Time to Go

“Oh crap,” I said to myself, as I entered my waiting room and noticed that my office door (the actual door, not the outside door leading to said office) was closed, once again.

This had been happening for a few weeks, ever since some new tenants had moved into an adjacent office and were using the space on weekends when I wasn’t there. I would come into our waiting area on Monday, and sometimes my office door was closed, which I was accustomed to leaving open and hoped others would just let be.

Nope, for whatever reason my office was too a) purpleyblue b) healyfeely c) herby-smelly d) filled with rabbits for someone’s taste. Never mind all that, I thought, as I approached my door to open it. I’ll just go in like I always do.

There was that bump that happens when you go to open something that’s supposed to swing wide, and instead you end up mashing yourself into it. No! “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I said aloud, plus a few other unprintable things, as I jiggled, thumped, noodled with the door knob and body slammed the door a few times.

Nothing doing. No budge. I was locked out of my own office.

Before I go too much further I would like to point out that in the past few years I’ve been aware that it was time for me to do something different and also my landlords, Jane and Gary, were ready for me to do something different. They wanted my space back, contingent on them selling their house.

“But it would be better if you found something sooner rather than later,” said Jane kindly, and I agreed. I wanted to be the one who was informing them I was leaving, not them telling me I had 90 days. Neither of us wanted to me to go. But time to go, it probably was.

MassageOffice.1I had been fighting it all the way, which meant ignoring it mostly. (My favorite way of fighting something.) I was not in the mood to be shown there might be other things for me out there.

So here I was, 7 minutes away from my 1st client showing up, frantically calling my landlord who — bless him manifoldly — has been available nearly all the time and almost always right away. While he extricated himself from a job he had in another town, he suggested I try an allen wrench (neatly tucked above the door: I never knew!) to pop the lock open and see if Jane — who was straight out with clients of her own — could open it for me.

She came over. I tried, and she tried. My client arrived, and he tried it too. “You know,” he said, while he reamed the allen wrench around inside the doorknob and we hovered close by, hoping him being a pastor would work a miracle, “before I got saved I could have had a door like this open in no time.”

The miracle we needed finally arrived. Gary had to work a few allen wrenches, not just the one he’d stashed. I sat with my client while he told me about the 2 funerals he’d officiated at over the weekend and some juicy tidbits about his Italian uncles.

In the midst of all this, I (multi-tasking perenially) texted the other tenants, whom I’ve known for years and who I’ve been friendly with. “Have you guys been closing my door on weekends? If you have I’m locked out right now.”

I was pretty confident it was them, and so was surprised when I heard back: “No, we haven’t touched your door. Sorry you’re locked out! Is Gary there?”

Well, that was a fine how-de-doo. Now I really had NO idea how this door had closed itself AND locked itself too. Right before the door got opened I had a horrible thought that maybe someone had opened a window and gotten into my office and was still in there…?! But when the door popped open and we craned our heads around inside to make sure everything was ok, it was all status quo.

This is not a riveting story, the case of the locked door. Did the door get unlocked? Yes it did. Were my fellow tenants lying to me about closing my door (and accidentally locking it in the process)? Maybe, because it hasn’t happened since the incident. Did I lose any business from it, was I exposed to untold suffering because (heaven forfend) my office door was locked? No, I was not.

What’s interesting to me is the timing; I am, now, indeed, moving to a new office as of July 1st 2016. My office — my sanctuary, haven, home away from home — had been closing itself off to me for weeks and I hadn’t gotten the hint. Finally, for whatever reason, and by whomever’s hand (hand? energy?), it locked me out.

GO, it seemed to be saying. GET OUTTA HERE. As Elizabeth Gilbert says at the end of her FaceBook posts: Onward.

I have been crying a lot, as I look around me at the place I’ve called dear, knowing I have to say goodbye. But, those tears dry up more quickly and I breathe with a little more strength and resolve when I recall that it’s time for going. My office told me so.

