The present pandemic is making us aware of many of our habits. Jack Kornfield is known to say that it is our bad habits that cause unskillful karma and therefore become the force of our continuous becoming.
In this case, what has face touching to do with just this?
We touch our face for many reasons, most of those are not considered worthy of reflection as this is an inane activity. These days we are asked to be wary of where we touch our face as certain apertures are the gateway for ingesting the virus.
Nonetheless, at such a time, the phenomena of face touching is worthy of our need for a deeper understanding.
All animals touch their faces. Just because humans stood up and evolved to use six of our senses - five of those were taught to us in kindergarten, the sixth is the mind which too is entryway to and from the world- this does not not make us an animal. We touch faces just as all animals do.
Touching is necessary to clear the skin, scratch an itch, shake off the unnecessary to restore equilibrium.
The scale of equilibrium, however, is subjective.
Given that five of the sense organs are directly in the face area, it makes it the hub of activity. The mouth for tasting, the eyes for seeing, the ears for hearing, the nose for smelling and the mind for cognition, leaving behind only the sense of touch outside its purview. That last job is done by the hands that complete the hub activity by repeatedly touching.
But then there is another component to this touch of the face business. The face gives us a reference point within the mind body sphere and as such is the mother of all things. It is the go to place for self soothing, lowering anxiety and holding oneself. Persona making, identity making are all the job of the face. Therefore the expressions we make have perhaps been formed to convey an image of who we think we are to find acceptance in this world. And on another level, it is the conduit of our soul as the expressions conveyed give a deep sense of who we are.
So we better pay attention to this, not in the cosmetic sense of how we appear to the world but what this face tells us about how well trained we are to face the adversity of today, this pandemic. How we deal with the unpleasant is the wonderful job of spirit building and it can start just with how mindful we are in attending to our face.
We are being asked to wash our hands and not touch the face. Numerous illnesses are a result of this simple act. Scientists have been investigating face touching for a while. Their results: we touch our faces between 3.6 times per hour (in public places) and 23 times per hour (in private). Most of those touches are completely unconscious. A sharp and repeated sense of mindfulness is being asked of us and those of us who have never had this training in mindfulness are having to learn this. We need to know when to touch as well as where to touch or not to touch at all depending upon our intention.
We do not want to make this another project of self beating or self judgment. We have been touching our face unconsciously for life. So we need to bring some compassion to ourselves and yet work to a discipline of restraint through awareness
And in so doing, we can go a bit deeper and ask what else is mindfulness-of- not- touch-the face asking of us?
In not scratching the itch upon impulse, a muscle is being activated of patience, and each time it is exercised, it builds upon itself and a letting go of a millisecond happens that may not even have been conscious but is being made conscious. We are learning to focus not on the face but internally on first noticing the impulse to movement, then the moment of pause which gives us choice and then in not acting. All of this builds composure. We are learning bit by bit to rely on the internal and this is the seat and hub of self training and discipline and possibly waking up to a life of greater consciousness. This consciousness, these days is asking us to take care of ourselves not for self service but for the greater good of all of us. If this applies to just this act, imagine how this consciousness can permeate all other vistas of life. There is no end to this learning but it takes curiosity and will.
This plain and simple skill, on the mundane plane, teaches us the good learning that comes from slight difficulty to larger upheavals. What a gift, that in learning to just make ourselves a bit safer from the virus, we are learning from the unpleasant.
And this learning from the unpleasant is the pearl hidden within!