The Tao of Touch
What magic does touch create
that we crave it so… That babies
do not thrive without it… That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep.
Yet the touch of a stranger
the bumping or predatory thrust
in the subway is like a slap.
We long for the familiar, the open
palm of love, its tender fingers.
It is our hands that tamed cats
into pets, not our food.
The widow looks in the mirror
thinking, no one will ever touch
me again, never. Not hold me.
Not caress the softness of my
breasts, my inner thighs, the swell
of my belly. Do I still live
if no one knows my body?
We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.
~Marge Piercy, “The Tao of Touch,”
from The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980 – 2010
. . .
Intimacy… Human connection… Even while sloshing about in mother’s womb, we were synchronizing body’s rhythm to her heartbeat; learning the sound of her gurgling digestive organs, her voice; sharing her tastes in music and food…
Even sensing how she felt about others. And perhaps most importantly: via hormones crossing the placenta, we learned and responded to our mother’s moods–whether she was feeling apprehensive, elated,
or awash in orgasmic ecstasy. And yet, despite–or maybe because of those early experiences intertwined with another, once adults, the prospect of making ourselves vulnerable to another can be terrifying.
. . .
Aundra Saa Meroe, PhD, sociologist, research fellow; South Carolina, USA:
“People often have no idea what they are doing or even feeling when they enter erotic lifeworlds as adolescents. It must be learned; and this process eludes some adults well into their elder years. I am speaking of an ethics of intimacy. A spirituality that is about making things sacred in everyday life.”
. . .
Becky Tsaros Dickson, author of “I Could Tell You Stories,” New Hampshire, USA:
“Tenderness, compassion, closeness — these things scare the bejesus out of most. I mean, what the hell is wrong with us that we can’t let anyone near us?
Daddy’s little girl will seek men who treat her well. Girls mistreated as youngsters often replay that role with men ad infinitum.
Such a large portion of what we expect comes from past experience and upbringing. Our parents. Our high school sweethearts. These people help shape who we are, and how deeply we form attachments.
How can we do better? My God. Is it possible to do worse? We have taken our most basic needs – love and intimacy – and reduced them to pie-in-the-sky novelties that everyone searches for and never finds.
We all need love. We all deserve love. We all need to STOP pretending that we don’t. And we desperately need to teach our children that not only is it okay to love and be loved, it is a basic human right.”
We ALL have one basic need: to be loved. We all deserve to be loved. What makes us different is how we expect other people to love us – and that perception is what comes from our environment and our genetic propensity.”
So how do we handle it?
As with other challenges for which we have received insufficient prior training, for the vast majority of us, we simply learn to fudge.
Ahhh, yes. We fake it.
Damian Knox, writer at Mutuo Consensu; Atlanta, Georgia, USA:
“There are so many facets to human sexuality: romance fantasies; rape fantasies; bdsm; desires that cross lines that most people don’t want the world to know that they feel.
At the same time, I believe that the levels of desire that men assign to women are skewed. Women’s sexuality has been dumbed down, muted and religiously sacrificed by a male world in fear of what has been known since the beginnings of time: Women are the stronger sex; and an angry and united female front could take over control of this world. One has only to look at nature’s Black Widow and Praying Mantis to understand.”
. . .
Richard Krawliec, playwright, novelist, poet, writing workshop facilitator for abused women and children; Durham, North Carolina, USA:
“K told me her father would take her into the bathroom and make her do things to him while he was bathing, to prove she loved Daddy. When she was thirteen, she ran out, flagged down a cop. Her father followed and told the cop she’d just been released from an insane asylum; so the cops didn’t question and allowed him to take her home.
C told me her father sexually abused her when she was a child. Her mother found out and had a breakdown. The grandmother moved in with them, in C’s room. C was seeing a therapist, trying to address her pattern of seeking out men who would degrade her, force her into anal sex, etc. Her therapist asked her out on a date after her disclosure.
I was sixteen when I heard these stories. They were two of my closest friends. I felt horrified, heartbroken, stunned. I wanted to help them, but didn’t know how. We were kids. What could we do? Never thought of going to the police.
I’m presently working on a series of poems called “The Condemned Man Series,” based on several people I’ve worked with on Death Row. The poems are written in the voice of a man who ends up executed, taking an unflinching look at the type of life that can so warp a person to commit a crime for which society decides to end his life.
The men I’ve known on Death Row were severely damaged – as were most of the men I’ve known in prison – by extreme sexual abuse endured sometimes by men, sometimes by women, but always a component of power: an older, stronger individual forcing the weaker, the child to satisfy their sexual desires, their need to humiliate and degrade.