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Powerless

We’ve had an Ice Storm (yes it deserves caps) here in Maine. Maybe you heard about it. Week of Christmas: undriveable roads, trees breaking and crashing, massive power outages, cold. The only benefit was everyone’s standard question shifted from “You ready for Christmas?” to “You got power?”

None of us knew when our electricity would come back, so we all had to behave as though it wouldn’t. Priorities shifted immediately: securing water, heat and light trumped casual window-shopping, looking for stocking stuffers. Parties were out: the mere idea of going a-wassailing in a small dress, holding a big drink, held no allure. Most of us got as warm as we could, made sure all the perishables were in a secure location somewhere out on the porch (mother nature at least deigned to provide a deep freeze), ate some take-out by candlelight, and were in bed before 7 p.m., praying for the light to return.

The sun blazes as it sets, illuminating a world coated in crystalline ice

The sun blazes as it sets, illuminating a world coated in crystalline ice. Hayford Hill, Belfast Maine. December 2013

Or, if you were me, sipped hot herbal tea, assessed firewood, minded the oil lamps and tealights, and listened – with increasing anxiety – to trees falling as the freezing rain draped every pine needle, every twig, every limb and every vine in ponderous ice. Water is heavy. In the pitch black all around my house, I heard trees creak, yawn and thunder to the ground, and could do nothing about it.

This would be the true definition of “crisis” – an unstable condition. While exertion is good for the soul, it took on a sinister undertone: much of what we had to do had to be done quickly, before it got dark, before the woodstove went out, before it rained or snowed, again, before before before….and then, suddenly, it’s too late and you must give up or give in.

I am a massage therapist, and therefore accustomed to having things nice: usually clients are glad to see me and smiling when they leave. People feel better after I work on them and it’s incredibly, sometimes immediately, gratifying. With a little effort and attention I can make a big difference in a small amount of time, and that’s not something everyone gets to do. A person gets used to all that, and starts to want it all the time.

I am also self-employed: I run my own practice and therefore have the tendency to believe that because I’m in charge at my office, the rest of my life should follow in march step. I know this isn’t true? But honestly there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe that, not for one minute, and starts quaking and chattering whenever there’s disruption in the schedule, which there is, all the time, and that part of me can sit on a tack as far I’m concerned.

Losing electricity – losing power – means abandoning hope, not being sure, not really pushing for an outcome. It means dealing directly with what’s in front of you and not making assumptions, even though you feel entitled: to feeling good or even just feeling certain.

Ice Storm 2013 was a year-end variation on a year-long theme for me, where I found I had to give up a lot of things (i.e. lose my power), not as a tactic for getting what I wanted in the long run, but as a means…for the means. Building the mandala just to whisk it away.

As I slowly start seeing clients again – as we all timidly crawl out from under the covers and the confines of our house (some people’s worst adventures were trying to get out of their own driveway: slicker than bobsled runner, encased in wet ice, with everything rounded and hardened and no surfaces to grasp: like trying to climb the sides of sudsy punch bowl) and bravely attempt re-introducing ourselves to our own schedule – my work takes on a different tone.

Here massage does its palliative wonders to restore weather-weary bodies to themselves. It’s a time to be reassuring, attentive, warming; treating clients as newborns, frankly. Who is this tired, tense, grey-pale and shivering individual? What is the story their flesh, muscles, and aching bones have to tell me today? How can I help rebirth them into their own lives? And who am I, as I attempt to do this?

After the fall, there is silence before we know the next move. It’s enough for me to stand with my clients, as we both scramble for footing in this world, and wonder “what?”

How Little We Know

Here we are, the “end” of summer, and some of us wax nostalgic already for the season gone by. Never mind there’s still plenty gorgeous warm days ahead: we’re longing, pining, for all that’s gone, for all we didn’t do.

If you’re not careful, you just become a waxer and a piner. As if there were some L.L. Bean catalog photo spread that we’re all subconsciously aiming for. It slowly creeps into every facet of your life: all the fresh blueberry pancakes you didn’t eat. All the hot weekends you didn’t make it to the beach. The live music you missed along the harbor. The full moons, the rising suns.

