17 OCTOBER 1970, Page 28

Touching people

'For some of us it's not enough to eat and talk. We want to touch one another, look into eyes, hum and sigh to each other. So we'll do this; we'll feel hurt if you don't res- pond, but that's alright, and glad if you give us your gestures, and delighted if you join.'

Eight people moved through the room, slow motion, looking for eyes to meet, smiles of self-conscious meeting, 'I wish I weren't here,' but we carried it through. We touched, and then talked. People had a lot to say to each other from then on.

'What's the point of all this? Don't you think it's unnatural?'

(The reply) `It's in my nature but not in yours, and I'm also used to it but you're not, so it could even be a bad idea for you to try.' I heard this said to a lady who seemed to find her own fluent thing by talking against what she saw.

That evening, fifteen people took part in body-touch encounter exercises at the Man- na, a vegetarian restaurant for gentle people in Chalk Farm. David Cooper, John Henzell, Keith Musgrove (of Centre Forty-eight) and people they'd never met screamed upwards with their bodies entwined, in celebration of their spirits, or in despair of their loneliness; no-one was forced to join, so thirty people looked on, ate savoury and continued their own conversations with occasional crescen- does of sound from the ritual-makers, who had given up the convention of talk.

The exercises are actually meditations, like simple instructions for simple, continuous actions: 'Move about, eyes closed, touch. hands, faces, bodies, move slowly, know one another.' There are no instructions for the experience, only the action, and even that is left to personal style, need and inventiveness.

Goals? Purposes? They are countless, and contradictory. Interpretations are generated by philosophies, and the words of your philo, sophy are bound to differ from mine. Non, verbal encounter meditations are to break out of the wrappings of usual conversation,

The body leads, and sounds replace wordsi Experience is the grounding for action, action

is gesture and touch; since we experience our own actions and their consequence upon others, our action turns back to replenish the spirit which moved us originally. So we are in a spiral of creative enactment within ourselves and in our encounters with others. These exercises are easy for any amiable group of people. One person stands in the middle, eyes closed, swaying, and our hands give support. Can you trust others to let you sway like a blade of grass? Notice if you can't or don't want to. That's as important as what you do. Then two people came to the middle, holding on to one another, and swaying as one, with our gentle hands for support. Then another two people came in the centre; this time we just caressed them. We are invited to feel our bodies when we are caressed.

I asked whether any people felt a bit irriN able or discontented with what was happen- ing. After all, fondling is not everyone's cup of tea. I waited. I asked again. Finally, two slim-shaped men, perhaps coerced by my request and gaze, took half steps forward. I asked them to face one another in the centre, grapple hands, and push one another across the floor. They held one another's hands, looked at each other, and just stood there, That's all they did, and we watched.

We took partners, anyone we didn't know, We looked at each other, smiling, laughing or sad. Eyes met for five minutes. It made me still and settled. Half of us made faces, mock grimaces and pretences of desperation; each partner mirrored what he saw with his own facial contortions, and then exaggera- ted them. Then, who was willing to shout? We whispered to our partners, 'stop shout- ing,' then spoke it, then yelled, 'Stop shout- ing,' reminiscent of the paradoxical, 'I only say this for your sake.'

What good does this do? Are we now liberated to touch faces at tube stations? Or scream in movie theatres? I'm not going to do that, because I don't want to. But I can't say for others. One woman who enjoyed her own caustic counter-rebellion (I'm sure she felt better for our giving her the opportunity) said from the side-lines, 'I don't think there's any poirt in all this unless you go out into the streets and touch anyone; it's too easy to confine it to people in this room.' She then added, 'I don't think it's right for strangers to paw each other. That's why I didn't join in.' She spoke her own truth. To give con- trary and therefore impossible commands to people she opposes (as disclosed by the contrariness of her two statements) is part of her truth. The trouble is she thinks her truth applies to others; so the 'moral impact' of her statements is undermined by the im. morality of presuming others must obey them aside from herself.

A core of six stayed in the group while others passed in and out. We milled random. ly about again, touching and looking, and this time making sounds so that breaths could be heard. This is hard. To allow sounds with. out words seems to be harder than touching for most. I won't try to estimate the relative significance of making sounds and touching. They are incomparable. I don't think any. one, including myself, was able to sustain making sounds with every breath for the several minutes we moved and touched. In sounding out, we communicate and travel out beyond the confines of our bodies; that is risky, but it is a release. My voice often sounds awful to myself. Most everyone feels that way, whenever they listen to their own voice. In speech there is some means of turn- ing off the awareness from the sound of one's words (focusing on the content of what one says aids that blotting out), but when all you have to do is make a gentle continuous sound with every breath, you must hear your own voice. A lot of people can't stand that and naturally cannot stand the feeling of someone else hearing their own voice as well. So people are inhibited; in this group, how- ever, people had the pluck to make sounds so we were able to touch a person's cheeks, hair, bald spots, beards, shoulders, arms, backs, flanks, fronts, hips, and all the way down in a sea of voices.

