A Liturgical Experience of Embodiment and Celebration of the Flesh
Have participants mark cheek with gold dust on the way in?
My Body is Your Body is Everybody is Nobody
Welcome to Body|Mass, a liturgical experience of embodiment and celebration of the flesh.
We are gathered here today to honor the body Your body
The vessel that comprises the whole of ourselves and our experiences
Our vehicle for navigating the world
We gather to celebrate the Flesh
We will be exploring embodiment through the language of touch utilizing texts and sensate focused exercises.
I stand before you as a body, as living flesh, sharing this experience with you. Feel free to watch me as I explore touch with gold dust or close your eyes and follow the sound of my voice.
We will be going through movements together, both mental and physical, to be more present in our skin, culminating with a moment to share that presence with another body and see the evidence of that connection
Let’s begin with our eyes closed, starting to think about your body. Feel your feet rooted in the floor. The weight of your legs on the chair. How your shirt feels on your chest as it rises and falls with your breath.
As quoted in ‘Introduction to Curriculum and the Cultural Body’ French philosopher Maurice “Merlueau-Ponty designated the term Flesh to support his idea that the body is neither material substance nor the container in which the mind is stored and hence separated from the world. Rather, Flesh is the intertwining of the material body and the world in mutual relation. Flesh denotes a body that is integrated with the mind, and enmeshed within experience. Flesh, or the metaphor of the mobius [strip] is often conceptualized as in-between, where beings constitute themselves not as objects, but as meaning, an embodied existence. Embodiment captures a sense of the body’s immersion in places, spaces, and environments in which it encounters the world.”
1st Exercise - Entering the Body
Let us start by taking a moment to enter our bodies [beat] Keep your eyes closed
Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4...
Breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4....
Breathe in, keep breathing
Notice how your lungs expand to make room for the influx of air
Can you feel your chest muscles stretch, allowing your rib cage to widen? Is there any discomfort?
Could your breath expand your chest further?
What about the air?
Can you feel it rushing in and being pushed out?
Is it warm or cold?
Does the temperature change?
What is your heart doing?
Can you feel your pulse reverberate in your chest?
Breathe into the bottom of your diaphragm.
Allow your belly to extend, making room for more air.
Does this movement allow you to locate your stomach?
Do you notice the sensation of your organs shifting to accommodate your breath? Breathe in
Open your eyes
Remember you can always return to your breath and the vibrations of your own heartbeat at any time
My body is your body is everybody is nobody
Our bodies exist in the world of touch.
But what is touch?
Touch is defined the sensations we feel caused by stimulation of the skin by mechanical, chemical, or electrical events. Fundamentally, what we call touch is a sensory system to process the world through encounters with temperature, pressure, and texture. Touch receptors exist primarily in the skin, our visco-elastic bodysuit. It is our physical sense of self. We know our external world by assessing what we can ‘feel’, be it the shoes on our feet, the warmth of the sun on our cheeks, or the pressure of our bodies connecting with that of a loved one.
As Frederick Sachs states in ‘The Sciences’: “The First Sense to Ignite, touch is often the last to burn out: long after our eyes betray us, our hands remain faithful to the world...in describing such final departures, we often talk of losing touch.”
Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb. “Soon after we’re born, though we can’t see or speak, we instinctively begin touching.” In Diane Ackerman’s ‘A Natural History of the Senses’ she continues: “Touch cells in the lips make nursing possible, clutch mechanisms in the hands begin to reach out for warmth. Among other things, touch teaches us the difference between I and Other, that there can be someone outside of ourselves.”
2nd Exercise - Awakening dormant touch sensors
Let us now begin to awaken some of our dormant touch sensors. Our body will naturally dull our touch receptors to consistent and expected stimulation. While we might always be ‘self conscious’, being physically conscious of every receptor would overwhelm our nervous system with information.
For those who can, please stand. (5 seconds)
(very slowly, give time after each line 3-5 seconds)
Press your feet into the ground.
Can you feel your toes spreading to make room for the force?
Can you sense where the bones are closest to surface?
Is the floor exerting force in return?
Where do you feel the weight of your body most acutely?
In the ball of your foot? Or the heel?
What are your arches doing? Can you sense them moving to support your stance? What about your toes?
Are they cold?
Are they clammy?
Are they starting to tingle as your conscious mind awakens them?
Be careful not to lose your balance.
