I have this memory, crystal clear, of being joyously naked in my bedroom as a child.
At the time I had very long hair, almost to my waist. I was probably around seven or eight years old, and the sun was streaming in through the window, a basement bedroom, onto my bed.
I was doing all sorts of happy childish acrobatics. I imagine that I was in between tasks. Probably between getting out of my pajamas and into daytime clothes.
Whatever it was, I had gotten distracted by the pure feline pleasures of playing in a puddle of sunlight on a bouncy bed with a wall I could balance off of. At one point, I tilted my head back and shook it. The ends of my hair were tickling parts of my back that did not know the sensation of hair hanging down, and it made my whole body shiver, much like a dog quivers it’s whole pelt when it shakes itself free of water. I had a whole-self tremor of skin-sensed zinginess.
What a pleasurable sensation! I did it again. Again. Again.
And again, enraptured in the pure-moment experience of me, feeling sensation through my skin, caused by my own hair.
The memory of that experience has not left me. It felt like an awakening into a world of possibilities to touch and feel inside of myself.
And yet, the awakening became a pause. I cannot recall very many experiences since that bring to mind that first unselfconsciously pure pleasure of being whole and complete, playful and sensuous, engaged with my own self, and nothing more.
It’s unfortunate that we live in a culture that is so deeply uncomfortable about touch it often conflates innocent touch and sensation with sexual overtures and undertones, cultivating shame and confusion for what is simply a genuine and very clear need for both children and adults to feel and touch simply for the sake of touching, and being touched.
Imagine, cuddles for the sake of a snuggle. A hug for the sake of an embrace. Holding hands for the sake of connection. Nothing more and nothing less.
Without knowing it, I’ve been longing for this for a long long time. As an old boyfriend commented, ‘you’re hungry to be touched.’ And he was right. I was. I still am. I suspect most of us are.
Well, I’ve had the deep pleasure of having my understandings and knowings about touch turned upside down over the past couple weeks.
A month ago I took a leap of faith and signed up for a workshop close to my home. A five day course called Learning To Touch, for professionals who touch. Learning the subtleties of giving, receiving, taking and allowing, or, as the instructor Dr. Betty Martin states, ‘how to bring your heart into your hands and what it teaches you about life and love.’
Now, my reason was practical firstly – as some of you know, in my in-person life I am not only an artist, but also a Hellerwork Structural Integrator. Which means I touch for a living. I use deep-tissue massage and movement lessons to help people achieve better posture, get pain relief and understand their body/heart/mind/psyche better.
As a professional practitioner, I’m required to do a certain amount of continuing education courses per year, and I needed to fulfill that obligation. So I was delighted to see this Learning to Touch workshop show up so near my home. I could stay with a friend and save money on travel too!
To be honest though, I had a non-practical reason for taking the course as well. I was curious. No one I know has ever taken a course on something as simple as touching, and I’d never heard of a course like it. There are many courses on techniques, but nothing on the simple act of touching.
I was curious who else would be taking a course like this (and assumed correctly it would be filled with vibrant enlivened people), and had a sense it would be a catalyst for my own personal experiences of touch.
The course started so simply. With play.
Taking a plastic toy banana from the basket of objects being passed around, I leaned back and allowed my hands to roll the object between them. ‘What do you feel? How does it feel?’
Holding the banana in one hand I slowly dragged it over the other, palm, finger tips, between the fingers, across the top of the hand, feeling the exquisite sensation that arose as I felt the scratchiness of the tip of the toy, how it was different from the smooth sides, different from the cornered edges. ‘Slow the movement down even more.’
Feeling. Just feeling. Allowing the sensation to be, and noticing, as sighs and yawns of pleasure melted all of us deeper into our cushions, closer towards the floor, that the capacity to feel pleasure, to relax, was all contained in the ability to tune in and feel sensation in my hands.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
My pleasure lay in the palms of my own hands. And my attention. What a relief to understand and feel this very simple fact. How is that, even with my indulgent knowing at the age of seven, I had forgotten this?
Tears. They are such a touchstone. Such a clear clue that we are on the right track. When do the tears spring up? Can we allow ourselves to sit in that tender, scary and throbbing place?
Learning to touch and communicate the kind of touch we want to give and receive, this sure did bring up tears. It brought other feelings up too. Shame. Fear. Anger even. But most of all, that shaky, trembly, tearful state of being seen, really seen. And feeling. Feeling so much, so deeply. This physical touching was a direct conduit into feelings.
Those tears, I listened to them, learned to wait for them. When are they going to spring up? And what are they telling me? Oh! Ah hah. Something a little deeper I must pay attention to, communicate, just feel into.
A couple times lately, I’ve experienced the tenderest of gestures. The tenderness brings up tears too. A male friend placing his hand on my shoulder as he walks past. Just a gentle but firm setting down of handweight, a slight pressure, then a lifting off. As if to say ‘hi, I see you’ as he is passing by. A sense of being noticed, acknowledged, seen. These gestures sure do cause the tears to spring into readiness.
This learning to touch and be touched. It’s big. It encompasses who is giving, who is receiving, what kind of consent is involved, and most of all, trustworthiness. Are we able to communicate what we want and what we don’t want, and trust that not only the other person, but also ourselves are trustworthy?
My goodness, it’s all-encompassing. It’s vulnerable. It brings up all sorts of feelings, and an acute awareness that this simple act is anything but simple.
I have another memory from my childhood. I’m fairly certain I was less than ten years old. My father and I were sick at the same time. My most vivid memory of that illness is of snuggling together with him, in the big bed, with a warm duvet draped over us.
We were in high spirits. It felt like a great adventure, having a cold at the same time as my dad, being at home together. There was a roll of toilet paper between us, and a high pile of snotty tissues in front of us. He’d blow his nose. Then I’d blow mine. We were full of boogers, cuddled up under the covers together, reveling in the coziness of snuggles, sickness and nose blowing together.
Can there really be anything more pleasurable than that?
Touch, connection and togetherness. Enveloped in the essential beauty of a shared experience of boogers, a snuggly sick day and father/daughter time.
As usual, I’m so curious.
What have your experiences of touching and being touched been? It is such a charged subject, particularly because touch so often gets conflated with the erotic and sex. Have you experienced having the two confused? Of having found yourself in a sexual situation when what you really had was just a simple desire to be touched?
What about when touch is erotic? Has the quality of touch being give and received been right? Appropriate? Communicated clearly?
Can we just be simple about it? Our adult skins are so starving for touch, in a culture that is afraid of it, that has sexualized all touch. How do you get your needs for straightforward touch and snuggles met? What thoughts and feelings have been stirred up by reading this?
I’m truly interested.
Until next time,
ps – I just love sharing. Because sharing is a way for me to touch the spirit and life force of another. Of you.
Stories, ideas, art. Healing. If you enjoy what I do, please share it – with friends, family, anyone who might appreciate my approach. You might also enjoy my 3 month circle/ecourse called Personal Mythmaking. Maybe even get yourself a devotional painting or some original tiny art for your walls.
pps – Like a Pro: The Wheel of Consent for Practitioners is taught by Dr. Betty Martin. If you get the chance to work with her, take it!