The Skills of Rest and Tender Touch: Q & A with Aaron Johnson

"Rest and tender touch allow oppression to not be effective at depleting the talents, patience, kindness, and vitality of people of the global majority."

Meet Aaron Johnson, a Keynote Speaker and instructor this year at Firefly Gathering 2023. Aaron is a facilitator, public speaker, and touch activist who practices closeness as a way to break down barriers between people. As co-founder of both Holistic Resistance and the non-profit Grief to Action, Aaron takes the time to hold the stories of black people around homophobia, transphobia, internalized racism, and those that are Chronically UnderTouched. Because oppression is a part of historical and present American culture, the long-term impact of those trauma stories should be acknowledged and held as a map for our collective healing. Aaron Johnson practices and invites various methods of moving through these stories, such as the communal listening ear, sound healing, meditation, and closeness to the earth.

In this interview, Aaron shares more about his work and how rest and tender touch are vital skills for co-creating a just and sustainable future. Read more about Aaron below, and join him at Firefly Gathering, June 20-25, 2023. He will be giving his Keynote Speech and instructing at Firefly Gathering on Wednesday, June 21, and has a series of workshops in the area after the Gathering we encourage you to attend: North Carolina Tour Dates.

Your work responds to the impacts of Unrested Labor and of being Chronically UnderTouched. Can you tell us more about what this means?

Labor that is the foundation of this country that is often erased. Unrested labor is well-known to African-heritage people and to People of the Global Majority — from the “continued form of state-sanctioned punishment born from the ongoing legacy of slavery” [to] “the constant work hustle.” Unrested labor is an acknowledgment of African-heritage folks, from slavery to the present, that were and are forced to labor and often function in the way of no rest. In acknowledging unrested labor we create possibilities for shifting this narrative and making rest a reality for all. 

Much like the narrative that black bodies do not deserve rest, tender touch is something that black people were never supposed to experience post-slavery, from each other or from white hands. The Chronically UnderTouched (CUT) Project is the body of thinking born out of the development and tracking of the Chronically UnderTouched trauma story. It’s a movement supporting People of the Global Majority to access healthy, nourishing, platonic touch in a culture that, in the United States, denies it at every turn. Tender touch means seeing people as full human beings. It is the antidote to the invention of The Black Brute archetype and a pathway for healing from these traumatic stories.

What are some of the ways you facilitate rest and touch for interrupting these traumatic stories, and promote healing?

One way we can be that interruptive force is to create non-extractive places where it is safe for tender touch for black people to take place, where Unrested Labor is not used to perpetuate the oppressive hands of racism on touch, on rest, on closeness, on tenderness. To normalize this as a way of being, the barriers keeping tenderness and the black body as separate need to be acknowledged. 

Some of the practices I share for cultivating tenderness and rest include closeness to the earth, song, and listening to and seeing each other’s humanity.

In your experience, how does closeness to the Earth encourage healing?

Humans touching the earth is a natural state of being, a way of reminding ourselves of our connection to the past and future. I remind my mentees in the CUTproject often as we do earth/based practices that when we die, we don’t turn into our cell phones–we become earth.

In what ways do you see ways rest and tender touch as skills that support co-creating a just and sustainable future?

Rest and tender touch allow oppression to not be effective at depleting the talents, patience, kindness, and vitality of people of the global majority. Access to rest and tender touch also acknowledges the full humanity of people of the global majority.

What draws you to share these offerings at Firefly Gathering in particular?

I am drawn to the work Firefly is doing because closeness to the earth is a powerful healing practice that has not been accessible to many folks of the global majority in America. I appreciate Firefly working towards supporting people of the global majority in reclaiming ancestral pathways to land closeness.

How can people engage with your work locally after Firefly?

I am based on the West Coast, but I have many online options for folks to access the work I do and I also travel to communities across the US. I will be in the Asheville area in July doing a variety of workshops and song circles that are open to the public. More information about the Sound of Rest East Coast Tour can be found at @holistic_resistance on Instagram. Check out the Flyer below for my North Carolina Tour this year. 

We are deeply grateful and excited to have Aaron Johnson as a Keynote Speaker and Song Circle Instructor at the Gathering this year. You can hear Aaron speak on Wednesday night at Firefly Gathering, and learn more about Aaron’s class offering, the Sound of Rest Song Circle, on our Live Class List. Learn more about Aaron’s work at cutproject.org and Holisticresistance.com.

WRITTEN BY

Firefly Gathering

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Kimberly Dunn

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Having grown up in a multicultural family, Kimberly’s love for languages and traditional cultures is infused into everything she creates. After many years overseas, she now calls the Appalachian mountains her home and continues to keep the adventure alive by staying close to the wild. Kimberly is a singer songwriter, dancer, women’s circle facilitator, personal finance astrologer, bookkeeper, yoga teacher, and chef.