Have you noticed a continuing thread that runs through all of the exercises I’ve been suggesting since we got back from our reading deprivation week? Yes, they are sensory timeouts, intended to slow us down a little and keep us connected to some clear spaces that may have come to light while our inner voice quieted down.
But also, perhaps you might have noticed that all of them can be the basis of an Artist Date. A trip to a bakery, specifically to revel in the aromas; visiting an unexplored ethnic restaurant for the purpose of discovering strange, unknown flavors; an hour of playing a CD with your eyes closed and doing absolutely nothing else but deeply listening. The possibilities are infinite.
In the past, I have had trouble actually granting myself my Artist’s Dates, because they would seem to take so much time and planning. Yes, I admit that I should know better, but I am still prey to feeling uncomfortable, even guilty, if I’m spending time that looks wasteful or unproductive to the naked eye.
But I like these exercises because they are easy, fun, and take minimal travel time and money. And they are deliberately geared towards awakening your artist self in new ways, by cranking up the volume on your senses. To be a good creative, you have to be paying attention, with all your senses tingling alive and aware. Artist dates are where we invite our inner artist to play with us. Sense by sense, what could be more delightful?
So today, let’s focus on that huge, yummy all-over-our-body sense – our sense of touch. “Our skin is what stands between us and the world,” Diane Ackerman reminds us. “If you think about it, no other part of us makes contact with something not us but the skin. It imprisons us, but it also gives us individual shape, protects us from invaders, cools us down or heats us up as need be, produces vitamin D, holds in our body fluids. Most amazing, perhaps, is that it can mend itself when necessary and it is constantly renewing itself. Weighing from six to ten pounds, it’s the largest organ of the body and the key organ of sexual attraction…
“Although it may cascade or roam as we grow older, it lasts surprisingly well. For most cultures, it’s the ideal canvas to decorate with paints, tattoos and jewelry…But most of all, it harbors the sense of touch.”
We feel touch, not on the top layer of our skin, which is dead and is what flakes off and leaves bathtub rings, but in the second layer. The hairiest parts of our bodies are generally the most sensitive, because there are many sense receptors in the follicles of each hair.
Our sense of touch is complex and full of surprises. We may be ticklish in a certain spot one minute, only to be aroused there seconds later. And Diane points out, “It’s entirely possible to feel wet, even though we may not be wet (when washing dishes with plastic gloves on, say)…” Just think how very real it seems when you are sure there is an insect crawling on you (but then, there isn’t).
So our play date with our sense of touch consists of two exercises. The first is to close your eyes and have a friend hand you an object that you haven’t seen. Feel it carefully all over. Can you feel its color? Can you imagine subtleties and shadings based on any bumps, dents, graining or curves? Then have your friend take it away. Draw the object from the memory of its feel in your hand. The point is not to guess what it is, or even draw particularly well, but to draw it based on the memory of your touching it.
The second touch exercise is to get a massage. If you can get a full professional massage, say, over the weekend, that’s great. Many people have never enjoyed one from a professionally licensed massage therapist. If that might include you, I strongly urge you to give it a try.
If that’s not feasible for you right now, then can you find a good friend who will at least give you a nice neck and shoulder rub?
While you enjoy this sensual treat, notice what thoughts go through your mind. How does your body feel before, during and immediately afterwards? Did you feel happy, shy, relaxed, nervous, peaceful? Maybe all of the above? Massage therapists say that our body holds memories in a different, but just as valid manner as our brain memories. Sometimes massage can trigger emotions, ways we have held ourselves or hurts that we have long forgotten in our conscious minds. Has anything like that ever come up for you?
Next week, we’ll do some more exploring of our senses, and get started on Chapter Five: Recovering a Sense of Possibility.