Tuesday night was a learning experience on so many levels. We were invited to come and organize a sanctuary and offer compassionate touch to Amanda Palmer’s fans at her show at the Paramount in Austin. While this isn’t how we normally work, it wasn’t too far of a stretch from the Snuggle Salons we offer as part of our educational outreach mission to teach people the importance of platonic touch. The Karuna Lounge went really well, and we got to put our hands on a lot of people (and create a safe space for some people who weren’t comfortable being touched).
Many folks walked by and watched us but didn’t come in, like a homeless person watching people eat in a restaurant. Skin hunger is a real thing, and it often feels like slow death. It always saddens me that something that is so simple gets mired in fear, confusion and loneliness.
But if they moved past their fear and came in? It never fails to amaze me to see people who have long been physically isolated, their bodies soaking up human touch and oxytocin like parched earth getting its first rainfall after a long dry spell. “More please, more!” their cells scream, “gimme some of that good stuff!”
When we do the Snuggle Salons, the first hour is devoted to a Boundaries 101 workshop. It’s not that people need to learn how to cuddle; it’s that they need to learn how to say yes or no, I want this and not that, I like this and hate that. It’s stuff we should be taught in 7th grade, and yet….
Turns out that basic communication is hard. Really hard.
Tuesday night, at Amanda’s show, we had people sit down in front of us, and we would ask them what they wanted, and how they liked to be touched. The question frequently stopped people cold. “Wait….WHAT? You mean I can CHOOSE what kind of touch I want? And WHERE and HOW I get touched?” And then they’d be all like, “um, I have no idea.” (This is the part where being a professional comes in handy.)
Most people have never given any thought to how we might like to be touched. We all know how to tolerate unwanted touch, whether it’s our parents forcing our naked 3-year-old asses to get dressed, or an uncomfortable exam at the dentist. If we live in big cities, we are constantly jostled in the bus, elevator or grocery store and often guard our personal space fiercely. In intimate relationships, we expect our partners to know exactly what we want without us specifying, and touch is often considered solely a prelude to sex. And far too many of us have been touched in ways that are harmful and violent.
The compassionate touch we provide is pleasurable, innocent and gentle. It is an end unto itself, and the people receiving it are a marvel to witness. The trembling, teary-eyed smile from a simple caress of the face and hair. The body relaxing after a ten-second embrace, when said body’s owner realizes that they are safe. The breath and the heartbeat slowing down when a person is cuddled.
The connection may only last for a few minutes, but it is deep and authentic. It can and will be hella awkward: the brain screams, “a stranger is touching you! Danger! Danger!” It takes a while for the mental chaos to quiet down. But the body knows. The body remembers what it feels like to be touched or held, and that this signifies peace, comfort and safety. Even if you didn’t get it as a child, the body knows. – it is designed to be held and comforted Humans are wired seek to connection with others. It’s a feature, not a bug, and no amount of intellectual machination can change that. You can argue with yourself, but you can’t argue with Mother Nature.
I also spent a lot of time wondering what else people don’t ask for, how many times they go along, do what they’re told to do, suppress their own desires and kill their dreams before they even pursue them. I wonder how many people say yes when they mean no, and put their own needs behind those of their friends, family, boss, kids or partners. And why? Fear of rejection is certainly a huge part of the equation. But another part is that so many people have no clue what they want.
The solution for this is two-fold. First, think about what it is you want, and then ask for it. And second, ask people what they want or need…and then give them a little bit of time to answer. Let them move through the panic (“I need to decide right now or the opportunity will go away!”) and the awkwardness (“What if they think I’m weird for wanting that?”) and the fear (“What if they say no?”). There could be a whole world of awesome waiting on the other side of those questions.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. You’ll never know, unless you ask.
Thank you again to everyone who came in and trusted us. We look forward to seeing you again.
p.s. If you didn’t have an opportunity to enter our drawing to win a free Karuna Session, we’ll give you one more chance. Enter here before 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 17.