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.

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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.

Don’t Worry, Be

New clients are not a problem. It’s the ones that come back to you over and over. Client retention is highly coveted, but I gotta tell you I just get more concerned about long-term clients as the years go on:  maintaining optimum level of care isn’t always easy, especially if they age on you.

WHEN they age on you.

Today I had good practice in massage therapy improv: and, like all good improv, it stems from listening well and doing what naturally follows: yet with a compelling twist, that amazes and stuns. Or, in this case, helps/heals.

My client’s in her 70s and I started working on her over a year ago with just 30 minutes of Reiki for an arm that had been crushed in a fall. Gradually her problems moved away from her immediate injury to more long-standing and progressively worsening issues in her legs and feet.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel - Alexander Louis Leloir, 1865

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel – Alexander Louis Leloir, 1865

Today her left knee was swollen, and she didn’t know why. “I was alternating ice and heat, but heat felt better, because I needed to keep flexibility,” she said. “I know I fell on it weeks ago but it was fine. I can’t understand why it’s doing this now.”

Both of us decided massage was the order of the day — I’d been doing more and more massage with her, actually, combined with Reiki — because her legs hurt, her calves were clenched, and her feet were killing her.

As I got her set up, and left the room to get centered and washed up, I suddenly panicked. It sounded something like:

  1. she’s got a swollen hurting knee. light pressure. but maybe I should Reiki it first?
  2. I’ve been doing Reiki all this time and maybe I should have done massage a long time ago instead. No, wait.
  3. how much Reiki? how much massage? what ratio to what ratio?
  4. I’ve never massaged her legs before. She’s in a lot of pain. I want to make her better. Will massage make it better? I didn’t Reiki her left knee last time I saw her, well, not very much. Darn darn darn. Maybe *I* made her knee worse.
  5. proper bolstering first, long upward strokes only… Holy shit. CAN I make her knee better?!

I was getting myself worked up into a hot lather and I was about to start the session any minute.

It’s worry. It’s egotism, plain and simple, although it’s cleverly disguised through a thin veneer of hyperventilating and wrestling and inner flailing.  Worrying about whether or not I’m going to do a “good job” with a client is a valid concern, but careful, careful, oh careful: If you’re worried you’re not doing a good job, you aren’t. Worry is not a substitute for paying attention.

When I realized what was happening, and reeled myself back into my body and what I was doing (about 12 minutes into the session: not bad: I had days where I NEVER got into what I was doing, without fear. Pat on back.), I remembered two things: first, self-trust. I’d been in this situation so many times before (I would say from about 2000 to 2007, actually), but I’d gotten so much better at my work, that I’d forgotten what a good gateway feeling terrified was to dropping into the present moment and addressing what I saw and felt there, as the seconds ticked by, and not a moment before.

Second, after self-trust, the quiet direction starts coming. If you listen while you work, you sometimes get actual snatches of instructive speech, in your own voice, inside your head, such as:

  1. knee: hot?cold? swollen?toned? parse, parse, think: where now? move! move move move
  2. no thumbs please…..
  3. careful pressure around bunions, now.
  4. how about a little Tiger Balm liniment?

And when you’re not worrying whether or not you’re doing a good job, you start to see your client, which is the ONLY source of help when it comes to knowing what you’re doing. Not really what you did last week with so-and-so. Not really what you did with THIS client two weeks ago. That’s old history. This is a brand-new person in front of you.

Don’t worry, be.

(mind that popliteal fossa.)

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 #5.

Bad Reiki.2

( Cont. from Bad Reiki.1) …Pardon me already, for sounding angry in this installment. Like I said, I have a history with people who think they can save me or that I need to be saved. What I’m tapping into is a lot of my own stuff, but maybe there’s something here that could/should be said, and perhaps it will resonate with you as well.

