Introduction to Comforting Touch
When someone you love is chronically ill, elderly, or approaching the end of life, you want to spend time with them and you want to be helpful. You might feel overwhelmed with trying to understand the illness, its effect on the person you love, and the treatments he or she is undergoing. Not knowing what to do can add to the stress that you feel; family members often say they feel ‘at a loss’ about how to play a meaningful role in a relationship they still want to share, despite the changes taking place.
When New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard was hospitalized with a chronic illness, he wrote about visitors who looked at him with an ‘embarrassed love’. In his column he quoted a therapist who defined embarrassment as ‘a radiance that doesn’t know what to do with itself’. Broyard wanted a guide that could teach a sick person’s family and friends how to make the most of that radiance.
That observation and wish were right on both counts: We are radiant, and the energies we emit can be beneficial. And while no one would give up the power of modern medicine, the longing for such a connection cannot be fulfilled by technology. This is a power that emanates only from living beings.
The image of a human being as radiant—that is, both particles and waves, matter and energy—is old and new. It has been part of some healing traditions for thousands of years and is now being researched by mainstream medicine. Medical doctors, nurses, homeopaths, naturopaths, acupuncturists, psychologists and bodyworkers—as well as their patients and clients—are among those who have an expanded view of health that includes body, energy, spirit, relationships and the environment. This approach, often referred to as integrative health care, is not only about the integration of different therapies; it also means integrating all aspects of being human. Briefly defined these are:
Body—The physical nature of human beings consists of the tangible aspects of the body, such as organs, glands, blood and genes. These substances can be measured and analyzed.
Energy—The non-physical aspects of the body—such as warmth, breath, sound, and magnetism—are less tangible and travel in waves, as do all other energies in the spectrum of life. The vibratory aspects of our surroundings—like sounds, smells and light—will resonate with the energetics of the body and can be an influence on both physical and psychological functions.
Spirit—the quality of what you do comes from the spirit with which you do it. The ‘spirit’ that is part of the physical body refers to the many dimensions of mind—including conscious and sub-conscious realms, emotions, dreams, memory, projections, purpose and creative inspiration. It is a personal source of spirit, used with a small ‘s’. When associated with the source of these animating forces it becomes Spirit with a capital ‘S’. There are many traditions with rituals and beliefs for approaching Spirit. While these traditions can be very meaningful for people who are ill or approaching end of life, the personal sense of spirit rooted in the body, without any religious connotation, is what manifests when using touch with awareness.