Touch: it's importance, it's absence and it's cultivation
Updated: May 17, 2020
Touch is essential to our wellbeing from the time we are babies. It’s how we transmit meaning, care, love and community. During Covid-19 and lockdown, it’s sudden loss has caused added to suffering.
So much of lifes most enriching moments involve touch. We touch our babies, we embrace our much loved ones, we comb our childrens hair. We massage and we pet and we soothe and we tickle. We do this with each other.
We know how to express emotions through our bodies. We know how to loosen ourselves into grieving and tighten ourselves into rage, and we know that in particular, a hug can shelter, relieve and confirm that we are seen. Hugging is how we show that we are here. How we feel each others’ existence, meaning, value and substance. How we transmit our love, our empathy, our care. In her article, ‘V’, writes beautifully on what touch means for her, the importance of touch in her life, in different stages of her life and importantly sets out a manifesto:
"My act of resistance is simple. I will have a healthy respect and fear of the virus. I will maintain physical distancing for now. But I will not be afraid of your body. I will not kill off my yearning to touch you. I will let it guide me. I will fantasise about it. I will write about it. I will draw it. I will remember us cuddling in January, mad dancing in the protest last July. I will feel the soft skin of your precious hand in mine. I will embrace you as you cry and cherish the wetness of your tears on my blouse. I will feel the fire of rage in my belly and the impossible sorrow in my throat. And I will learn over time how to translate this hunger for your body, for your burning skin, into the making of this most necessary new world."
Tuning into our sense of touch activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our resting and regenerating state. Exploring touch brings a sense of calm, and helps us to get closer to the kinds of experience that Eve Ensler expresses, even with social distancing.
Here are a couple of exercises you can try:
A Light Touch. To explore your sense of touch is to play with the boundary between touching and not-touching your skin. Try taking the index finger of one hand and brush it against the other arm. Alternate between pressing firmly into your arm, and then releasing, brushing your arm ever more slightly until you can’t feel your finger. As you move your hand away, try to pinpoint at exactly what point you are no-longer touching your arm. Can you still ‘feel’ your finger, even when you aren’t touching your arm? You could also practice this exercise with other objects, or a partner.
With your partner, child, pet, or close one. Whatever they may be doing nearby, just send your awareness out towards them, but again stop short of actually landing your awareness on them. Next time you have an opportunity for an intimate moment, just try this exercise again. By paying attention to the space between you, your mind is kept from jumping into autopilot mode, and you’ll notice a considerable increase in your level of connection. When you feel the time s right, lean in for a kiss, or a touch, while your attention is on the space between. Notice how this feels, are you touching them lightly or with a strong touch, what emotions you feel.
A 6 minute Mindfulness of Sensation of Touch guided meditation: https://kristyarbon.com/5-minute-meditation-touch-2/
This piece is inspired by Eve Ensler (V), in the Guardian (Tue 21 Apr 2020)
References & Resources
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/apr/21/skin-hunger-touch-saved-me-from-unbearable-loneliness-what-will-we-become-without-it Exploring sensory activities with your child : https://lemonlimeadventures.com/simple-sensory-activities-that-teach-mindfulness/ https://www.mindful.org/touch-one-love/ https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-mindfulness-based-relationship-enhancement-4685242 https://declutterthemind.com/blog/meditation-for-intimacy/