People who lay their hands on someone and feel capable of removing someone else’s toxicity are either on the mark – which I utterly and completely accept – or totally crackers, with an overweening sense of self and their healing powers, and shouldn’t be making people feel diseased, malformed or deficient without loving them into wholeness before they leave that practitioner’s room.

It is unconscionable, in my feeling, for a Reiki practitioner to tell someone they have blocked chakras, have evils spirits following them, or have dark matter in their aura (all thing I’ve had Reiki clients tell me that other practitioners told them they had) without then being accountable to that person for their healing, in a loving respectful way, so they don’t walk around feeling powerless and woeful in their own lives. Reiki should make people come to a full realization of their own wholeness, their goodness and strength, not corroborate the individual’s fears.

I’ve had some bad experiences from both Christian and Reiki healers who thought they could see or sense things in me they wanted to rid me of, either in the name of Jesus or through the awesome powers of their Reiki-ness. What infuriates me about this is the complete lack of human kindness and regard this connotes. There’s no respect for the person: how it might come across to them, how it might make them feel to be surprised with (or, in certain circumstances, have confirmed) how leprous they are. The practitioner cares more about Doing To the client, rather than Being With the client.

Are You SatisfiedAnd let me clear about what I mean by “Bad” – the energy behind both forms of healing are both 100% wonderful, pure. There is no such thing as “Bad Reiki” at all. But boy oh boy.  None of us are perfect, and dangle the carrot of power in front of any of us, we’ll make a lunge. Even if we try to make it all casual and stuff; a surreptitious lunge, perhaps, an off-the-cuff lunge. An “Oh I’m being a healer it’s all okay” lunge.

What makes Reiki “bad” is when it’s used to exploit weakness, betray good faith, create unhealthy dependency and in general makes it impossible for the person to think for themselves without that practitioner around, calling the shots for them and giving advice.

If someone is truly sick –  if someone is suffering, shrunken, beat down – they need deep reassurance and Love. In the presence of Love, what is misaligned? Aligns. What might not serve this person, WILL be cast aside.

Over and over and over again: the question is: what is the most loving thing I can do for this person? How simply, purely, kindly and respectfully can I give this person all the best healing energy they deserve in this moment?

When I was given my Reiki Master training from Lindsley Field in 2003, she started the class by telling us, in no uncertain terms, that becoming a Master was not a title of power, but one of servitude. “You are saying to the universe, ‘Here I am. Use me.’ It is the path of the Bodhisattva: one who, through compassion, does everything they can to save others.”

The greater, the farther we go, to help and serve others, the more humility we need and the more deference we should show to what pours through us. I am not the source of Reiki: I am a conduit. I seek to be the best damn conduit I can be, basically by getting myself and all my pride out of the damn way. Those who heal, in the name of whatever deity they choose, do it not on their own strength, but by making way for Something Greater to happen.

Let us truly heal by being our client’s companion, not their arbiter. We don’t know really know what someone needs. But we CAN make sure we are available, open, and ready to make it possible for them to have it in session. That’s Good Reiki. That’s good…anything.

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 #4.

Bad Reiki.1

“You do Reiki. That’s so cool. My cousin got attuned and gave me a Reiki session,” said my new client as I did her intake form.  “She told me I had all these blocks in my chakras and said I was really messed up. I guess I’ve got a lot wrong with me.”

There’s not a lot that makes me see red in the bodywork/energy work world: I am pretty content to live and let live, aside from egregious breaches of protocol. The reason I get so bristly when I hear about people having these kinds of experiences with Reiki is twofold:

1) I have a history with “healers” and
2) Reiki is not about making people afraid or unclean, or dependent on their practitioners, but infusing them with Love.

Let me explain: I grew up in an evangelical fundamentalist church, daughter of a minister. My mother and father had amazing, life-changing experiences in the peak of the Charismatic Movement, during the 1960s and 70s. I could see clearly how much it meant to them to sing and speak in tongues, in community with others who were also infused with the Holy Spirit.

