and ete rnal parts of God.
As spirit souls we originally spent our time with Krsna in the spiritual world. Being pure spirit souls, we a re all meant to enjoy an eternal, perfect emotional nature in the spiritual world with Krsna, who is Rasaraja, the master of all emotional experience, masculine and feminine. The tend-and-befriend propensities, the intimacy imperative- these are all an integral and joyous part of Krsna's world. In His little village of Goloka Vrnddvana every person is fully cognizant and sentient because everyone's personal service relationship with Krsna is top priority. Mother Yasoda's feelings for Krsna are so strong that her breasts flow with milk at the very thought of him. When Krsna's father sees him at the end of the day, he heartily embraces Krsna and smells his head. Here in this world, Krsna has invested us with relationship ability because we are made in his image. He has it too. If we don't at least observe and respect the basic nuances of material personality in this world, we lose an opportunity to accept the possibility of variety in the spiritual world with Krsna, who is the source of all variety, spiritual and material.
A DEVIATION FROM TRADITIONAL HUMAN BEHAVIOR
As a young devotee mother with a hope that I might be pregnant, I went to a woman's free clinic to take a test. I sat in the waiting room anxiously. When my name was called, I went to sit with the clerk, who gave me the news of my pregnancy. Then, unabashed, she asked, "Would you like to carry the baby full term or terminate the pregnancy?"
Modern society has come a long way from traditional human behavior. I left feeling I was lucky to be glad I was pregnant. Many women don't feel that way. With more women than men predicted to graduate with doctorates by the year 2010, more female CEOs in business than ever before, more women working side by side with police, fire-fighters, and soldiers, oxytocin gets in the way of career. The distraction of the tend-and-befriend hormone is best denied by women who wish to conquer areas of life formerly mostly the realm of men.
As a result, in modern firstworld countries we see a strong decline in the birthrate among the middle and upper classes, since motherhood generally used to go on during these years, which are now focused on career. The science of birth control and abortion has become a somewhat hidden tool of several generations of the upwardly mobile professional woman. Whatever the God-given effect of oxytocin, women have the means to circumvent it.
Or redirect it.
Hence the boom of the pet and pet supply industry. In the parks in the seventies, you could generally see more babies in carriages than dogs on leashes. We now observe the great esteem held by dog owners, along with a growing row of pet products in every grocery store. Chains of giant billion-dollar pet supermarkets have opened up throughout the world. Surgery, chemo-therapy, emergency hospitals' and doggie mental therapy are all part of a modern science that caters to furry companions.
Srila Prabhupada explains that to remain independent a person may refuse to serve anyone. He may live alone and choose to have no family. He may even try to get a job in which he interacts with no one and tries to avoid serving the government by not paying taxes. He may try to set himself up as self-sufficient and not of service to anyone. And yet, in his solitude, he takes to a pet dog or cat. Why? Because the inherent quality of every living being is to serve another, and that service attitude is ultimately meant to serve the Supreme Being, Lord Knna.
We say in Srila Prabhupada's beautiful pranam mantra:
namas te sarasvate deve
"Our obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Goswami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanya and delivering the Western countries, which are filled wid, impersonalism and voidism." Prabhupada came to destroy the impersonalism and voidism mat have Western civilization spinning in circles. To refuse to recognize our loving tendency to serve God and His children is to deny our own drive for wholeness and happiness. Women as a class have suffered severely from this impersonalism in modern times. Because women have the intimacy imperative, what greater emotional danger could there be for them than to have their tendencies put aside and depersonalized as they pursue trumped-up material achievements? What greater insult to them and to the forthcoming generation from their wombs than to diminish meirability to foster love and nurturing in favour of material rewards?
Women have the very gift of life in their wombs. They can give the soul the opportunity for the human form of life and self-realization. Yet statistics show that children are not a priority. In January 2001 the American Surgeon General reported that the U.S. is facing nothing less than "a public crisis in mental care for children and adolescents." One in five American children has a diagnosed mental, emotional, or behavioural disorder, according to the National Mental Health Association. Both teenage obesity and prescription psychiatric drugs for children tripled in the last quarter of the 1900's.
Ritalin production for children has increased by seven hundred percent, and in teenage years these same kids tend to take to the abuse of it. Teenage suicide rates are also on the rise, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Such is the fate of the growing number of children in me last three decades who come home every day to an empty house.
This type of suffering, in which a child feels little attention and care, cannot exist a longside true spiritual practice. Srila Prabhupada gave us the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, personal relationship with Him, and the true spiritual practice of worshiping Him. These gifts raise us up to a level of personal responsibility. Prabhupada introduced Srimad- Bhagavatam in the West because it describes Krsna's unlimited pastimes and relationships with us. When we hear Krsna's glories, we tap into a deep well of pure affection that is precious to the soul.
Srila Prabhupada has written, "The Supreme Absolute Truth Personality of Godhead is never impersonal. Everywhere in the Vedic literatures his glories are sung. As soon as soft-hearted people such as women hear those transcendental pastimes of Lord Krsna, they immediately become attracted to him. Soft-hearted women and girls are therefore easily drawn to the Krsna consciousness movement."
When we hear Krsna's words, self-realization becomes a natural, spontaneous choice of the heart mat we want to share with babies, children, family, friends–anyone Krsna sends our way. We see everyone as a wonderful part of Krsna.