Why is it our lives tend to become empty, hard, sick and indifferent without the touch of someone we love? Why do we seem to lose our sense of will and purpose without this loving touch?
A few years ago [in the 1980s] I was privileged to visit an orphanage in Eastern Europe where strange diseases were attacking the children. The staff found this puzzling. If you walked through the rooms you would see these tiny tots gaze at you with a haunting stare. They looked more like shrivelled up old men and women. There was no sound of laughter, no sounds of children at play. They were slow to learn to stand and walk. Deep moans and long sighs were common. They had little appetite for food, became ill and died easily. The bewildered staff did not know what was wrong, and did not know what to do.
Then, some wise soul with a healthy mothering instinct made a suggestion. She suggested that teenage girls from the local school be invited to visit the orphanage. She then instructed these girls to act like mothers to the children. She told them to pick the babies up, caress them and cuddle them.
As if by magic, a miracle occurred. The caressing and cuddling made a dramatic and healthy change in the children. It was so obvious from the first session that the girls were invited to revisit the orphanage again and again. With every visit the transformation continued. The children’s posture improved. They lost their look of old age. They began to eat. They now smiled, gurgled and laughed. They no longer became ill so easily. They started to sparkle with life. These children had been starved of simple human physical affection.
This story makes me wonder: what is there about the sense of touch that can bring about such a miracle?
The physical nature of touch
Experiments in sensory deprivation have taken place with human volunteers. While physically confined, they were deprived of audio and visual stimulation and temperature changes. Such deprivation of normal sensory input led their minds to wander. They entered a world of fantasy. They began to hallucinate. Extensive and intensive sensory deprivation is not healthy. As long as we have a body, the world of sensory input is important to all of us.
Touch is probably the least explored of our senses, yet it may be the most important to our well-being. Significantly enough, there is a close relationship between our skin and our nervous system. In the early days in our mother’s womb, our body-to-be is composed of three sets of special cells. One set (mesoderm) will form our muscles and bones. Another set (endoderm) will form our inner organs such as the stomach, intestines and lungs. The third set (ectoderm) forms our skin and nervous system. Thus our skin arises from the same tissue as our brain.
The skin contains millions of sensory receptors. They are the doors through which the physical world enters our consciousness. All-told, we have five senses. The more obvious of these message receivers are our eyes, ears, nose and tongue.
Touch, the so-called fifth sense, may be the most complex. There are millions of sensory receptors in the skin; yet, any one small square of skin is different from any other square. The number of pain, heat, cold and other touch detectors will vary from one spot to another. We can see this, as the sensitivity of our fingertips exceeds that of the back of our thighs.
There are some four varieties of the strictly tactile sense of touch. They range from light touch to deep pressure to pain. Again, their distribution in the skin varies as to type and quantity. If you place two fingers 2cm to 5cm apart on someone’s back, he or she may not be sure whether you have placed one finger or two. The human back has less light touch receptors than other skin areas. This is why patients are often very vague as to the exact spot of back pain.
The use of the human hand for therapeutic purposes goes back to ancient Egyptian times. It is claimed that the Egyptians felt a therapeutic energy (that they termed sa ankh) flowing from the fingertips. There are stories of the pharaoh holding daily morning healing sessions during which he made vertical passes, with his fingertips, up and down a patient’s back. This, traditionally, was the beginning of hand therapy. The highly sensitive fingertips were approximating the insensitive human back.
The Greek Epidaurus tablets showed how the Ancient Greeks manipulated the spine of patients. Hippocrates, Galen and Soranus fostered this therapeutic approach. Hippocrates stated: “In all disease look to the spine.” The chiropractic doctor finds an area of spinal irritation. He manipulates that area to reduce the irritation and normalise nerve impulses from the spine. The osteopathic doctor will do soft tissue manipulation of any lesions occurring at the spinal areas. The Rosicrucian technique is to apply the fingers and body’s electromagnetic energy to the sympathetic chain ganglia that lie along the spine. Massage, digital acupressure and trigger point are other hand techniques that strive to improve human health.
Tender loving care
Aside from the therapeutic nature of touching, your body’s sense of touch can be an avenue for you to help yourself. Stretching can be a tonic to certain touch receptors. A rocking chair is good for your nervous system as is a bath or shower, towelling yourself dry, and brushing your hair. Applying deep pressure on cramped muscles will relax them.
A friendly hand on the shoulder during a crucial time is an uplifting and helpful gesture. Despair and tension can lock the shoulder muscles tight; massaging with the hands helps those muscles to relax.
Talking and exchanging ideas is good, but friends and loved ones need more. They need the occasional physical touch generated from sincerity, genuineness and love. Get down on the living room floor occasionally and play with your children. Most animals follow their instincts and play with their young. It’s fun and it’s healthy. Even the most ferocious of animals have been known to become domesticated pets through large doses of affectionate care. Infants are in special need of this. Probably the most helpful thing to do to a withdrawn and frightened or badly disturbed child is to hold them, hug them and talk softly to them.
A ‘non-touching’ society?
A judge who had hundreds of juvenile offenders and their parents before him made an observation that bothered him. In all of these cases he never saw a parent put a loving, protective arm around a youngster’s shoulders. Does the lack of the loving touch in our early years lead to emotional instability in our later years?
We should seek ways of applying the loving touch. This should be done with a genuine concern for another’s welfare. When is the last time that you firmly grasped your partner as if he or she were your whole life to you? Your spouse may well be just that.
Have you held any babies lately? Have you cuddled them? They need so much loving physical contact in those early years. Have you ever unashamedly hugged a good friend? Embracing friends, once observed mainly in Latin countries, is now commonplace. It’s friendly and it’s healthy.
Psychologists are realising that a ‘no-touch’ society is a sick society. It certainly is out of touch with the needs of our psychic and nervous systems.
To work the magic of touch there is one guide for us all. Let it always be from our heart. We are the most wholesome when our heart is expressed in our handiwork and when our own heart is touched by the handiwork of others.
After we are born we are left with no apparent physical attachments, but let us not fool ourselves – we all still need occasional wholesome elevating physical contacts.Our nervous systems, our emotions and our hearts thrive on it. We need to touch those we love and care for. They need our heartfelt touch. For, wherever there is genuine love and true concern, then there is a certain magic in the human touch.
Reprinted with permission from The Rosicrucian magazine.
Dr John Palo (1919-2002), a native New Yorker, was a chiropractic orthopedist and Rosicrucian mystic for more than half a century. He was a humanitarian, and the executive director of the Alliance for Universal Freedom of Religion. Many of his articles appeared in the Rosicrucian Digest in the 1940s-80s.
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