Friday, May 23, 2014

The Discipline of Touch

-along a wideness trail-

As I was browsing through yesterday's New York Times, I was shocked and saddened by a story about abandoned babies in Athens, Greece.  The economic crisis that struck that country a few years back has  forced many families to literally abandon their infant children. Apparently this has now become a crisis of epic proportion because hospitals cannot adequately care for the large numbers of these "cast-away" babies. 

Yesterday's story featured a series of heartbreaking pictures that I could barely look at because they were so excruciatingly sad. Scores of infants, all lying alone in their little beds with hardly anyone to care for them - it was all so distressing to see. 

But the thing that was most heart wrenching to me was the close-up pictures of these abandoned ones.  Babies who were 3 months old or 9 months old looked as if they were elderly men and women. Their legs and arms all bloated, skin wrinkled, little toes and fingers were all gnarled and twisted. They just didn't look like babies. 

The thing is that the doctors and nurses understand exactly why this is happening. The problem is that no one is touching or holding these little babies - no moms or dads or grandmas and grandpas, not even nurses or attendants because there are just too many babies to hold, to cuddle, to gently touch.

As I think about it, there is no time in life when human beings are touched and held more than when we are infants. From the first moment a newborn enters this world he or she is held and touched and cuddled - the touching connects us, assures us, comforts us, lets us know that we are not alone. 

Without the touch of other human beings, those little babies lying alone in their beds are literally  "shriveling up and dying." 

It all makes me realize just how much a sense of "being connected" is at the very core of our humanity. We are not isolated individuals. We are a relationship, and from the very first moments on this earth we need to be "in touch" with that relationship,  or we shrivel up and life drains out of us. 

Every day I write a blog post about some aspect of "spirituality." The story of those infants has deepened my awareness that, in essence, spirituality is always about experiencing our interconnectedness.  Spiritual practices are tools, vehicles, pathways to help us to be connected and feel connected. 

I sit in my garden every morning for a time of solitude, silence and meditation. While this seems like a time of going inward, it is actually a time of going outward. My meditation time heightens my awareness of relationship - relationship with the wilderness, relationship with all the people I know, or don't know or will never know. 

So it is with all spiritual disciplines - prayer or study, meditation in a church or sitting on a yoga mat - all opportunities to help us connect and feel connected.

As I reflect on those untouched babies alone in their beds, I also realize that "touching" is in fact a "spiritual discipline." -maybe even a "vital" spiritual discipline. 

While touching can be used to control, dominate or seduce, touching is also a way in which we human beings connect with one another. Hugging and cuddling, holding hands, a pat on the back, a healing hand laid upon a head, shaking hands and offering a greeting of peace -  it all fosters the flow of life and keeps us from shriveling up.

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