The magic of touch

Why is it our lives tend to be­come empty, hard, sick and in­dif­fer­ent with­out the touch of some­one we love? Why do we seem to lose our sense of will and pur­pose with­out this lov­ing touch?

Living Now - - Contents - By John Palo, FRC

Why is it our lives tend to be­come empty, hard, sick and in­dif­fer­ent with­out the touch of some­one we love? Why do we seem to lose our sense of will and pur­pose with­out this lov­ing touch?

Afew years ago [in the 1980s] I was priv­i­leged to visit an or­phan­age in East­ern Europe where strange dis­eases were at­tack­ing the chil­dren. The staff found this puz­zling. If you walked through the rooms you would see these tiny tots gaze at you with a haunt­ing stare. They looked more like shriv­elled up old men and women. There was no sound of laugh­ter, no sounds of chil­dren at play. They were slow to learn to stand and walk. Deep moans and long sighs were com­mon. They had lit­tle ap­petite for food, be­came ill and died eas­ily. The be­wil­dered staff did not know what was wrong, and did not know what to do.

Then, some wise soul with a healthy mother­ing in­stinct made a sug­ges­tion. She sug­gested that teenage girls from the lo­cal school be in­vited to visit the or­phan­age. She then in­structed these girls to act like moth­ers to the chil­dren. She told them to pick the ba­bies up, ca­ress them and cud­dle them.

As if by magic, a mir­a­cle oc­curred. The ca­ress­ing and cud­dling made a dra­matic and healthy change in the chil­dren. It was so ob­vi­ous from the first ses­sion that the girls were in­vited to re­visit the or­phan­age again and again. With ev­ery visit the trans­for­ma­tion con­tin­ued. The chil­dren’s pos­ture im­proved. They lost their look of old age. They be­gan to eat. They now smiled, gur­gled and laughed. They no longer be­came ill so eas­ily. They started to sparkle with life. These chil­dren had been starved of sim­ple hu­man phys­i­cal af­fec­tion.

This story makes me won­der: what is there about the sense of touch that can bring about such a mir­a­cle?

The phys­i­cal na­ture of touch

Ex­per­i­ments in sen­sory de­pri­va­tion have taken place with hu­man vol­un­teers. While phys­i­cally con­fined, they were de­prived of au­dio and visual stim­u­la­tion and tem­per­a­ture changes. Such de­pri­va­tion of nor­mal sen­sory in­put led their minds to wan­der. They en­tered a world of fan­tasy. They be­gan to hal­lu­ci­nate. Ex­ten­sive and in­ten­sive sen­sory de­pri­va­tion is not healthy. As long as we have a body, the world of sen­sory in­put is im­por­tant to all of us.

Touch is prob­a­bly the least ex­plored of our senses, yet it may be the most im­por­tant to our well-be­ing. Sig­nif­i­cantly enough, there is a close re­la­tion­ship be­tween our skin and our ner­vous sys­tem. In the early days in our mother’s womb, our body-to-be is com­posed of three sets of spe­cial cells. One set (meso­derm) will form our mus­cles and bones. Another set (en­do­derm) will form our in­ner or­gans such as the stom­ach, in­testines and lungs. The third set (ec­to­derm) forms our skin and ner­vous sys­tem. Thus our skin arises from the same tis­sue as our brain.

The skin con­tains mil­lions of sen­sory re­cep­tors. They are the doors through which the phys­i­cal world en­ters our con­scious­ness. All-told, we have five senses. The more ob­vi­ous of these mes­sage re­ceivers are our eyes, ears, nose and tongue.

Touch, the so-called fifth sense, may be the most com­plex. There are mil­lions of sen­sory re­cep­tors in the skin; yet, any one small square of skin is dif­fer­ent from any other square. The num­ber of pain, heat, cold and other touch de­tec­tors will vary from one spot to another. We can see this, as the sen­si­tiv­ity of our fingertips ex­ceeds that of the back of our thighs.

There are some four va­ri­eties of the strictly tac­tile sense of touch. They range from light touch to deep pres­sure to pain. Again, their dis­tri­bu­tion in the skin varies as to type and quan­tity. If you place two fin­gers 2cm to 5cm apart on some­one’s back, he or she may not be sure whether you have placed one fin­ger or two. The hu­man back has less light touch re­cep­tors than other skin ar­eas. This is why pa­tients are of­ten very vague as to the ex­act spot of back pain.