As a child I was awed by what I saw, but even when small I was skeptical. I couldn’t understand how some of the people who were leading the services were being taken seriously: they seemed to be overly manipulative, putting words in people’s mouths, wanting huge emotional responses from parishioners or else, insisting everyone come along for the ride.

I knew they meant well, but whenever an adult who had the power of the Holy Spirit came at me to lay their hands on me, I always felt incredibly uncomfortable.  It was like they were so filled with zeal for what they had to give, they weren’t seeing me at all. They were into their thing, and having me Get It, no matter what.

So yeah. I guess you could say I’ve got a little baggage around healing and healers.
So what the <bleep> got me into Reiki, you might ask?

I became a Reiki practitioner because I had a profound, undeniable experience with it, seen with my eyes open and felt in my body (probably how my parents felt when they were annointed by the Holy Spirit, come to think of it).

I had always thought Reiki total new-agey silliness-  to quote Tommy from NPR’s “Car Talk,” “boooooguuuuus!” – until it happened to me. Although I was finishing my training in massage therapy, I knew I wanted to study Reiki the minute I got out of school. When I moved to Maine, I did.

I studied Reiki over three years, finally finishing with Master but not after being immersed in Reiki culture and finding wonderful humans, incredible teachers, filled with humility and love…and also quite a lot of the opposite.

So here’s what I have to say about that. And pardon me already, for sounding angry in the next blog. Like I said, I have a history with people who think they can save me or that I need to be saved. What I’m tapping into is a lot of my own stuff, but maybe there’s something here that could/should be said, and perhaps it will resonate with you as well.

[Continued with Bad Reiki.2]

Apple Potatoes

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 #3.

Ministry of Touch

Sometimes even the casual observation of a virtual stranger can wake us up so completely we feel nearly slapped. I’m thinking specifically of the conversation my new client and I had on Friday.

There he sat, in his Maine Celtic Celebration T-shirt, talking to me exuberantly about the upcoming bike trip he was planning with his wife and kids. I was slightly phased, in that his kids were probably my age (i.e. possibly fortysomething). I was not surprised, however, that he would consider such an undertaking: from even the first few minutes of interacting with him, I could see he was aging healthfully, with wisdom, strength and joie de vivre. What a delightful person.

He was also gathering information on me, as our next exchange made clear: we were discussing the benefits of massage and how it makes us feel after the fact.

“I try to fight sleep during a session,” he said. “I feel like if I fall asleep the next time the therapist wakes me up it would be 24 hours from then. I just melt.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I often wish I had a room next to my office labeled ‘recovery,’ where someone could go after a massage to just collect themselves and re-enter the world gradually, peacefully, at their own pace.”

“You could have that!” he responded, “A little coffee shop in the back too, and everything. You could have your own little ministry.”

There aren’t many words that can create a hiccup in my professional flow quite like “ministry,” and while I continued to take notes and inquire as to what kind of pressure he prefers in session, and whether he likes to start prone or supine, there was a part of me that stopped when I heard that word, and never quite picked up again…and hasn’t since. Oh happy hiccup!

What about the word “ministry” stops me? The word, defined, is:

a. The act of serving; ministration.
b. One that serves as a means; an instrumentality.
c. a person or thing through which something is accomplished

Some MTs aspire to a medical model. Others, a massage session should be luxurious, pampering, highly relaxing in nature. Other offer massage for its own self, as it can and should be a way of fixing long-term postural issues, chronic pain and tension. I’ve never known how to define the work I do, but my new client  did: ministry.

How so? When I first began my career as a massage therapist, I felt early on that I was an instrument of something greater. I seek to serve. Coming up with an effective plan for each session is what I do. But just as important is listening, with my ears, heart and hands.

And, to get as much help as I can in the time I have, I also include prayer, which is both a form of supplication on the client’s (and my) behalf, but also seeking the bigger picture: looking for What Is Going On: hearing what isn’t said. I don’t know how else to describe it other than “prayer” – except, well, “instrumentality” is also pretty good. Yeah, a lot of times I feel used…in a very good way.

