Human Touch – Part One

friends hugPart One: Hold Me Close But Don’t Touch Me

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “cuddle phenomenon”. If you haven’t, let me give you a crash course, as it supports some recent theories and soul searching questions I have had about humans and our need for affection. Professional cuddling is now a thing – I kid you not. Here is a link to one of many sites where you can hire a strictly platonic snuggle companion: SnuggleBuddies

Basically, if you could use some human physical interaction, without the sexual pressure, you can hire a complete stranger to cuddle with – this is for real.

To be honest, this trend doesn’t surprise me at all, and I have some ideas as to why. But first, do you remember the Friends episode when Joey and Ross are caught napping on the couch together? Hilarious, right? It perfectly illustrates some of what I intend to communicate in the following thoughts.

freinds_nap

Traveling in other cultures, working with people, and personal life experiences have contributed to the swarming thoughts in my mind which can be summed up in the following questions:

Are we as a society too emotionally independent and socially awkward? 

Consider other cultures when compared to the US. Many Eastern and European cultures find it customary to greet one another with a strong embrace followed by a kiss on the cheek or lips. This form of affection is not just reserved for isolated intimate relationships. Even in the ancient Christian text (Rom. 16:16) there is a verse which says to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” It is no secret that over the years, our society has become more afraid of being touched and personal barriers seem to have increased. It isn’t so much that affectionate intimacy does not exist in our culture, but we have given everyone a personal bubble and any affection outside of a committed relationship is perceived as weird, awkward, or inappropriate. Ironically, the often used expression of “personal space” is a concept that is foreign to many non-Westerner’s. How did we become so closed off?

I live in a rural community where I see this independent need for personal space even greater than I visit more urban areas. Folks in our town would rather drive their personal cars than take a bus and may secretly judge you if you do choose to ride the bus. I once told someone I was taking the bus and they asked if everything was alright. No, I did not get a DUI. I had a car, but actually preferred taking a bus. Why is that weird? In larger cities, it is common to commute via public transit where personal space is not much of an option. In general, from my personal experience and observation, personal space still seems to be coveted more by Americans than other countries.

courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Several years ago, during one of my visits to Haiti, I noticed that men on their way to work would walk down the street holding hands. This is a part of the culture which is not only socially acceptable, but completely natural. Two friends, holding hands on their way to work. Women and children do this in our part of the world, but if men were to do this, we would automatically assume they are in a committed homosexual relationship. Of the many phobia’s and fears we have developed as a society, I think one we ought to talk about is our fear of getting too close.

holding hands

Humans need affection. Society, in some ways, seems to have perverted what this looks like. Perhaps we’ve allowed some things to taint our entire view of relationships and the pendulum has swung towards fear and isolation. Not all expressions of love and affection are sexual. We’ve created a culture of fear of getting too close and have turned our part of the world into individuals who fear rejection and being alone. I often wonder if we have forced individuals into a sexual stereotypes because they may not be exactly intended to be in a committed relationship with someone of the opposite sex, but still have basic human needs which include human affection. Celibacy used to be a thing, and now that is portrayed as wrong. When we have created such narrow boarders around expectations and created a compartment based upon our own personal comforts and I ideals, we force more compartments to be created. Simply because, not everyone thinks like you or I. So we have placed negative thoughts onto innocent  interactions and turned them into being “inappropriate”. Not all human affection is inappropriate or sexual, but we have done a good job at creating a great divide. It also seems we assume that everyone is made for someone, when I happen to know some completely content singles. The pressure of media suggests that everyone should have someone, and if not, there might be something wrong with you or you are “different”.

We make basic social interactions awkward. Why do we do that? We stereotype.We are afraid of letting others get too close and worry what people might think way too much. And it’s about time we stop doing this. I’m not promoting an agenda or using this time and space to divulge my personal views on a particular hot topic which is causing even more division in our communities today. I’m simply saying that perhaps we sometimes go too far in assuming something and calling it what it isn’t until it becomes just that.

Are we so worried about what people think that we make too much of an effort to try and portray something different?

I visited a friend’s church in Portland not too long ago. It was a pretty culturally relevant non-denominational community. The pastor was covered in tattoos and it appeared as though everyone could’ve easily been cast in Portlandia. The music and vibe were great. I appreciated that they had a wall of mugs to cultivate a sense of feeling at home and taking care of the environment. For being known as a rather “hip” church, the people didn’t seem too overly pretentious and appeared genuine. Overall, it was a positive experience.