The use of the hu­man hand for ther­a­peu­tic pur­poses goes back to an­cient Egyp­tian times. It is claimed that the Egyp­tians felt a ther­a­peu­tic en­ergy (that they termed sa ankh) flow­ing from the fingertips. There are sto­ries of the pharaoh hold­ing daily morn­ing heal­ing ses­sions dur­ing which he made ver­ti­cal passes, with his fingertips, up and down a pa­tient’s back. This, tra­di­tion­ally, was the be­gin­ning of hand ther­apy. The highly sen­si­tive fingertips were ap­prox­i­mat­ing the in­sen­si­tive hu­man back.

The Greek Ep­i­dau­rus tablets showed how the An­cient Greeks ma­nip­u­lated the spine of pa­tients. Hip­pocrates,

Galen and So­ranus fos­tered this ther­a­peu­tic ap­proach. Hip­pocrates stated: “In all dis­ease look to the spine.” The chi­ro­prac­tic doc­tor finds an area of spinal ir­ri­ta­tion. He ma­nip­u­lates that area to re­duce the ir­ri­ta­tion and nor­malise nerve im­pulses from the spine. The os­teo­pathic doc­tor will do soft tis­sue ma­nip­u­la­tion of any le­sions oc­cur­ring at the spinal ar­eas. The Rosi­cru­cian tech­nique is to ap­ply the fin­gers and body’s elec­tro­mag­netic en­ergy to the sym­pa­thetic chain gan­glia that lie along the spine. Mas­sage, dig­i­tal acu­pres­sure and trig­ger point are other hand tech­niques that strive to im­prove hu­man health.

Ten­der lov­ing care

Aside from the ther­a­peu­tic na­ture of touching, your body’s sense of touch can be an av­enue for you to help your­self. Stretch­ing can be a tonic to cer­tain touch re­cep­tors. A rock­ing chair is good for your ner­vous sys­tem as is a

bath or shower, tow­elling your­self dry, and brush­ing your hair. Ap­ply­ing deep pres­sure on cramped mus­cles will re­lax them.

A friendly hand on the shoul­der dur­ing a cru­cial time is an up­lift­ing and help­ful ges­ture. De­spair and ten­sion can lock the shoul­der mus­cles tight; mas­sag­ing with the hands helps those mus­cles to re­lax.

Talk­ing and ex­chang­ing ideas is good, but friends and loved ones need more. They need the oc­ca­sional phys­i­cal touch gen­er­ated from sin­cer­ity, gen­uine­ness and love. Get down on the liv­ing room floor oc­ca­sion­ally and play with your chil­dren. Most an­i­mals fol­low their in­stincts and play with their young. It’s fun and it’s healthy.

Even the most fe­ro­cious of an­i­mals have been known to be­come do­mes­ti­cated pets through large doses of af­fec­tion­ate care. In­fants are in spe­cial need of this. Prob­a­bly the most help­ful thing to do to a with­drawn and fright­ened or badly dis­turbed child is to hold them, hug them and talk softly to them.

A ‘non-touching’ so­ci­ety?

A judge who had hun­dreds of ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers and their par­ents be­fore him made an ob­ser­va­tion that both­ered him. In all of these cases he never saw a par­ent put a lov­ing, pro­tec­tive arm around a young­ster’s shoul­ders. Does the lack of the lov­ing touch in our early years lead to emo­tional in­sta­bil­ity in our later years?

We should seek ways of ap­ply­ing the lov­ing touch. This should be done with a gen­uine con­cern for another’s wel­fare. When is the last time that you firmly grasped your part­ner as if he or she were your whole life to you? Your spouse may well be just that.

Have you held any ba­bies lately? Have you cud­dled them? They need so much lov­ing phys­i­cal con­tact in those early years. Have you ever unashamedly hugged a good friend? Em­brac­ing friends, once ob­served mainly in Latin coun­tries, is now com­mon­place. It’s friendly and it’s healthy.

Psy­chol­o­gists are re­al­is­ing that a ‘no-touch’ so­ci­ety is a sick so­ci­ety. It cer­tainly is out of touch with the needs of our psy­chic and ner­vous sys­tems.

To work the magic of touch there is one guide for us all. Let it al­ways be from our heart. We are the most whole­some when our heart is ex­pressed in our hand­i­work and when our own heart is touched by the hand­i­work of others.

Af­ter we are born we are left with no ap­par­ent phys­i­cal at­tach­ments, but let us not fool our­selves – we all still need oc­ca­sional whole­some el­e­vat­ing phys­i­cal con­tacts. Our ner­vous sys­tems, our emo­tions and our hearts thrive on it. We need to touch those we love and care for. They need our heart­felt touch. For, wher­ever there is gen­uine love and true con­cern, then there is a cer­tain magic in the hu­man touch.

Reprinted with per­mis­sion from The Rosi­cru­cian mag­a­zine.

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