Periods of extended skin to skin contact with another person are usually associated in our society with sex or mothering. Which is why I was a bit disconcerted at first when, during a bodywork session with my friend Pam Trice, Pam gently laid her hands on my forehead and kept them there. I had no apt category in which to put this kind of touch.
Part of me was on alert – what was she going to do next? She didn’t do anything – or at least not anything that would normally be called action. After what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only a minute or so, she moved her hands to a different part of my face, near my ears. Later, she placed her pointer finger and thumb on either side of both of my outer ears. This seemed like a very odd place to be touched.
I felt in a way that she was trying to sense/hear something from my body through touching my ears, a part of my body which connects me with the world through sound. I felt vulnerable, in a way, because I know so much can be communicated through bodily touch. What would Pam think if she picked up something about me that is embarrassing, perhaps even something of which I was not myself aware?
But what I sensed from Pam’s touch was gentle, non-judgmental. Summed up in one word, Pam’s touch was presence. This is nothing world-shattering. But if you think about it, how many times do your really receive the gift of someone’s full presence, especially as it is communicated through the body? We are so often distracted in each others’ presence, not fully paying attention, our own mental monologues and expectations going on in the background even as we half-listen to other people.
What Pam was providing for my body parallels something that Parker Palmer has called “circles of trust” for the soul. Circles of trust are two or more people who create a space for each other for the soul to come out of hiding. Palmer likens it to holding a small bird – you do not wrap your fingers too tightly around it, smothering it. You also don’t push it to fly off before it is ready. You simply hold a space for the soul come into its own.
Bodywork is like creating a circle of trust for the body. Our bodies are often “in hiding,” fearful of others’ intentions when they touch us, tensed up and defensive as we try to prevent body language from giving off how we truly feel. By providing a scaffolding of gentle presence through physical touch, not invasive, but also not evasive, bodywork practitioners hold open a space in which the body can “come out” and speak.
Our bodies may speak in bold or subtle ways. In Pam’s presence during bodywork, I was able to attend more closely to my own heartbeat, not just in my chest but throughout my limbs, fingers, and scalp. Using cranio-sacral techniques, Pam brought to my attention some imbalance of weight in my pelvis area. This awareness helped me to focus on the tension I held in this area and begin to release the weight, confident that my body was being held in a safe space.
Having received the gift of presence in Pam’s caring, gentle, and non-demanding touch, I truly felt more at home in my own skin, more confident to live with integrity in my body.
Pam’s musings about bodywork can be found at her blog “Bodywork in Progress.”