Sacred Intimacy, Compassion Practice :: Kevin Smith is Your ’Snugglebud’
Kevin Smith maintains a touch practice that’s a little different from that of most bodyworkers. Instead of basing his work on massage, assisted stretching, movement training, or other forms of touch, Smith practices a form of structured holding--a method he developed on his own over time, and which he calls "snuggling." Indeed, Smith’s online ads offer his services under the rubric of "Snugglebud."
Kevin Smith is not his real name. It’s a name he has assumed for the purposes of his touch practice, which he knows could all too easily be misconstrued and distorted. The touch sessions Smith offers are not sexual, and are not intended to provoke an erotic response. On the other hand, though Smith maintains strict boundaries around the level, quality, and type of touch that take place in a typical session, he doesn’t focus on erotic energy by demanding that it be absent from a session. There is a fine distinction between sexual touch and erotic contact, Smith notes, but the distinction is definite--and while Smith avoids sexualizing his sessions, he allows erotic energy to ebb and flow naturally.
"It’s like a cat," Smith says of erotic charge. "It comes in and out; if you call it, it ignores you. If you tell it to leave, it’s all over you." Allowing erotic energy to come and go without sexualizing the session allows that charge to build--and then dissipate--of its own accord. The result is a deeply relaxing process that relies on, and creates, trust.
In my own sessions with Smith, I’ve noticed less erotic energy than anxiety: another common reaction. Meeting me where I am--rather than where I think I am, or where I think I ought to be--Smith accepts my anxiety in a non-judgmental way, and then begins to work with it. A large part of the session consists of focusing on breath: "Let your breathing become slow and low," Smith instructs gently. "Let your breath get deeper and fuller."
These instructions are murmured as we sit on cushions, facing one another. We are fully clothed. Smith has taken me into his arms. He might rub my back slowly, or rest his hand at a taut muscle; "Feel free to shift the container any way you need to" is a frequent invitation. By "container," Smith means my body, my state of mind, the session itself--or a combination of all of those things. "Let your head rest wherever it’s comfortable," Smith adds.
The simple act of focusing on my breath changes everything: the hour we have scheduled for the session becomes a large, inviting moment in time, not simply one more item on the day’s checklist. Worries about work and personal matters fade into the background. I become aware of an enormous amount of stress in my spine and shoulders, and by breathing deeper and more slowly I’m able to step back from that stress and allow it to dissipate. I also become conscious of the dread and anxiety I’ve been carrying around with me: Smith’s touch, and his guidance, direct me to my own mental and physical center, where I am able to take charge of my own physical and emotional state of being.
Smith invites me to lie down, into a modified yoga pose he calls "inverted partnered shavasana," in which I am resting my weight partly on my own limbs and partly on him. He reminds me again about my breath, just as my thoughts start to pull me back out of the moment and into the anxieties that have co-opted my energy over the last few days. Suddenly, I’m no longer worrying: I’m relaxing, letting go of troubled thoughts. I even slip into a doze, and have a brief dream that I forget as I awaken a few moments later--but I’m waking up into a feeling of respite and mental clarity, rather than my accustomed laundry list of woes and difficulties. My thoughts have stopped racing. I feel calmer, and I feel safe.
"Hugging, Holding, Supportive Touch"
Smith advertises his practice on Craigslist, where he makes his methods and motives clear from the start.
"Hugging, Holding, Supportive Touch," reads his ad. "NOT FOR SEX," the text adds, parenthetically.
"I’m looking for guys interested in sharing a one-hour exchange with me in a style of mutual interactive touch which has become an evolving part of my own spiritual practice," reads the ad. "It is not sex, and not a traditional massage where one person gives while another receives. Rather, it is a style of interactive, mutual touch that uses hugging, holding, light strokes, and evolves like an improvisation or a slow dance of touching each other."
Smith is quick to disabuse anyone looking for sexual services that he provides the kind of touch they want. "I promise to respect any limits you may have (any places or ways in which you don’t want to be touched," his ad reads. "My limits are: I do not want any kind of sex (oral, anal, masturbation) or anything ending in ejaculation."
"There’s a tremendous amount of fear and suspicion around that sort of practice, because people think that it will lead to sex, or it must lead to sex," Smith tells me. "But it’s possible, actually, to hold someone and have it not be sexual at all."
Smith describes his work not as a form of alternative medicine, but as an example of what he calls "compassion practice." "I hug people, hold them, snuggle them, and cuddle them, as a form of empowerment," Smith explains. "It’s actually a physical form of a Buddhist concept called compassion practice, in which we try to take in the suffering of other people and extend to them positive energy from our own selves.
"There’s something about suffering where if you sit with it together, it’s not quite as bad," Smith continues. "If you have someone who sits there with you in it--they don’t purport to fix it or remove it--it’s nice to have company when we’re tender and wounded. And [the suffering] does pass.
Though the work Smith describes sounds healing, Smith does not purport to be a healer. "I have no formal training," he tells me. "I am not licensed, I do not do this for a profession. I do not charge, and have never accepted money for this practice. I am not a therapist.
"What I offer men is a skilled, caring partner," Smith explains. "This work is a form of partnership; we do it together. That’s why I call it ’touch practice.’ In fact, the man I am holding is doing more work than I am; I’m simply helping structure the time, form the right containers, monitor his breathing and provide support."