I was listening to my client talking, but it might as well have been me.
“I’ve been detoxing and eating better and resting and I cut back on my caffeine, and I still feel like crap.”
For those of us who wield self-improvement like a cudgel – I am doing this because I am going to experience this, or else – there’s nothing more frustrating than not getting what we want. I am personally acquainted with the feeling.
“I’m doing everything right!”
“Except getting massage…” I said quietly, noting that I hadn’t seen her for nearly four months. She had even paid for a bunch of sessions in advance. She just hadn’t booked any appointments.
She leaned in to me. “But I shouldn’t need it,” she continued. Candid exchange between us had never been a problem. I was up for a brief tete-a-tete.
I leaned in too. “Why?!” I insisted. She stared at me, and I pressed the point. “What, do you think you’re better than massage? Than people who get it? Like me, for example?”
She sighed and flopped back in the chair. “Ughhh. Good point.”
I waited. She continued.
“I just didn’t think I needed it. It just feels like palliation.”
Much as it made me bristle, I identified so strongly with my client: with the “doing everything right” and the indignity of slowing down for anything that’s not getting me somewhere. When I’m knee-deep, ankle deep, in improvements of whatever kind, everything I do is grit, hustle, a shoving aside of everything in my path to get to the thing.
Sometimes we really need to be like this to make changes. Sometimes it’s all force, for a long while, until we start to notice things shift slightly.
Hence a distaste for anything that slows us down.
But wonderful things happen, you know, and not necessarily because we were good or wise or healthy. Miracles do occur. Even the most undeserving (me, you) get unbelievable second chances.
We might not notice it if we’re standing up in the middle of the river of our lives and charging upstream.
Palliative means fixing without curing. Certainly there are some things that are cured: the headache, the broken leg, the broken heart. I’m all for making the bad stuff go away for good. I’ve done it for others, and had it done unto me. It is terrific.
But I’d like to know what we are about, when we say we’re cured? From the very condition of being human, which is, in two words, no guarantees? Supplies dwindle. Shops change hands. We got it, and then we don’t got it. We get it back. It goes away too.
So what’s the problem with palliation? It is holding hands with someone, after all. Here we go, hand in hand into the dark and hopefully through it, but you never know.
It’s a problem when you believe, as I have, that you’re entitled to not having to walk into the dark because you’re a good person doing good things. You’re entitled to health and happiness, world-without-end-amen, especially – only – if you’re doing everything right.
We have a lot less control than we thought. What does massage do for that? Every time we go into session, as either practitioner or participant, we put ourselves – literally – into someone else’s hands. We surrender. We have a good idea of what can happen, especially if it’s someone we’ve worked with for a while, but improbable things happen all the time.
When I’m a client: there’s stuff I had no idea hurt. The places that feel completely bound and hopeless are occasionally more supple and interesting than I expected. I make connections between my tense spots. I relish in what feels good for once.
When I’m the therapist: Today I see you and hear you as different from last time. Yes this is where you’re always tense but look at how you soften if I change my depth of work by degrees. And you are as lovable as you ever were. And that’s a nasty scrape, when did that happen?
From massage therapy we also learn improvisation within a safe framework. We do this all the time in our own lives, even and especially when we are really steering ourselves big time, but in session we are – again – in the reliable caring hands of someone else who is confirming for us that – indeed – this is a great spot to be curious.
We go charging into our tension, thinking we know. In massage, with the help of the therapist, we catch on that our instincts might have been right all along, but here’s this new tidbit we hadn’t considered, and it informs our next choice. This is also great practice for whatever else is going on in our lives.
We learn it’s not only okay but very good for us to let go. To feel our whole being soften, fiber by fiber. “Oh my gosh I feel so much better” is not something we say after we’ve worked ourselves into a panting lather. It’s usually something we say after we’ve had the chance to lay down for a while, breathe, and be, with someone who cares.
Doing something right, by not doing anything at all.