Introspection interregnum: on being ticklish

I woke at five this morning to the sound of birdsong followed by a heavy downpour. The rain will bring another onset of green beans even though the vines are a bit “tired” by now.

I couldn’t get back to sleep, and at seven I rose and took a cup of tea out to the back porch. It’s a good place to muse. [For delightful porch musings, see Dave Bonta’s blog morningporch.]

A sizable daddy-long-legs swayed elegantly across the decking. During my childhood and adolescence, I was afraid of spiders, and the daddy-long-legs was the first “spider” I learned not to run from. Actually, the creature to which I refer here is neither a spider nor, officially, a daddy-long-legs; it’s a harvestman (phalangium opilio), which is an arachnid but not a spider. But it resembles a spider closely enough that the arachnophobe is unlikely to stick around for a closer look. My father taught me not to be afraid of them: “They don’t bite, and they eat pest insects. They just tickle when they walk on your skin.”

Ticklishness arises from tension. I found that I could withstand the ticklish feel of an insect on my skin once the initial startle reflex calmed, just as I adjusted myself to my dog’s licking–a sensation I liked. Probably what I learned was how to manage “self-calming.” Breathing slowly and deeply helped me to get over the fears I had, and with time I learned to be unafraid of real spiders, too (as a gardener, I now bless the spiders and welcome them!). Breath and loosing of tension alleviated nervousness and ticklish sensations.

With a certain glee, I realized I could control being ticklish. I hated being tickled, the helplessness of it–even though other people love to tickle and be tickled (my sister among them). Mostly to spite my sister, who liked to tickle me into submission, I taught myself how to un-tense when someone tickled me. When the ticklee doesn’t laugh, the tickler has no fun…and stops.

These musings drifted through my mind while I idly watched the delicate creature make its morning ambit along the porch. And I thought: how interesting that when I was a child, I taught myself about relaxation and the importance of breath control for the purposes of overcoming ticklishness and fears. I wonder if my interest in philosophy and psychology has a basis in my peculiar self-education? And maybe it is no wonder that Zen and other “Eastern” philosophical-meditative-religious practices appeal to me as an adult.



4 comments on “Introspection interregnum: on being ticklish

  1. KM Huber says:

    This was lovely, Ann; thanks for letting us in on your morning. Had never considered ticklishness arising from tension–that makes so much sense–but over the years, I have learned not to tense at the feel or sight of an insect but rather to appreciate my relationship with them. And now, I have this lovely post to remember the next time a spider or an arachnid comes to call.


    • Thanks! I appreciate arachnids now, even though I was bitten by one (rather bad reaction to the venom, too) long after I overcame my fear of them. Physical tension is a normal reaction and, especially in prehistoric eras, served a useful purpose as to fight-or-flight responses. Think about how we now respond to pain, and to stress-related pain…and what you have learned in your life about breathing and relaxing, how valuable such control–or release of control–can be.


  2. Jenny says:

    By far the best post title I’ve seen in awhile. Also: I too began controlling my ticklishness years and years ago. However, I’m noticing that I’m still very vulnerable in surprising places, like the lub handles and above the knee. Ah, well.


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