The Importance of Touch
I’m sure when we look back at this year, “Social distancing” and “flattening the curve” will be the buzz words of 2020. At some point, this pandemic will be over – but it’s anyone’s guess for how long before we are met with the next challenge. We cannot deny our world is changing, and we are all going to have to deal with those changes. How will we emerge from this experience? Will we be wiser? More compassionate? More aware of how our behaviors affect each other and the planet? Hopefully, we will emerge with a new awareness of how we are all connected – we will practice better hygiene – frequent hand-washing, staying home from work when we are sick, and being mindful of our contact with each other if we are sick. At the same time, I hope that we do not give in to fear and social distance ourselves forever. Because the reality is that humans need touch. Safe touch. Consensual touch. But, contact none-the-less. A hand on a shoulder or a pat on the back, a hug, or holding someone’s hand. Touch is our primary language of compassion. In an article in Greater Good Magazine (Science based insights for a meaningful life), Dacher Keltner states, “There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response, and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.”
During the early weeks of the shut-down, I had the opportunity to help feed our homeless population - the people forgotten by our leaders in power. We gave them masks and hand sanitizer, as well as food. One day, an elderly woman grabbed my hand to steady herself. Having worked with the elderly, I could not bring myself to pull away from her, and if I had, she probably would have fallen. She thanked me for the food we gave her. When she left, I sanitized my hands. But, in the moment, I chose to be with her, rather than pull away. On another day, a homeless man thanked me for helping at the camp and, again, tried to grab my hand. I reminded him that we were supposed to be social distancing for our health. However, as we emerge from this pandemic, I hope we don't forget how to be there for each other.
If you were suffering from depression before, isolation may have forced you to withdraw even further from society. Know that you are NOT alone. There are lots of us out here who care and are here to listen without judgement. Please reach out – Virtually for now, and hopefully, eventually in person. In the meantime, get outside. Connect with the beings around you that are safe to connect with – the trees, plants, animals…Take some time to really sit with them and breathe and feel the connection we all share with these beings who also depend on our compassion for survival.
As things begin to open up again - Move slowly, take caution, continue to observe recommended CDC guidelines, but, when the time is right – I hope we don’t forget how to be social, compassionate and loving human beings. Sending love and light to all of you. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
*Please note this article is NOT encouragement to touch people when we need to social distance, or without permission from the other person. Be well.