At one point during the pastor’s message, however, there was something that I don’t think was intended, but potentially gave a wrong impression. The pastor read a passage about a guy named John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples leaning on Jesus’ chest during a conversation which took place at the famous Last Supper. At which point, the pastor paused and said something like, “it wasn’t like that”, as if to insinuate a homophobic disclaimer. I’m going out on a limb here, but what a beautiful image of a friend and follower of Jesus being so close in companionship that this scene of John leaning against him was completely wholesome and without any impure motives.

The pastor did not even need to imply or bring such negative attention to such a beautiful thing. If anything, he could have at least elaborated on the appropriateness of such a display of affection and how it is different than whatever it is he was trying so hard not to imply. He potentially made it worse be saying anything at all. I wonder if churches placed more energy into showing what real love could actually look like than fighting what they believe it’s not, if more folks would have a better appreciation for and openness to Jesus.

There is a depth and display of intimacy among humans historically and culturally which is not intended to be exclusively intimate or perverse. Perhaps we as a society have been driven so far in our fears and phobias that we have driven our society to stereotype, label and segregate into communities simply because we don’t feel comfortable with any form of affection that is not somehow sexual.

This entire concept strongly manifested in my soul a couple months ago when I unwillingly entered into one of the most painful and lonely journeys of my life. As life seems to happen, I wasn’t the only person struggling when a friend posted the following image on social media, and I totally identified with it.hug me

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about the challenges in our life than to just hug it out.

While I’ve had many friends and family members who have reached out to me in this season and wanting to talk, I remember thinking and feeling that I just needed to be held in my brokenness. Sometimes, I want to just stop talking about it and feel the warmth of another’s embrace. God surprises me sometimes. I can go seasons of what feels like dry desert doubt in my faith that there could be a God who actually cares about me specifically. Even when in those seasons I still try and “do my part” by praying and reaching out. And then there will be the right person at the right time who does the unexpected not having a clue, what I was needing, but they were used to fulfill that need.

I was at the mechanic shop about to drive my car off the lot, when I ran into a friend and former housemate. I see him randomly in the community a couple times a year, but we have not stayed in contact very well. When he asked how I was doing, I awkwardly shuffled my feet and eventually told him I was walking through a divorce while I looked down at the ground to fight back tears. He asked if he could pray for me, and I accepted. What happened next surprised me. I was expecting a 30 second blessing prayer that everything would “just” workout with very minimal contact. What I received was a full embrace at the mechanic shop which lasted well beyond the awkward threshold. It also happened to be one of the hottest record breaking days in the summer. Two grown men embracing, sweating, crying, and praying in front of a mechanic shop. I don’t even care right now what onlookers must have been thinking.

The next day I ran into a another friend of my parents who I have seen randomly throughout the years. I was at the local outdoor store. She is a cancer survivor, a lover of God and people and an absolute rock star. She doesn’t succumb to cultural expectations of personal space in public settings. I appreciate that about her.. She is also a “hugger”, which might make some people uncomfortable. I appreciate that about her too. I used to be more of a hugger. She always seems to run into me in a moment of need. I hope that I, too,  can be that person for others who struggle on their journey of life. With little information, she felt compelled to embrace me and pray for me.

In both instances, it was as if the same God who saw me in my distress,  whispered a clear directive into her and my other friend’s spirits to fulfill a long unmet need. When friends or family are going through difficult times, it can be easy to talk about it over and over. Professional therapists make decent money in listening, and there is healing in talking, but I have learned that there is also healing in the simplicity of human touch. My next post will be more specifically about how physical touch interacts with mental illness.

As I conclude part one of this topic of human’s need for affection, I invite you to join in the conversation me commenting below following my blog. This journey of discovering what it means to be human is painful and surprisingly beautiful. It requires strength, bravery and vulnerability. Please join in on the conversation and peace to your journey.

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Being Human

courtesy of Marcus74id @ Freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of Marcus74id @ Freedigitalphotos.net

Lately I have been processing both the struggle and beauty of what it means to be human. It hasn’t been easy, but it has awoken hope to my weary soul.

I will be the first to admit that I would like to be a super human, not just a human. Sometimes I would like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t need anyone or anything. To be someone who is incapable of feeling hurt or pain. To walk around with an invisible shield to keep others from seeing my own brokenness, and somehow possess the ability to not make any mistakes. And that’s when I wake up and realize, I’m not invincible, I’m a human being. Humans make mistakes, humans are broken and humans have the ability to feel. Some days I see these as curses, but more and more I see them as gifts to remind us that we need each other and we are incapable of making it in this world without others to help us through the good times and the bad.