Maybe because you were working 10-hour days all during June, July and August, huh? Maybe because your mom got real sick and you needed to be with her: a lot. Maybe you adopted a puppy, and puppies need care 24/7. Maybe you just don’t like crowds. Anyway, it’s over now, and you didn’t “have it all.”

Ahhh, alas. Alack.

Bummer, dude.

But don't make it sad, Cricket. I don't feel that way.

But don’t make it sad, Cricket. I don’t feel that way.

Over the years my practice has grown and I’ve been seeing more clients. It has taken a lot for me – with all my OCD, type-A, perfectionistic tendencies – to unload the shotgun of my ambitions. There’s nothing like seeing 5, 6 clients at a crack (which I don’t recommend for the long term) to get very serious with yourself about releasing immature notions of “getting it right.”

You cannot hold a fixed standard of perfection and meet each client successfully. Perfection is not what you do to a client, or even, who you are as a practitioner, but it’s only happens when the client has arrived in the room: only available for measure and observation in the moment when the two of you are conversing, negotiating, explaining, learning. Perfection is wholly immediate: not a split second earlier, or later.

So getting ramped up for seeing people: over-analyzing their issues or what you didn’t quite do enough of last time – or if they’re a new client, being more anxious than relaxed and happy at the prospect of meeting them and finding out what you can do for them – is not a substitute for being present to them during intake, massage, and finish-out. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog, but it bears repeating, mostly because I need reminding: Worry is not a substitute for paying attention. Neither is being all perfectionistic-y.

Also can I just say? Which I’m entitled to saying because, here again, I need to remind my ownself: playing teacher’s pet no longer entertains or amuses as one matures (or, at least, it shouldn’t). Most of us were lauded for our overweening efforts at getting straight As, or shots on goal, or the blue ribbon, when we were young. In the big-girl world, nobody likes a smart-ass, but that doesn’t keep us from still trying reeeeeeally hard: those of us whose perfectionism hasn’t died, only gone underground.

We’re not fooling anybody. It comes leaking out around the edges as addictions, excuses, anger and peevishness, and procrastination. As waxing and pining. If we think we have to get it right – first off, right out of the gate, every time – we’ll lay down an innumerable amount of barriers to prevent ourselves from even attempting the smallest introduction to the very thing we long to embrace: a project, a piece, a person.

Get to it.

Your client doesn’t want you to get it right.

Your client wants you to pay attention to them.

And, by the way….that goes for the rest of your life too.

So – WAKE UP! Guess what. It’s almost September. Open your eyes, your heart, your schedule, and don’t miss a single. Blessed. Minute. Even if you’re lying in the bright autumn sun for hours, not moving a muscle. Listening to old love songs. Resting. Like you deserve it or something.

Perfectionists live lives of sameness, wondering why new things never come. Perfectionism is the enemy of good, and good enough. But in an elemental way, perfectionism is the galactic enemy of action itself.

Bob Sullivan

and

All people long to write (this is natural and right) – but we become timid, anxious, perfectionists…The creative power does not come from ambition. Ambition injures it and makes it a nervous strain and hard work. Writing is not a performance but a generosity. Write to enlarge the soul. Work freely and rollickingly as if you were talking to a friend who loves you.

Francisco Stork

and

Maybe it happens this way
Maybe we really belong together
But after all, how little we know

— “How Little We Know” sung by Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not” by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael 1944

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 #22. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

Every Time We Say Good-bye

I have been considering endings, lately. What about you? August is filled with preparation for fall. Light lowers and hems. We start saying Farewell to heat, here in Maine, as well. There is great harvest and celebration, but it’s the beginning of the end.

As we say good-bye to someone, something, we can feel bad. Maybe we thought this happy thing was never going to end, but here it is, ending anyway. Maybe we couldn’t wait for this miserable event to be over, and now that it is, we have a lot more mixed feelings than we thought we would have, including sourness over having wasted so much time on something that ended up being a huge disappointment.

