When I first heard the title, “Cuddle Party,” my mind went to the place that your mind is probably going to now; a very weird, new age-y, ultra L.A. fluff, moderately obscene group of people engaging in a type of pre-orgy, foreplay ritual. Ok, maybe your mind is not as perverted as my own, yet I would wager whatever it is you might think these parties might be, you are not even close to what they indeed really are.
And, yes, they really do exist. I “touched” on them in a blog I wrote several years ago. However, when I first heard about such gatherings, I absolutely abhorred the thought of it, let alone imagined going to one.
Why? Frankly, I was never a big “toucher” in my life. I did have a father who was extremely physically affectionate (for which I am very thankful) yet a mother who was exceedingly non-tactile. As a result, I would never consider myself weird and dysfunctional when it came to touch, yet I was very uncomfortable with it -sans those closest to me.
For example, for my 25th birthday my father gave me a gift certificate for a massage –I said thank you and then promptly gave it away as I was not about to have a stranger touch me.
I came to learn that such parties are not about cuddling per se, rather they are groups where individuals can practice asking for what they want, setting boundaries for those things they do not want, while learning the joy of acceptance and the impersonal nature of rejection. Touch is simply the currency used to practice and learn such skills. Hell, they could use dollar bills, food or just about anything else to learn these same concepts. In addition, and perhaps ironically, we all have a surplus of touch at our disposal in society, yet, for a variety of reasons, many still are starving for it as it is a practice we do not engage in nearly enough.
Not me. I’m good. Or am I?
Fast forward to circa 2011. As I shuttered at the thought of such parties, I have this weird chip deep inside of me that is programmed to try things that are WAY outside my comfort zone.
So I made the trek down to a Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade yoga studio. I sat in a circle with strangers and a cuddle guru, who spent the better part of an hour instructing us on the boundaries, rules, purpose and objectives of our soon to be cuddle experience.
Long story short: I hated it…beyond hate, it truly hurt. I was neither the recipient nor provider of touch that entire long evening.
It was the long trip back over the 405 that I knew I needed to go back and revisit the touch demons inside of me; tactile apparitions that needed either some desperate attention or a flat out exorcism.
I went to few more, another in Santa Monica, a couple in the Bay Area and one in Santa Cruz. It was after this last Santa Cruz experience, circa 2012, was when I concluded my Cuddle Party experiment was over and my demons were at long last retreated. Me and my cuddles were set to retire.
Make no mistake, I still did not like Cuddle Parties, yet I least mustered the competency to not vomit at the thought of going to one.
Fast forward to 2017.
I have the wonderful opportunity to have good chunks of time off in both the winter and summer, while giving me ample time to experience life outside of my teaching. It was during this season when I once again stumbled into the cuddle world.
For a variety of reasons, I found myself at an outdoor Cuddle “Sanctuary” this past Sunday afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica. I really do not know the history, though somewhere in this 5-year period, “parties” morphed into “sanctuaries” and I must say that I am down with the reverent feel of the latter moniker. After all, in spite of the fact I am not terribly comfortable with it, at some level I do believe touch is sacred as we depend on it for survival. I did commit to going on Friday morning, then promptly spent the next 40 hours or so trying to think of excuses why I should back out.
I couldn’t. It was that damn uncomfortable chip gnawing away at my soul again.
The sanctuary was really no different than the party. We spent the first hour doing exercises and going over the ground rules. One of the things I love about the experience is that no touch is required at all. People attend these events to practice setting boundaries in their lives, learning how to say no. I have really never had a problem setting boundaries in life, yet I have had issues asking for what I want and being cool with the consequent response.
I was in the right place.
So with my slight nervous shake and rapid heartbeat, I engaged once again, now a few years older and, ideally, a wee bit wiser.
I hugged numerous people. Held hands with someone as we talked about our families, used one’s thigh as a pillow, even had a thumb war or two with some folk. Every act of touch needs to be mutually agreed upon and any touch whatsoever requires permission. It is expressly non-sexual, while even the issue of, “What if something suddenly pops up?” is addressed and the best ways to appropriately deal with any “rising” concerns.
I certainly cannot speak for everyone, yet for me, these events are very strange and highly unusual –kinda like me.
I left the event relatively unscathed and realized that I am certainly cementing myself as the “older guy” at many gatherings in my life. I suppose that being the older gent does have its perks…such as really not giving a shit about saving face and caring what others might think. TOFTS (Too Old For This Shit).
However, what did not strike me that day hit me like a sledge hammer later that same evening.
We had a small gathering of people over to watch my son’s film, “Going To Nepal With A Camera On My Forehead.” In this moving documentary about people, cultures and countries coming together in love, in times of both peace and crisis, the film struck me in a way it has never struck me in the half a dozen or so times I have viewed it. My son just happened to be in Nepal and filming when the April 2015, 7.9 earthquake hit the country, and is all documented in this film.
Perhaps it was the intimacy of touch and human connection I experienced that day on the beach that put me in a connected place of insight and vulnerability that evening. I literally reached out and touched others as we expressed our lives, frailties and general bullshit we humans tend to carry with us on a daily basis.
As I watched humanity connect with each other on the screen that evening- people helping people, the healthy helping the sick, the “haves” pouring out their resources on the “have nots,” the resonance of my own day came into focus.
I was connected.
And I felt it.
I cried over the beauty of humanity reaching out and touching each other in love during a time of great need.
And it felt really good to understand the power of both literal and figurative touch.
I knew there was a reason that gnawing chip inside of me would not let me sit this one out.
We all have a surplus of touch currency and what a shame to let it go to waste.
And, on this day, I felt to be a richer man for it.