While the following list is by no means conclusive, it simply summarizes a whole heap of what I have been learning about myself and others in recent months. I hope these words can cultivate encouragement and hope on your journey as well.

courtesy of stock images @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of stock images @ freedigitalphotos.net

Humans Make Mistakes.

I don’t know how many times, even in this last week, I’ve said the words, and “I don’t want to be ‘that’ guy”. How much of our time do we spend comparing our mistakes to the mistakes of others? We consciously or unconsciously think, “Well, at least I’m not like that person over there.” Let’s be honest, as long as we are human we all are going to make mistakes. Perhaps our first mistake is subconsciously telling ourselves that we can never make a mistake. Making mistakes means I am capable of hurting others. Ouch. I had to sit with this one for days. I have no problem being the victim of someone else’s mistakes, whether intentional or not, and feeling hurt by the circumstances. I’ve been hurt, a lot. However, a recent sobering reality I am learning to accept is I also have the capability of hurting others with my words or actions whether I intend to or not. I used to always think that as long as my heart or intentions were “good” in my little world, however someone perceives or takes what I say or do is entirely their problem. It’s a painful reality to discover that I am capable of making a decision which could cause someone else to be hurt, especially when I don’t intend to. Perfectionism does not help my situation. And while I have my faith, religion hasn’t helped my situation either. I have created this imaginary world around myself that makes me think I can do no wrong. I didn’t say I was incapable of doing wrong, but I didn’t give myself room for making any mistakes. Does that make sense?

I make mistakes all the time. I acknowledge them and I over apologize for things I didn’t even do. I know I fail time and time again. But I don’t like to know that my mistakes have impacted others. This causes pain and we humans have a difficult time processing this emotion. (I’ll talk about feelings next.) When one creates this false existence or places too high of expectations on themselves, it takes the personal flogging session to a whole new level of self-loathing and abuse. We end up living in shame and regret and we should really stop that. Making mistakes helps remind us that we are human. I’m not suggesting that we should shrug off every mistake as though it is nothing. However, I am suggesting that we shouldn’t burry ourselves in a pile of shame which keeps us from being able to move forward. I think my new favorite author, Brene Brown, would agree.

Many of us humans, I believe, struggle with the need to be so independent that they don’t need anything from anyone, especially sympathy or grace. We all need grace, because we all make mistakes, and there is nothing wrong with this. Could some of our mistakes be rather catastrophic and cause significant damage? Yes. But I’m not talking about learning to accept that we will make mistakes without understanding that we will still be held accountable and face the appropriate consequences of such mistakes. I am suggesting that we should go a little easier on ourselves when we do make mistakes. By hiding behind a façade of perfectionism or self-loathing, we work so hard at giving others the impression that we’re better than what they see. Maybe we are, and maybe we’re not. What I do know is we should probably stop pretending that we can do no wrong, because everyone else who is human can see right through that. Give room for making mistakes and discovering your humanity. Stop pretending to be someone you’re not. Certainly we all should strive to be better, but not at the cost of missing the lessons we learn from being human and making mistakes along the way.

courtesy of Sira Anamwong, freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of Sira Anamwong, freedigitalphotos.net

Humans Feel

I took my son to see the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. We’ve already seen it twice. He loves the Lava song short film before the movie even starts. In fact, he tried to get his mommy and daddy to sing it together during one of our exchanges. Yep, he tried to parent trap us. It was cute, innocent and awkward. If you haven’t had a chance to see Inside Out yet, you should definitely add it to your list of “must sees”. I believe the writing and imagination was genius. If I had to pick a favorite scene, I think it would be when Riley was crying candy tears and Sadness sat with him through the process until he was finished. At one point, Joy tried to intervene and Sadness took control of the situation. I’m not going to lie, I cried too. At this moment in the movie you see the expression on Joy’s face when she finally realizes that Sadness has just as an important role as Joy. Friends, we can’t be happy all of the time. Sometimes we have to sit with our feelings, even if they’re not pleasant, and allow sadness, grief, or loneliness to guide our emotions. It’s a significant part of the healing process and feeling those feelings deeply is part of what makes us human. We can’t be happy all of the time and we certainly aren’t “fine”.

