Your Mind on Leash

There are an awful lot of dogs everywhere, have you noticed? You don’t notice the cats because 1) those who try to walk their cats on a leash experience new and meaningful definitions for the word “recalcitrant” 2) they are muy pequeño 3) cats don’t need a walk. They need a lie down, a stretch, a pounce, but they don’t need “a walk.” Don’t be insulting.

Anyway, I take walks in our neighborhood and 90% of the time when I encounter another person, they have a pooch tethered to them. These animals have all varying degrees of behavior, from lollygagging to ferocious. I admire people who have well-behaved dogs, because it takes a lot of discipline, on the part of both the doggie and the owner.

The other morning I was striding with purpose past a modest trailer park. Even in chichi Bayside Maine we have a trailer park: which i love: nobody should be allowed to come vacation by the sea in their $2500-per-week cottage rentals with cocktail parties and lobster bakes on the beach and extremely intelligent, articulate, ballsy children running amok without also seeing a trailer park. Bottom line: if you’re in Maine and you’re on vacation, you really need to see how 88% of the other half live. So you get it in your mind this is no utopia. (Although it is pretty damn close, for about 3 weeks out of the year, which is when you’re here, which is really not fair. Please come visit in February. Please.)

As I walked past, I saw a nice looking gentleman with his nice looking dog. I don’t know dog breeds on sight, I think this one might have been a white lab, if such a thing exists. We were about 25 yds away from each other. And the man put his hands in a different position on the leash, and looked at his dog. The dog looked at her owner, put her butt down on the ground. Both of them them turned to watch me pass.

I suddenly realized *I* was the test. Me, walking past them, was part of today’s discipline. In the body language of both owner and dog, this was not a problem necessarily: it was a bit of a game, perhaps. But I was a tasty morsel, something to lunge after: and the owner, with his fresh grip on the leash and his stance, was basically telling his dog, “Don’t lunge.” And she was staring at me, but with her stolid gaze she was basically responding, “I shall not lunge.”

I had admiration for the man — like i said I have a lot of respect for dog owners with well-behaved dogs – but as I moved past them, and caught a look at the dog’s face, I melted inside. Here was an animal: large, dignified, perhaps of some age, whose every instinct is to bark and defend. To protect with teeth and claw. Or, less dramatically, to aggressively sniff  or slather affection on the approaching species. She wasn’t doing what felt natural, what felt called for: she held her ground and merely observed me come and go. You gotta really respect a dog — as an individual! in its own right! — when it can do that.

Who taught her how to do that? Her owner: the dude holding the leash. He can’t prevent her from choosing to barkbarkbarkBARK or breaking away from him, without having his arm ripped out of its socket. But there’s enough symbiosis in their relationship that she knows there’s a reward for “good behavior” i.e. not doing what feels normal.

Part of the reward might be a biscuit. But maybe the other part of the reward is the relationship: the way both of them feel when there is peace. Suddenly dog and owner have mutual experience: we watch things come and go, we observe together the world around us together. It becomes less punishment-&-reward and more exploration, gentle adventure.

Also there’s trust, established from probably years of training between this man and pooch. He loves her and knows her every instinct. She loves him and trusts his guidance. There’s intuition, respect and practice, all rolled into one here.

I’m not a dog person per se, but in this moment I became one, because for the first time I had an inkling of what it might be like to be a dog. Left to my own devices, I go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, striving, scheming, reacting, defending, barkbarkbarkBARKING at the world.

The driver in the seat is my crazy mind: the thing that starts up the minute I awake and the last thing to quiet down before I sleep. It catches a whiff of something and — off it goes! My mind is like an untrained dog loose in the streets: hugely entertaining at first, then a nuisance, then frightening. I’ve come to realize there’s nothing I can do to stop it from doing whatever it wants, and if I don’t manage it, I end up chasing after it fruitlessly.

Massage therapy is hugely helpful in helping us put our minds on leash. As we lie in gentle repose in session, our beatific countenance could belie the raging turmoil within. There we are: all relaxed and stuff, and meanwhile we’re counting up errands, or reviewing some horrible conversation we had last week, or planning what to do on the weekend. It’s exhausting. And we’re supposed to be relaxing!

What saves us? Presence. The massage therapist is there, their hands shifting in response to what he or she perceives in our frame. Over and over again, as the minutes tick by in session, both the massage therapist and the client acknowledge their instinct: to check out, to lunge at whatever our mind purveys, to escape. Over and over again, your massage therapist says in his touch, “don’t lunge.” And as the client, you are learning how not to lunge.

The reward is the peace that exists in session: that we long for, all week, that we crave for a month or 3 months until our next appointment. Here is safety. Here is repose. Good dog. Stay.

Stay.

After the Flu: Who’s In Charge?

