As an anthropologist and minister, I am always intrigued by animal and human behavior. I think it must be in my DNA because I am unconsciously and eternally fascinated, drawn in and left wondering what is next to unfold as I watch creatures go about their day. I just can’t seem to get enough. Within minutes I am hooked as my curiosity leads me down the rabbit hole of wandering aimlessly though my imagination.
Before you know it, you’ve traveled a long distance with no destination in mind – all by simply being present to what catches your eye on the shimmering sand.
This type of wandering through my imagination is not unlike walking the beach, seeking shells, shark’s teeth, sea glass, and other treasures courtesy of nature. Before you know it, you’ve traveled a long distance with no destination in mind – all by simply being present to what catches your eye on the shimmering sand.
This is one of the reasons I love watching nature shows on television. The latest excursion into my imagination was with a show about Blue Whales, specifically about a mother and calf – or as the narrator referred to the baby whale, “Little Blue.” Just like walking the beach and getting distracted by iridescent sea jewels, I found myself transfixed by one simple statement from the narrator.
The researchers had been searching an area known as the Costa Rica Dome, or Kingdom of the Blue Whale, and miraculously came upon a mother with her calf, who could not have been more than a week old. And then it happened… the cameras were underwater watching mother and child, and the narrator made one, brief comment about how tactile the mother was with her baby in order to ensure his survival. With that one comment, my imagination was off and running. There was much to be learned from Little Blue.
I launched into wondering how instinctually tactile the mother was, which led me to questioning how tactile I am – or not – with people in my life who not only need support, but need it for their survival? And do I allow another to touch me? Sometimes we rush in to touch another when they are struggling, which often stops the flow of tears that is a natural part of the human condition. But I am talking about more than a loving hug that so often is present when our emotional survival is at stake. I am inviting us to move beyond our comfort zone, beyond what is habitual.
We know when we are “touch deprived,” although I rarely hear people actually admit it. We know when we yearn to be embraced, have our hand held, rest our head on someone’s shoulder, or spoon with a partner. For many, touching another for more than a few seconds is scary, and certainly much too vulnerable to allow any measure of surrendering for the necessary healing and survival.
I certainly understand this. In my darkest moments in life, I have looked at myself in a mirror realizing it was like looking at someone behind a dark veil. I could see the outline of a person, but the details were distorted. The edges charred, dark and ragged. My eyes were sunken and lifeless, certainly no twinkling or awe and wonder. I believed what I saw was not worth touching – I thought that was truth.
Our culture, some faith traditions, and years of indoctrination of other people’s shame has seriously skewed our perception and connection with our bodies. We lose connection to wanting the aching desert of our body, heart and soul to be watered. We lose our ability to make the pleading words, “Please, My body needs your touch!” to come out of our mouths. While I have made great progress over the years in healing these wounds, there are still times when I’m like the little inchworm all curled up inside itself for protection – playing dead so that no one can hurt me anymore. There is much to be learned from Little Blue.
The sense of touch is incredibly intimate and vulnerable. It’s as if our heart has caught the aroma of something it knows it needs for life. Walking into a garden and grabbing hold the scent of roses, following the fragrance until your nose is swaddled by soft petals, gently inhaling the perfume of life. We instinctually move closer in order to be immersed in it – to be touched, because somewhere inside we know that touch is really a symbol for our closeness to each other and to the divine.[/fusion_builder_column]
The more I watched the interactions of mom and Little Blue, the more I wandered through my memory banks recalling times when someone touched me, bringing me back to life. I realized it was like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but instead it was heart-to-heart. When you held my hand and didn’t let go, when you touched my cheek wiping away a tear, or held my face, you were as Little Blue’s mom ensuring my survival. When you stood behind me wrapping your whole body around mine protecting and holding me to ease my despair and anguish, it was if you opened a window for fresh air, making space for me to surrender so that I might have ease in breathing through my heart again.
The most powerful touches we encounter are those that seem unplanned, unrehearsed, and arrive unannounced. When we risk leaning into these unrehearsed moments, we discover the need to be open to life and the desire to be in the continuous flow of Spirit. However, there’s an interesting paradox inherent in that continuous flow of life energy. When we cross the threshold of physical boundaries, it always brings us to places where we must risk being open and being vulnerable. We must risk being touched and touching another, emotionally and physically.
If we do not allow this, we can never be changed by our encounters, we won’t be anointed by the beauty and the suffering that is necessary to participate in our world – a world that invites us into a gritty and mysterious territory called our humanness. It is here that we are touched by Spirit, where we touch each other’s bodies as well as divinity – hence the paradox.
When I bring up what I keep inside myself, it becomes sacred and scary, and I don’t know if I want to touch it or not, let alone allow another to see it. And nevermind taking the next step into the most intimate encounter I can have – allowing you to physically touch me in my most vulnerable moment! It’s like reaching into a nest of baby birds. It’s sacrilegious, you think, because you’ve been taught never to touch something like this! But take the risk and do it anyway. We must risk allowing another to embrace us so completely that we don’t know where we end and the other begins.
Our sense of touch never turns off, it is always at work helping us to explore our world, and make meaning of things. Touch opens us, heals us and ultimately brings profound peace and broadens the depth and texture of life. When was the last time you put your hands on the face of a loved one? Or leaned into someone, having your foreheads touching each other, as though encountering an anointing with love and compassion? Have you spooned with your partner or massaged a loved one’s feet?