I come by all this honestly: my dad is a minister. Church leadership runs in my blood like athleticism or farming runs in others. I’m the product of hundreds of years’ worth of preachers, deacons, elders and song leaders, on both sides of my family. (Joseph Funk is one of mine.)

To be outside the church has been a terrific but sad liberation for me, and while I find myself increasingly engaged with faith and those who work at it with far more discipline than I, genetically I’ve been confused, and so it doesn’t surprise me (in fact, it delights) that I have found a form of church life in my line of work…sneaking in the back door of faith, as it were, and finding divine love in the kitchen.

Courtesy of the FaceBook page  "Our Mother of Perpetual Help"

Courtesy of the FaceBook page
“Our Mother of Perpetual Help”

When I first started my practice, I had a tagline: “Meeting you where you are.” I’m curious about the person who’s with me: I long for them to feel met, understood, heard and cared for: on a cellular level. I don’t see myself as a fixer: I see myself as a companion. Who’s doing the healing? I do, the client does……and the Something Else does too, the something I pray to, that I assume is there, because I have felt it countless times over the years and so have my clients.

(When is it Reiki? When is it prayer? Where a river meets the sea, I can’t separate out the brine and fresh riverwater, can you?)

The hardest part of massage therapy as ministry, for me, is the side work: I’m more dependent than ever on rituals to keep myself “in the loop” so that when I go into session I’m primed. You would not dream of telling a major league pitcher to go out and start a game without having warmed up his arm, his whole body, first. I consider prayer, meditation, reading inspiring texts, yoga and/or journaling my time in the bullpen, before I lay my hands on anyone.

I know there’s only one thing that my client is really paying for, and that’s a good massage. So, I give the best massage that I can, while all these other things are working alongside me in support. It’s the thing that my clients pick up on, while also noticing that I did that deep tissue work they asked, plus I got to their hands like they hoped.

I’m not a licensed minister of religion and I don’t have a church, but I am professionally licensed to touch others and I care for my clients as if they were parishioners. My massage therapy office is sacred space. “It just feels good in here,” is a comment I’ve received often through the years, and I attribute that not only to the careful way the room is put together and how often I cleanse it (whole ‘nuther topic) but how many ardent prayers for healing I have offered while I work with the person on the table.

Pastor and author J.R. Briggs encapsulates it perfectly:

“…As ministers we have to be yielding and listening. Yielding to the work of the Spirit and listening to God’s desires for the life of the person with whom we are journeying.”

A little ministry of my own? I couldn’t aspire to better.

Take Good Care

Even an “easy” day in the life can be fraught, if I’m not cognizant of details. For example, last Tuesday I had two 90-minute clients booked. Ah, piece of cake: walk in the park. Both long-term clients: needs understood, preferences noted. Presence adored. Can’t wait.

On further examination however, I know I’m in for it: my first is a house-call to my young client with muscular dystrophy. Packing up and traveling, wending my way through a variety of animals (she lives on a beautiful horse farm),  getting set up (there is a massage table there, but still, where to put what) and then doing a long session, is work. She needs deep tissue massage, yet I’m always cautious as I plow around her back: there’s a lot of tension here that’s chronic, unexercised, fatigued, dry…and getting worse. Checking in becomes part of the art.

My second 90-min. session is my longest-term client, whose body and stories and predilections are as familiar to me as episodes of Blackadder, a BBC comedy we both have vast portions of committed to memory. On the one hand, he’s my frequent flier, my regular, and I don’t have to convince him of the benefits of regular massage: he’s devoted.

On the other hand, having a ton of time with a client is equally perk and privilege, so I don’t take his loyalty for granted. There’s always an opportunity to learn more about him, and what I can do for him now…and now…and now.  I live to hear him say, as he often does, “That was the best yet.” How many “best yet”s will I earn in the years to come? Will I earn one today?

