Ecology and Touch: An Inquiry Into "Conservation Somatics"
Can touch-based therapies help people experience a more empathic and nondualistic relationship to our biosphere?
As one who is interested both in the power of human touch and in the healing of our biosphere, I am exploring their intersection in "conservation somatics": the practice of touch-based and other body-oriented therapies in supporting behavioral changes necessary to address local and global environmental problems. In particular, I am exploring a cornerstone of significant behavior change: the development of a more empathic and nondualistic relationship to the biosphere, in which poisoning a river is seen as dangerous and nonsensical as poisoning oneself.
In my shiatsu practice, I have observed that my experience of a client's meridian channels has nondualistic qualities. For example, when I mindfully palm along a client's meridian, carefully assessing its qi, I have noticed that the tactile quality of information I perceive through touch changes significantly according to my subjective mental state and treatment objectives.
I have concluded from these experiences that my qi and the client's qi are deeply interdependent phenomena. My client and I are exhibiting "Interbeing," a term promoted by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn for the interconnectedness, interdependence, and interpenetration of all beings.
That meridian-based bodywork is a basic way of experiencing nonduality has been remarked on by the internationally-known shiatsu master Ryokyo Endo. According to Endo, Shizuto Masunga, the founder of Zen Shiatsu (the style of shiatsu I practice and teach), taught his students to treat the client's abdomen (hara) while chanting the Heart Sutra, a major Buddhist discourse on nonduality.
And indeed, when I cultivate the experience of "nonduality-rich touch" during my shiatsu treatments by applying the concept of Interbeing to shiatsu practice, I have at times witnessed unusually positive clinical outcomes. Given the urgency of helping clients experience a deeper sense of interdependence with our environment, the relationships between touch and nonduality merit further study and exploration.
My inquiry explores these and other questions:
1. How is the nonduality experienced in practicing nonduality-rich touch similar to and different from nonduality experienced in meditative practice?
2. How does contemporary science view nonduality? Is nonduality validated by the findings of physics, ecology, and systems theory, and if so do these findings bear any special relation to the experience of nonduality in touch?
3. What happens to the brain during the experiencing of nonduality (such as during nonduality meditation), and can the experiencing of nonduality be facilitated by touch therapies?
4. Can nonduality-rich touch create a mirroring effect in the body-mind of the receivers whereby they are more likely to develop greater empathy for all living things?
6. Is the practice of nonduality-rich touch ethical? Does transcending subject-object duality in touch-based therapies constitute a breach of practitioner-client boundaries?
7. How can the development of conservation psychology help conceptualize and frame discourse on "conservation somatics"?
8. How does one best develop a case study on the application of nonduality-rich touch? What outcomes should be assessed in regards to the health and wellness both receiver and giver, and any subsequent behavior changes, especially attitudes towards the natural world?
9. How can nonduality-rich touch be safely, ethically, and effectively taught to touch therapists, other caregivers, experienced meditators, and the general public?
I welcome your comments and thoughts on how to advance this inquiry.