The women on Death Row were involved in relationships that also trafficked in power.
They had no power in their marriages–yes, many were married.
Outside prison, I have also met women in the general population manipulated into turning tricks for men.”
. . .
Prostitution. The fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and the most dangerous job in America–sporting the highest death rate, as seldom do Johns wear condoms. Inevitably, many of the women contract HIV.
Factor in regular beatings from pimps and Johns, and the startlingly low hourly pay earned throughout the world, and the picture of prostitution that emerges is far from glamorous.
And yet there exists a collective disdain and even hostility towards these workers, as if these individuals are taking the easy way out.
1 in 10 men have purchased a prostitute for sex.
Just what is going on?
. . .
“Securing the services of a prostitute is about lust, uncomplicated sex and instant gratification. At that time, I was nineteen years old and in the Navy. With a prostitute you eliminate the Dating and Mating game. I remember hearing the comedian, Robin Williams, once say, ‘God gave men two heads, but only enough blood to run one at a time.’
Now, as an older, more mature man, the very idea of prostitution gives me great concern. We’re talking about the difference between wants and real needs. Having sex is something that’s desired; it’s not prerequisite for life and breath. When we artificially inflate a desire until in our mind it now becomes a need, we open the door for all kinds of societal ills.
I express the full scope of affection with my three sons: everything from hugs, to the fist-bump. My twins, at thirteen, try to resist hugs sometimes; but I think they like that their Dad is approachable on that level.
I never claimed to be perfect, but I try to teach them that simple respect for another human being should occur regardless of gender.
But the truth is, relationships are tricky. We can be in a genuinely loving relationship with our partner; yet sometimes life just interrupts. We can find ourselves drifting away from each other more because the time or energy isn’t there more than because of any lack of interest.
This can become exacerbated when a woman feels conflicted about how she wants her partner to behave in the bedroom. And conflicted about her own sexually as well.
Do women only want tender and gentle love made to them? A woman may say she wants a man to behave like a gentleman; but later confesses to wanting something more.
How is her partner to know when her desires and needs change, if she is unwilling or unable to express her sexual needs? A lot of women don’t give clear signals. Women are indoctrinated from a young age to behave like ladies. We are taught that a real lady doesn’t say “fuck.” Real ladies don’t lust.
To complicate matters, men often perpetuate this double standard. So there are a lot of women who are concerned about losing respect from her partner because of how they fear being perceived.”
How is brutal sex fostered?
Martin Lochner, former mercenary in the Congolese army, now poet, artist, political activist; Cape Town, South Africa:
“Society, and especially a unstable one, is ripe to create the latent rapist in every man. The Congo gave a blank check to ravage.
Civility in wartime is a paper-thin concept that burns in slayed towns and smoldering villages. People are in an outrage at the atrocities committed by ‘The Enemy.’ As a soldier, this hatred slowly and insipidly chews away your conscience and your ordinary frame of reference.
You are under severe and continual mental pressure and exposure to horror. Brutality becomes not just the norm, but acceptable. Unrestrained taboos and subconscious fantasy and perversity flow to your conscious mind. Overpowers the upbringing that taught you to respect a woman, to not hurt her. Everything around you suggests and justifies such an act of violation, because you are violated.
In the jungle, the soldier is as powerless as the woman. After so much military conditioning and fire pumped into us, we all became animals and brutes. Yeah, we wiped the enemy off the face of the earth; but we created our own hell, committed our own atrocities. And we felt justified to perpetuate our crimes.
And when we returned to our countries,..oh, such evil I saw everywhere! The boys in my hostel talking about how they would injure their love interest with the size of their penis, how she would scream out of agony. Normal boys talking like this. The same boys who would allow a lady first through the door. But that which lurks deep inside him?
One of my former soldiers who now lives in the U.S. is a pastor, and in total denial about the events happening in Congo…
But for me…the guilt was part of my post traumatic stress. I have since relocated the woman I violated and have asked for her forgiveness. She receives subsistence from me and employment for her son.
Some days I still wish that my debt in karma could be paid.
If it was not for my wife…When she met me, after the war, I was already a dead, buried and forgotten man, busy with my own little project of self destruction. She found me overdosed in the hotel where she worked as a chef, my third attempt to escape my conscience, and the only thing in my life I ever showed incompetence in.
There are still dark days when death yet again seems inviting; but my love for my wife and child does not allow me to pursue Sylvia Plath fancies.
I am not a monster or a hater. I am a converted Buddhist and I am really working hard to enoble myself: to get rid of the hurt and darkness inside me.”
