1. The isolation for many during the last 2+ years has taken a toll on our health – mind, body, and Spirit.
Keeping in mind that everyone has had a different experience with this long time period…
Some people were lucky enough to be well partnered or in a family pod that allowed contact and touch and nurturing, and the isolating impact was minimized.
Some people were in situations that were very challenging, and it brought those problems into the limelight along with a sense of being trapped – nowhere to go. In this last case, sometimes there were issues that had been simmering in the background for years - like the fact that most of us no longer live in healthy family units that offer support in a time like this…no functional extended community to help us carry the additional burdens that the pandemic brought.
Some people, on the front lines of health care, were left without support and without the ability to refill their inner energy reservoirs – and it has been devastating to many of them personally and therefore to much of our healthcare delivery system.
Some people were mostly alone – March of 2020 arrived and the isolation set in – perhaps reaching out by phone or Zoom, but basically without physical touch, for months into years on end. These people describe a slow change as the months went by – a slide into a kind of lethargy that left them no longer having the urge to reach out.
At Esalen this past summer, I got to be with and listen to people who are now re-emerging from their isolation – and an interesting thing kept showing up.
If we go without physical touch for a long time (like the pandemic has done to many), our nervous system seems to diminish, to shrink. It is a slow almost unconscious process.
It is now showing up as people are returning to being in person with others. They are discovering that they are not fully themselves… in some interesting ways. One way is that I have seen multiple people who are a significantly “muted” version of themselves – as though someone turned down the volume on who they normally are.
A close friend showed up this past month to staff my class at Esalen, and she was so quiet I hardly recognized her – she, who is normally outgoing, confident, funny and engaged.
Another old friend came to visit while I was at Esalen and I saw exactly the same pattern with her, in a slightly different form.
Then I started asking my students who had been alone during the pandemic about their experience and many of them reported feeling a very similar way – a kind of depression and yet none of these people have ever been significantly depressed before.
This brings me to the second thing I have learned.
2. People who were isolated emotionally and physically for an extended period of time seem to have lost some of their sense of comfort and safety within their own skin.
This shows up as a lack of confidence. They are less relaxed. It is hard to simply be present with others. They are often reticent to speak up and engage fully with those around them.
It then becomes much more difficult to get their nurturing connection needs met so they can return fully to life.
Which brings me to the biggest “Aha” for me this year.
3. Nurturing physical human touch and connection are required to thrive. It is not optional if you want to be healthy. It is vital for optimal functioning of the brain and body.
The rise of Zoom connections and phone calls can help to a certain degree but it does not replace nurturing touch. Animals can offer this to us to a certain degree, but human contact is even more important for most of us.
So what are the antidotes - for all of us to some degree?
First: acknowledge this phenomenon if it is going on within you, or someone you love. Talk about it, let people share how hard it has been. If this is you, journal about it – put color and texture to the experience.
Second: Reach out and touch others and be touched – nurturing touch. Always with permission, I began touching everyone I was with this summer. I made a conscious decision to reach out and touch as many people as possible. A gentle hand on a good friend’s shoulder as I passed by. A warm hug of greeting or leaving. I brought in touch and holding exercises and bodywork to my groups. Playing music and encouraging people to move and connect with themselves and others.
With these efforts, some remarkable things started to happen – within myself and the others around me.
Somehow it seems we were rekindling our inner fire, and the warmth and confidence began to return. People started taking risks with each other in good ways, extending themselves and growing again.
On one particularly memorable evening at sunset out on the lawn at Esalen, my students began rolling down the hill, one after the other. Teaching each other how to do it and cheering on their fellow rollers. Then one brave pair decided to roll together, arms wrapped around each other – and the laughter and hilarity spilled down the lawn, as they took a risk and dived in together, hollering all the way.
It has been a remarkable year so far. I invite you to reflect on your experience these past 2+ years. What is the status of your own inner fire?
And…If you were one of the lucky ones who went through this pandemic connected and partnered in a way that kept your fire burning healthy and strong, then please look around and see who is there that needs help in rekindling theirs. I invite you to reach out and touch someone.
Suzanne Scurlock, author of books Reclaiming Your Body and Full Body Presence and creator of the Healing From the Core® curriculum,specializes in conscious awareness and its relationship to the healing process. She’s written hundreds of articles, including numerous columns and features for Massage Magazine and Massage Today.
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