Let’s move to your shoulders. Specifically the skin of your upper arm. Can you feel the weight of your clothes or the temperature of the air? Are the micro hairs on your skin responding to any movement?
Do you have the sudden urge to scratch the area?
Can you feel the neurons firing at the base of your skull as these sensors awaken?
Let’s move to our heads
Close your eyes and try to feel your hair follicles.
Try not to picture them but really focus on the follicles themselves. Can you feel subtle air flow movements in the room?
Does the movement travel around your head?
Does it stop at one spot or keep moving?
Let’s take a moment to wiggle our toes, rub our shoulders and massage our heads. Let’s calm those touch receptors that we awoke from slumber.
Please be seated
Your body is a celebration. It is your personal spaceship to navigate the world in. You can never be separated from it. It may betray you but never abandon you. It is yours. You have sole agency over it.
But much like our own cars today, do you really know how it works? Massage therapists are body mechanics, knowing the structure of the body and use touch to work the kinks out.
However, our bodies are not machines. We are living organisms with a central nervous system that stretches 60,000 miles from end to end. Our bodies, our FLESH, is capable of sensations poets still do not have words for.
I want you to start touching your arm.
Resist the urge to massage the muscles and really stay with the sensations in your skin. If you are wearing sleeves, please roll them up. (5 seconds)
Start by running your fingertips up and down your forearm. Try and take the focus away from your fingertips and attend to the sensation in your skin.
Is it smooth?
What is the sensation when the hair follicles are brushed over?
Will you linger across your body?
Will you cover the whole area or confine your touch to a repetitive location?
If dipped in gold, what would these marks look like?
What happens when you change pace?
Would you ever consider slapping yourself?
How does the sensation change moving over fleshy areas to where your bones are closer to the surface?
Do the nerve endings in your joints respond?
Do you notice your body directing where it want your fingers to move to next?
Is it directing you up your arm? Towards your fingers?
Are you suddenly aware of what the rest of your body feels like?
You may wander away from your forearm to attend to other parts of the body calling out for touch.
As mentioned before, in terms of touch, we are really talking about three things: temperature, pressure, and texture. As we continue to move through these exercises, try to come back to these ideas. Find your touch language by using these terms to express what you are experiencing.
Let’s return to our forearms. What is the texture of your skin?
Did you become aware of the ridges of your fingertips or the dimples around your hair follicles?
Did you sense any temperature changes due to friction?
Did a light touch send a chill up your spine?
Did you vary pace or intensity?
Do you feel the urge to continue touching yourself?
Where are you feeling this pull?
3rd exercise - Self sensate focus
Let’s now take time to understand how touch works in a physical sense.
Touch is a system of receptors sending information to the brain for processing. There are 4 primary types of receptors that make up our sense of touch.
Quickly brush across your forearm.
What was that sensation?
You are responding the the firing of Meissner corpuscles located in between the epidermis and the dermis. These corpuscles respond fastest to light touch and are located in highly sensitive parts of the body: fingertips, soles of the feet, genitals, nipples, palms and tongue.
Similarly, Merkel’s discs sit just below the skin’s surface and respond to continuous constant pressure like the weight of your clothes.
Ruffini’s corpuscles respond to continuous touch and pressure in the skin and deeper tissues. That movement of the organs we experienced when focusing on our breath. These corpuscles are also located in our joints where they respond to rotational movement.
Pancinian corpuscles are located deep within the tissue and respond to pressure and vibrational changes. They can feel that low bass line from a passing car even if your ears can’t hear it.
The body is additionally full of free nerve endings sending messages to the brain about everything it encounters.
Our bodies exist in a constant state of touch. We are always experiencing and reacting to our world through our nerve endings whether we are conscious of it or not.
Let’s return to that feeling of your skin being touched. Those Meissner and Ruffini corpuscles firing messages to your brain.
Is there a part of your body asking for more attention?
What does it want?
Would you be able to tell someone else? (30 seconds)
4th Reading - Inter-embodiment & Touching Bodies
Now that we have entered are bodies, we will begin to locate our bodies in space and explore inter-embodiment. Again pulling from “Curriculum and the Cultural Body”: In contrast to just being seen (my body sees the other body) inter-embodiment proposes that who we are and how we come to know is produced in the moment of an intertwining, inversion, and ‘touching’ between bodies. To make sense of something, to know it, to create it, is to come into contact with it, to touch it, and thereby produce a body. To touch, to feel, and to become embodied is a call for reciprocity and relationality.