We live in a culture who strives to find more ways to numb the pain. When we numb the pain, we run the risk of numbing the joy. If we numb pain and joy, we can run the risk of withholding other necessary feelings like love, affection, empathy and compassion. It’s no wonder we see and hear of multiple incidents of self harm or substance overdose. People find certain feelings unbearable, while others find the lack of feeling so unbearable that they risk losing their life just to feel something. We need to give ourselves permission and space to feel deeply, to both grieve and to feel joy. I hope that my son learns how to feel and express his feelings more than he discovers the art of masking or covering up his feelings. Feelings are so very important and vital to human existence. If we numb our feelings, we barely exist.

Perhaps if we don’t allow ourselves to dig deep into feeling great sorrow or loss, we may never experience the fullness of joy that is also available. Maybe those who feel real emotions more deeply are able to celebrate joy more freely when their time for grieving is over. So much of our culture feels nothing. We even have medications which help those who struggle with depression and anxiety, but some of the side effects can cause the loss of feeling in other areas and increase the risk of suicide or broken relationships. This is a great challenge; because I think it is important to manage our feelings well and I am grateful such medications exist to help folks manage. However, I’m afraid as a society as a whole, we’ve lost our ability to feel things how we should and we need to get our feeling back.

courtesy of usamedinez @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of usamedinez @ freedigitalphotos.net

Humans are Broken.

Being broken is a beautiful gift life offers us to remind us we are still human. There’s something refreshing about digging deeper and giving ourselves permission to say, “No, actually, I’m not really FINE, I’m actually broken and I could use some encouragement or reassurance.” We all have flaws and weaknesses. Whether physical, emotional, or mental trauma, we have all experienced a certain amount of brokenness. While they may be varying degrees of brokenness based upon severity or depravity of difficult circumstances, we’ve all been given the opportunity to become broken. Brokenness used to scare me. It takes a strong dose of vulnerability to recognize we are broken. When our journey takes us to a place of being broken, I believe we experience a kind of joy and resilience that exists and is far richer for those who allow themselves to be broken and vulnerable. Lately, I’ve been apologizing to some friends about being a mess. It’s no secret that walking through a divorce causes you to experience its own version of brokenness. While I think it may be healthy to acknowledge that life circumstances can make things messy, It’s not very fair to ourselves or the process to assume that brokenness is the same as being a hot mess. Perhaps there’s varying stages of brokenness that go anywhere from being a messy broken and a healthier version of broken. Brokenness can be good, as long as we don’t wallow too long in the pit of messy despair. Allowing ourselves to move forward in the process of healing from whatever it was that broke us in the first place, does not necessarily mean we should try to cover up or hide the scars of our affliction. Scars, like stretch marks, are reminders that something excruciatingly painful gave birth to something infinitely more beautiful. Allowing ourselves to be broken is a natural part of understanding what it is to be human. Being broken can get messy, and it can be beautiful.

Humans Have Needs

courtesy of zirconicusso @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of zirconicusso @ freedigitalphotos.net

As I mentioned before, humans have needs, but we don’t like to talk about them. Some of us who have been hurt and broken would rather build up walls around our soul and declare, “I don’t need anything or anyone to make me happy.” LIES. We all have needs and it includes other broken people. While I could spend all day long discussing various needs we have as humans, including love, attention, affection and not to mention, food, water, and shelter; I would like to focus on one thing we all need that is probably the most difficult thing to accept or process.

WE NEED GRACE. We need to give it and we need to learn to accept it.

When we come to the realization that we need to be extended grace either from a loving God or from one another, things get humble and messy really fast. To accept that I need grace means that I am also accepting the fact that I feel shame, I make mistakes, and I am broken. Pretending that we are none of these things doesn’t really help our situation, nor does it cancel out the reality that we still need grace. How does one accept grace without the ability to extend it to others? I don’t think that’s possible. That’s one of the beautiful things about grace is that the more we give, the more we get. Certainly there are moments and sometimes long drawn out seasons where we don’t feel we have the capacity to give it out while we sit with our brokenness and humanity. But there will be a time when you will have the opportunity to give it out the more you allow yourself to accept it.

This last Sunday, I sat during a time of silence at our local Quaker meeting, a gathering of Friends. In the silence while my mind and heart were processing all of these things, the following words resonated in me:

Sometimes we have to walk through darkness to better see and appreciate the Light.

Whether it is through being needy, expressing our feelings, brokenness, or making some mistakes along the way, sometimes we learn that we have to walk through darkness to better see and appreciate the light. I think this is what it means to be human. Recognizing that we need to feel, we need to be broken and we do make mistakes and resisting the urge to numb or pretend everything is fine when it’s not is what it means to be human.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to say, “No, I am actually not ‘fine’, I am simply human.”