We use these words as metaphor. We don’t actually mean touch each other when we say ‘keep in touch’; we don’t mean touching someone when we make contact with them… EM Forster’s epigram “only connect” was his suggesting nothing more than a cerebral connection: no actual touching, thanks.
And that’s where we’ve gone wrong.
This is the first of a series of posts about touch, connection, contact, being hands-on. Touch is one of the three keys to curing loneliness – and for that matter, solving many of our human ills and failings.
Gerry Pyves, who trained me in bodywork techniques (aka massage), told us on our first session that he strongly believed that if everyone had one hour of massage every week, the NHS would be redundant. It sounded pretty outrageous at the time, but as I learned and observed and listened and read and experienced, I became convinced that he was right.
Massage – expert, intuitive, safe bodywork – does far more than make you feel relaxed, or smoothing out knots in muscles. It affects your mind as much as your body, and long-term can bring about radical changes that would amaze anyone who isn’t in the know.
More than massage, touch is the most neglected and misunderstood of our five senses, but one of the most important. Touch is critical in the very early stages of life, and probably the last sense we relinquish when we die.
But the matter of touch, or the lack of it, never comes up in discussions about loneliness. I’ve been monitoring this for 18 months – I have a Google alert for the word ‘loneliness’ and must have read hundreds of articles, blog posts, papers and studies about the subject. The only time the importance of touch has been implied was in short articles about someone inventing gadgets to hug you – most recently a vest which will ‘hug’ you when your beloved is away. But these are mechanical solutions, which don’t provide the living energy we need.
There is more than enough evidence – despite the lack of research into the sense of touch in mammals, let alone humans – to show that a key cause of loneliness is the lack of touch, and not just the lack of social activity. The sad irony is that the simplest of touches – putting your hand on someone else’s shoulder, arm, hand – is the most effective way of dismissing loneliness. It needs no words, no explanation, no expertise – only a kindly intention. It’s not dangerous or expensive; it’s free, simple, and universal.
- Free the Body of Sadness – Putting the Pieces Back Together After a Life-Changing Event (hofholistichealingcenters.com)
- Top 10 tips why to do baby massage? (healthyidea.wordpress.com)
- Philosophy of Touch (suanqu.wordpress.com)
- Healing Hands for Seniors (joyofspa.com)