My Very Last Blog (well, maybe!)
Those of you who know me (and perhaps a few of you who don’t) have sensed that the way I carry Touch Practice has changed over this past year. I have changed too. This might be the last time I ever write in “blog” format on the topic of Touch Practice, although I am fairly certain it will not be the last writing I do on the subject.
As we celebrate the returning of the light, the lengthening of days, and the vigil we keep for Spring and for new growth, I thought it would be a good time to give you an update of where I have been, and where I’m headed.
I first created the Touch Practice website–and this blog–years ago, with a specific sense of purpose, almost obligation. I felt driven to put Touch Practice out into the world, committed to making sure that other people knew about this thing I had discovered for myself. I felt an obligation to the dozens of men who turned to me after a practice and asked, “what do you call this? This is amazing. Are you going to write a book about this? Men need this.”
Well, no book–but I did build a website, and more specifically many dozens of blogs, articles and reference links that were designed to put the work out there in the world. Eventually, I started offering workshops in order to teach, in person, what I had learned from my practice.
My work there is finished. My goal is accomplished. Touch Practice is out in the world. After practicing with more than a thousand men and running workshops ranging from two hours to three days that have enrolled more than a hundred men, Touch Practice is out there.
There are some who carry it, as I do, as a spiritual practice for which they ask nothing in return. There are others–bodywork professionals who make their living through touch–who have modified and adapted Touch Practice or who have been inspired by it to create their own unique, original practices. These practices exist from Albany to San Diego and Orlando to Boise, and those are just the ones I know about.
There are men carrying Touch Practice, or practicing bodywork inspired by it, in Brazil, Ireland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Spain, and Saudi Arabia (be careful, my friend.) There are groups of men committed to touch as a form of community (MELT: Men Embracing Loving Touch–is one that is very dear to my heart.) There is a group of soldiers on a base in California committed to using “stealth Touch Practice,” as they call it, to help men with combat trauma.
So, my initial mission is accomplished. Touch Practice is out in the world. When I die, my experience will not die with me. My hope is to slowly convert the blogs on the website into articles, to shift from describing my experience as it happened week by week towards an online resource that people can access on a variety of topics related to touch.
My role as a carrier of Touch Practice seems to be shifting from “teacher” to “teacher of teachers.” Rather than individual practice, most of my time now is spent answering e-mail inquiries, Skyping and chatting online with people who are constructing practices of their own and who need help with a variety of questions: “how do I create safety for myself and others when meeting strangers? How do I work with someone who is wheelchair bound? What is your experience/advice in working with transgender men? What to do about the new epidemic of medically-induced erections; how do I conduct Touch Practice in the Viagra Era, where the erection has replaced the heart beat as the critical vital sign in older men?” My perspective has shifted to supporting the many who are carrying the practice, around the world, rather than being “the one” carrying it.
Touch Practice has developed many fans over the years, and it also has a few adversaries, perhaps even an enemy or two. This should surprise no one. A great work of art, a solid piece of music, or a significant movie will have people who love it and people who hate it. One of the signs of potency and agency is that people have a specific reaction towards or against. A reaction of “oh, isn’t that nice” is entirely appropriate for Tupperware, but for anything really meaningful, no. I’ve gotten hundreds of positive, warm e-mails and a half dozen pieces of real hate mail. I’m content with the ratio, all things considered!
Curiously, I have been essentially banished from practicing in the very place where Touch Practice was born, but that is neither surprising nor unique. In fact, I would say this is a basic principle of spiritual practice that has been true for thousands of years.
There is a scripture loosely translated thus: “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.” (First: I am no prophet! Touch Practice surely existed for thousands of years before me and I “tapped into it,” in my own words.) However, I am an innovator and a pioneer in some of the ways I have put it out into the world, and it is perhaps predictable that the land from which I began, the place I called home, no longer recognizes me. This is almost universally true in spiritual practice.
