Good Words for Minding the Harrow

Yes, we love our work, but there are times when the well runs dry, weariness settles in the bones, or there’s an ache in the heart. In case you had an August (and July…and June…and, oh hell, year) like me, you might, also like me, rely heavily on other writers who know the score to ease your troubles and give you courage to keep working. These are teachers, authors, colleagues, friends, and maybe even a saint or two, that have helped me get by.

I’m sure you’ll benefit.

C’mon, there’s a schedule to keep and people to help. Chin up. And:

“None of us are completely present. So don’t feel guilty. This is the ideal, the enlightened moments that come now and then. But we do know that when we are manipulating, changing, controlling, and fixing, we are not there yet. The calculating mind is the opposite of the contemplative mind. The first is thought by the system, the second by the Spirit.”
Richard Rohr, from “Everything Belongs

“When I was in a craptastic, humiliating, vulnerable position I said ‘I can’t get cold cocked again. I am entirely out of resilience.’ And I meant it. I got the mercy I needed. I don’t miss my pride.”
— Allissa Haines, from Writing a Blue Streak, “Well, hello 39.”

“We have to learn that healing is not a function of the therapist or any external agent like a vitamin or an antibiotic. Healing and control are with the client and are functions of the client-therapist relationship. Knowing that, knowing I don’t control the process, I avoid efforting. And knowing the client also cannot force change at a deep level, I encourage the client to drop efforting.”
— Ron Kurtz, courtesy of D. Lauterstein’s “Deep Massage Book” FaceBook page

“If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” — Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

“We don’t take care of each other. Half of what’s wrong with us human beings, I sometimes think, could be headed off if we just still hunkered down together picking lice, imaginary or real, out of each other’s hair, of an evening, the way all the other primates do: just touching each other kindly, huddling close, and tending to each other.”
— Dale Favier, from “Body in the Parking Lot

“A wry sense of humor helps a lot when things get hard. So does a great affection for oneself…Throughout all this worry, I reassured myself with Simon Gray’s words: “Worry is just love in its worst form. But it’s still love.”
— Tracy Walton, Teaching and the Worst Form of Love

“I got used to saying ‘I have depression.’  Although I did catch myself averting my eyes a bit when I told someone new recently. Probably gotta work on that a bit still.”
— again, Allissa, again, “Well, hello 39.”

“I used to walk around thinking I knew how other people could be happy: now I know that I don’t. I don’t know that. Oh, I can see it clearly enough: ‘you are locked into your suffering’ — as Leonard Cohen crooned it — ‘and your pleasures are the seal.’ But diagnosing is one thing: curing quite another. It’s probably good that I no longer think I have anything to offer people.”
— mole (again, Dale) “Dangerously Full

“I am not a hero; I cannot fix you. I am not strong; I cannot save you. I am weak; I cannot melt the frozen, broken places in you. I am insufficient; I cannot heal your pain. But I have hope, because I can do much more than that. I can love you.’
— Kate Bartolotta from “We Are Not Here to Fix Each Other

“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 class, Oct. 2013

“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted – i.e., keep on fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk — don’t keep on looking at it.”
— C.S. Lewis, from The Collected Letters Volume III

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
— Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:10

 

Naked as the Day you were Born

Combine incredible stress and profound loss with a nurturing safe environment and being touched for the first time in months and you’d come unglued, too. My dear client lost her mother and feels alone, the most alone a person can feel, even if surrounded by tons of loving support, which she is not, which makes it so much worse.

Now she is undertaking building a house, her first, and also recuperating from a trying semester teaching brat kids and jousting with rotten co-workers. The woman’s a wreck. She’s on my table.

Re-drape. Grab the tissues and let her use the entire box if she needs to. Murmer consolations, good ones, don’t just pat absently and say “There there” or “awwww.”

Because I’ve known this woman for years, and I truly love her, I find myself rubbing her back between the wings, kissing the top of her head and saying “It’s gonna be okay. You’ll be okay” a few times until her sobbing stops and she starts to breathe naturally again.

“We’re gonna start over, with you supine now, with lots of pillows so you feel like Cleopatra on her barge!” I announce cheerfully, and make it happen quickly. No more snuffling into the face cradle: dignity and calm restored.

Massage therapists work parts: address limbs: move sheets and towels around like we’re doing some kind of horizontal semaphore code. We have these boundaries in place so everyone can relax and not worry about being exposed. There’s plenty of times, however, that exposure happens, whether we want it to or not.

Sometimes it happens when the client can’t help themselves, and they fall apart in front of your eyes. They just don’t care what you see.

I have a few who clutch at the linens when they roll either direction, exceeding even my careful work to keep them modest. That’s fine.  I understand. What’s more challenging to me is the client who starts taking off their clothing while I’m still doing intake. I think that they assume, since I am a massage therapist, that I will be totally okay with seeing their entire naked body.

Look, as much as I adore humans, I’d rather take my client in with my hands, not my eyes. Massage therapists have rites and rituals, and a sense of decorum, not to mention professional standards. While I will massage hinders all day long, I don’t want to see them up off my table, bouncing around the room. This is an art form, not a love-in.

But try telling that to an 82-year-old woman who is both so tired & so eager.  Before you can even get through your full gamut, the shirt’s off, the pants are long gone, and she’s sitting there in just her granny panties and footies.

I start into another question and trail off. “I take it you’re ready to get on the table,” I say.

She lets a pin out of her hair, and incredibly gossamer waves of long silvery hair billow down over her shoulders. I don’t want to look lower, but I do because it’s right there: two amazing breasts. Really. I don’t see many breasts up close, but these are unavoidable, and to my astonished eyes they look like they’re in great shape.

