Dimensions of Touch: Part Two

by David Lauterstein

In a “virtual” age, a time greatly affected by the pace of computers and their powerful yet imaginary realities, each individual’s unmet hunger and the social need for the actual becomes more and more urgent. Touch is a medium of actual reality. Touch is a medium of living reality, just as light is a medium for physical reality. Touch implies not just physical contact – would you say are touched by the pen as you hold it? Touch does require at least three dimensions since the space we live in has, in its everyday aspect, three dimensions – length, height and depth. But the reason why we would not ordinarily say we are “touched” by a pen is that touch implies an active reaching out. The realm of intention and attention implies more dimensions than three.

For intentional touch requires not just contact of one structure to another, but also of one energy to another. To touch we need to look beyond just three dimensions – into energetic quality, into relationship, into love – very real things that certainly can not be explained by everyday geometry. Let us – right off the bat – help lessen the tendency to excessive mystify energy. Consider shaking hands. When you meet someone and shake his or her hand, you notice the structure of the hand, but also more than that. You get the feeling of their energy from how they grip. How they are relating to you is their energy as manifested through the way they are choosing to use their structure. In our “virtual” world, structure and energy are separated. In conventional medicine, for example, a diseased lung is viewed as a thing to be fixed. The energy dimension of the person – the feelings, their thoughts, some of which may have played a role in creating the disease, these are often ignored. And people feel disconnected today in many ways – from each other, from their own bodies, from their true selves, from nature.

There is only one way to connect structure and energy – touch – because touch of course involves structure, physical contact, and it also requires energy, intentional contact. It is not possible to address the disconnection endemic within the modern world without touch. With a growing sense of wonder I keep rediscovering how touching is the only way to connect structure and energy. Martin Buber said, “It is not the educational intention which is fruitful, but it is the meeting which is educationally fruitful.” Taking the statement one step higher, we might say that it is, by definition, meeting and perhaps only meeting which is fruitful. Until we meet, nothing new is born. And touch is perhaps the purest form of meeting. It is my contention that, beyond the usual three, there are four specific dimensions to meeting through touch. The growing science and art of truly meeting is the growing edge of humanity. The geometry of this meeting is the geometry of healing and of touch. As we explore each of these dimensions in turn we encounter lessons about being alive that augment the lives of each of us who want, who insist more and more loudly, on individual and collective lives of deeper meaning.

Graceful Verticality – The Fourth Dimension of Touch

Most structural models show humans supporting themselves in a largely vertical manner. All our major anatomical structures are vertical in their orientation – the skeleton, nervous system, lymph and blood flow, the muscles. And the rich traditions of energy theory as well have a startling level of agreement. The meridians of Chinese medicine, chakras, kundalini, the nadis of the Indian view, Western bioenergetic models of body-oriented psychotherapy – each speaks of energy as flowing vertically through the human body, between heaven and earth. So in exploring how being in touch comes to have power in the world, how we stand is essential. For, in balance, the more relaxedly vertical, the more free and upright we are, the more our structure and the energy flowing through it are enhanced. The American Indians ask a wonderful question referring to personal integrity, “How do you stand with respect the four directions?” Try this experiment – stand next to friend who is sitting in chair with his or her eyes closed. Standing rigidly vertical, at “attention”, touch the person on the shoulder for ten seconds. Then disengage and discuss together how that felt. Now stand slumped over and repeat the experiment. Finally, stand gracefully erect, more a graceful reed than a rod, and repeat the experiment.

In most cases touch from a rigid body feels mechanical, inhuman. In the case of the slumped over body, it may feel hulking, de-energized or somewhat “creepy”. In the case of the touch from a gracefully vertical body, the energy feels more available, less defended, freer. The experienced voltage of this touch is greater. This experiment reminds us that, though we may establish contact with our hands, we do not just touch with our hands, we touch with our whole self. We can see and cultivate our meeting each other by noticing this tender discovery. Touch acquires its maximum energy when we stand up and face each other as free, inquiring beings. A touch that arises from a body that has been allowed to grow, to ascend, to be free in the world, this touch is much higher in its transformative potential. Free, undefended touch is positively contagious. It lets those we touch know in a bodily felt way – there is more room for freedom, more room for love, more room for grace than we often imagine. With this high form of touch, we can stand up for each other and succeed together. Without it we stand apart filled with longings for a fuller life. The fulfillment of life requires this graceful stance and this touch that unites us with heaven, with earth and with each other.

Touch with graceful verticality also conveys a sense of lightness of being since, appropriately aligned, we stand and move with less effort. Touch born of a lighter experience of self is en-lightening for others. People suffer from treating themselves and other as mere things, just as structures. This gives rise to the experience of life being literally and figuratively too hard. Energetically potentiated touch dissolves the sense of life being too hard. The experience of energy dissolves the excessive solidity of the world. It opens us up to the essential softness and malleability of reality. So we see the enormous potential for standing by each other. Krishnamurti said that if two people could totally cooperate the world would be instantaneously transformed. This strong is our standing together face-to-face. Every time we stand together as free beings and touch, in some way our world is transformed in that very instant.

