“I’m looking at my hand… it’s got a lot of wrinkles, but it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land, and weave reeds into baskets, and it has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space/time, we’re part of that story.”
From “A Wild Love for the World,” Joanna Macy and Krista Tippett at On Being.
A few years ago, I read a wonderful book called The Hand, by Frank R. Wilson. Published in 1998, I’ve never read anything quite like it: equal parts anatomy book, anthropology text, and medical memoir, mixed together with the life stories of individuals who put their hands (and brains) to use in curious ways. It features rock-climbers, mechanics, puppeteers, musicians, magicians, Feldenkrais therapists, and more. A broad-scope humanities book, it’s the kind of read that I am always on the lookout for, where science and stories are brought together in a way that is thorough, and compelling.
The human hand can be an agent of healing and creation, and is depicted as such in myth and throughout history. There are dozens of meaningful mudras and hand gestures in religious art. The touch of another human’s hand greets us at birth. As we move through the world, the touch that we welcome from others releases oxytocin into our bloodstream, helping us to feel calm, relaxed, and happy.
Thoughtful touch, and the fine work that the human hand is capable of, are becoming ever more precious as we tumble onward into the rabbit hole of the digital age. Our hands can do so much, but these days most of us spend a lot of our hand-time at computer keyboards, or swiping and tapping electronic gadgets. Esther Perel has spoken poignantly about how for many of us, our phone is the last thing we touch at night, and the first thing we touch in the morning, at great cost to human relationship.
As the days shorten and the calendar year draws to a close, the temptation to huddle around the warmth of our devices grows even stronger. This winter season, I encourage you to spend a little time meditating on the miracle of the human hand, your own, and others’. Massage a lightly scented oil onto your paws before going to bed, or exchange a hand massage with your partner or best friend. Spend some time gazing at your uniquely mysterious palm-lines, the wrinkles that make you, you. (I only recently realized that the ring finger on my left hand is a full quarter-inch shorter than my right ring finger–this, despite the fact I have probably spent more time than the average person, contemplating my hands! Weird.)
Studies on the effectiveness of Reiki are a challenge, because the placebo group often receives “sham” Reiki from a person who goes through the motions of a session, without actually being initiated as a Reiki practitioner. The thing is, human touch in and of itself can convey comfort and encouragement, which supports healing. I suspect one of Reiki’s gifts is that it helps individuals cultivate the willingness to be still, to practice quiet, agenda-free human touch on a regular basis–not just with others, but more importantly with ourselves. I personally experience Reiki on the meditation spectrum, in that a teacher empowers us in our practice, listens to our questions, and encourages us to always return to the practice: to let Reiki teach you, through your very human hands.