Program by Hiddai Levi
Essay/Notes by Lorelle VanFossen
To right the unrightable wrong,
to love pure and chaste from afar,
to try when your arms are too weary,
to reach the unreachable star.
Song, The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha
Exploring the psychology and "symptoms" of touch with Hiddai Levi was a revelation for many Life Makeover participants at the last meeting. Here is a summary of the meeting.
How important is touch?
Hiddai Levi, a touch and massage therapist, explained how we come into this world with certain expectations. These expectations are formed in the womb. We have lungs we can’t use in the womb, created with the expectation of breathable air upon birth. We have eyes, which can’t see in the womb, designed with the expectation of sight, as are our ears designed for the expectation of sound and our mouths and tongues for the expectation of taste. All parts of our body, including our musculature, digestive system, everything is designed with expectation of usge outside of the womb, but inside, they are fairly useless.
The largest organ in our body is our skin. When we are born, it has the expectation of touch. It craves touch. Watch a child examine everything with their hands and all their senses. With this tactile receptor covering our entire body, it is designed to be touched and to touch, awaiting input upon birth. Touch gives us information in the beginning, hot, cold, and texture. Touch gives us information from the moment of birth about the environment around USA, including the touch of those who care for us and how they touch us. Many of us have a real physical memory of being held by our parents. In studies done with monkeys, baby monkeys deprived of touch after birth usually die. It isn’t much different with human babies. Touch is an expectations upon birth usually given by our parents and caretakers.
As we grow, touch moves from instinct and natural to psychological. Touch starts to carry the "weight" of emotions and manners, social etiquette steps in. Children learn the rules of touch by watching adults, especially family members, interact with touch, as well as being told when it is appropriate to touch and when not. Judgment is passed on touch and touching fades from our everyday life when we start to walk and get independent. As a mobile child, we are soon taught that there are good touches and bad touches, and to not let any one you don’t know touch you. Before most children learn that, they instinctively move towards anyone with open arms, ready for embraces and kisses, until the behavior is taught out of them and touching gains rules. Touch moves from parents to friends as the child grows, through wrestling and fighting, arm and hand holding, incorporating touch into play. As a teenager, touch becomes sexual and few teenagers receive more than compulsory hugs from their parents, and the rest are limited to hand shakes, until the teenager encounters dating, where the touching rules change again. As an adult, touch only comes from strangers with hugs and hand sakes or through intimate relationships. Once the adult has a family, touch fills their life again through their children, until the children start to learn that touch has rules. Until grandchildren enter the stage, most touch will then come from one person, their partner, or few people, until death.
The Memory of Touch
Hiddai asked everyone to close their eyes and think back to their earliest memory of being held, hugged, and surrounded by loving touch. Then he asked people to remember the feeling and memory of being hugged at other times in our life by different people, including someone we loved or felt loved by. Then he asked us to recall the feeling we have when we hold a baby in our arms. We discussed the different feelings associated with the different hugs and how people remembered them.
Some people couldn’t remember being hugged or touched as a child, claiming their family wasn’t a "touching" family. They accept that as a baby they probably were held, but their childhood memories didn’t recall much if any touching. We talked about how that felt and what it means to them today, whether they now make a point of incorporating touch into their lives with their children and others, or if they perpetuate the behavior with their families and loved ones. Some did one or the other, while others found a middle of the road approach, bringing touch in, more than their parents did, but not as much as they might really want to, evaluating the level of touch at each step of the way.
For others, they remembered hugs and touches of parents as part of the communication of love, giving them a real sense of security and self worth. These people passed on their hugs and touches to their children, even hugging them without judgment as adults. For many of these people, they seemed to have a fairly high sense of self and self confidence, unlike some of those who didn’t have much if any recalled touch in their childhood, who tended to be distant in their relationships and personalities, generally speaking.
Most felt big differences between hugging a family member and a friend or loved one. Usually these were considered more special and a distinct feeling from hugging a family member. Hugging a baby brought many to almost tears as they spoke of the feeling of hope and unconditional love that comes from a baby and how they poured their hopes and love into them as they held them. When it came to hugging someone they didn’t know, or know well, the experience changed radically. People talked about their judgments and evaluations of the touches they got from others. Many, especially women, would pour judgments and stories into their interpretation of touch, making assumptions about intentions, actions, and meanings behind the touch without verifying the reality.