Heartful Touch – The Fifth Dimension

“The best and most beautiful things can not be seen or even touched but must be felt with the heart,” said Helen Keller. However, it is true as well to say – when we touch with our hearts, it is a most beautiful thing. Emotion adds a new dimension to the realm of touch. The residence for the emotions from which we reach out is the realm of the heart. Anatomically this includes the sternum, ribs, the thoracic vertebrae, lungs, and thymus gland, a very important member of the immune system. So in this realm we encounter much movement – the breathing being, the pulses of life, the spinal cord waving in fluid within the vertebral canal. The realm of the heart is a moving one. It is no surprise that “e-motion”, the intention to “move outward” from deep within is of its essence. When we feel the need, whether from real or imagined realities, to defend ourselves, one of the first manifestations of this defense is to tense up around the heart. Self-protection is a self-shielding. Chinese medicine even identifies an organ function called the “heart protector”.

We grow up in a culture and in families where we naturally develop habitually defended ways of being. As a culture, we just beginning to acknowledge the pervasiveness of abuse, both overt and covert. Within chronically abusive or confusing realities, we become chronically defended. Chronic tension around the heart and lungs becomes a life-limiting factor. And this in turn limits our capacity to touch and be touched. “Reach out and touch someone,” – ironically, the slogan for the major American phone system (talk about virtual reality misappropriating the hallmark of the actual!) – turns out to be the primary directive for addressing this tension. First we need to reach from deep inside and touch the tense or hurting places within us. This calls for bravery, another of the characteristics of the heart realm. For to reach out and touch all of ourselves or all of someone else – this is one of the bravest things a person can do. As we touch our chronic tensions, they begin, as if by magic, to dissolve – because the healing we seek involves the touching of it fully with human presence. The heart’s participation in human touch is a natural process of our growth. As we mature, we move from early childhood survival issues associated with learning life fundamentals, how to consciously move, feed ourselves, sit, stand up, to the integration of our sexuality, associated with the second chakra, to forming our own identity as a young adult. The further ascent then into the heart realm brings in the unprecedented ability and desire to give to others out of a real and growing abundance. Into the spaciousness of the heart flows our energy like springs into a lake. And this energetic level generates not only a new quality of energy flow but a new direction as well. For our arms and hands enable us to move out with feeling from deep within us horizontally into the world around us. In this evolutionary movement we become sustaining not just to ourselves through the vertical energy flow, but as well to the whole world around us. Nourished by others and our own self-development, we attain escape velocity from the mere verticality of self-support.

Our impulse to reach and touch with love grows, “our great love grows and grows.” It is with reference to our feeling-filled movements that Pablo Neruda said, “Hands make the world each day.” In the symbol of the cross this beautiful work of world-making is empowered. At the heart we encounter the living crossroads in each of us at which we decide each day whether to touch ourselves and others fully, wholeheartedly. Even the chakras speak to us of the power of our hearts as the meeting places for the horizontal flow of love which makes the world go ’round as well as their role in the vertical flow between heaven and earth. For underlying the heart are the three lower chakras associated with the base of the spine, the sacral area and the belly. Above the heart lie the throat, brow and crown. This places the heart at the precise energetic center of human life. In a Chinese classic it is said most profoundly, “Heaven and Earth meet in the heart. It is their destiny and place of rendezvous.”

Mindful Touch – the Sixth Dimension

When we meet as equals, as free inquiring human beings, we notice that we touch with our whole selves. Since we are not divided, since each of us is a unity of body, mind and spirit, when we touch we do so with our minds and spirits as well as our bodies. How exactly do we touch with our minds? For it is the presence of understanding in touch that constitutes its sixth dimension. In the Bible it says that Adam “knew” Eve. This is usually taken to be a euphemism for making love. But let us we step back and look at what this “knew” may mean? What if this means that Adam was close enough to Eve to really know how she felt? It is interesting to note here that the legal definition of sanity is the capacity to imagine how someone else feels. When I touch someone with a rational and intuitive knowledge regarding how they feel, then the touch communicates not just care, but understanding as well, fundamental sanity.

