Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Maybe you genuinely enjoy solitude. You’re not antisocial, friendless, or loveless – just content with alone time. In fact, you look forward to it. This is “being alone” not “being lonely.”

On the other hand, maybe you are surrounded by family and friends but not really relating beyond a surface level. You feel unsatisfied, empty and disconnected. Or perhaps aloneness leaves you sad and wanting someone to spend quality time with someone.

Either way, there’s a technique that will allow you to counter your aloneness while helping others in the same situation. It offers surprising positive benefits – not only physical, but emotional and cognitive as well.

An epidemic of loneliness

Since traditional values, marriages and families have splintered and declined over the last fifty years, our society is experiencing the effects of an increase in lonely people. The Surgeon General even described it as “a loneliness epidemic”.

Our aging population is more isolated than ever. For some, new communication technologies create more of a social disconnect as relatives visit less often.

Younger people seem to be losing the ability to develop normal social skills. They often don’t know how to relate to another person except through texting, FaceTime or anonymous forums.

And then of course, there is the dating world. Frankly, many of us find ourselves trapped in involuntary celibacy. We like intimacy, but we’re holding out for that right partner. Meanwhile, we often feel lonely. We long for satisfying connection.

Wired for soothing intimacy

Consider our primal origins. Human development includes a history of nurturing, or bonding, activities. These are deeply rooted in our physiology. They include actions such as grooming, touching, cuddling, feeding, removing parasites, soothing a child after injury, and comforting someone who’s cold or frightened.

Today we live in a society where acting upon such instinctive directives has become somewhat “taboo”. We fear our offers of comfort would be misperceived or regarded as socially unacceptable or inappropriate. Chances are, we don’t even ask.

Nevertheless, we human mammals are still biologically wired for nurturing connection. We actually crave these reassuring signals from others in our tribe. Especially from those with whom we have formed alliances, such as family members, lovers and close, trusted friends.

When these social cues or desires remain unmet, we may turn to distractions or substitutions. Sadly, these can deteriorate into addiction, compulsion or other counterproductive behaviour. Think porn, fatty or sugary foods, gaming, gambling, anti-depressants, reckless shopping, television, binge movie-watching, social media overuse, alcohol or recreational drugs.

These things soothe cravings temporarily. Yet they don’t resolve the underlying ache for close connection. We want to be heard, comforted and acknowledged, to feel nurtured and soothed by another person. And to offer the same in turn.

Coping with loss

My wife passed several years ago. I immediately plunged into a world of desperate loneliness. I struggled to find her substitute, someone to spend quality time with. My attempts to ease my distress with superficial intimacy only created more problems. Sure, I sometimes felt genuinely connected and satisfied. Yet, over time, the feelings of isolation and loneliness re-surfaced. And my partners were also left dissatisfied or worse.

Over the last three years, I went on many dates, and met a lot of women. What I discovered really surprised me. Each one of them felt the same way I did. They too, were looking for the right partner, searching for the perfect mate – waiting for the right person to show up. Casual sex wasn’t enough. They wanted someone who would connect with them, soothe their feelings of loneliness and isolation, and vice versa. The only course they saw was to stay busy, make themselves available, go on dates, and keep searching.

Tapping the brakes

One day, I experienced a change in perception. During a quiet meditation, I reflected on the times I had felt most happy and satisfied. Not surprisingly, it was usually after a gentle, loving and nurturing sexual encounter.

But there were other times too. Times I had spent in nature, sitting by rippling water or next to a campfire, feeling a cool breeze while hiking in the mountains, listening to the sounds of birds or coyotes at night. The tender touch of nature provided moments of nurturing joy.

I slowed down my search for sexual intimacy. As bravely as I could I faced my own separation anxiety from losing my best friend and spouse. I allowed myself to feel the pain.

Also, I began to consider alternative methods to experience soothing connection in safe, non-sexual and respectful ways.

Skills from the past

I thought back some twenty years to when my wife and I learned a form of bodywork from a skilled massage therapist. He worked for a chiropractor who specialized in sports injuries. This man had developed an intuitive technique using skills he’d acquired over the years.

Incredibly, he freely taught his unique synthesis to anyone who wanted to learn it. He used it to relieve pain – mostly in the context of physical-injury therapy. I don’t know if he recognized that it also released emotional trauma (which I call “emoting”).

My wife and I made it our own. We exchanged this healing touch with each other in the evenings or after making love. It became part of our lifestyle.

Re-purposing

I now wondered whether this selfless technique might be a way for me to deal with my own grief and loneliness. My first explorations were with my neighbour, no strings attached (and no motives of seduction).

Unlike typical massage, which generally calls for oil on bare skin, we employed a fully clothed, deep tissue approach. We followed our intuition, and encouraged each other to “emote”. During our sessions we communicate, vocalize, share feelings, and express painful memories.

Easing the loneliness epidemic one tribe at a time

After exploring and sharing the technique for only a few weeks, my neighbor and I decided to begin teaching and encouraging others to learn it as well. When we freely shared this method with friends, we were astonished at the feelings of euphoria and lingering satisfaction it provided. During sessions, we all experienced happiness and laughed often. We always enjoyed our time together.

Once or twice a week, we now get together as an informal tribe. We welcome newcomers who also want to learn to give and receive the gift of this nurturing touch.

Results have been fantastic, and cumulative. This selfless, no-strings-attached, comforting bodywork satisfies our deep longing for connection. As a bonus, it often eases physical pain as well.

Paying it forward

Many people want to feel some sense of safe, nurturing connection, even if they don’t have a significant partner. So, we’re creating resources such as videos and articles so others can spread this caring touch.

Want to do your bit to reduce the loneliness epidemic? Learn how to offer and share this kind of work. Watch my basic instructional video. It’s enough to get you started.

Form your own tribe using word of mouth. Plan regular get-togethers with one or more friends. If you don’t yet know enough interested locals, consider hosting a workshop and learn it together.

You will discover benefits too significant to ignore, both physical and psychological.  Celibacy doesn’t have to be lonely. Together we can bring comfort to a lonely world with gentle touch and selfless nurturing.