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Touch Education

There is a potential revolution in every touch. Understandably feared by the hierarchy, touch is wild. A staggering amount of information is exchanged, for we both give and receive when we touch. The traditional response of vested power has been to constrain, eliminate or marginalize touch.

At least since Descartes, and likely for a millennium prior, we in the West have elevated the spirit and the mind. We denigrate the body. There is political convenience to this stand. When a populace is suffering to survive, leaders can direct attention away from themselves and toward a readily available enemy, the body. As a symbol of all that is brutish and base, the body serves as a target for frustration and a repository for powerlessness.

This creates a divisiveness that suits the rule of force. We know so little about the people around us, and fear them so deeply, because we do not touch them. We lack the natural sense of who we interact with, and instead face a large set of abstract characters in a social drama that becomes a hideous dance of terrified automatons.

With this strategy, we have come close to annihilating our world. Our loss of inherent sense of the earth beneath our naked feet (our soles) informs our alienation. We have made choices so coldly destructive that there is serious question about the continued viability of humanity and a massive number of other species.

Touch is given and received directly through this body. There can be no pretense of virtual touch, of abstract touch, or realistically of touch by proxy. Thus the aspersions cast by our political structures on the body have come to color all awareness of touch.

Yet when we attribute deep powerful meaning to a moment or interaction, we say we are touched. On some level, we know the cogent and poignant validity of touch.

Walt Whitman wrote, “your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

Given a set of magnetized letters on a refrigerator, and left to our own devices for enough time, some of us might come to understand Whitman or emulate him, but it seems vastly more efficient to have some clues, and some set of organized instruction. We are taught how to read, how to organize letters into worlds and sentences. We are taught how to comprehend and hopefully, how to think critically.

Why do we assume we know how to give and receive touch effectively? We train other communication! It takes years to learn to read and write, and to be a competent writer takes most at least decade more. Likewise it takes years to develop the skills to survive as an independent person. Yet, in this society we blithely assume that touch is different, that it is some purely instinctive behavior that has no component of skill that is attained by learning.

The choice to marginalize touch clearly has not worked well. The power of physical communication with others and the environment is a tool with incredible potential. Rather than abstract ourselves from our natural bodily engagement with life, we can apply our minds to the task of organizing the overwhelming (and thus feared), transforming it into the exciting, the workable, and ultimately the deeply re-assuring.

Touch is individualized. We perceive according to our bodily state, which includes our motor skills and choices. The irrevocably subjective nature of touch makes it free of external domination. While I can decree how you will be touched by me or others, I can not control how you will choose to organize your perception of that touch. And if I choose to touch you, I can control how I give that touch, but I can not limit the amount of information about my worldly presence that the act of touching will transmit.

Educating ourselves to give and receive touch must include supporting each student in finding useful organization of the data. This will be different for each individual. We can not give solutions for others, but we can share useful questions to help create meaning.

This use of inquiry may amount to a Socratic method for physical education. By shifting away from a work model (how you can be of use to others), to a experiential model (how am I connected to the world), a delicious paradox emerges. We become conscious of being more than human resources, and thus become more resourceful.

As we claim autonomy, we become more sophisticated in our interactions. We can offer more, for we are no longer committing to serving the abstract, be that external power or internalized voices of alienation and denigration of an embodied self. Our increased potency is born of a sense of reality grounded in things we actually touch, feel and allow ourselves to experience fully.

To ignore the possibility of informing our touch is to abandon huge potential. It may be that all moments in history are critical junctures. Surely this is one. Let us summon the combined will of billions to heal our connection to self, to others and to our world.

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November 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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