Skin. It is the largest organ of our body, weighing in at an average of 8 pounds and consisting of approximately 21 square feet, for adults. It breathes, it stretches with us however we move, it is sensitive enough in some regions to detect almost infinitesimal changes in pressure and temperature.
It keeps our insides from going out where they shouldn't, and keeps things on the outside that could hurt us from going in. A 24/7 cradle and security agency all in one. We don't think about it very much unless something goes wrong, like hives or poison ivy or a sunburn, or more long-term conditions like psoriasis or lupus. We are covered from head to toe with a miracle but most of the time we take it for granted.
It's what we see when we look at another person. Given human nature and our current culture, its color and appearance figure significantly in our lives. People around the world express themselves by decorating it with make-up, tattoos, henna, mud and other materials.
And, of course, skin-to-skin is the ultimate in intimacy between two people, from a mother nursing her newborn to our connections with our romantic partners.
Skin can also be a great way to connect with yourself. There is a zapchen exercise called "patting"which is pretty much what it says--you pat yourself all over, head to toe—or toe to head if you prefer—torso, head, arms, legs, feet, hands. Usually gently, but you can do it firmly too. Do it clothed or unclothed and, if you feel so inclined, with a partner who can help you pat those hard-to-reach areas of your back. (Hint for singles: I attached a tiny pillow to the end of a stick so I could better pat my own back. :^)
Julie Henderson, creator of zapchen, says that patting helps increase "sensation and the experience of presence and aliveness....It seems, also, that feeling your 'edges' better, this increased awareness of physical, energetic and psychological boundaries, helps the immune system to know its 'job'—the moment to moment decisions about what goes inside and what needs to stay outside—more accurately."
Skin is also the point of contact between my clients and me. When I put a hands on a client I honor their separateness from me. And their beauty. And our connection. Most of the time I use very light touch—and I listen. My touch may bring comfort, or rest or peace. Sometimes it loosens old pain.
Sometimes people need to keep that awareness of touch at skin level. Which is a wonderful gift—a celebration of boundaries. Sometimes they may allow the connection to go deeper. That too is a miracle.
It is such an honor to be trusted in this way, to experience whatever someone wants to share of themselves, via the connection of skin. It remains a sacred place of wonder for me.
We are, indeed, as it says in Psalm 139, "fearfully and wonderfully made." May we all learn that more fully in this new year.
Next time I'll write about the first cousin of silence.