To get to know someone takes time. Notice how good it feels to imagine the touch of someone who truly knows and loves us. Knowing touch is a touch that happens when people care enough to take the time to get to know one another. The rhythm in which this touch comes to be is much slower than just the everyday bumping into one another which takes hardly any time. In the nature of knowing touch is given also the time required to get to know, time literally lives in this touch quality. For knowing is always a process. Understanding touch is one that learns, is curious, is a touch open to the mystery of another’s being unfolding in time. Whether we touch as a friends, lovers, parent and child, therapist and client, there is a call and response form to the touch relationship. I touch my son on the shoulder and notice his response – it may be a freeze, a leaning into, reaching out, a pulling or pushing away, a watchful, waiting response. Notice how the archetypes of relationship are naked actions in this realm of touch – how do we meet? how does our relationship develop over time? How poignantly Carole King expressed it in the archetypal words of “But will You Love Me Tomorrow”. Will we love each other today? Will we take the care to get to know one another slowly but surely so that we can more and more experience the connection we all yearn so much for? In the call and response of touching each other, we actively and vulnerably seek the ever-changing answer to this question.

After each day of creation, it is said that God saw that it was good. In the call and response of touch, we similarly notice what touch has wrought. Very often, thank God, we notice that it is indeed good! It is important for us to see and to acknowledge the effects of reaching out and touching. Jung said that, if we do not celebrate our successes, we become sick. The experience of being touched with love and understanding translates into an experience of feeling beautiful and worthy. It is part of the healing process to see each other truly, to celebrate, to take in and be nourished by the acceptance of our touch and by the success of our efforts to connect with each other. In this way knowing touch fills our hearts and minds with joy.

The Alchemy of Touch – the Seventh Dimension

Touch acquires, mysteriously or perhaps by God’s grace, a seventh dimension. Within this dimension we experience the presence of, in addition to you and me, a third energy, one which is in some sense created by our meeting. The poet Machado said, “Between waking dreaming, there is a third thing.” Just so between you and me, there is a third thing. And we are now both touched by it. Shall we say it is Love? We can not make it happen. Even in the Bible it says that on the seventh day of creation God rested. Did he just take the day off? Take a bath? Perhaps he actually created football on the sixth day and watched the game all day Sunday! I never much considered the seventh day as a very big deal. But the more I have learned about the seventh dimension of touch, the more the seventh day imagery and essence has unfolded. Let us then consider the seventh day not as the rest period after the creation, but as its very pinnacle. How sweet to feel in our hearts that the rest, the letting go, the peaceful surrendering of the universe to itself is the ultimate act of creation! When we touch, we can not make anything extraordinary happen. We can not force grace with will. But if we touch with devotion and yet with an effortless letting go, we open a window through which the extraordinary is most free to enter.

The presence of the extraordinary, whether we experience it as love, spirit, God, an “altered state”, or any other of its infinite forms, is recognized by its alchemical power. The presence of the seventh dimension is, by definition, transformative. And the recognition that, whether we will it or not, any touch could be transformational, makes our attitude toward touch inherently reverential. The embarrassment around touch that gives rise to so many jokes and ambivalent behaviors – this is a side effect of the inner knowledge that truly touching is always an invitation for God to touch us. As we rest in touch, we can feel the reaching out as a further opening inward to being deeply touched and healed inside. When we touch ultimately it is like awakening from a dream. In this dream we have imagined ourselves as separate, we have thought we were alone. With this touch we know we are not alone, we are an integral part of a wide world which includes us. It is our isolated self that is the illusion. Unity is our essence, not separation. In this experience of unity through touch, the seven dimensions are alive. Then we experience the true, the redemptive character of touch. We experience ourselves as part of ” the secret one slowly growing a body.” How extraordinary! May all the heavens rejoice! As Nietzsche wrote almost shouting in the days of his life, “My Maestro Pietro, sing me a new song! The earth is transfigured and all the heavens rejoice!” The seven dimensions of touch beget each other. Initial contact leads to movement together, movement calls for breath. From breath, human life arises and stands up on earth. As we stand face-to face, we can now begin to touch heart to heart. and the honest experience of each other leads to understanding, to knowledge of oneself and the other. Knowledge leads beyond itself, to a letting go into mystery, into the unknown and the unwilled. Through the alchemy of touch we experience the gift of being, in every bit of space and time within us, a living part of God’s body.

3 thoughts on “Dimensions of Touch: Part Two

  1. Sally says:

    As a teacher of the Alexander Technique, which is also a touch-based modality, I am very interested in your views on the power of touch. I have two questions: 1) Is there a “Dimension of Touch, Part One” article? 2) Do you know of any research being done as to the neurological effects of touch? Thanks, Sally

    1. davidl says:

      The best source for more info is my book – The Deep Massage Book – published last year. That has all of the seven articles on the dimensions of touch as well as much more theory and techniques. That’s available from http://www.redwingbooks.com/sku/DeeMasBoo

      I don’t follow massage research real closely – just been too busy – so can’t give you specifics on it. But there is the Massage Therapy Research Foundation, the Touch Research Institute (Tiffany Field’s organization), there’s lots coming out at the Fascial Congresses that have been held at least yearly for quite a few years.

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