One of my greatest passions and pursuits in life is to guide others into understanding how the power of our humanity can take priority over constructs, limitations, rules, regulations, or beliefs. In healing environments, we should eagerly step into a space of providing touch, demonstrating compassion, and fiercely being present to those in need.
I think I have completed enough education to understand what risks and fears people face when offering touch. They can often fear litigation; vulnerability; not being able to “fix” what’s wrong; hurting another; not knowing what they are doing; or fear of what that openness, realness, and vulnerability will bring up in ourselves.
Stepping into humanity; stepping beyond the fear
Although I strongly advocate for self-care as being the most crucial factor in making decisions about how I interact with others, I realize that many souls are left in pain because we function in that fear.
Someone may just need you to hold their hand. Someone may simply need you to sit in silence. They may need to be present with you, without any discussion, without any analysis, and without any conversation. Someone may need you to be fully there with them while they break down in tears. This breakdown can be about what they are experiencing in that moment. It may be because they want to share with you something so precious to them that they rarely find themselves so happy, often allowing you to witness them with a huge smile and rejuvenated, brilliant eyes. And sometimes, they want someone to sit with them while they sit in darkness, in loss, and in confusion, with nothing else beyond them.
I understand how difficult it is to sit in those fears. I used to run away from them. I also tried running away from them when I was experiencing them myself, through alcohol, through overeating, through engaging in numbing behaviors that hopefully would help me “to forget.”
When I first found “my body,” when I learned my body, too, had a language, wisdom, and knowledge, everything started to change. It’s part of the journey that led me learn more about all of these things, and what led me to what I teach and offer today.
Human compassion conquers all in the darkest of moments
Last night, I sat and watched “5B,” a documentary that tells the story of the courage and compassion of the caregivers in the nation’s first hospital ward dedicated to AIDS, at a time when we didn’t even have the name HIV.
The documentary touched me in the deepest recesses of my soul. I cried, I laughed, I yelled at the TV screen, and I recognized how important touch, compassion, love, and holding space is for every living soul – and how the most dire of circumstances can bring us to celebrating ourselves in the ways that are most meaningful.
For those that are not aware, Body Electric, a school that teaches others about the power of eros in their lives, started in the same era. Joseph Kramer’s dissertation at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Human Sexuality describes how he noticed not only the power of erotic energy but also the importance of touch, compassion, and love in the context of living our lives. The Taoist erotic massage, a massage designed to wake up the body and to access energy-based arousal states as a way of healing, was taught to volunteers who in those days would enter hospices to provide touch to those suffering from the devastating illnesses that made our brothers and sisters vulnerable to the virus.
Joseph has, in some circles and in his dissertation, shared that for a time AIDS patients were being transported to Wildwood, a retreat center in Northern California to experience pleasure through transition. They spent their final days in a space of the work, celebrating the precious last weeks, days, and moments they had in their lives in loving, touching, intimate connection with those willing to offer them what the whole world had denied them due to the stigma of illness, and often as well, the stigma of their sexual orientation.
This was part of the birth of the community of healing known as Body Electric. To this day, you can visit the Wildwood Retreat Center near Guerneville, California and walk in the woods surrounding the facility. Scattered among the forest, you can encounter the graves of the countless souls who traveled up the mountain to make Wildwood and the healing touch of practitioners of Body Electric their final destination before leaving their bodies and embodied existence.
Touching, healing, being vulnerable: It’s not only possible for caregivers, it’s essential
I call into awareness all of this because 5B does an excellent job of telling the stories of these same practices of touch, love, presence, and compassion occurring in that hospital ward. True, courageous, vital, vulnerable, and powerful touch was occurring in that ward when the world’s institutions, the public, and even some doctors and nurses in that same hospital were feeding the narrative that it was more important to deny people all of these things, and instead focus on self-preservation through fear and intimidation. The message, simply was “Be afraid. Protect yourself…” rather than, “Be of service. Show love. Be human.”
I currently work in the arena of sexual health. Unfortunately, I can tell you that that narrative of fear continues, even amongst the most educated of persons responsible for delivering care, with institutions, and with many people in our society.
This film 5B is tough to watch, but I think everyone needs to be aware that it exists. If you are in a space to experience it, I encourage you to do so.
In addition to a link to the video, I also have provided links to a series of talks given at the 30th Anniversary of Body Electric where a woman by the name of Irene Smith shares how she taught volunteers to provide erotic massage to AIDS patients in hospices and hospital wards. This was a phenomenal practice, given that many AIDS patients were abandoned to die alone – by their lovers, their friends, their caregivers, and even their families.
A third video is a rather long discussion between Reid Mihalko and Joseph Kramer about Joseph Kramer’s work. Joseph shares memories about those early days of Body Electric, when this co-creation with others was playing a fundamental role in the loving care of patients, in the form of workshops and programs creating space for others to find their healing.
Here are the links to the videos. Thank you for letting me share. Much love.
5B – Documentary (Trailer)
This documentary has been released and is available on Amazon as well as with other major online video providers.
Body Electric Spirit Awards: The 30th Anniversary of the Body Electric School
Most importantly, watch these segments: Irene Smith – “Touching Our Grief” – Taught Taoist Erotic Massage to AIDS patients (Starts at 18:00): Joseph’s Talk – Starts at the beginning
Joseph speaks with Reid Mihalko at the Center of Sex Positivity, San Francisco
Joseph Kramer mentioned Body Electric in the early days throughout the interview. This interview was filmed at the Center for Sex Positivity in San Francisco. There are two segments:
Watch Interview – Part 1 Watch Interview – Part 2
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash