The White Light Blob

If you read this, try to imagine me telling it from memory, standing on stage in front a mike, robed in stage lights, to a standing-room-only crowd, hoping my years of stage performance cover up my profound nervousness. Who wants to stand up and get a slice of their life exposed to a lot of people, most of whom have known you for years and think they know you better than that? Well, me, apparently, and six others of us.

Part of the reason it was SRO was because Jason Bannister has done a tremendous job of revitalizing our Belfast-area tradition of thespianial excellence. This was a Midcoast Actors’ Studio fundraiser and word’s gone out: they do good stuff.

The other reason there were no places to sit is that it was billed at a night of “local luminaries” (1 of which was me, ha!) and so everyone was keen on hearing what John Ford, Andy O’Brien, GW Martin, Jenny Tibbetts, Aynne Ames and Charlie Dufour had to say.

This is, more or less, the story I told this past Saturday night down in The Fallout Shelter stage area of Waterfall Arts in Belfast, Maine.

Hope you enjoy it.

***

Sometimes you have something happen to you once. Once.
And it changes the way you live your life everafter.

It’s the late 1990s. I’m living and working in the Boston area, desperately attempting a career change — in my mid-20s — after a hopelessly misguided foray into technical writing. It was possible, then, to have a little technical know-how, and be unafraid of learning HTML, and get an obscenely high-paying job. I had one of those obscenely high-paying jobs, and I was miserable. I was bored, sitting in a cubicle all day in front of a computer screen.

And not only was I bored, I was incredibly inept, and rapidly becoming more so, as everyone around me was keeping pace with all the new computer languages that were to be learned, practically daily, and I wasn’t. I had a choice: go to back to school and learn computer languages or Do Something Else. So, much to the surprise of myself and everyone who knew me at the time, I decided to go to massage therapy school.

So I was working full-time and going to school on weekends and weeknights, and I was in my final semester at the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, Mass. And they were offering internships – go work in a professional’s office, you know? And so I was like: yeah. Good. I’ll do this too. Because, you know, I was already tired? And wanted to find out what being more tired would feel like.

I had my internship with Marilyn <not her real name, I just couldn’t remember what her real name was!> at an OB/GYN clinic in Haverhill, Mass. She was everything I wanted to be. She was it. She came to work every day? With a coif. I mean a hairstyle.

Her outfits were totally professional, maybe just a touch over-the-top. I recall gold buttons, some brocade. And she was the only massage therapist I had ever known up to that point, or ever since, to wear heels to do massage.

She had the respect of her peers, which were mostly doctors and nurses, and her practice was full. No empty moments, really. I wanted to be as much like her as I could be.

My internship? Remember I was a student, not licensed, so I really couldn’t touch anyone at this point, least of all her clients, and so…I observed. I stood, and observed. If you think it’s relaxing to get a massage? Try standing in a corner of a room — it was a small office, there was no place for me to sit, really — watching someone receive work, and it’s warm and darkened and there’s a fountain going and music and happy sleepy sounds from the client. I did a lot of this <nodding off>. But I did manage to learn stuff.

She was also a Reiki practitioner.

Now. I had a very sniffy relationship with energy work, Reiki in particular. In my final semester, we had a Modalities class, study of various other techniques (besides massage therapy) that could be incorporated into and referred to from a successful massage therapy practice. Professionals would come in from their respective fields, talk about their work and have all of us do a little hands-on.

By and large, most of these techniques were more energetic in nature: Polarity Therapy, Craniosacral therapy, Zero Balancing, Therapeutic Touch… Reiki. And my classmates would be putting their hands on each other, and feeling pulses and seeing colors and sensing auras and whatnot, and I wasn’t seeing anything, I wasn’t feeling anything. I was not accustomed to being a failure at anything — except my job! — so this class made me feel like I was “failing” energy. And it just made me mad.

So I was hoping that in my internship with Marilyn? We could just neatly circumvent Reiki: focus on business practice, how to communicate with clients, that kind of thing.

Until one day. We had a little time: she looked around, was between clients, looked at me, I wasn’t doing anything, so she said, “Hmmm…let’s see…we’ve got a little time…would you like some work? What shall we do…how about Reiki?”

And I thought to myself, “How about not?” But then! I thought again, “Wait…wait! This is your chance…to LIE DOWN. Maybe take a nap. Say yes, dummy! Say yes!”

So I did, I said “yeah sure” and finally got to lie down on the table I’d been watching her clients enjoy so much.

In Reiki you usually receive on a massage table — about the size of a twin bed, smaller than that — you are fully clothed, there is no disrobing for Reiki, and the practitioner places his/her hands on you in various positions – here <top of head>, here <upper chest>, here <lower abdomen> and so on.

So I was lying there and she began the session, as you do…putting her hands on my head, my upper chest…a few more other places…and then she went around to my feet, cupped my heels in her palms, and held them.

The first thing I noticed? That completely wrested me from my somnolence? Was that time suddenly. Slowed. Down. It was just like in the movies, when things go to slow-mo? It was like this <makes gesture and a noise> but without the noise. Um – that in and of itself put me on sudden high alert. What was going on?? I looked up at Marilyn from where I was on the table.

The second thing was: in that moment, in the warm darkened quiet, I saw a 2-ft wall of white light come out from behind her shoulders, pour down over her arms, through her hands, and go shooting up into my body.

Now. The 2-ft wall. It was — I say it was a wall. It moved through me like a wall – wait a minute. That doesn’t make any sense. How does something move through you like a wall? Never mind. It was more like a blob, a wave, it was – a white light blob.

It had edges. It had mass. And was capable of producing its own speed, since when it got to me it suddenly moved very fast.

The white light? Was like – you know those days when you’re looking at the sun – not directly at the sun, bad for you – right around its edges? The way the sunlight looks? It had that quality and intensity.

And its effect on me? When it hit me? You know what it’s like to touch an electric fence? It was like that! Only a lot more enjoyable. It was like being electrified, or set on fire. I felt it in every cell, all through me.

It passed through me but it was also passing over me, in fact for the brief nanosecond it went up through my head I saw nothing but It, the white light, in my eyes, so my vision was filled with it briefly.

I was visited upon. It was checking me out!

And then suddenly time snapped back into place. Marilyn was standing there working as she had been. Everything was back to normal. Except for me. I was lying there, doing this for a while <flops about>.

And I when I’d recovered, I whispered to her, “What was that?”

“What?” she said.

“What just happened,” I gasped.

“What just happened?” she asked.

I tried to explain it and couldn’t really and she just shrugged a little and said kindly, “Oh it’s probably just a little Reiki,” and kept going with the session.

I had class that night. And in that class were The Girls…you know, the girls in class…the ones you never get along with, they really have annoyed you for all of school and you also have annoyed them. Yeah, massage therapy school can be like that, people, it’s not all hearts and stars, trust me.

Anyway, this one girl did something that bothered me. But, instead of just sitting there and kind of making faces to myself, I spoke up. I said something to her. Which surprised me, totally. And, what I expected to have happen happened, she lit into me. And while this was going on, I was surprised again: I did not care.

On the way driving home that night, I remember thinking to myself and trying to put 2 and 2 together: “I had this experience today. Me, who never feels or sees anything. And, then I spoke up in class, and I felt confident. Wow… there’s gotta be something to this Reiki thing. I gotta learn more about this.”

So I did. As soon as I graduated from massage school, I moved to Maine, and started my Reiki training as soon as I could. I went all the way up to the master level. And I have had amazing experiences from learning Reiki! And people have reported amazing things from my work with them.

I’ve become part of the incredible Reiki, healing community that is in this area. You have no idea, how blessed we are. Really you don’t. Ask me about it, later.

And I also do Reiki when I give massage therapy…? You know I don’t have a valve in the back of my head, that says “yeeeeess this person gets Reiki noooooo this person doesn’t,” it just flows. It’s my way of working. And clients have commented over the years, “So. Your massage is like none that I’ve had. What is that thing? You’re doing?”

And I usually shrug a little and say, “Oh, it’s just a little Reiki.”

But you know, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment really. As I’ve considered it: that white light blob. It was – impersonal. Inhuman. It has. No. Name.

It belongs to no one.

It comes from nowhere.

And, therefore, I believe, it belongs to everyone. And is right here.

Thank you.

What We Do Not See

We went for 3 weeks without a sunny day. A lot of us started to develop a skin over our eyeballs. We woke in the dark, fumbled through our day, yawned until twilight then curled into blankets and rolled into another deep sleep, crowded with dreams set in murky depths.

The winter solstice was also a New Moon, not that any of us would have noticed, having long forgotten what lit orbs in the sky looked like, and even if they were there, we would not have seen them for the seamless overhang of clouds. (Long forgotten. Yes, we have a terrible memory.)

When the sun finally did arrive it was Christmas afternoon. The ponderous grey rolled back and exposed a blue sky and blinding sun. Not only had I forgotten that the sun could be so strong, but so had my entire eye anatomy. Everything cramped.

My eyes were sore for a while.

Bunny.Moon.nationalgeographicThe sun is there when we don’t see it. So is the moon. So are a LOT of things: magma, the stratosphere, bacteria, plumbing. There’s enough evidence it exists. So we say it does, even though our eyeballs forget and strain at the re-membering.

Believing in what we do not see goes beyond the physical. There’s the deeper physics of relationship. What is thread that binds platoons, believers or indoor soccer players? Well, it’s that psychological fabric, the warp and woof of commonality. It’s invisible, but take it “away” and what you have is just a random assortment of people. With it, you have community.

Even more ephemeral – yet perhaps most strong – are conditions of the heart and mind. Faith. Peace. Love. We feel these things, and we offer them to others, who feel them in return. They are more real for some of us than anything visible. They are true.

As a massage therapist I touch bodies for my work. I do it with care, curiosity, with the intention to accomplish something. Interestingly I do not ever see with my eyes what I aim for with my touch. If you are a bodyworker you know this is true.

My intention is like an X-ray, and combined with hands that know and a brain that recalls, I think I “see” the soft tissue I address and the bones cozied within, but I never see them. What I see is skin. What lies millimeters beneath that skin, and what I envision, shall never actually be in my hands.

Regardless of how we feel about our palpation skills, our anatomy knowledge, the tremendous (or paltry) therapeutic experience we have locked into our hands after years (or just a few months) of massage: there is more we do NOT see, as massage therapists, than what we do.

Which leads me to my next thought, which is: we may be one of the most guessing-est professions there are.  It’s essential we’re trained well, and we consistently update our knowledge, but that aside? I feel there is an element of wizardry under the learnable skill set of therapeutic massage, and it makes the difference between a massage therapist whose work we like OK, and the massage therapist we can’t wait to have another session with.

There’s your professional magician. And then there’s the lady who’s been to Hogwarts.

This kind of talk will get me in trouble with schools and professional organizations. I’m not dissing education or professionalism, at all; I expect the highest from all concerned. But the people who’ve touched me best, touched me most deeply and made the biggest difference for me have been educated, trained, and then gone sidling up to realms unseen, within me and around me, and partnered it for a while. Quietly, respectfully, but wholly.

This is true of great artists of all kinds…spiritual leaders…politicians, even… detectives…

Did I say wizardry? I meant to say sleuthing. As massage therapists there’s a lot of clues we have to track down, pieces to put together, answers that only become clear over time, to solve mysteries. We need be like Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot and use our imagination, as well as our brains, to arrive at the truth.

One of the most interesting columnists, to me, in the ABMP‘s (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals) magazine, “Massage and Bodywork”  is Douglas Nelson and his column “Table Lessons.” He reminds me of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and his columns are written like small mysteries to be solved.

In his article from the July/August ’14 edition of Massage and Bodywork, he commented:

Words and images have powerful effects, both positive (placebo) and negative (nocebo). X-rays don’t always tell the whole story – there isn’t always a direct relationship between what is seen and the pain a person is experiencing.

What is not seen is more powerful than what is visible, perhaps? Well I could get behind that.

And then there’s David Lauterstein, whose writing and Deep Massage technique and, frankly, personage, I love and adore and will champion until the cows come home. He has been my teacher and my friend for a few years now.

In his FaceBook page The Deep Massage Book David wrote this past week:

Many of the meanings of energy are not objectively verifiable. They are primarily subjective experience. But the content of massage is as much the subjective experience of wellness, of restored energy, as it is verifiable anatomical or physiological results.

Bottom line,  the massage therapist we love most? The one we reschedule with and who gets our precious positive word of mouth? Is the one who travels all the worlds of us.

It is really a very easy thing to offer someone else. It looks a lot like love.

Feel Like a New Person

“I feel like a new person.” Nice compliment, one I never take for granted, but it does make me feel a little weird. In what way, I always wonder? My massage work doesn’t always produce miracles. It is merely one vertical bag of water unsnagging one horizontal bag of water. I love making someone feel like a totally new bag of water. Not really a miracle, just a fact.

Yet, to make someone feel brand new: now that’s something. I’ve had the privilege of giving this kind of work, and also receiving it.

I had a massage from my friend and colleague Derek in early March. It came after a February filled with illness, disappointment, darkness and cold. I threw myself back into my recovery program after a near melt-down and I wasn’t instantly relieved. I tried sleeping a lot, like I wanted to, and deep rest evaded me, night after night after pitiful night.

I realized I had an anxiety problem. What a horrible state of affairs! How unlikely and unfair for a massage therapist, who is supposed to ooze relaxation and tranquility from every pristine pore. This is what it must be like for a priest or pastor to have a faith crisis, or a psychiatrist experiencing regular untreatable depressive episodes; this is what it must be like for a cop who feels herself siding, inwardly, more and more with the perps she arrests.

Who hasn’t made their way to their massage therapist, praying for a miracle? Throwing ourselves headlong on our practitioner’s table, exhausted, suffering, unable to even offer complete sentences as he or she carefully, valiantly tries to do some semblance of an intake before letting us collapse? Don’t think I haven’t been there. I have.

stream_with_waterfallI didn’t want to do the weeping, the sighing, and the head-shaking mute bewilderment that I did with Derek, but that’s what I did anyway. My body had been holding on to too much for too long and my words wouldn’t come.

We have this thing when we trade with each other, us massage therapists, that is part cop-out, part compliment. “Just do what you do,” we tell each other with great warmth. “You know all the spots.” End with small grin. This is what I said to Derek, hoping he’d get it.

He did. I had a 90-minute massage session (in my own office, mind you: always a good test drive for your own space! I found my table quite comfy and warm, but the face cradle still problematic…no wonder my clients fuss over it) and while I had consciousness I noticed that I felt akin to a stream having its tributaries unclogged of leaves and twigs. Things began to loosen and let go.

What rose up inside me, once the session was over, was an overwhelming feeling of unmistakeable resurrected power. It was as if my old self was sloughed away, and the entire fabric of my being had been flushed. All energy centers were realigned and churning their lovely colors. I no longer had a mountain across my upper back. I could feel my entire self, all the way through my toes.

It felt…well…darn it, it made me feel like a new person. My life force, my will to live, had returned.

I leapt from the table, dressed, and practically kissed my colleague’s hands when he re-entered the room. “Thank you, thank you, you are such a gift,” I burbled in tear-filled gratitude. I know he didn’t quite know what to make of that. I know how he felt: it kind of blows your mind, as a practitioner, that you can make that much of a difference to someone.

He just hugged me and gave me a nice there-there on the back. Aww. I get to trade with the best people.

Perhaps this is what is meant by becoming a new person: if our pain and tension is met, even briefly, by another – by Another – there is information there that is news, very good news, to our lonely little bodies. If the hands that touch us are experienced, professional, nurturing and loving, there is something to that. It speaks a language our body is dying to hear, in much the same way warm sun informs a lake, or a garden hoe informs soil: something interesting, nourishing and highly educational happens, and transformation occurs with unparalleled ease.

 

Love as technique

I had an alarming phenomenon visit me while I was in massage therapy school, during student clinic. In even those rigorously managed and strict environs – and I in my white monogrammed polo, khaki pants, hair pinned back and clipboard in hand – it arrived with enough frequency that I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

Gradually, with complete strangers from the Cambridge area, when I actually relaxed for a few brief moments, I felt love. Not a tame, generalized sensation of general bonhomie and good will towards this person who willingly let my novice, nervous hands knead their frame, but startlingly strong, unmistakeable love: breath-taking and untoward.

I remember one moment in particular when I needed to take my hands off my client and shake my head a few times, just to snap out of it, if I could. Didn’t work. I got back into my routine, bearing up under the strain, cross from being harassed, and hoping eventually it would go away.

Nearly 15 years and countless massages later, I got my wish. The stress of setting up my practice a few times, until it took; worrying about how I was going to get enough clients in this small town on the north coast of Maine, and then, once getting them, worrying how I was going to have the strength to see them all; taking the ardent work of my hands and turning it into a reliable commodity, have all worked that blazing affection right out of me. I’ll admit it. I’ve been afraid, in recent years, of burning out.

Enter continuing education: through conversation, books, workshops, social networking and good old-fashioned questioning. Where did that messy, divine, fiery tenderness go? Could I retrieve it from some shunted layer, deep within?

My last year of school, one of the faculty at the Muscular Therapy Institute – Erika Baern – had a few massages from me. I revered her, but she seemed very professional, almost to the point of being grim, so I reined in my adoration as best I could, trying to be quiet in her presence and learn from her by osmosis.

I wasn’t sure I had made any impression on her, even though I deeply wished I had. But in the final week of school I received a bound packet of articles from her in my student mailbox. “Kristen: I think you should read these. Erika.” This was the encouragement I had been looking for, and my first introduction to David Lauterstein.

David Lauterstein at a Deep Massage workshop in Oct. 2013

David Lauterstein at a Deep Massage workshop in Oct. 2013

David is a educator, practitioner, author, writer and musician. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, is co-founder of The Lauterstein-Conway School of Massage in Austin, Texas, and published “The Deep Massage Book” in 2012.

He has an international teaching schedule, offering Deep Massage workshops, and came out with (one of my favorite) music CDs, “Roots and Branches,” of his acoustic guitar music played live in the studio alongside massage being performed – “so we would have a music that actually arose from massage itself.” he says on the TLC site.  He also has a killer FaceBook page: Deep Massage Book.

Each one of us deserves to have teachers in our lives who by their mere presence  are instructive and nurturing; who meet us where we are, whether total newbie or tired pro; who inspire devotion through a terrific combination of deep insight, concise correction and weird humor. David has been one such for me.

The reason I locked in on his writing from the get-go is his inclusion and defense of the energetic components of massage therapy. He teaches Zero Balancing and this informs Deep Massage; I am a Reiki Master/practitioner, so our frequencies hum on the same pitch when it comes to looking at our clients through more than one lens (a prism is more like it).

It’s been a long time since student clinic, but because of reading Lauterstein’s work (I also highly – highly! – recommend his “Putting the Soul Back in the Body“) I’ve been reassured there was a place for that strong ardor, and my line of work was the perfect place to feel it.

What I’ve learned from continued study with Lauterstein (and also Tracy Walton‘s oncology massage writing and training):  that what we sense in session may be just important to what we do: that who we are as a practitioner has everything to do with how the client experiences the success (or failure) of being “met”: that while we must master techniques, understand physiology, identify pathologies and know anatomy, the openness of our heart – the tenderness and love we feel for our client – is where our true power lies.