“We live in an economy that has an increasingly smaller pool of jobs. As the workplace opens up more to women, someone has to lose jobs. Statistics show men have lost work at a much faster rate than women during this recession. Some men, rather than blaming the companies that have let them go or moved work overseas, mistakenly think a woman might be ‘taking’ a job that, in the past, they might have been given. It’s the same principle that allows people to blame migrants for ‘taking’ American jobs.
Many men are feeling powerless these days, and women are an easy target. This develops early. I teach in the public schools and in college, and I hear a lot of complaints from boys that girls are given special treatment. This is a recent phenomenon, something I’ve heard increasingly in the last 6-7 years. Boys are made uncomfortable by literature that examines how women have been oppressed, and they are frightened by sexually assertive girls willing to take control of relationships.
[At the same time,] boys are told there is something ‘wrong’ with them if they write a story where a solider shoots another soldier. But we’re supposed to support the troops, right? without question. Who are the role models for boys? Soldiers. Athletes. [Males who are] physical, often violent. Video game avatars, those who speak in grunts and solve problems with weapons.
It’s important, obviously, to empower women. But we also need to figure out a way to deal with boys and men, to teach them how to live in this world in a way that honors others and themselves.
- Photo: Beata Bieniak Fotografia
Because rape is a degradation of a woman, but it is also, in a different way, a degradation of the man too, who thinks this is who he is, this is an appropriate person to be, someone who acts on a need to dominate and humiliate. We need to teach boys, at an early age, to respect others and themselves, and how to develop behaviors that do that.”
- Photo: Beata Bieniak Fotografia
“We must redefine the concept of relationship. Where two equal individuals aspire to retain their dignity and self-worth, while working together for the family unit. All contribute equally. Cross pollination of assumed duties is also great. Boys must learn to bathe their baby sister. Men must learn to cry on the shoulder of their equally strong wife. It is a deep, re-education paradigm that must occur inside each of us. ‘Us versus Them’ dualism must be abandoned. Sexuality must be explained in depth to our children that it must only be entered into when both partners give consent.
Sex must be understood as a concretization of synergy and click between two people who love each other, and who display a respect for the other during and after sex. Procreation is the embodiment of that love into one being who is related to them via DNA; but who is also utterly unique in conciousness. A child must receive that same respect.”
Shannon Day, creatress of song, music, dance and dramatic arts; Portland, Oregon, USA:
“Sensuality is a human birthright borne from expression.
In our adult lives we have learned to ignore or vilify the inherent sensual nature that echoes our sexuality.
The joy of being an artist, specifically for me as a musician, is that my personal expression pronounces sensuality from the inside out.
Singing, dancing and acting all deliver avenues for expression, thus sensuality naturally appears. Intimacy is the core of sensuality.
To quote Richard Moss, ‘The distance between ourselves and others is the same distance between ourselves and ourselves.’
Intimacy requires self awareness, a deepening of oneself in order to accept and become vulnerable with another. Self intimacy is the first step.
As an artist, it is important for me to face fear, face shadow as well as light. From there, true art is borne. Without the intimacy of the soul, true sensuality is difficult to find…
The path of sensuality begins with honoring our bodies, desires, and embracing our greatness creates joy and self-love. If I am turned on by just me, then the world is a turn on, a sensual feast.
A daily miracle of light, shadow, breath, and touch. As organic in its changes as I am. I find the world enigmatic, sensual, stunning, and beautiful.
Passion is the fire where sensuality glows, and intimacy the coals that keep it burning.”
Annie Rose, lecturer in performing arts, playwright and theater director; Ireland:
“I’m fascinated by the organic nature of creativity – In my writing, I’ve learned to trust my intuition – it has a huge part to play in my own creative processes.
Love-making and intimacy have become almost competitive. One of the (many) things that sadden me is the way in which relationships are played out in public now, thanks to the proliferation of the media – and of journals which make sexual relationships publicly totemic.
I often wonder why we want to take something so personal, so integral to our own creative, intuitive souls, and relay it in public. Is there an unspoken race to see who can ‘connect’ with another person most profoundly?
For me, intimacy is like one dancer following another: observing the footfalls, the pauses, the levels of movement.
Focusing on the breathing, the inhalation, the rise of the chest, the pulsation of life under the skin. A profound level of awareness – and of reciprocity. When we observe the steps of another, we learn how to fall into step with them. And so we dance together.
