A few months ago, I took a boxing class.
Not one of those “cardio kickboxing” choreographed things either.
A real, old school, in-the-ring sparring class. Any one who knows me in real life who hasn’t already heard about this is probably laughing right now. Yes, Ms. “Carries the bugs outside instead of killing them” took a boxing class. I dabbled in the martial arts a bit when I was younger, but I just wanted (needed?) something intense. Something visceral and real.
So, I stepped into the ring, looked at the instructor and said:
“I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
C’mon now, I didn’t say that!
What I actually said was, “Is this going to hurt?” To which he raised his eyebrows and told me that it’s different for everyone.
I learned two important things about myself in the class.
1. I don’t like hitting people.
2. I don’t like people trying to hit me.
Put those two together and add in the fact that I use my hands the rest of the time to try and help others, and my boxing days were over quickly.
But one aspect of it wouldn’t leave me alone. Why did I want to in the first place? What is it about us that loves action movies? What do we get from that intensity, that adrenaline rush of physical violence—either on the screen or in real life? I have committed my life to non-violence, but…if I’m honest with myself, many of my favorite films are fairly violent.
If we become what we feed our minds on, is it acceptable for mindful people to feed on violence? Is there a place for this in our lives?
I considered this, and filed it away for future use. Then, I started noticing something else, another relevant pattern. As an editor at elephant journal, I read most of our articles, address feedback and comments from readers and writers, notice trends and patterns in what we are publishing.
Without fail, articles about sexuality or with a sexually oriented featured image get both the most views and the most complaints. Offensive! Sexuality is offensive. A partially naked human body is offensive. The writer’s views about sexuality are offensive. To be fair, there are often positive responses too, but in any case, they generate a lot of interest. It’s not news that people are interested in sex, or violence for that matter, but wouldn’t you expect it to be less polarizing among a mindful group? The percentage of articles we have about sex is fairly small, yet they get so much notice.
But I stopped short one day and asked myself, “Where are we as a society if violence is acceptable and sexuality isn’t?” and maybe more importantly, “Why are we—even within a mindful community—so drawn to sexual and violent imagery? What needs aren’t being met here?”
It’s an interesting, yet disturbing, thing, children who are touch-deprived will fail to thrive and have lifelong physical and psychological problems more severely than those who are physically abused. As disturbing as it sounds, there is a profound lesson here: children whose only experience with touch is negative and abusive have a better chance for survival than children who are not touched.
I’ll re-frame that a little:
As human beings, we need touch. It is such a basic need, that even violent touch would be preferable to none at all. We know this on an instinctual biological level. Without touch, we cannot thrive. We cannot stay healthy.
For all of our connection, we are a touch deprived society.
For all of the sex and violence we watch, we have far too little passionate interaction. We have forgotten that we are more connected than we are separate. We give bland handshakes instead of hugs (well…not me…I hug everybody…I’m weird that way). We have forgotten how to be emotionally naked with each other. We have forgotten the need for non-sexual touch in our lives and instead “respect each other’s space.” We text, email and IM instead of talking face to face. We try to fill and fix our stresses with so many different things, when often we would be better of just being still with the present moment, and being held by someone.
So is that the answer or just ten more questions? Am I going to stop watching Fight Club? Are people going to start hugging more and stop emailing me telling me I am offensive every time a sex post goes up on elephant? (The answer to both of those is “no,” in case you were curious.)
As I looked for an image to go with this, I found something ironic that proves my point. Most images I found, simply by looking for “boxing,” were of fit women, not wearing much, with boxing gear. There is nothing wrong with the human body—male or female. And maybe, there is room in our lives for violence, when we can learn from it.
But if we are drawn to it, if we find ourselves reacting to it, we need to consider what true need lies beneath it. We need to reach out and touch each other.