While saying good-bye, we can cling, or we can push it away.

But here it comes: close to going…

going away now…

gone.

The temptation is to fill an ending with the instant in-rush of next steps, next move, next next next. “WHAT’S NEXT?!?!” The grave’s not even cold. We get what we’ve been craving, and like toddlers we hold it for 2 seconds, let it roll out of our hands, and wriggle on, grabbing and tasting and exulting…but not absorbing. Or cleaning up the mess in our wake.

Sometimes there just isn’t a “next.” Something ends. And, in that completion, there is a borderless quiet that comes in and soaks us to our soul roots. We haven’t got “it,’ whatever it is, to catapult us into knowing, doing, saying or planning what’s to come. We aren’t inspired. We feel blank, fallow, still as glass, or snow falling in a field.

A massage therapy or Reiki, or other bodywork, session is hugely instrumental in teaching us how to say good-bye. As recipients, we present ourselves to a practitioner for healing, hope for the best, receive what we get, and then must arise and go forth. That lovely time is over before we know it. “Can’t I just stay here?” No, we can’t stay.

Courtesy Kevin Kratka Photography

Courtesy Kevin Kratka Photography

As practitioners, we see the session as a whole, but we also see each part of the person as a whole, and as such, we say hello/goodbye, hello/goodbye, constantly during the massage. Hello to your scalp! Goodbye scalp. Hello neck! Goodbye neck. Hello to your whole shoulder, whole arm and down to each finger! Goodbye to all that.

Hello wonderful beautiful incredible awesome gorgeous human being person thing!

Goodbye wonderful beautiful incredible awesome gorgeous human being person thing.

I like to end my massage therapy sessions by holding a limb or a pate, for a prayerful length. It reminds me of that long quiet, that vast unknowing, that comes at the end of all things: when you know it’s the end, and you don’t know what’s next. You know just enough to stay where you are, breathing, falling.

“To change what we are doing, we must stop what we are doing.” – David Lauterstein

“We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it. ” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“As you uncover God’s loving truth, you uncover your own, and as you uncover your own truth, you fall deeper into God’s mercy and love.” – Richard Rohr

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 #14.

All of Me

Anatomy class teaches us about the body in hanks and steaks. Books diagram it out like an architectural drawing or a car parts catalog. It’s what makes us geeks, no matter how urbane or dreamily we carry ourselves: show us the latest renderings of suboccipitals, subscaps or splenius capitis and we slaver, ooh and ahh, frighten our partners (“WOW LOOK AT THIS!” “Eyooooo…”) and boggle our clients. It fascinates us from day one.

Who doesn’t find this part of our training totally electrifying? (hint: if the thought of studying anatomy for the rest of your days makes your eyes glaze over, massage therapy might not be for you.)

Sure, we have to know individual muscles and their groups; antagonists and protagonists; lines and spirals. But you can’t map an illustration, graphic, or even 3-D rendering onto a human. For one thing, unlike the books, when you’re massaging you can’t see what you’re working on. It may pop out under your hands, or you may have exceptionally good “finger eyes” (palpation clairvoyance, as I like to think of it) but not a single one of us gets to see anatomy.

What we see, as we gaze with adoration at our recumbent client, is skin. Everything else is guesswork. Educated, experienced, compassionate, inspired guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. This puts all bodywork practitioners –  from the CST to NMT – rather in the same boat.

For another thing, there are no parts to study, really. Check it out: there are no parts. There is no way you’re working just a piece. The very muscle you push your thumb into is enervated, juicy, swimming in chemicals, and has memories. That muscle talks up to your thumb, and out in a corresponding radius to everything around it, which might be the lunate and the ring finger, recently absent from its wedding band of 15 years. What is that telling you? Why are you thumping around the forearm, anyway? A thoughtful touch to the sternum and its attachments – a careful, brief gaze at the face, frozen in desperate sleep. Suddenly there is corporate work to be done, but you would not have caught on to what this session really means, if you were insisting on fixing a piece.

