I may not remember what you told me or even your name, but if you touched me, I’ll remember that moment forever.
Touch captures us at the deepest level, more profound than words. Remember when someone touched your shoulder while asking you, “How’s it going?” Or, a time when someone thanked you and placed their warm hand over yours–even for a few seconds? Casual, non-sexual touch, is a powerful connector…and we’ve lost the art of it. With our busy lives, important jobs, and endless stuff–we all are touch-starved.
Touch is our most treasured, yet least utilized sense. Loneliness is rampant, and most of feel isolated and shameful. We know babies need constant touch, or they fail to thrive. Have we forgotten we are just grown up babies? Do we think we out grow our need for touch? Somewhere after childhood touch gets confused with sex (and shamed) and we stop casual touch within families and between friends. We don’t learn how to offer and receive non-sexual, mature touch. We forget to make casual touch can feel safe, comfortable, and consensual.
Our skin is our body’s largest organ. Of the five senses, touch is the only one that grows more acute and heightened as we age. We may not see, hear or smell as well, but our skin–thinned, transparent and translucent–drinks in more sensation than ever. We can actually feel more than when we were younger because we are willing to slow down, notice more, and live with more gratitude and appreciation for life.
Introducing casual touch into family visits.
Since a touch is worth a thousand words, why not include more of it in visits with family and friends? Your visits will feel more empowering and endearing. Start small if touching is not a habit in your family. Use good eye contact, focus your attention, smile and when you compliment someone, reach out a place a hand for a few seconds on their upper arm or shoulder. Feel how your hand is an extension of your heart, and see how your touch open both hearts.
You may want to tell an aging parent (or spouse!) you are experimenting with touch and would like to hold their hand for a few minutes while you talk about your day, if it’s OK with them. Notice how getting permission and giving a time frame makes it feel safer. Notice how this simple gesture effects what you say and how you say it. Or, you may ask if you may gently rest your hands on their knee while they tell you a story–such as about a time they felt loved. Treasure the warmth of their knee under your hands as you quiet yourself and feel the fragileness of life pass between you.
Make your hello and goodbye hug more ‘user friendly’–not a quick habitual gesture. Move into the hug more slowly, refrain from patting them on the back, instead hold still, notice your breath–notice their breath–notice the warmth and ‘inspiration’ moving between you. Allow your body to be aware of their presence without trying to change anything. Hold the hug loosely for several breaths, if they pull away fine, but refrain from doing it first, and slowly your hugs will grow.
Your Touch will lingers past your words.
We are touched with love so rarely that small gestures take on gigantic proportions. Routine medical touch does not count, we all need heartfelt touch that’s volunteered by loved ones. Here’s some ideas for simple touch you may try on your next visit: brushing hair, massaging feet (even with socks on), putting lotion on their hands, rubbing their back, shoulders or neck, giving a face caress resting their head in your lap while you lightly explore their face with your fingertips. Ask for permission first, make a time frame like a couple of minutes, and only offer what you can give with a full 100% heart. And be ready to receive some touch too!
If someone doesn’t want to be touched remember we’re creatures of habit and all quite shy. We are breaking a mold here and need to go slowly. Being vulnerable about your own insecurity may help, you could say, “I’m on new ground here, but I know I want more touch in my life and hoped I may practice with you.”
At the end of life, our sense of touch becomes the most poignant of all. My girlfriend actually crawled in bed with her dying mother. It must have felt very much like the beginning of life when we ate, slept and breathed within the heartbeat of others, bathed in touch–instead of being isolated and alone.