Let's start with touch. Touch was one of the first casualties of social relationships in modernity. I don't mean sexual touch or unwanted touch, but the effective companion of touch that we know shapes the brains of babies and brings them into the social world. People who are lonely often spend months without any kind of companionable touch. We know too that we can detect loneliness in others by how they engage with the material world. Lonely people tend to handle material objects more, they can acquire shopping addictions, they're searching for material cultures sometimes what they cannot find in human contact.
The other senses matter too. Food, for instance, food is phenomenally important in defining community. Refugees find in food a way of capturing broken traditions and reclaiming new spaces they own. Food in families includes and excludes others. Food creates meaning that is social as well as physical. That's why we talk about being starved for affection or hungry for love. The metaphors that we use to talk about food are utterly wrapped up in the social world.
So all of the senses then, and the sensory experience impact on what ultimately becomes our sense of belonging to the world. And when we are older, it impacts on our nostalgia, that sense that we had meaning that we belonged somewhere. Think about how people with dementia might hear a song from their youth. And they are immediately transported back to a time when they mattered when they had meaning when they had friends.
I ask you now to consider what are the sensory experiences that might connect you to your families, to your communities, to your sense of belonging in the world? I imagine that they are probably sensory. The sound of a child's laughter, the taste of a childhood snack, a particular home cooked family meal, the scent of a lover's perfume. All of these things ground us in the social effective world and make us feel that we have value.
So we need to tend to the sensory body when we explore the loneliness of others. And we need to explore our own sensory relationships with the material world. Even people who have suffered from extreme trauma and live with PTSD find through massage therapies and touch a way back to the social world, through the reduction of adrenaline, through the creation of endorphins, through readjusting those hormones that seem in many ways to have replaced humors, as being a way of material impact on the body.