In my next blog post I will describe my understanding of the phrase “Get behind your work,” which I got from my most recent workshop with David, and one that I see as both command and consolation.

What do we pray for?…Finally, alchemy. It is NOT up to you. I wish it was, but it’s not…the body contains all of the healing substances it needs already. The person contains all the healing substances it needs, they just don’t notice it. We are there to just help them become aware. I want people to realize they’re miraculous.
– paraphrased from David Lauterstein’s Deep Massage training at Down East School of Massage in Waldoboro, Maine.

All The Warm Things

“Oh my God that’s amazing.” I was just beginning the session and my client spoke aloud. Was her effusive praise directed at my hands? My technique? The massage oil? Essential oils? The linens she was on, or the music I’d selected?

No, no, no, no, and no annnnnnd….no.

It was the warm towel I put on her feet.

“I know you think I come here for your massage,” said another client, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. “But I don’t. I come for all the warm things.”

It’s important that we care about our career: our reputation, amongst our colleagues and the community; our sense of trajectory, in terms of improving our work, introducing new modalities as it seems appropriate; and re-marketing/re-branding ourselves so that we get a regular influx of new clients. (People still need to discover you for the first time, even if you’re doing what you’ve been doing forever.)

I have to say, however, that based on my nearly 15 years of experience as a massage therapist – and nearly 20 of receiving it on a semi-regular basis – the client doesn’t care about any of that. Take heed! The client wants to be warm! Cozy! Swaddled, if I may. “Burrito-ed” is how one of my friends puts it.

Not stuffy or sweltering, but…nestled. Tended.

Warm.

It’s November here in Maine. We know we’re going to be cold for a long stretch, at least until May. That’s where the warm towels come in.

If your landlord permits it, having lit candles in the room not only creates a feeling of warmth but in the winter adds (albeit microbits) of warmth. Plus it's just pretty.

If your landlord permits it, having lit candles in the room not only creates a feeling of warmth but also adds  (albeit microbits of) warmth. Plus it’s just pretty.

As a professional licensed massage therapist, I am many things to my clients. But the most basic service I give them all is feeling taken care of. Here, modern MTs might balk at the idea, with their arsenal of training, experience and perhaps the need to justify themselves (the phrase “bow and scrape” comes to mind) before the almighty healthcare industry.

“I have charts! Books! Formulas! Techniques! Proof! Certificates of Mastery!”

Keep up on that stuff, but remember: clients don’t care. They want to feel like you care about them, not your agenda for them. (Reminder: you do care about them. That’s why you’re a massage therapist.)

Okay, so: right now, an easy way to convey your kind regard for their every need is to make sure they are WARM. (And please don’t assume this post is only for those of us in the 44.4 latitude: if you work in air conditioning, warmth is still an important part of your practice.)

Ways you can help:

Ask. During the intake. “How does the temperature in the room feel?”
“When you’re relaxing on the table, do you find you’re on the warm side or the chilly side?” Most people who suffer from being chilly will let you know.

At the beginning of the session: “Are you warm enough?”
I hear, often, “Yes, I am cozy, but my feet are still cold.” On goes the hot towel!

Feel. I like to do compressions down legs and feet, even if I’m starting the massage with neck and back, not only for the client to feel a full sense of themselves from the get-go, but also to notice what’s cold and remedy it right away. Most people can’t relax if they’re cold, and your work is in vain if they’re not relaxing.

Also, if you’re massaging and you suddenly feel or see goosebumps, the client may be getting chilled. Find out.

Plan. What do you have in your office to help a client warm up? Here’s what I got: a landlord who (thankfully) lets me set the thermostat at 70, a table warmer, flannel linens and fleecy blanket, essential oils that are warming in nature, and a crockpot stuffed with towels that I heat up and place strategically: on cold feet, cold hands, on the back after I’ve massaged it, rolled up under the neck after I’ve worked there. What you got?

