Wednesday, June 1, 2011

True Touch

the narration of an experience by Ina May Gaskin who is a midwife.

In the Zen tradition, a line of succession of Zen Masters is supposed to be linked together by transmission of mind - pure thought transferred from mind to mind with no words. I think that with midwives there is a similar kind of transmission that can take place and link them together, and that is a transmission of touch.

Touch is the most basic, the most nonconceptual form of communication that we have. In touch there are no language barriers; anything that can walk, fly, creep, crawl or swim already speaks it.

I first experienced a transmission of this kind, not with another midwife, but with a female Capuchin monkey, a couple of years before I ever thought of being a midwife. I learned something from her in touch language tht has stayed with me, and this is part of what I have felt I must pass on to any midwife that I teach.

A young man who knew my husband, Stephen, stopped by one day to show us his monkey. She was a pretty little thing with delicate features and a very expressive face, and she was trusting and friendly. Stephen motioned for the monkey to come over to him, and she came over and climbed into his lap. She chattered at him a little, examined his shirt and then spied his cowhorn, which was hanging on the wall over his shoulder. He saw how interested she was in the horn so he took it down from the wall, put it to his lips and blew a long clear note. The monkey lady was thrilled and wanted to try to blow it herself. Stephen handed her the horn and she tried to blow, but she didn't know how to purse her lips and direct the stream of air into the horn. Stephen tapped her to get her attention, pointed to his mouth and demonstrated how to blow by doing it himself so she could see it. She watched him very closely and tried it herself a couple of times and then suddenly dropped the horn and threw her arms around his head, because she was so glad that he had treated her like an equal and volunteered to teach her something. It really got me high to see her do that, and I slid over to her and offered my finger to hold because I wanted to be her friend too.

She took hold of my finger in her hand - it was a slender, long-fingered hand, hairy on the back and smooth black palm - and I had never been touched like that before. Her touch was incredibly alive and electric. There was so much concentrated feeliness in her hand that I felt this warm glow travel from her hand to mind, on up my arm, and then I felt a nice electric rush spread over my whole body. I had a flash of realization then that my hand wasn't made any different from hers - same musculature, same bony structure, same nervous system. I knew my hand, and everyone else's too, was potentially that powerful and sensitive, but that most people think so much and are so unconscious of their whole range of sensory perceptors and receptors that their touch feels blank compared to what it would feel like if their awareness was one hundred percent. I call this "original touch" because it's something that everybody has a brand new baby, it's part of the kit. A baby born blind doesn't lose his original touch because he can't afford to pull his attention out of his skin and out of his hands when he gets so much of his informtion about the Universe this way. Many of us lose our "original touch" as we interact with our fellow beings in a fast or shallow manner. As I transmit the knowledge of spiritual midwifery to other women, I feel that compassion and true touch are of foremost importance.

- text and image from the book: Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin

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