We did other things together in a group. When we had a floor full of people, we made an electromagnetic chain (though some preferred to call it an orgone chain). Each person was asked to envelope the person in front without actually touching; two separ- ate chains of people faced a man and woman who held onto one another. Those who be- lieved people could feel bodies at a distance, ie, without touching, said this is what they experienced. I then asked, as one of the links. that we close the chain. People held onto each other, and we as a chain swayed and sounded for a while.

A ritual in a circle went as follows: Ulla said 'fear' and looked at David. (I know that's an important word for her, and it is for me). The rest of us in the circle chanted 'fear' slowly and softly, as David moved to her and touched her 'according to the word' as asked. The chant moved spontaneously to 'No fear' and David caressed her. David moved back. It was now for him to speak. In a little while, he said the name of a woman. He looked at me. The group chanted the woman's name. I relaxed and entered a meditation whereby my body moves accord: ing to its own impulses, 'Word instructions

from my mind don't cease, but in this medi, tation they have no influence on what I do. impelled by my bodily 'it' (in Groddeck's sense) I moved toward David as if seeking elevation. I leaned my belly against his head, and then succumbed falling over and for- ward to find myself stretched across his back.

To be closer than words is also .startling for many people. In the safety of an encoun- ter session, a person can break his usual pat. tern of talk-relating and touch-relate instead. If he's unsure whether this is 'the right thing to do', he can always remember he's just following the rules. New rules that ask people to contact and approach, not withdraw. The result is that many people feel inspired to repeat elements of the encounter experience in their outside life. They want to 'cut the crap' of vague, generalised impersonal talk, and bring dialogue into an issue of personal immediacy. One person reported telling a friend, 'Let's not talk about the fuzz again, and who they might bust. Let's talk about the fuzz inside of us. I find there's a police- man inside of, me who's watching what I say to you. I'm nervous with you, I don't know why. It's like if I tell you I'd like to touch you, you might not just say no, which is OK, though it still hurts, but you might put me down for saying it as well.' This initi- ated an extended dialogue between these two people about their position toward each other; they began to let each other know.

In the film, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, a couple tried to turn their friends on to the new direct love feeling they experienced in an encounter group weekend. The crossing of wave-lengths showed the humour of the let's love everyone' theme, coming up against the cynical realism of old friends and acquaintances who won't be taken in by such naivety. This is the same type of dis- appointment many encounter group enthusi- asts experience after their first few sessions. Such disappointments and hurt feelings from being rebuffed could be the leverage for tak- ing still further steps for direct contact. But disappointment and hurt can also incline one to withdraw, and the inspiration ends. The latter paragraphs are meant to outline several different kinds of reaction to an en-

counter session. Many people take to it like fish to water; for others, it is an anathema. The self-selection process of joining an en- counter group is essential because these exer- cises are not meant for everyone. Since every encounter session will contain tasks for its participants which are difficult, the fact that one has brought oneself to this water-hole to drink makes one's responsibility for what- ever happens to oneself crystal clear. In this set-up of voluntary participation, even drop- ping out mid-way constitutes a valid learning experience, since this reveals just how far one is willing to go. I don't believe partici- pants in an encounter group are supposed to follow the instructions. Instructions are given as a framework for action. In following them, or in failing to follow them, or in breaking them, a person will learn more of his own inclinations and capacities in a group dominated by the senses rather than words.

I would like to raise some important limi- tations to encounter group evenings like the one held at the Manna; such meetings do not hook into people's individual hang-ups in a way that permits exploration and working out. It is not a therapy session. The stimulus of the evening can encourage one to look further into oneself or outward toward new possibilities with others. But this is not thera- py in the sense of an individualised approach to each persori's particular situation and snags. For an encounter group to take on this task of therapy, people need the opportunity to talk about themselves. The tasks of thera- py develop from self-disclosure. This re- quires an on-going group (weekly meetings), a steady membership (best if the group is closed), and an operatively developed con- tract for confidentiality. This last point of confidentiality is crucial from my own ex- perience, since I found that if people do not put names, places and details of events direct- ly on the line, the whole therapeutic impact of disclosure and discussion is diluted.

Encounter groups can use disclosure and discussion methods comparable to group therapy. But even when employing tradi- tional approaches, the encounter group is vastly different from group therapy. The orientation in encounter groups is toward activity and the creation of new possibilities; in group therapy it is toward reflection and understanding of problems as they exist.

he value of discussion is weighted toward the experience of encounter rather than the truth of interpretation. The leader of an en- counter group, in contrast to a group thera- pist, must be willing to give specific direc- tions at times, and at other times become subject to all those exercises undergone by the rest of the group. The requirement that one be a full member of the group is the most arduous for myself and I would expect for many other encounter leaders, too. Yet, when one says, 'Let's jump into the water,' shall others always go first?