(Also in deep winter I do heated socks.)

(And quite honestly I do not like those hot towel cabinets. Moist heat becomes moist cold and nobody likes cold wet on their skin. Stick to DRY heat, I say. Unless you use hot stones! I bet you do! Those are GREAT. I wish I had a sink in my office bathroom that I could clean them in, otherwise I would have some.)

I’ve also heard heating pads, stand-alone ceramic room heaters, and Thermaphore products work well.

Consider. Of course I have been talking physical warmth here, but there is a deeper warmth that clients really respond to. For some practitioners this takes time to develop, and for others it just needs kindling.

The energy of compassion and the intention for healing is warming. When I practice Reiki, or consider the affection I feel for my client, or drop into that blessed meditative quiet of a session, my hands get hot, almost directly in the palms. “Did you heat up your hands in the crockpot? They’re so warm!” some clients have said to me.

When a client comes in and I listen carefully, my heart energy expands and what I say, how I behave, is infused with genuine care (or at the very least that is my goal)…which the client experiences as…warmth.

Enveloping a client in warmth is always a good idea, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

(Unless they’re having a hot flash! In which case, life in wintry Maine is ideal: I just open a window.)

“I Explained To Him I Loved Him”

On Tuesday August 20th in Decatur, Georgia, Antoinette Tuff talked a gunman out of coming into the elementary school where she’s employed as a bookkeeper, and wreaking mayhem.

This is how she did it:

“I just explained to him that I loved him,” she said. “I didn’t know his name, I didn’t know much about him, but I did love him.” — from Washington Post

Don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years. … I’ve got a son that’s multiple disabled. — from Huffington Post

That’s a good thing that you’re just giving up and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life. No, you don’t want that. You going to be OK. I thought the same thing, you know, I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me. But look at me now. I’m still working and everything is OK. — from CNN

The 20-year-old gunman, Michael Brandon Hill, put down his weapons and let the police come in and take custody of him. He suffers from bipolar disorder: that day he was off his medicine and knew he wasn’t mentally stable.

Take the 13-14 minutes you’ll need to listen to the 911 call (nearly all the news outlet sites have a link to it)  and have a hanky handy. Personally I’ve never been so moved: not only the honesty Tuff displayed (using total self-disclosure to reassure Hill she knows how he feels) but the tone she uses. She is matter-of-fact — professional, even! — but speaks utterly from her heart.

“I just started praying for him,” she said later.

Part of why this story moves me so tremendously is the huge risk Tuff took. At any point in the exchange, Hill could have decided she was fooling him and shot her. Tuff risked everything – her dignity, her personal details, her very life – to help this young man. She didn’t care what it took: she tried. And as she prayed, she was given insight and courage that she didn’t feel.

Another part of why this story moves me so is it clearly shows what active compassion can do. Yes, there are no guarantees that being forthright, loving, understanding and composed leads to a peaceful stand-off: at any point in the interchange, things can go horribly wrong.

But she chose comfort over confrontation; compassion over condemnation; love over fear. And, in the end, no one was hurt: not even the gunman.

So: tell me again, what’s the role of massage therapy in today’s confrontational, condemning, hateful world?

Isn’t it one of our noblest gifts: to be the ones who comfort, reassure, restore?

We are one ensemble of many — nurses, pastors, social workers, doctors, crisis counselors, mental health advocates, chaplains, teachers, many others — who provide what Kate Braestrup refers to as the “spiritual equivalent of triage.”

I know we, as an industry, are moving forward: science-based evidence for practice, medical spas, stronger research, provable outcomes. We are rapidly ascending into mainstream healthcare’s playing fields; we’re proving our right to exist, stand toe-to-toe, with The Big Guys.

I dunno, though.

