Touch & the Absence of Touch


Touch & the Absence of Touch

Jim Freda


In a world where everyone is profoundly touch deprived, touch can easily equal trauma, or invoke traumatic memories.  It is unexpected and can be manipulative because we are not connected to one another. When I attended the 18th meeting of United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP), I found that they understood this in word only, not in deed.  There was a distinct disconnect between what they said and what they did.

I just returned from a conference of body psychologists where I presented but also attended a panel seminar on touch. For 90 minutes I listened to these amazingly insightful, intelligent, and caring people talk on and on about how wonderful touch is and how careful they must be and how to use touch and how to get permission for touch, and they acted as though they were dealing with nitroglycerin instead of just a soft animal. Little to no touching occurred during the panel or the conference as a whole. The conference was very conventional, very cool and distant, despite this shared commitment to things like validation and empathy and healing and touch..

I am a touch therapist. I use touch to heal trauma. Just because I focus on anatomical structure, joints, chronic pain, muscles, and facial continuities does not mean that I am not having a neurological effect or that I am not also healing psychologically–both myself and others.

I certainly understand the meaning of what I am doing and when I work touch is a given. I am paid by the minute to touch as well and skillfully and as much as possible. However, when I touch, I am talking to the body and not the psyche. I am attentive energetically and emotionally but my focus is very physical. I am having a conversation with the body. With the beautiful body, the beleaguered body, and the touch starved body. I am listening and responding in ways that are keenly felt, by the client’s mind and by the client’s quieter, deeper body-mind. Often the touch itself is the most powerful healing element for the self-awareness and self love that it creates.

But I am also a serious student of anatomy, and I work with the body in specific ways to help and restore its balance and integrity, its form and function, its vitality. This process is not meant to be a secret that only an expert like myself might understand, and charge for at great expense. I try my best to teach my clients and students all that I can. The idea of that special knowledge is possessed by the elite and justifies their status is conventional science but it is not how I see it at all. I like to think that I see a deeper and a much greater truth.

These are physical truths of self-awareness and simple truths of our own felt body. We can visualize them almost as easily as the classical stick figure. Many of us already have a basic grasp of skeletal anatomy, which is all we need. The body does it thing largely on its own, but is happy to share fully with our higher cognitive functions. We may pride ourselves and claim our social status based upon our higher cognitive functions, but we are quite mistaken if we think that this is the truth.

Understanding this point is an important part of the somatic revolution, and it is marked by a shift from top down cognitive dominance to a wonderful bottoms up participatory sort of intelligence.

It may have taken me a great deal of study for me to figure this out, but what I figured out is astonishingly simple, natural and commonsensical. This is the concept of the center and centration. We are designed to understand this intuitively like any other animal and the skills required for participation in it follow along with its deeper rhythm; they are as welcoming for us as a deer in the forest; no severe, long monastic incantations and formulae are required.

This is shown in the power, the sensibility, and the simplicity of the relevant anatomy of the center line. It is in you and is yours to touch and move and feel and contemplate whenever you wish. Consider how it is all connected to form your center. Your centers both vertical and horizontal. It is both linear stretching from your tongue to your toe and it is spherical, pressurized volumes, that we hold together from the inside out. You can see it in any other body and easily understand it in a variety animal forms, if you wish. If you simply focus on your own central line, you will figure it out for yourself quite quickly.

In order to get ourselves out of the mess that we were in half a millennia ago, here, in the west, we decided to radically accentuate the power of reason and its faculties in the human brain. To do this, we had to work very hard to repress the body and the earth that were filled with spirits and myths, threats and disease and temptations. We have forgotten all of the work that we have done to build this world in which the earth in the body are so fully repressed, and we have forgotten that it was our decision to do so, and that decision had a specific purpose. We have normalized our immobilization and our isolation.

Using cultural tradition, including material culture, we have cemented the truth we have imagined into our lives so that it is unavoidable. But what we imagined to be progress and have built to seem permanent is really only provisional. All that we have made is really very recent and is far from what we intended; it is only attained level of complexity. That seems to give it a life of its own, and to evade our grasp. The great promise of transformation that we sometimes feel comes from the knowledge that this is so: this world we have built is far from the truth. We are killing ourselves and the planet by holding onto it so desperately. The deeper truth is speaking to us, and it is one that we have been developing all along. We simply need to reverse some of our choices and gently shift our sense of balance.

We are at that point right now in our history. Perhaps, if you are enough of a historian, enough of an observer of culture, enough of a visionary, then you can see it, but the signs are after all unmistakable once we point them out. All we really need to do is to take ourselves seriously a few minutes longer, before we change the subject again, and consider the consequence of our words and our actions more carefully.

Are we unable to join our minds together for a few minutes some afternoon in a safe and comfortable setting, like this meeting so easily might have been, and together rehearse and ponder and explore the truths that we know, and arrive at something that is meaningful in the specific new ways that we need now? The truth is about living bodies. We already know that much. The truth that we need is already within us, with our own bodies. It is already within the Earth and the trees and the land and the sky.

What would it take if we got together to try to understand it with our minds and with our bodies? The new mathematics is a calculus of pain and pleasure, of hope and of the healing required to get there. We will never attain it if we are so afraid of touch.

This is new mathematics of the felt sense. It is the key that we need to find together and overcoming the physical distance we keep between us is our first challenge.



[Feature photo by aknourkova from Pixabay]


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  1. I am very happy to see this posted on ThinkMovement. I am afraid that there are a few little typos here and there that obstruct the meaning, but overall I hope that I made a point that seems clear.
    Thank you community!
    Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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