The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

TOUCH, FIFTH IN A SERIES OF SIX ESSAYS ON OUR SENSES...or how I found my way in the beginning.

How many times a day do you run your hands over a surface to gain information? If you tried to count you would loose track before the end of the first hour. Our skin is the largest organ we have. It defines us from the moment we are born, in fact before we are born.

Although we begin to develop nerves in our skin at about eight weeks in the gestation cycle, we do not actually begin to feel until around 28 weeks. When I say our skin defines us, I'm not talking about color or texture. I mean that the sense of touch gives us constant feedback 24/7, around the clock. It tells us when we're hot, when we've injured ourself, absolute necessity to survival. It brings us pleasure, tells us when the wind blows or rain falls. The feedback we take from our sense of touch never stops unless we've been injured and the connection through our spine is severed.

We know where we are in the world because of our ability to touch. And, like the sense of smell, it connects directly to our earliest memories. I remember my Mom wrapping me up in warm towels, right out of the dryer. She'd lay me against her shoulder and rub my back while she hummed to me. The feel of her hands, the warm towel and even the vibration from her humming made me feel completely loved and cared for.

The feel of my cat tucked under my chin at night, my dog snugged up to my back, are so important to me that I still have a cat that sleeps in the bed with us. If she isn't there, I have a hard time relaxing enough to sleep. And I always have a dog, always. A good part of the joy of having a dog is when she drapes herself across my lap or my feet. I love the feel of her silky fur. And every time that I've outlived one of my dogs, my last memory is always of their fur. It's how I say goodbye until we meet again, by running my hands over them gently one more time.

Without the constant feed back we get from touch, from the beginning of our lives, we would slowly waste away. We are hard wired for that stimulation. Touch shows us how to navigate through a complicated world, tells us how to suckle at our Mother's breast and how to swallow. We learn how to hold things, how to walk and how not to run in to things and injure ourselves. We learn pleasure and pain, hot and cold, pressure and release from our skin. A baby that is left alone for extended periods of time, even when well fed, dry and protected, will waste away without the feeling of someone holding them, rocking them, rubbing and patting their back. We are social creatures who crave the company of others and touch is our first sense that tells us we are not alone.

There are enumerable articles about the therapeutic benefits of a hug. When you hug someone, energy is exchanged. If you hug long enough your hearts will begin to synchronize. One of the first things I do with people who've come out to meet a horse for the first time is to show them how to run their hand down the neck and withers of a horse. And I show them how to find the pulse of a horse's heart by placing their hand just behind the left front leg ( always warning them not to do this without taking time to know the horse first, to "ask" permission to touch in such a sensitive area). Standing quietly beside a horse, feeling the heat given off by their body, the silk of their coat and the strong, slow beat of their heart is always a wonder. It's the way you hug a horse, with your hands as you run them over their body with a slow, steady pressure.

Close your eyes and move through the world, using your sense of touch to navigate. Feel with your feet, tapping your toes in small circles around you. Reach out and find the walls, furniture, fabrics, surfaces around you. Can you accurately describe an object using just your hands? How tall is it, wide, how heavy? Is it alive, moving on it's own? Does it have feathers, fur, smooth, hard glass or porcelain surfaces? Where are you in the room ( no fair peeking!) ?

The next time you sit down to a meal, close your eyes and reach out instead. And when you bring the food to your mouth, stop to feel the texture of the food. Take the time to enjoy your heightened senses. Touch your world and see with your finger tips. Feel the food against your teeth and tongue. Even the plainest meal becomes a sensory delight when you take the time to enjoy the textures of chewing, the feel against your lips of the glass when you drink. Slow down. 

Reach out and touch your world.

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