Listening Through Touch
The next exercise involved one group touching individuals in the other group by just standing behind them and placing their hands upon the other’s shoulders. The lesson was to "listen" to the messages coming through your hands from the other individual. The standing group placed their hands slowly, feeling the texture of their clothing, the tension or relaxation of the muscles under the skin and clothes, and the rhythm of their breathing, just "listening" through their hands to the other person. When they were ready, they could move their hands slowly to another position, rest them, listen through the hands, and then move on.
Hiddai asked those who did the touching how it felt and what did they "hear" or learn from the other person. Many felt resistance, discomfort, and tension. Others felt some relaxation from the other person. Others felt just the clothing and not the person underneath. Some people were able to match the other person’s breathing, while others couldn’t. Those receiving the touch agreed with those who touched them that they felt the same as the "toucher" felt, often a sense of resistance, discomfort, and tension, and a sense of disconnection. For those who felt a connection, there was relaxation and a connectedness.
Hiddai explained that when we touch, we are often doing so one-sided. We usually give touch and not "take" touch in. Rarely do we ever listen through touch to the messages the other person is sending. It is important to redevelop your sense of touch to be aware of the messages received through touch. This awareness give us lots of information such as the other person’s willingness to be touched, how they like to be touched, how they are feeling at the moment, and many more messages.
Touching Animals is Okay – Humans Not
"I often wish I was a dog," Hiddai proclaimed to the group. "They have no fear when it comes to asking for love and touch." He explained how pets are totally free to come up to someone and to press against them, put their head on a lap or against a hand, and to ask for touch and for love from a human without fear of rejection. If they don’t get it, they just move to the next person, and around until they find someone willing to cuddle. Humans are one of the few creatures on this planet with rules regarding touch. "There is a time and a place…" he teased.
Many people give their pets more love than their partners and family members, he went on to explain. There is a freedom which comes from the unconditional love of a pet and many people take advantage of it, making up for the touch so absent in their life.
The last exercise the group did was to divide into two lines apart from each other. One group was to walk to the other group, each moving at their own pace dependent upon the "vibes" of the other person and their willingness to receive your touch (hug). Many people just walked right up to the other person and hugged them, completing the exercise as intended, while others walked slowly and really contemplated the other person and their needs. Some of these ended up in hugs, other with hand shakes, others just standing close but apart, sensing the other’s need not to "get too close". One participant was late to the meeting and the woman he was to walk towards called out first that she had to know his name before she could go on with the exercise. "I want to know who I’m going to hug!" She wasn’t comfortable hugging a stranger. When the group shifted down one person to repeat the exercise with a new person, two men lined up and that caused a shift in the process as one man didn’t want to hug another man and some others in the group agreed. This was interesting that men touching men brought up resistance, but women touching women was considered natural. Men touching women first was uncomfortable for many, but women touching men seemed to be okay.
What Does Touch Mean to You?
People had a wide range of reactions to the process and many learned a lot about themselves and their thoughts about touch. Many were jazzed at being hugged so much during the program and actually addressing a sensitive issue for themselves. Some felt a new freedom, released from their self imposed restrictions, to be able to touch and hug people. Others were excited to know that they weren’t the only ones who grew up in a "touchless" home. Most agreed that they needed and wanted more touch in their life and that they had to work on the issues that prevented it. All gained new insights into their usage and feelings about touch.
To contact Hiddai Levi,
Call 972-(0)5-295-7161 in Israel
He is available for a wide range of consultations, trainings, individual massage and touch therapy programs. While Hiddai travels throughout Israel, he is based at Kibbutz Lotan near Eilat, which hosts a wide range of massage, yoga, and holistic programs. They have lovely lodging available and a wide range of tourist and educational services available.
The Life Makeovers year long project has completed in Tel Aviv with Lorelle VanFossen and Ruth Alfi, but you can get involved or start your own group through the author of the book, Life Makeovers, Cheryl Richardson.