One of the first things that clued me in that maybe not all was well within, was my raging fit over a new kitchen appliance. My husband purchased a modern pressure cooker that both of us were eager to try. Between the two of us, he’s more gifted in the kitchen (although I place a strong second); he was having no problem cranking out delicious, quick meals.

I, on the other hand, was still not able to make a recipe without scorching the food. Last Wednesday I was once again making a hash of things, and when he came over to see how I was doing, I unleashed upon him a vituperative spew that I spent the rest of the evening – and well into the next day – apologizing for.

“I honestly do NOT know what got into me,” I said to him, wholly contrite.

In less than 48 hours, I did.

We are relatively healthy, here: we eat home-cooked meals, do fresh juices and smoothies, buy local as much as possible. We exercise, and I don’t mean the gym: I feel strongly that shoveling snow, constant stacking and restacking of the woodpile, walks along country roads and the physical labor we both do for our jobs equates regular exercise, and that’s enough for us (for now). We take a few supplements.

Basically, after my evening of explosive anger, within 48 hours I was overcome by a deep mucousy cough (which I never get) and unrelenting body aches, chills, sweats, and pains for over 3 days. Someone swopped my brain with a bowl of gummy bears. I did a lot of sitting and staring, morose and unwashed.

A nice big fat juicy virus. In extreme close-up.

A nice big juicy virus. In extreme close-up. It wants entry to your cells, in a big juicy way.

As I slowly regained some strength, my husband started to tank, so there for a while both of us were wrapped in blankets, holding hands over the top of our quilts, mouths hanging open, playing game after game of Angry Birds (the irony doesn’t escape me).

And totally blowing up at each other, and then apologizing. Seventy-two hours of this.

“Oh yeah, it’s a cough, it’s terrible body aches and headache, and crushing crankiness,” said my friend when I inquired as to his health and found out he too had been ill for nearly a week. (It’s that time of year! And we’ve got it bad here in Maine.) I was relieved when he mentioned the bad mood, for it was our fits of anger that really bewildered me the most.

Certain emotions seem to welcome illness. But what comes first? The virus, or the emotion? Can the presence of an alien in our system – such as a virus, which is keen on setting up shop and replicating ASAP – create nearly alien emotional states in us as well?

Does it sap our immune system and also our bonhomie; our willingness to be egalitarian? When invaded, the body senses a threat and it doesn’t try to negotiate with the virus, see both sides of the issue, willing to let bygones be bygones: the body does not look at an invader and hope negotiations and treaties will result in a mutually beneficial resolution. It’s WAR.

I am wondering, then, if the war-like state of our 100 trillion cells might, just possibly, change our mood. Color our outlook. I know there is no real boundary between the body and our mind – the two are one – but I don’t think I’m alone, here, when I say that I sort-of assume my mind’s more in charge of things than my body?

But it’s not! Of course it’s not! All I have to do is look at the pleasurable outcome of body overriding mind: my own profession, massage therapy. This is precisely why massage therapy is unmatched at reducing anxiety and tension. After an effective session, stressful thoughts don’t chance a snowball’s chance in Fresno.

I have tried worrying after I’ve had a massage. I can’t do it, which makes me giggle with glee because I am a homegrown worrywart. (Another reason I’m so glad I found massage, and it found me.)

We put a lot of emphasis on personal efforts at mastering our own minds, but the body is the mind’s ultimate master. Whether through the discomfort of illness, or the bliss of massage, it picks up our mind in its gorgeous arms and says, “Shuuuuuuuush.”

David Lauterstein just posted this today on his Deep Massage Book FaceBook page: “The body is our teacher. Will this knowledge become common? Will the misplaced worship of the mind alone end as an embarrassingly long historical era?” Amen brother.

Two other things:

1) Being ill really reminds me the fallacy of “hurry up and get better.” Whether it’s the flu, or a persistent low back ache, or recovery from surgery: it takes the time it takes. There is no hurry. It’s the body. It has its own time-clock, and will slow you down to itself, if it has to, for you to get with its program.

2) I know, as a profession, massage therapists usually attempt (if not succeed) at modeling health and wellness, but if you’re never sick how are you going to understand someone who is? If you never suffer, how can you understand another’s suffering? Depression? Anger, sorrow? I’m not suggesting you go out there and intentionally invite disaster upon your person, but there’s nothing like a strong dose of it to help you open your heart afresh.

“I know, honey,” is all I’ve been saying to my husband for the past few days, “I know. I know, it really hurts. You feel awful. I’m so sorry.” And I’m looking forward to sharing this newly kindled compassion, personally won, with my clients too.

When you or someone you know gets the flu: “Your cold and flu symptoms, explained” — Courtesy of CNN and RealSimple.com. Why you feel the way you do: with remedies too!

Also, a very cool (if not slightly alarming) animation: “Flu Attack! How a virus invades your body” — Courtesy of NPR.org