A favorite author of mine, Nick Totton, asks us to use touch as an analogy for perception instead of sight.
Instead of the words 'I hear you' or 'I see', try I feel you....
Instead of the words 'she is crying', try She is moved...
Instead of looking/seeing try closing your eyes. That same human interaction happens, but now you take it in differently...
What happens when you feel the world, instead of see it? What happens when you use words like touch...
How does it touch you? How do you touch it? (a subway....a train. a panhandler on a busy street. a coworker in an elevator. the deli for lunch. Imagine...)
To me, it feels like a strange dance, one in which I’m suddenly far more present and active. I walk on the earth. I move within this universe. I bump into other beings/inhabitants. I change my environment when I cut some flowers for an arrangement. I participate in a process of decay when I recycle those broken rotten wood pieces into the compost.
The sense of sight and all it's attendant words are othering, distancing, separating. When I say "I see you" it already has a flavor of distance. When I say "I hear you"....less so. When I say "I feel you"....wow. Now we're right up in it. Now we are connecting.
Perception is not limited to sight. We hear and smell and feel and sense each other and the world in a vast number of ways. In therapy, as in the world, we are real bodies with all the sense perceptions inherent in those bodies. I experience you through my ears and skin and nose and eyes. Through my heart. Through whatever it is that gives us that sense of perceiving a person's "energy" or "aura".
Yes. Here we are.... right here. Up close and personal. I feel you. Smell you. See you. It's a lived experience. It's intimate, magical, frightening, grounding, reassuring, disturbing.... it's Real.
Take a moment and notice that. How the screen in front of you can be an object of touch as well as sight. Perhaps there is a smell to notice in your environment. Maybe these words are "touching" something in you....resonating some part of you. (what is that?....how?) And notice how it's multidirectional! For example you might touch the screen.... you feel that in your fingers, perhaps all the way up your arm. There's an intentionality there....a direction. Let it turn around and notice that you are also being touched by the screen. Notice how you broadcast as well as receive touch. This experiment is even more potent in touching yourself or another person.
In therapy with me, you’ll hear me frequently ask “how”…. HOW do you move in the world? HOW do you connect or disconnect? HOW do you “know”? As we grow, we just get into patterns of interaction and being and thinking. We unconsciously sort experiences into categories so that we don't have to pay as much attention. It's efficient, normal and okay. In fact, it give us answers that give us stability, safety, security. (we like and need that…..)
But a lot of the time people come to therapy because that normal process isn't working anymore. Something is missing, boring, sad, wrong, or we are just freaking out on some level that doesn't 'make sense'.... That too is normal! It's just that we've gotten a little too locked into a closed system. Time to open it up.
So. we need new data.... new experiences....new processes...new outcomes. We need to get out of our own habits.
Playing with your senses is one of the joys of being human. It puts us in the realm of novelty, curiosity, adventure, and creativity. We ask 'what if?' or "what happens when...." This is how we learn and grow. (Check out Steven Porges' Polyvagal Theory for some fascinating reading on the physiology of play and the social engagement system). Play puts us in the realm of the imaginal...the 'as if'.... it's relational, interactive, exciting, scary, fun, and hugely important for learning new things.
So when I ask “How”…. I’m looking to start over. To play with experience a little bit... to explore your senses and find some of those discarded and ignored bits and pieces that might actually be of interest to us now.
'Can you hold that belief if you sit up straighter'? 'What happens to your breathing in this moment of feeling really understood and connected'?
We can play with our interactions too: 'Wow. when you sit up straighter, I feel invigorated, like we're about to go do something exciting'. Or, 'my gut is sinking and my shoulders are hunching down as I feel the weight of your depression'.... Play is fundamentally interactive. If you...then I? If I..... then you? It's how we learn to interact with the world on our terms, engaged, and alive.
Of course therapy doesn't always feel playful. Those parts of us that get stuck trying to figure out why and make everything make sense....they are strong. they keep us alive. they are doing an important job and we need to respect that. And many of us have traumas that disrupt this system. But that doesn't mean we can't find our way home, and through our bodily senses is perhaps one of the most real and direct ways possible. Finding that place in yourself where you can play, be curious, take risks.... that's where you start to discover yourself anew. That gives hope. Hope gives energy. Energy gives resources....
We'll get there. You may need to feel supported as you do it on your own. You may need to experience play with me or another. You may need to simply be able to imagine or fantasize it.... It doesn't matter. Whatever your path, it's the way home. My greatest joy in therapy is when we discover that place where are able to play together. Sometimes scary, sometimes fun, but always I know it by this feeling of YES.....HERE is the life force. Here there is flow. And when we find that...well. Then we're on the path.
-with love and gratitude.