The bottom line, for me? Of why what we do, works? Is that we provide safe human connection: physical, emotional, spiritual solidarity on a hard, harsh, punitive planet. We can be real with our clients, and take the time we need to do it: not too many professions allow that. We can love our clients, deeply, while holding professional boundaries. We can pray for them if we choose.

In all these ways we help bring them back to themselves, and they, in turn, can make other people’s lives better too. It’s not secondary or tertiary, it’s the primary gift we have to offer.

That’s not something that shows up in research: it’s the pesky “anecdotal evidence” that has always dogged our reputation as practitioners. I’m not downplaying the importance of progress in a field. But I really, really want all of us to understand the huge gift we really do give the world, simply by giving individuals quality, heart-felt, educated, intuitive massage therapy sessions, over and over again.

We never know whose life will be saved by the strength of our love, compassion and understanding.

And He Laid His Hands Upon Them

I never wanted to be a massage therapist. There were many scattered, lively things inside me that massage therapy answered, so when I did find it I thought “Ah-haaaaa! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere!”

But as a career I wasn’t interested. Most I associated it with an intrinsic nurturing, healing mentality, which when I was first considering school – in my late 20s – I didn’t have an abundance of either. I got into massage therapy, quite frankly, because I hated the job I had. Pure and simple. (Working the high tech corridor outside Boston, sequestered in a cubicle for hours, bored and horrified me.)

The most beautiful occupation is the one that births you – the real you – to the world, so service doesn’t feel at all like a chore, but more effortless and relaxing than you ever thought possible. And that’s what massage therapy did for me. I have more compassion, patience, intuition and love now than when I started doing the work. I have not mastered any of these qualities but they are real energies in my life, which I can only attribute to my years of hoping they would show up for real.

Now my effort is in encouraging them, like helping small children grow. Doing massage therapy brings my deep, intrinsic qualities to the fore: the ones that are natal to every soul: the ones we all have, but forget.

I never set out to be a “healer” of any kind and still shrink from the title, should someone choose to dub me as such. What I do, for my job, is rub human bodies so they hurt less. To me, there’s nothing plush or magical or even ennobling in this: it’s basic human care, something we’ve been doing for each other for thousands of years, to help each other out.

My friend and colleague Rowan Blaisdell writes eloquently about this in his post “More About How I Got Here“:

I loved the idea of caring for another person in such a profound way. Before this I’m not sure I ever thought much about health care or healing. I don’t mean “Healing”, as in “I will Heal you”. I mean the kind of healing we all do each day (or should) for ourselves and those we love. The mending of hurts both physical and emotional.

And have you read the work of David Lauterstein? David’s writing and teaching have been hugely instrumental to me in not only becoming a better practitioner, but more curious and imaginative individual, filled with wonder. I don’t even know where to begin on how wonderful David’s writings are to me, except to share a portion which dovetails what Rowan said quite nicely : from Lauterstein’s seminal work, “Putting the Soul Back in the Body: A Manual of Imaginative Anatomy for Massage Therapists

Resting stroke: although not commonly taught as a stroke, what is meant here is just placing your hand on the person , making contact. It may be said to be the basic stroke of some disciplines such as polarity, Jin Shin Do, Reiki, etc. But it needn’t be esoteric. We all know how helpful a simple hand on the shoulder may feel when things get a little rough. That hand says “I care about you, I’m here, it’s going to be O.K. ”

At the beginning of each massage I use this stroke, not with the pretense of “Here’s Mr. Healer,” but simply as a way to introduce myself to the person’s body, oftentimes while we’re lightly conversing.”

The healing of massage happens, I feel, not because the practitioner has all the answers for this client, nor because the client has something wrong with them that has to be fixed. Healing happens with first contact, and lasts through the whole session, when both meet in that holy nexus of professional know-how and profound care.

In this way, yes, it is up to me to be the healer in session: but all that means is that I bring my best human qualities to the fore: being there, touching with consideration and compassion, listening deeply and well. Healing is a natural, effortless offshoot of this endeavor.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #16.