Im sitting on a low brick wall just outside an up market dress shop in Berry, chatting on my mobile to my daughter, extolling the virtues of living in community. The benefits include an increase in wellness on many levels. Individual wellness, economic wellness, and social wellness. Community is a natural way for humans to live and yet we have drifted away from this to embrace separation, competition, and that harsh aspect of capitalism, every man for himself. Communal living guides us towards true cooperation and ideally a healthy appreciation of diversity and difference. So here I am chatting about this idea and imagining how wonderful it would be to be part of such a community when I am distracted by a long line of ants scurrying along the crack between the wall and the pavement.
What struck me was the way the ants stopped to greet each other walking in the opposite direction. They would turn, touch and take off. As I watched I saw them do this over and over again they seemed to be saying, ‘Good morning, G’day, How are you? What’s up? How’s it going? See ya.’
I watched the ants meet and greet each other long after I finished talking to my daughter. It seemed to me that they were showing me what real community living could be like. None of the ants appeared to be living in any other ant’s pocket, or demanding more from their fellow ants than they could give. They each had a direction, a purpose, a job to do but were never too busy to stop greet, touch, and move on. None of the ants seems the least concerned about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of touching. When we live in a world where teachers are not allowed to touch their students kindly on the shoulder, or lift a child up who has fallen down, God help us. Oh that’s right, we are already living in that kind of world.
Have we really banned touching? If we don’t touch each other are we not likely to forget how it feels to be touched? When was the last time someone placed their hands on your shoulders and gently massaged away a little tension? How will our children reach out and touch each other, a petal, a flower, a puppy, a tree, if we don’t touch them? What happens when someone is no longer touched? We shrivel up like a dry leaf. Our skin shrivels, our spirit shrivels and we become disconnected from the world. The largest organ in the human body craves touch. Our skin yearns to be touched. Touch soothes, touch softens, touch eases our lives.
In the 1950s, a psychologist named Harry Harlow conducted a very dramatic (and likely unethical by today’s standards) experiment with baby rhesus monkeys. He took the baby monkeys away from their mothers and put them into cages with 2 fake “mother monkeys” made of wire mesh, one bare and the other covered with terry cloth. The wire mother monkeys each had a bottle pushed through the wire so that the baby monkeys could feed. At the time, scientists thought that babies bonded with their mothers solely because mothers were a source of food. It was a surprise when all of the monkeys spent as little time near the bare wire monkey as possible and all their time clinging to the terry cloth covered mother monkey. Harlow revolutionized child care at the time, concluding that babies needed more than something to eat, they also need soft familiar touch.
It is not only babies however that needs touch. Children, adults and old people all need touch for good health.
When I touch my very old mother, especially at the side of her eyes she melts into the sensation of being loved. Although my sister and I often hug our 94 year old father he very wisely also has a massage every two weeks. Through touch we communicate more than we can through words.
Can you imagine, going about our day acknowledging everyone we passed by looking straight at them, reaching out, touching finger tips and exchanging loving energy?
When was the last time you watched ants? They reminded me how powerful and beneficial it is to live in community. They remind all of us who live in the western world to keep active, to work with a communal focus, to share unstintingly, to carry a little more than you believe you can, and to stop, meet, greet and most importantly touch each other every day.