I had to have unexpected, (very) minor surgery over the weekend, and the experience got me thinking about how we touch our wounds—both physical and emotional—in the aftermath of injury.
Not all touch is the same, and the kind of touch we use on our wounds makes a big difference!
Poking our wounds
My initial condition that caused the need for surgery in the first place was one that caused me a great deal of pain from any touch at all. Even the pressure of clothing was painful.
But as I explored this wounded place, my touch was inevitably one of poking and prodding as I tried to better understand it. It was touch that made the wound hurt even more.
I would come away from moments of this kind of touch wanting to have nothing ever touch that wounded area again. I wanted to build a barricade around it and keep any and every thing from getting anywhere close to it.
The surgery itself was in essence a rather intense form of this poking and prodding, and while it did do much ultimate good, it was also exceedingly painful!
A different kind of touch
On the other hand, I was also required to get a tetanus shot prior to surgery. After the nurse administered the shot and left, the first thing I did was clamp my hand over the site of the shot, much like I often do after hitting my head (or leg or arm) on something hard enough to bruise.
This was a very different kind of touch than a poke. My palm gently covered the wound applying soft but indirect pressure, and I held it as the ache from the shot blossomed and then faded a bit.
This kind of touch was comforting rather than provoking. It was a gentle, protective presence with what hurt that offered a loving witness to the pain. It wasn't trying to figure it out or diagnose it or explore it. I just held it gently as the discomfort from the shot did its thing.
Similarly, as painful as the surgery itself was, I found myself wanting to reach out and cover the site of the incision with a similar comforting hand throughout the procedure. Despite how much pain the touch of surgery was causing, there was still a desire for the comforting, protective touch of my palm over the wound.
And that very touch was one of the first things I did after the surgery was over, and I was left to myself again.
Touching our emotional wounds
As I noticed these two very different kinds of touches, I thought about how well they mirror the ways I touch my emotional wounds too.
My first tendency upon being wounded is to poke and prod at it. I want to understand what happened, why it happened, and who is to blame. I rehearse the story of the event causing the injury over and over, poking at the sore spot each time I rehash it.
I evaluate the "worthiness" of my pain to determine whether my emotions are justified or an over-reaction, adding more prodding to the already painful spot.
I make judgments about my worth or character or intelligence or skills or relationships based on the wounded spot, further poking my finger into a place that already hurts enough.
And by the time my intellect is done with its poking and prodding, I want to barricade that part of me away and never let anyone or anything close to it again.
But that's not the only kind of touch available to me. I can also choose to meet that emotional wound with the equivalent of my gentle open palm.
I can simply come be present with the wound and offer a gentle, protective presence that witnesses my pain and fear and anger with love and compassion. In this space, there's no need to analyze it, evaluate it, judge it, or tell any story about it. I'm just being present with the actual emotions (and their corresponding physical manifestations) as they arise.
This kind of touch is in fact the exact opposite of the temptation the poking touch causes to want to bury it away (where it will just fester and corrode from the inside).
This comforting touch of just being present with my experience does more to allow myself to heal than all the poking and prodding in the world ever does.
But even though it comes so naturally to me when I hurt myself physically, it is a skill I'm having to learn and practice in the emotional realm. I'm finding this connection to the image of my placing my palm over a physical wound to be a helpful one as I seek to practice it better.
In the meantime, I'm getting plenty of opportunity to practice the physical version of this loving touch as my incision heals, and each time I do it, it's serving as a reminder to do the same with whatever emotion I'm feeling in response to the pain.
How does this image of the two different kinds of touch speak to you?
In what ways do you poke and prod at your wounds? How is that kind of touch helpful? How is it harmful?
How often do you employ the gentle covering with your palm kind of touch on your wounds? What effect does that kind of loving, protective presence and witness have?
Are you currently dealing with any wounds that might benefit from more time spent with a gentle palm over them and less time spent poking them? If so, how might you engage in that compassionate presence and witness to yourself today?
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