In my work, I’m fascinated by the interplay of relationships – of nuances, silences, understandings and failures to understand. People fascinate me – from the clumsiness of hurt and misunderstanding, to the striking beauty of a single glance, or the lightest touch between lovers. My work as a playwright tries to take that sense of movement and translate it into words.
When I write, I treat words like breaths – I find a balance and a weight to the way something is spoken – the way the words are weighted – probably in the same way that a dancer would find the shift or movement on the ball of your feet, or the sweep of a hand.”
Chet Bogar, author of “A Secret Place;” Denver, Colorado, USA:
“So much of what we learn about relationships is transmitted via energy and spiritual modalities that we are unaware of. There is the more mundane verbal interaction, and then there is the joining of spirits as the ultimate intimacy. Intimacy in some ways is beyond an intellectual comprehension, and instead resides in the spiritual realm. To be intimate is to exist in the highest of human states; to be sensual.
I’ve become more spiritual than I ever have in my life. The world is so much more than what we understand it to be. Alternate universes are plausible. I think people can sometimes choose to some extent when they die. I think we should wake up every day and find something new to wonder about.
My novel that is coming out is a culmination of this heightened awareness that has happened with me gradually over recent years: a growing sensitivity to what exists beyond what our intellectual mind is able to conceive.
The protagonist in my story starts to awaken his senses; and in so doing, he starts to understand love.
He loves this woman; but he also loves her scent, her taste…
Writing this novel was cathartic for me. I was awakened to the whole sensual part of being human–what we so often disconnect from as we go about our stressful lives.
All animals use their sense of smell to recognize each other and communicate.As humans, there is a way to live, to get back in contact with that. He gets in contact with this other part of himself through falling in love with her.
But for me as a writer to be able to access this place, I had to learn how to really listento my characters. It wasn’t working to try to force things to happen just because I willed them so. I was trying to get my characters to say and do things, to feel attraction to certain characters; and they refused. Finally, I had to give up control. I had to become an observer.
There are certain things, energies, that our minds and bodies pick up that we are not consciously aware of. There is so much we do not yet understand. We have no place to put it. And so it becomes as if it doesn’t exist.
It is very freeing to be able to acknowledge to yourself that you do not know everything. It’s a very beautiful place to be in.
There is also a lot of fear that comes with opening yourself up in this way. Especially scary for the people in your life who may not want you to change.
We often surround ourselves with others who think as we do. When we change, it may feel like abandonment to them.
But the change has been so positive for me. I never used to like my kids. I mean, certainly loved them; I was their father. But I didn’t know them. So how could I understand them? I wasn’t taking the time to listen. Too many more important things to do–like earning a living. I divorced their mother when they were still very small.
Then one summer I bought this van and decided to take them on a road trip. No television, no distractions. Just miles and miles to cover with only each other for company. We talked. We listened. We got to know each other.”
“I’ve heard it said that men spend nine months in the womb trying to get out, and the rest of their lives trying to get back in. Looking at the violent rush and crash of hips, it does appear that every act of love or sex is an attempt to return to the womb.
Truly satisfying sexual intimacy is about the combustible combination of thoughts, emotions and circumstances…the call, received and felt, finding the receptive other of equal breadth and depth.
What turns me on is intimately knowing the woman I’m with–her triggers, and finding the ones that she doesn’t even know about, then pushing them. Paying attention to the little things: the way she talks, walks, dresses, all the little mannerisms that make her who she is. Even breathing together, matching her breaths…listening…observing… tracing…taking in each other’s scent…curves…It is the subtle nuances of being fully present and responsive to another human being.”
Ahhh… Now we’re getting somewhere.
In his article for Harper’s Magazine, “A Kiss is Still A Kiss,” San Francisco, California writer Edwin Dobb shares his “initiation into a style of kissing I had not experienced before, the only style that has interested me since.”
Writes Dobb: “…a gentle form of exploration, ever so lightly touching lips to lips, tongue to tongue, lips to skin, opening our mouths just briefly and only partway, then pulling back, before beginning anew, approaching and withdrawing in a slow, increasingly graceful cadence that proved surprisingly seductive.
Unlike the athletic clench, which at best provided all the enjoyment of a rigorous workout, this tender, searching form of kissing was highly erotic; everything that [we] did bore the mark of restraint, yet my insides were being rearranged, thrillingly so, and that was the wonder of it. By resisting the premature urge to devour each other, by staying at the surface…we had discovered one of the passports to romantic pleasure…a wish to be relieved of the crashing weight of solitude, the condition we all hold in common.
But then something happens. Hormones set in and suddenly attention is brought crashing downward…toward the remote, austral threshold of female anatomy…leading me away…from the affection I wanted desperately but feared even more.