Self-disclosure and discussion can be com- bined with non-verbal exercises. For ex- ample, after a series of non-verbal encoun- ters, each member could be asked to sit in front of every other member in the circle, say how the person makes you feel, and then let your body show how you feel with some bodily expression toward the person. I re- member one occasion in which a woman stammered, 'I'm not sure how I feel,' and then gave the bulky man in front of her a quick punch to the stomach. Another woman said to this same man, 'I see you're kind, and I think sensitive. You make me feel like holding your hands and taking you into a field to play'. She went on in this fashion for a while, smiling throughout. When about to touch him, she found she couldn't. She got upset and then admitted she wanted to like him in all the ways she said, especially be- cause she felt he wanted to be liked so much.

To hook into a person's 'outside' prob- lems requires methods beyond those des- cribed so far. I think it is in this area that encounter groups are on the threshold of new discoveries. For example. I have found that the most effective means of presenting a situational problem is to enact it rather than talk about it. In the following instance, Mary talks about her problem with John: 'John's so glum when he comes home. And that starts the whole evening off on the wrong foot. I try to get him to loosen up, he's so up-tight, but .1 think he's stubborn' This account gives a number of adjectives, like 'glum', loosen-up"up-tighr, and 'stubborn', but there's no specific recounting of what is said and done; thus, it's impossible to grasp the nature of the problem, no less offer help- ful comments. I asked Mary, 'Exactly what does John say to you, and what do you say when he conies home, what do you each do?'

It is at this point that encounter methods facilitate the therapeutic task. Mary recoun- ted the typical dialogue that follows John's

arrival home. She then chose another mems ber of the group to take John's role, and the dialogue was re-enacted. It began: MARY: 'Oh, I'm glad you're home.' tiri: 'Yeah. (Heavy voice) I'm just tired. MARY: 'Come on, now, it's not so bad.' JOHN: 'Sure, sure, you don't have to take the worries home. So it's easy for you. MARY: 'It's not easy to say. You worry too much. Come on John-John, don't be that way. You didn't even give me a kiss'

The dialogue continued for a couple of minutes along these lines. I asked Mary to stop mid-sentence at one point and describe what she felt starting with the words, 'What I feel but shouldn't feel toward you (John) is .. : Mary began, 'What I feel but shouldn't feel with you is irritability. No, downright

resentment. You're in a morbid self-pitying mood, you don't want to talk with me, not even come over and kiss me. I feel I get nothing from you, a big zero' She suddenly stopped and turned from the person enacting John toward myself, and said, 'I can't go on. I don't like saying this. It's 'not fair. It's a funny feeling, to talk like this with a chip on my shoulder as if I'm Madam Perfect' JEROME: 'Does the "funny feeling" and talk- ing as if you had "a chip on your shoulder" remind you of anything or anyone?' MARY: 'My mother. She had this nagging toward my father. I couldn't stand it.'

We then discussed how Mary's resentment toward John was suppressed because it re- minded her of her mother's nagging. Mary felt her tone of voice sounded like her moth- er's when she got 'nasty', and would there- fore avoid showing 'bad feelings'. This meth- od of suppressing feelings is called 'negative identification'. A negative identification means to avoid feeling and behaving like a particular person (usually a parent) at any cost. People frequently check their anger and assertiveness on this basis.

We then repeated the dialogue with par- ticipants, asking them to repeat the same lines as accurately as possible, but this time Mary played John and another person took Mary's role. When Mary heard, 'Oh, come on now, it's not so bad', and 'You worry too much', said to herself in the role of John, she was surprised to feel a lack of sympathy in the statements. Instead of feeling better from hearing these reassurances, she felt worse. Mary recognised that John might feel rejec- ted by these reassurances, since they implied that he shouldn't be feeling his unhappy feelings. In other words, Mary realised that she might have been saying, 'Turn it off'.

In a final scene that evening, Mary again played herself while the person enacting John approached her to hold her affectionately about the shoulder. He did this because she had previously said she missed physical af- fection from John. However, she instinct- ively withdrew when this approach was made; she said she'd probably withdraw even if John himself were to touch her, despite her claim of wanting to be touched by him.

The over-all point is that encounter groups can be the start for many new developments in personal growth. The methods of enact- ment, touch, movement, vocalisation, and so on can be the basis of group meditations (or exercises). A number will find in an encounter group a sympathetic setting to help him or her to do and feel new things with the aim of self- growth. But not everyone will. For people made too anxious by the group setting, for • people who cannot see both the play and the seriousness of encounter exercises, and for all sorts of people, encounter groups will not be their meat.,