Saturday, April 20, 2013

on the importance of touch

(first published in The Glowing Hive Spring 2013)

Human beings are unique among animals for our long period of utter dependency after birth. No other animal is as vulnerable and reliant on parental care as the human infant. Given our relatively narrow pelvis, our babies need be born before the brain case takes its full size. A longer inter-uterine period would otherwise be ideal, but an older prenatal baby would never be able to make it's way out the womb portal. For this reason we must birth our young after nine months and give them our complete care and attention until several years later when they become ambulatory and aware enough to navigate their environment and make tentative choices.

Of course much has been written about this delicate period in human development and of the many conditions and features of this time is the sheer survival necessity of touch and bodily, particularly facial, interactions. Baby thrives when caregivers offer a tangible physical presence, when baby can feel that mother or father are an extension of their own fleshy business. The security of this connection allows the baby to develop somatic-mind, to inhabit the whole body of self, and to apply the true unfettered potential of how that body can interact with the space and circumstances it finds itself in. Spatial learning comes more easily, as does command and development of head and spine, rolling, crawling, walking, falling down and getting up, and so on.

On the emotional level, baby learns to express itself through first encountering the palette of behaviours and moods brought to bear on the environment. What baby experiences also becomes hardwired as presets, and like holes in a sieve, shape and limit how emotional contents will come to be expressed.

Ruminating on such factors attending our earliest experiences, the ones which give shape to our on-going development and unfolding, but which also reflect the areas of learning our individuality is seeking, I began to consider some of the most important features of intimate relationships. 

We very rarely think to examine, for example, the quality of our touch. The patterns of daily living obfuscate subtle distinguishing in a familiar topography of hugs, kisses, and hand-holding, and while these tend to become rote after a time, there still remains much that we could bring awareness to as portals for going deeper into intimacy and authenticity.

The hands and arms, embryologically, develop from the same cell bud as the heart, and in a very real sense they remain connected to this immense power point in the body. Not only do we use our arms to bring closer what is dear to us, we also find that orchestra conductors, who use their arms in large, sweeping, heartfelt gestures to lead an orchestra, are the longest living professionals as reported by American cardiologist, Stephen Sinatra, MD. Expressing ourselves from the heart center out through the arms and hands, in what they hold and touch and how, remains very programmatic, either serving to assist the free-flow of feeling from the heart out into life, or the unconscious obstruction of authentic connectivity to a world we don't really wish to grab hold of. 

The hands also carry in them the end point of a vast neural network that connects its sensate, tactile surface to the deepest reaches of inner space, to the organs vital for life and emblematic of the different emotional seats in the body, from the liver and anger, to the lungs and grief, to the kidneys and fear, the colon and loss and release, the small intestine with growth and learning, and so on. It is perhaps why we feel such a strong containment and closeness to the one we hold hands with and how this has so naturally become a human practice which gives much pleasure and security.

Quality of touch, then, becomes a matter of paramount importance. A playful slap or a thoughtless grab goes right into the tissues, and even if our rational minds put the kinetic event in context, the messages can accumulate, especially where there is an existing history. In this way we can both draw out of others and ourselves patterns of touch that have been imprinted from earliest life. Bringing more attention to the ways in which we put hands on each other then becomes an opportunity to unlearn old habits while exploring new, more effective ways to touch and be touched. The slightest interaction becomes a rich occasion to not slip into somatic unconsciousness, to take advantage of this sensual body that co-creates our inner conversations and outer points of view, bringing new dimension to all relationships.

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