Yes, here’s the rhomboid and that hiccupy snarl where it gets hung up on my clients’ rib. (Maybe the nearby vertebrae is out of alignment. Maybe here is an old story: all of us got so pummeled on the playground, we all took spills out of the sled.) I can rub, tap, smooth, hold, and squash the snarl. However, however, however: there is a rib under this rhomboid. And mere millimeters deep to that is the body’s rain forest: a gorgeous, plumpy, sodden mesh of lung, alveoli glistening and sparkling with air and blood. Hormones, nutrients, waste products and alien life forms sloosh in perpetuity, like a battle scene from Battlestar Galactica.

I may be hyperfocused on the rhomboid, but let me consider what lies beneath, and beneath even that, where the person resides, both everywhere and nowhere inside this humble bug that lies swaddled in linens.

Whole volumes could and should and have been written of the fascia that binds and weaves every strand, from the freckles on the backs of our hands to the bile sleeping in our spleen. When we touch our client, fascia is the firm water of our body that makes the stone thrown into the far end of the pond somehow felt on the other shore. I try to avoid the ungracious act of only massaging feet, and missing out on scalp, or vice versa. Even if it’s only 30 seconds of contact, we know how it feels to either be wholly embraced or given the massage equivalent of a side hug. Why not take all of me?

Finally, when we study anatomy we understandably have confirmed for us that the seat of the human, the most important part of him or her, is on top. Brain. Talk. Everything that brings us to life comes from headquarters. Most ways we communicate also happen to be draped off the front of it.

But head does not equal person. It’s down front, and along the proscenium arch, but you do not have live theatre if you don’t have everything that’s upstage too, and up in the fly space, not to mention the tech and costume crew. When you take your client by the hand and you both walk into the Ganges of your session together, you get that bigger sense of everything (yourself included, I hope?) and suddenly – what fun – you don’t know where your client is.

So – name them. Susan, here you are in your hips. You are your knees. Susan I see you most clearly in your feet. Now with every finger of serratus anterior. There is no quadrant more or less important; no portion where your client cannot be found.

You might live forever. I might too.

Lately I have been meditating on organs. My Reiki training tells me there is no place healing energy cannot go, so I send it there. To my satisfaction, I have heard the happy sound of borborygmus and hyperpnea, if not right after I set my intention, then shortly thereafter.

If I’m called to the lowback, I am also praying for the guts, illiopsoas and anterior spine. I am not pushing aside everything that is around it. I am not pulling ridiculous stunts to get to it. I am seeing it as it is: fully guarded by the house of person. I hold my boundary and see, while respecting what I see and the house that surrounds it.

I think of my own spine and how it might feel to have the warmest, purest, gentlest, sweetest water pour down on the inside. Immediately my toes come alive, and stars burn bright.

I look at the books, I talk to colleagues, I take workshops (and long to take more) but the moment I, you, anyone sets their hands to work on another out of love and concern we are clothed in majesty, given powers beyond rational ken, and authorized. We can touch, which surpasses popularity, savoir faire or credentials. The simplicity of it angers the modern mind, yet cannot be denied.

Many thanks to David Lauterstein for the words “borborygmus” and “hyperpnea” and quite a few other things.

Wholly Holy

I am not sure what qualifies as the most significant thing a person can experience on the massage therapy table. For some, it’s having the massage practitioner put their elbow in just the right place to finally relieve sciatica – or having a deep pain in the cranium prodded loose with deft neck work – or having legs tractioned out, creating space and length between each joint – or being melted away and purified by the fire of Reiki or other psychospiritual modality. It certainly is up to the person receiving.