As a contact sense, touch offers contiguous access to an object. Touch alters the way in which we perceive objects, providing a depth and surface, inside and outside. Touch as a way of knowing can be understood through two modalities. First, touch is the physical contact of skin on matter. The second modality is a sense of being in a proximal relation with something.
Take a moment to look around the room and place yourself within it. How far are you from the door?
How many chairs are in the space?
How high is the ceiling?
Do you still feel grounded to the floor?
Now start to notice the other bodies in the room? How close are they?
Can you sense their movement?
Can you sense any heat being given off?
Can you hear them breathing and sense the temperature in the room rising with each breath?
Have you found your own breath?
Did you suddenly become hyper self aware?
Did you tense up?
Did your heart rate increase?
Was the sensation in your skin or in your stomach? How intense is your urge for fight or flight?
Can you feel the electricity surging through your body?
Let’s close our eyes and return to our breath. We’ve now entered our bodies and began to acknowledge the other bodies in the room. Can you feel the electricity in the air change? Is your heart beating a little faster, a little harder? Are you experiencing anticipation or fear about the possibility of touching someone else in this state? Is it both?
Touch in our society has become more benign and taboo. Our ways of touching are becoming prescribed, often devoid of real reaction. The Merkle discs and Ruffini corpuscles barely registering a change when another body is connected with. For beings that exist in a constant state of stimulation, we are being dulled and touch starved.
It is well documented in the scientific community that human beings need physical contact to thrive. From the Harlow Monkey experiments, to Dr. Saul Schanberg’s rats, to Dr. Tiffany Field, of the Touch Research institute, volumes of data exist on how contact, especially in infancy, is key to well-being. Ackerman writes “Touch reassures an infant that it’s safe; it seems to give the body a go-ahead to develop normally. In experiments conducted all over the country, babies who were held more became more alert and developed better cognitive abilities years later.” It’s the primary reason we swaddle newborns, which increases tactile stimulation, decreases stress, and makes them feel lightly cuddled.
Touch in today’s culture is highly policed and politicized. We have sexualized physical interaction to the point where children have been accused of sexual harassment and women have been murdered for perceived infidelity based on physical interaction with other men. Some men have grown up lacking touch for so long that they don’t know how to respond to it. And many cannot bring themselves to be physically close to other men. Lack of physical contact outside of the prescribed is literally killing us slowly.
This is not to be confused with consent. As we acknowledged before, our bodies are our personal vehicle for the exploration of the world and we have sole agency over it. That agency includes being empowered to refuse a touch.
I wholly and fully believe in the power of human touch and connection as a catalyst for change. Physical connection is fundamental to our wellbeing. We are instinctually programed on how to read the language of touch.
Touch offers a form of intimacy that words and vision cannot. Stephanie Springeey writes: While intimacy can be understood as ‘knowing someone in depth, knowing different aspects of a person or knowing how they would respond in different situations,” I want to think about intimacy through Jean Luc Nancy’s notion of being-with. To be a body ‘with’ other bodies, to touch, to encounter, and to be exposed. As such, intimacy is not simply about the possibilities or impossibility of ever knowing the other fully or deeply, but rather names the meetings between bodies.
Let us now take time to share physical contact. I invite you to place the gold dust on your body and to take a moment to touch me as a reminder of our connection as people and as bodies. My body is open to share your touch.
Feel free to repeat the mantra: my body is your body is everybody is nobody along with me out loud or in your head. This mantra reminds us that we are a collective of individuals, of bodies, part of a long lineage of bodies, who have existed together and continue to need each other.
My body is your body is everybody is nobody (repeat for 7min.)
Let’s now return to our breath. Breathe in (8 seconds) Breathe out (8 Seconds) Breathe in
Feel your lungs expanding, beginning to slow your heart, calm the Ruffini corpuscles. Start to feel the ground under your feet again. Wiggle your toes. Scrunch your nose. Shake out your arms.
Are you visualizing how the body works? Seeing your toes move in your shoes, imagining your neurons firing to your brain?
How do your clothes feel? Are they heavy? Too warm? Too tight? Where is your body craving touch at this moment?
How will will attend to it?
Thank you for sharing your bodies with me
Go forth and honor your body and the bodies of others
My body is your body is everybody is nobody