Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wanna Cuddle?

(Self publishing an article I wrote last year about cuddle parties. If this sounds like fun, come join me Friday in PDX at a cuddle party! Email me for more info.)

Just imagine: you are decked out in your most comfortable and loved jammies. Sinking down onto the padded floor of the yoga studio, you make a nest out of pillows, blankets and bolsters. Around you are 10, 20 maybe even 30 people that just an hour ago you had never met. Now, one of them is rubbing your feet, someone is sitting behind you rubbing you shoulders, and you idly stroke the leg of someone as you chat. Before the evening is over, you might end up at the bottom of a puppy pile: a mass of bodies flung over one another with abandon. The vibe is one of child like laughter and warmth, like the touch you might have shared as a child with a beloved protective and comforting relative.

You’ve just imagined a snuggle party, or cuddle party.

Well, you did if you didn’t break out in a cold sweat of revulsion at the thought of actually touching someone you don’t know. The sweaters are balled up in a corner in the fetal position rocking themselves to their happy place.

In the mid 00’s, the “let’s get together and touch each other” craze got a lot of press, led by Cuddle Party, an East Coast-based non-profit started by Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski in 2004. Too bad for them, though, for the PNW had it first: James Davis (known as “Jas”) started a non-profit called LoveTribe in 2002 after having an epiphany in a puppy pile during Burning Man. A Portland based entrepreneur owning holistic wellness cooperatives in Portland, his organization set out to help people learn to appreciate their own physical nature, and how to connect with others in more caring, nurturing and playful ways.

Yes, there are opening circles, boundary exercises, checking in with yourself, and lots of other hippy-dippy lingo. But the well researched and documented fact remains: as humans, we need touch.  Our modern culture—from religion to technology—has done a great deal to demonize this simplest of needs. Many of us are oddly isolated at a time when digital “connection” is so ubiquitous.

LoveTribe holds monthly events perfect for those new to the concept: Yum! is a mixture of dance and snuggle party held the first Friday of each month and is a relaxing and energizing way to top off a week. You might find a Salem local or two there! The crowd at an event ranges from early 20’s hipsters to boring-by-day middle-aged accountants to more chronologically experienced members of our society. It’s a broad segment which by its very nature is very inclusive and liberal. Some attendees are informal or professional licensed massage therapists or other flavores of bodyworkers or energy healers.

The act of coming into a room of strangers and trusting them enough to let down your usual boundaries can be downright frightening. The framework of a snuggle party is built upon clear, open communication and consent. Such an environment empowers you to brazenly ask for what you want, while also holding to any boundary that feels comfortable for you. Ask for anything, and when asked say yes or no (gently and with respect) as you please.

Newcomer participation runs the gamut. Some rush in with arms flung open and crash into the first person they come across, while others might mingle around the edges, engage in some friendly discussion but forgo cuddling and simply shrink their need for physical space and sit closer to someone than usual. That’s all good; as the goal is to increase our connection to others, if you leave with a smile on your face, you’ve succeeded.

Sweating yet? I know what you’re thinking: This is just an excuse to have an orgy, right? Quite the contrary. A key element of the movement is teaching people that touch doesn’t equal sex. That’s a hard knot to untie for some in our culture: the idea that being physically close to vibrant, physically attractive people can be done without the spectre and expectation of sex. Or, on the flip side, that you’d see any point in being physically close to someone with whom you don’t sexually covet. A key element in this movement is recognizing the beauty and value in everyone, and sharing a little of your own and accepting what is offered by others. Events are strictly clothes-on and the energy level (which means your intent and thoughts) is to not be of a sexual nature. Think warm and fuzzy puppies, not hot and sexy nekkid people.

This does not mean that you don’t find yourself going a little wobbly over a person or flirting a bit. But your intent in interacting is more along the lines of hugging a close friend, and not dry humping your first teenaged girlfriend.

But one may ask, “Why?” It’s not so hard to imagine that if we each felt more connected to each other, our world might have more compassion and less hate, our individual lives more passion and less fear. So get your jammies together and let’s go. There are a few people who would like to see enough interest from the Salem metro area to support its own regular snuggle! Learn more at lovetribe.org, or email me at lavachickie@gmail.com

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