All experience is valid. So I’m distressed, sometimes, when it seems as though we’re all trying to wield a greater sword on the battlefield of “who’s doing the most for the client.” Those who practice relaxation massage often feel on the defensive against those who give deeper work. Those who have spent years training in a variety of modalities may feel entitled to more clients than those who have spent their career specializing in one or two, and not expanded their repertoire. And, those who do physical manipulation – i.e. massage therapy – feel more legitimate than Reiki or other practitioners who do “energy work.”

What I see here is a fundamental, timeless conflict between What Is Seen and What Is Invisible. The human body is something we can handle, study, tap and dissect. It’s there for examination with our eyes, and there for palpation with our hands. All five senses can confirm for us that we are connecting to another human (although taste might be a dubious source, I have occasionally mistakenly got a piece of my client’s hair in my mouth!).

With energy work we enter the realm of the intangible. Nothing is provable. A lot of it is aspiration, quite a lot of it is intuition, and another portion is real, just not with our eyeballs (although some have that gift, too). There are textbooks out there diagramming the energy field of the body, and attempt to scientize what we intrinsically know about one another, but to me, energy work is faith.

And let me further define what I personally mean by energy work: ALL that seems invisible. It starts with everything below the skin that I touch: organ functions, nerve paths, cell birth and death, my client’s very soul. It is everything that I know of this person and all conjecture: from the intake form, to the stories they tell about me, to what they don’t say, to what I ‘pick up on’, and how they feel about me. And it is who they are in repose, trusting me to do my best, and who I am when I work.

All of these things are energy, and, to me, have nearly the palpable weight and measure as bone, tendon and muscle, the stuff I can touch and handle.

When I “give” Reiki, I am merely sinking into that living stream of what’s there, and encouraging everything life-affirming, everything loving. I know when I “have” this: my clients pick up on it, and mention “that thing you do” during the massage session. In full Reiki sessions, what I have seen in my mind’s eye is literally what my clients experience. This is energy work. On the one hand it’s miraculous; on the other it’s nothing special, but it’s there and needs attention. As David Lauterstein quoted William Blake:

“Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age”

When giving Reiki I am going on my instincts and intuition. I am in constant supplication and prayer, asking for divine assistance in all things. I am in as true and deep a meditative state as I can be. I am trying to “see” more fully, because I am relying on so much that is not clear in front of me.

It has occurred to me, more than once, that when I practice Reiki I may be in a greater place to fully address the human because I know that I don’t know. I am working from a place of humility and faith. My attitude is correct. Our very ability to lay eyes upon a body, study it, separate out the parts, understand its chemistry and trace the lines of what’s supposed to be there, means that we might not actually See our client.

As we move forward in the bodywork biz, our inroads into allopathic medicine have done wonders to boost our collective ego. It’s exciting: to know that physicians refer to massage therapists more than they ever did, and for there to be things like medical spas, and oncology massage practitioners inside hospitals.

We’re really getting somewhere now: or are we? Getting attention from “traditional” healthcare is an important step in our progress, but I would be most disheartened if the highest and best iteration of ourselves is to make massage therapists look and behave like doctors. If, by doctors, we mean the old-fashioned kind, where bedside manner and keen listening did as much for the patient as any medicine prescribed, then yes. If we mean doctors as seeing patients merely as means to an end, with a few provable, predictable techniques thrown at them, while not picking up on clues that even the mildly curious practitioner couldn’t miss due to lack of interest or even, heaven help us, not being seen as essential information, then no, please no, certainly not.

If someone is helped by massage therapy practitioners who are more scientifically minded, that’s wonderful. I would request that they, however, don’t look at how I work and feel this has no merit. However clearly massage therapy is trending towards the medical model, there is still very real change made by the massage practitioner who is in it for the art of it,  for the heart of it: who goes deep, professionally and empathically: who sees what is not seen, hears what is not spoken, and with humility and care, ministers to their client.

And, I would posit that neither this way, or the scientific model, are ultimately how our industry can benefit humanity. There is a third way that we haven’t found. Yet.

This blog is in response to David Lauterstein’s post on his Deep Massage FaceBook page, Wednesday May 15th 2013. I highly recommend his book “Deep Massage.