So long as I believed that lovemaking was restricted to the swift, frenzied conjunction of genitals, there was little love to be found or made. Orgasms, sure, plenty of orgasms, but solitary for the most part, and in all instances, bereft of style, intelligence, humor, or any of the or any of the other subtleties that distinguish cultivated human activity from dumb reflex.”
So what does mature love look like?
she had the implant in place the last time I saw her.
she, outwardly unconcerned about a missing button
where no button hole was required
less between me
and her tender heart beating.
a “she-soldier” unarmed,
naked before me in her needing
lithe and lean
with womanly hips that flare…
sturdy, yet sensual and erotic.
hands that have endured
struggle and toil and task…
her back, tapers gently
down to waist with hands
raised to the sky.
swell and curve…
back dimple atop bottom cleft…
that her athletic thighs
and away from while
or reclined in the supine,
knees joined and raised
bestowing heaven’s praise
that any other knees knelt upon
do no justice to these
unburdened in this moment by her
she there, in my arms,
we wept, til she,
there in my arms…
. . .
Debra Benjamin, Reiki massage therapist; Miami Beach, Florida, USA:
“[Allowing another to touch us] breaks through that first line of defense we have in protecting our person. Our muscles and nerve impulses seem to know even before we consciously do, about trusting another.
A hug or a hand placed around the shoulder can bring a very real sense of comfort to someone in a time of pain or loss. It can do real magic.
You cannot touch someone without yourself being touched. So, it is a conversation, no matter who initiates, and intentions must be clear, as touch can create or destroy trust and intimacy.
I think trust creates receptivity, which is very important for touch to do its real work – whether that trust is built upon intuition or someone has proved themselves to be trustworthy through action. Then, the lines of communication are solid and well-founded, and intention can translate fluidly.
Intention in touch is no small thing. We can all sense each other’s intentions, even through the web, let alone with glances and body language. So of course, the more secure one is about their own intentions, the more effective their touch. I like to think of touch as ‘bearing witness.’ It is not of judgment, but understanding.
When I work with someone on the table, I can tell whether clients have trauma or just need some attention to wake up the body-soul-mind connection. You become a team through touch. It’s a bond that is fierce.”
. . .
With special thanks to: (in order of appearance in the article)
Florence Paule G., photographer; Dublin, Ireland. http://facebook.com/florencepauleg
Paulo Pablito Spinelli, photographer; Italy http://facebook.com/ppspinelli
Marge Piercy, novelist, poet, Wellfleet, Massachusetts
(Now accepting applications for her juried intensive poetry workshop June 20-24 Wellfleet MA. Details: www.margepiercy.com. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Benoit Courti, photographer; Paris, France
Aundra Saa Meroe, PhD, sociologist, research fellow; South Carolina, USA
Becky Tsaros Dickson, author of “I Could Tell You Stories,” and writer at thinkingtoohard13.wordpress.com; New Hampshire, USA: Becky
Damian Knox, writer at Mutuo Consensu: mutuoconsensu.wordpress.com; Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Steve Lauper, photographer; Paris, France
Richard Krawliec, playwright, author of An Invitation to Write, poet, writing workshop facilitator; Durham, North Carolina, USA
James Whitlow Delano, street photographer & founder of “The Mercy Project” with Melanie Light; Tokyo, Japan
Byong-Ho Kim, photographer; Downey, California, USA
Martin Lochner, poet, artist, political activist; Cape Town, South Africa
Dmitry Ageev, photographer; Greece
Beata Bieniak Fotografia, photographer
Shannon Day, creatress of song, music, dance and dramatic arts; Portland, Oregon, USA
Jan Cain, photographer, New York City, NY, USA
Annie Rose, lecturer in performing arts at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), playwright and theater director at Farm Girl Productions; Coleraine, Ireland
Lois Greenfield is a photographer made famous by her ability to capture the human form in motion and her use of it as a compositional element in her art.
Airborne: The New Dance Photography of Lois Greenfield. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998. ISBN 0811821552
Breaking Bounds: The Dance Photography of Lois Greenfield. San Francisco: Chronicle Books 1992 ISBN 9780811802321
New York City, New York, USA
Chet Bogar, novelist, “A Secret Place” and just out this month: “Time Sharing;” Denver, Colorado, USA:
Edwin Dobb, essayist; part-time lecturer in the Magazine Program, and the
Science and Environmental Journalism Program at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism; San Francisco, California
The Scar Project: Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon
Debra Benjamin, Reiki massage therapist; Miami Beach, Florida, USA: