“Touch me, but don't touch me.” This statement might seem like a paradox. But when we examine it attentively and with compassion, what we realize is that what people want most of all is to be touched in the heart.
People wish to be touched emotionally, yes, but for reasons only they can know, they might prefer to keep some physical distance between the other and themselves: as if they have drawn a circle around themselves which protects them from an over-familiar approach by others, and which at the same time assures themselves some protection. When these signals are understood on both sides, and the boundaries are established, most people will respect these unspoken agreements.
But what happens when these signals show some discrepancy? What happens to these ‘unspoken signals’ when someone appears to be sending out conflicting signals? “Come closer - but not too close!” What happens when this yearning of the heart to be stirred or touched requires us to take a forbidding step out of our carefully-defined comfort zone? And once that step has been taken, how must we react when someone else then reaches out to us and invites us to communicate? Then we find that our precious inner space must undergo expansion and grow in the outer world if we are to be able to communicate in a meaningful way.
This step into a larger unknown might be a moment of hesitation, of withdrawal, even of fear. It is then, in that moment, that we somehow must find our way to compassion: compassion for ourselves and our incapacity to make space in our safe circle. After all, is this not what compassion is? To give space to something to just be, to give space to the other to be whoever he or she is or wants to be? It is unconditional and fearless acceptance of the other person. It is giving space without judgement or interfering with or wanting to change them. Why then should we not also apply all this to ourselves?
It can often seem more difficult to give that space to ourselves than to others. Still we should learn to look at ourselves in a compassionate way whenever we reach a point in our life where we have to move outside of our comfort zone if we wish to fulfil our heart's yearning.
In allowing ourselves to be emotionally affected, in allowing ourselves to be deeply moved, we engage ourselves. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that the feeling of affection stems from a certain ethical attitude - an attitude in which one dares to connect with others and with the world around us. In that sense to be affected is a choice. And there is always a choice, even if we think that there is none. All we have to do is to dare: to dare to take that step into the emotional unknown, to dare to allow ourselves to be touched. For surely if we allow ourselves this greater space then others will feel this from us, and compassion will flourish and we will touch others as surely as we ourselves are touched.
Painting: Couple by Edward Burne-Jones