I challenge you to find this truth in your own spiritual practice. I bet you can look at the group of people that you began with, and as you became more deeply devoted, committed, and clear about your practice, you now find that some of the people you began with are no longer with you. It is a basic truth of spiritual development: we acquire companions along the path, but we also surely leave people behind.
Which leads me to write a bit about how I, personally, have changed during this period of transition for Touch Practice. Touch Practice is my spiritual practice. As I practice holding people I grow spiritually, and as I grow spiritually, it influences my touch life. The two move in parallel.
I would say there are three profound and important areas of growth for me, and Touch Practice has been the engine of discovery that has largely driven these new insights in my spiritual life.
First, I am a Myers Briggs introvert who grew up in an era when most American men were compulsively socialized to be extroverts (“look a man in the eye, give a firm handshake, and be friendly and outgoing.”) I was so well trained to look like an extrovert that I never knew until recently that I am actually an introvert.
Now, I am a gregarious introvert; I love people, and I love being close, but it costs me energy. Being close is an expenditure. Unlike extroverts, who get their “batteries charged” from being close, I don’t acquire energy from spending time with people. It costs me.
So I have learned to own my own energy, to take better care of myself. For me this means spending more time alone, more time inside, so that I am replenished and nourished in interactions with others. It means tending my own fire and not compulsively falling into group gatherings without being mindful of what those gatherings require in terms of energy.
Second, I am an Enneagram Two headed in the direction of Four. The Two archetype is “The Helper” and I have certainly spend much of my life trying to be helpful. I have constructed an identity, a persona, around being “The Helpful One,” being unconditionally caring. Now there’s nothing too terribly untrue about that; I do like helping people, and I derive a great deal of satisfaction from it. And I tend to be helpful to people around me, and that’s all fine and well.
However, as Twos grow and become spiritually integrated, we move towards Four (the Individualist). Like the move from extrovert to introvert, Fours tend more to their inner life and the development of their own spiritual pathway. The trap for a Two is that we can help others in order to avoid ourselves, or focus on others in order to defer or deflect our own stuff. The move to Four is a move towards greater honesty. It is a shift in perspective from “let’s focus on what I can give to others” to “let’s look at what I need myself.”
I see the move from Two to Four as a parallel movement to understanding my true self as an introvert rather than an extrovert, a move from “other/outward” focus to “self/inward” focus. Now, there is a balance; the Four archetype is not “Selfish Bastard.” One can be helpful to others without having “Aren’t I Helpful!” blazing in neon across the forehead of one’s persona. One can be genuinely caring towards others without being self-neglecting.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, I am losing my lifelong, compulsive need to have everyone in the world like me. The need to be liked is such a crippling thing, or at least I have come to experience it as such in these past days. Sure, I would like to be on good terms with all people as far as is possible. I would much rather have someone like me than dislike me. I would prefer to be at peace with all people.
But I have become OK with the idea of someone really not liking me, for reasons beyond my control, in ways that I can do nothing to change. I am beginning to understand that living a life that is committed to certain things and against others, that chooses a specific path, with specific values, preferences and ideals, is automatically going to conflict with others who have made other choices.
Rather than frantically contorting myself to try to please the expectations of others, rather than manipulating or tricking others into liking me or promising them something I can’t deliver, what a blessed relief it is to finally be able to say, “well! I guess that person doesn’t like me! That’s OK!” There are seven billion people in the world; not all of them are going to like me. Even to write that fills me with such a sense of relief that I am laughing out loud. I’ve spent so much of my life “otherwise.” It is as though I have been clenching a muscle for my entire life that I have finally allowed to relax.
I am blessed with many dozens of people who do genuinely love me (and like me!) as I am, and I am grateful for my family, my friends, my brothers and my sons at this time of celebration. I wish each of you a beautiful journey towards Spring, a time of increasing light, warmth, and growth. Thank you for reading these blogs over the years and for being a part of my journey. Visit the site from time to time, and I will do my best to create a database of resources for people engaged in touch.
And you never know: this might not be my very last blog!
Have thoughts you’d like to share?
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