A dear client recently mentioned to me that one of the worst things about being single and aging is the absence of touch.
Approximately a decade ago I picked up a random book at the Florida School of Massage, it’s title was simple enough: “Touching” and I was struck by how large the book was for such a simple topic. As I dove into it I was completely blown away; it became one of those books that I recommended and referenced many times and that defined a moment in my life.
I recall the author, Ashley Montagu, mentioning research showing that infant mammals deprived of touch (but still fed) quickly died. I recall him describing how gestures we often consider to be affection (such as a mother dog licking her pups) do so much more such as engage the digestive system and stimulate vital neural responses. Touch influences our physical development, our emotional development, our cognitive development… it helps us both know ourselves and know our surroundings. Oh, and what is largest human organ? Our skin.
As infants we are, hopefully, touched all the time. We are tickled, carried around, cleaned, snuggled, massaged, rolled around, thrown up in the air, hung upside down by our feet, raspberried, and many more forms of touch. There is numerous research on the positive effects of touch on newborns and on the negative effects of the deprivation of touch; and even though I think that information still needs to be emphasized I actually want to point to the later stages of life.
You, as a single adult, how many times were you touched today? What was the context and content of that touch? How much of it was for a positive reason and had positive effects?
And you, the adult in a relationship, how many times were you touched today? Touched by your partner of 5, 15, 40yrs? Touched by your kids? Touched by a friend? And in what way did it affect you?
When was the last time you were touched in a way that moved you deeply?
I am not writing an article here, just wanting to invite your thoughts and to share mine. I’ve grown to understand that there are several things in life for which we cannot correctly use our reasoning mind; for those things we need to use other ways of seeing. The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says there are 6 things which we cannot have “any honest notion of” by using our reasoning minds, those are: 1- Love, 2-Death, 3- Suffering, 4- the Infinity or Eternity, 5- God, 6- Sexuality.
We need to use reasoning to figure out the total costs involved on a trip to the grocery store, we need to use reasoning to drive our bicycle or car, we use reason even to read a book or watch a movie (though at times we can find ourselves emotional at a particularly good moment in those). But then we end up defaulting to reason when we do other things such as non-business communication, or when we look at Nature, or think of God, or have sex, when we ask ourselves if we love someone, and when we try to empathize with someone, in those occasions we cannot accurately understand the situation by using our reasoning brain and we really should be using our hearts.
Our reasoning mind tells us that we can easily survive without touching each other, we do it all the time, yet I believe that when observed with our hearts it is an evident truth that we are lacking in touch.
Touching – Ashley Montagu
On Being (podcast) – Richard Rohr with Krista Tippett – April 13 2017