These two 90-min. sessions can suddenly feel like a burden. But I got into this line of work because I wanted to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, not so that I could further entrench my perfectionism. Over the years I’ve learned that how I treat myself has everything to do with how well I work, and how good I feel, bringing forth the “ahhh” in massage, for both myself and my clients.

How to take on the burden/blessing of bodywork? Self care.

Everything you long to do holds the key. It’s whatever you tell yourself you don’t have time for. It might be a discipline, but it might also be a past-time. If, when you’re doing it, you hear a soft knock on the door of your heart, and you can hear the door swing open and happy animal noises ensuing, you might have found one of many fine ways in which to take good care of yourself. Including:

3 legs to the triumvirate of self care:  journaling, walking, resting.

3 legs to the triumvirate of self care:
journaling, walking, resting.

Here’s what else self-care looks like to me:

Time. Time and I are not close. There are two genes in my family, the chronically on time, with hot indignation sprayed on those who can’t manage the same. The other, the chronically late, sometimes breath-takingly so, filled with profuse apology and repeated offense. Guess which one I have.

Having my own office and being responsible for getting the whole thing rolling first thing has, if nothing else, taught me to respect time. And it takes immense focus for me to get out the door every morning, which means I have to keep on top of myself to make sure I do. There is only one task: leave.  Move it, Burkholder.

Phone. It gets turned off. Sometimes at 7 p.m., sometimes 9. If I think someone can reach me, I’m not completely at ease. Never a phan of the phone, I am happy when it’s phlipped shut.

Little Me. Hearing my need for daily supplements and doses. There are herbs, vitamins, minerals and tinctures I take to keep myself feeling good and able to work with stamina for every person, no matter when they’re booked. I’ve also added Emerita’s Pro-Gest, as I find I’m trundling down the trails of peri-menopause already, and a little dab of this in the a.m. and p.m. has made a big difference for me. So has Avena Botanical’s Restorative Root Powder.

Being accountable to myself: listening to the little me inside who hopes the big me is listening: planning ahead enough so that I have my pills and potions, meals and snacks, green tea and gum for the ten-hour, sometimes twelve-hour, day ahead. Very much “what do you need, honey?” in my tone. Yes, speaking tenderly to myself: this is self care.

Consciousness. I’m not a natal MT. You? It’s not in me to spend vast tracts of time in meditative silence, massaging. I am a daydreamer, an entertainer, a giggler. A good part of my early years of practicing massage therapy was learning how to not to do too much of any of those 3 things while working.

Everyone has their own way of being present to clients, maintaining a high level of consciousness. Myself, I have relied heavily on the application of Reiki in my massages, something I can’t recommend highly enough. This sweet, powerful energy work gives me Source, something to channel when I feel lost or depleted, something to lean into for insight. I also call it prayer.

This enables me to bring loving attention, but not so much attention that I start to drift into hypervigilance, which makes for excellent business acumen, but lousy mental health. At a certain point: it’s good. It’s good enough. The client will pick up where I left off. Healing will flow when my hands stop moving. I don’t matter, and as Dale Favier says, that is a “radical blessing.”

Thoroughness is a curse. Leaving some things up to the Great Mystery is essential, otherwise there I am vacuuming again, or taking copious notes, when I could be unwinding and making time for the things I really want to do (like read, doodle, brush my cat, and watch the Mighty Boosh) which is what I encourage my clients to do…for their own self care.

Many thanks to the ABMP’s Jul/Aug 2013 edition “Take Care of Yourself, So You Can Take Care of Clients”  for the inspiration.

Ah, the ol' pink ball trick! That's a happy ped, because I roll this lil' dude around under both feet while doing client intake. A real waker-upper.

Ah, the ol’ pink ball trick! That’s a happy ped, because I roll this lil’ dude around under both feet while doing client intake. A real waker-upper. And so good for – well, everything.