An exercise in intimacy

Were asked to pair up and touch each others palms for 3 minutes; 90 seconds with eyes closed, 90 seconds with them open, then write our experiences, taking 10 minutes.

Reflections on bodily contact

My view of Matthew:

The first part was to stare into each others eyes for ten seconds. This felt like ten minutes, in fact, we had to make several attempts at the gazing preliminary as we would either one of us look away or laugh, distracting ourselves. I do not know my opposite number, seen him in class so it was all genuinely difficult and left me feeling surprisingly uncomfortable.

The main feeling, I experienced throughout was pain. I shut my eyes, at first uneasy at the unnatural circumstances of touching a stranger so to speak. We English are so reserved… My hands – so warm, his hands cold from just walking into the classroom. I began to lose all sense of what was normal… the effort of holding up my arms made it feel like I was holding up the other person like in a circus trick, balancing upwards. My fingers compensating and micro-adjusting so the fingertips would not ‘fall off’ the ends of his fingertips, like balancing on a the edge of a precipice, a high wire. Feeling pulses of movement and the heat transferring from my hands into his. Each finger would twitch.

Releasing our shut eyes- opening them made the task even harder. Now I had to worry about having to avert my gaze. When our eyes meet I look away, embarrassed. We are conditioned not to threaten each other with this gaze avoidance, I think. If I did this to my dog, he would look away, just the same. I glance round the room, looking at the others to see what they are doing, some relaxed, some in embarrassed discomfort, just like me…I carry on, this seems like it is taking hours, certainly not something I would have chosen to so but at last we are released, I drop my arms in absolute relief.

I wonder what I can take from this; the distortion of time, sensory input magnified with eyes closed.

This was Matthew’s viewpoint:

The contact zone moved. As our palms touched and our fingers aligned we knew this would be a long minute and a half. James’ hands felt large and warm. The pressure created between us was enough to sustain the strain of our extended limbs.

I could sense movement, twitches and some rigidity from James. Personally I was calm. A little apologetic for the coldness of my own hands. Questions started arriving. Was I sweating? Was I moving a lot? I felt like James was doing the moving, still I thought of the relationship between driver and passenger in a car. The driver anticipates.

After thirty or forty seconds my left index finger began to slip. It crept leftwards. Gradually heading for the valley. Would we soon interlock fingers? I didn’t move, curious to as to where this would go. James blinked first and corrected our alignment. The minute game of chicken was over.

When we opened our eyes James would not hold my gaze for more than a few seconds. Our separate selves had bonded for a few minutes there. I continued with the exercise and stared at James. Taking in his face, his eyes, his hair. He is several decades older than I am, I knew this change would happen to me too.


Part two

My viewpoint:

This time we did not touch – we closed our eyes  for 90 seconds then I used my phone to film in time laspse mode, observing my partner through the phone for 90 seconds.

With eyes closed, I was disconnected totally from him. The classroom disappeared, I was in meditative mode; since my practice of over 25 years of meditation, I am conditioned to draw within and I began to watch myself. Again, Gurdjieff watched over me so to speak, I was observing myself, my thoughts passing, music – memories of my days when I was in the ‘work’. Now, John Cale… drifting thoughts swirling, bringing my mind back… but still no appearance of my partner in front of me… until I realised I had a task to be in the room with my opposite number.

The 90 seconds seemed long, but I was comfortable this time, happy to spend another hour if need be.

The daylight returns and my task reappears, I hold my phone up and video Matthew in fast motion – maybe he would like to see it, it did not record any particular blow by blow representation, I wanted to shrink time if I ever came to look at it again. He looks a little uneasy, but I am thankful it was not me being observed. I saw him looking at me looking into my phone, he did not seem to like the idea, neither did I, like a sort of voyeuristic thing, I felt guilt. He was a victim, I was the prison warder forced to observe my prisoner. I was dominant in the exercise, not any better position to be in than the observed subject.

The time passed slower in the observation through the phone sequence, it was not enjoyable. We were back dealing with our intimacy despite giving each other permission to do this, I was glad the second part was over.

And Matthew’s view:

I’m searching for James with my eyes closed. We are no longer connected, only present together. The yellow and orange of my eyelids turns to a muddy green. The hairs on my fingers are bristling. They’re searching for contact. My stomach rumbles and I’m reminded of my hunger. I distract myself with a few bars of a song.

When we open our eyes this second time James has been told to take out his phone and views me through it. I stare dead-eyed into the lens. Knowing this black circle will be the locus of my attention for the next period, I settle in.

I try to move the camera with my stare. That is I’m trying to move the man. I visualise pushing the device away to the side. The phone does start to move, a hand swap indicates that this is fatigue not telekinesis.

James looks away from the camera. I know he doesn’t enjoy this, I find this fun.

How does my face look? Am I locking with his invisible eyes? In the pre-meditation I considered discreetly lifting my hood and pulling the cords tight. Not out of shame or shyness but to make James laugh upon opening his eyes.