“It’s been a rough year, only getting rougher. Getting old is the pits. I feel like I’m looking at my life through the backwards end of a telescope,” she reports, as she goes to the table and skootches her hand under the linens, ready any time I am.  In her droopy drawers and her giant fuzzy socks, she looks like an elegant, aged fairy, a sage disrobed. I understand the time for my questions is over, and the time for me to work has begun.

Getting old is the pits, and over the next 90 minutes she goes into great detail about how much she has lost, how small her life has become taking care of her 92-year-old husband, all the things that have passed away. Maybe I’m the only person she can be wholly herself with, anymore, as she casts aside veneer and trappings, and speaks from her naked, weary heart.

Sometimes it only happens when the client is ready.

“Today’s a good day for a belly massage, I think,” says my longest-term client.

This is such progress I can barely keep from doing a fist pump. To spend as much time on his back and legs, as per his request, for over a decade, has meant that I’ve had to skip his arms and chest, as per his insistence. Which really is negligence:  the man’s got asthma, with profound breathing problems that have pulled his sternum down and affixed his anterior chest muscles to his ribcage.

I have only been able to guess at the condition of his thorax. Today, I get to see it.

“You got time?” he inquires.

Yes, lord, I do have time, I’ve had time for 13 years. Behaving as if it’s no big deal I drape his chest and let my fingers work  gently but persistently through the soft pine of his sternum, the branches of his ribs and around the scrying pool of his abdomen. I go over 90 minutes and don’t say a word about it: I know I might not have this opportunity again.

All of us in the industry have had these moments where we see a lot more than we meant to or hoped for. Despite all of our admirable attempts to keep it neat and tidy, things come undone. There’s a lot of grace in those moments, more than we could imagine. Trusting in all we do not see, we strive to meet fully what we do.

 

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.

 

You are the Light of the World

Does it ever occur to you – as it does me – the classic Nativity is an Instagram photo, a freeze-frame, a screen capture? Every creche, every painting, every re-enactment gives us quiet, well-behaved adults, properly dressed (in some depictions, quite ornately) with holiness and adoration their only agenda.

This sanitized moment is as blisteringly bizarre, to me, as anyone who knows what shenanigans occur any time you try to get “a good shot.” Before and after the perfect picture of the whole Engleblart family on their couch (everyone wearing red and green) or the tasteful sepia-tone candid of Janet and her dog Esther, you and I and everyone else knows there was high-pitched yelping, pinching, groaning and biting, especially between the Engleblart twins. Big fat catastrophe. Not much “calm and bright.”

It would have been wholly surreal to Mary, I’m sure, or Joseph, or anyone involved in that most holy of nights, for their story to be epitomized forever by tranquility, ease and cleanliness. The Christmas story starts with injustice and upheaval (Augustus Caesar forcing everybody to pay tax in their hometown), with some healthy doses of illegitimate pregnancy, poverty, homelessness, abject terror, and giving birth in a stable (=messy). Some time after, gaudy rich guys show up and give over-the-top gifts: and hundreds of babies are slaughtered as Jesus and his mom and dad (?) sneak away into Jesus’ vastly under-reported childhood. Next thing we know he’s twelve.

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

But the only part most of us envision is the squeaky clean versions that involve sane, rational people, which we know have disappeared from the planet, much like gifts of myrrh, swaddling clothes and wise men.

I am not ever surprised by the amount of selfishness, sorrow or rage we feel during this time. Nothing takes a break during the “happiest time of the year”: not heartbreak, poverty, bad weather or, perhaps worst of all, our expectations of what we should be doing and what we should have. If we start to feel like we’re being gypped in any way, we are tempted to lash out.

Christmas is about getting what we want, after all.

It’s as if every single person you run into is planning a wedding, and everyone’s wedding is the 25th of December. Think about it, that’s how Christmas is sold to us: an event, not a state of the heart.

I think we aim for the creche and forget everything else that came before, during and after: pain, fear, murder. We want a Christmas montage, where even the bad things that happen aren’t all that bad; and they are funny, in a “Doh!” Homer Simpson way, not tragic, like a Slaughtering of the Innocents way. We’re supposed to be happy, and in our modern minds, happiness equates perfection: which leaves no room for error: which is why we feel so crazy.

Our lives are full of mistakes, bad judgement and failure: they are also full of success, good calls, and lovely moments, but during the Christmas season we just want it all to go perfectly and for nothing to get effed up. That’s not possible, not even on a normal day, but especially not when we’re staring right at it, insisting that it be so.

As a massage therapist I see the toll this season has on everyone: emotions bottled up, ignored, shoved aside only show up in other places, like trying to hold a balloon under water. There is rampant fatigue, me included: I am always grateful for the camaraderie of my officemate Jean, but never so much as this time, when our peer counseling becomes essential to sanity. Everyone’s tension is literally right under the surface: muscles like ropes torquing under the skin, pinched faces, caved-in chests, cold feet.

What a relief, to me and my clients, that something can be done about that: massage therapy rekindles the dwindling fires of courage within each person. A bad day gets sloughed off with the loofa brush of triumvirate goodness: communication, depth and intention. Strength and motivation is restored. “A light has come into the darkness.”

I feel the great blessing of putting my hands on people and giving them wordless reassurance that everything is going to be okay: oiling their skin, working their muscles. “Fear not.”

I am reminded that – as far as the Christian God was concerned, and as much as you believe this kind of thing – one of the best ways the Divine could help us understand how loved we are was to show up in a body. “The Word became Flesh.”

Sliver the snapshot: explode the creche. Darling though they be, they can’t hold a candle to our lives just as they are. Be completely open to everything the holiday season brings, which includes pain and discomfort, feeling lost and alone, feeling forsaken and poor, and also being treasured, rescued, maybe even adored. This is the real Christmas story, because it is everyone‘s story: yelps, groans, bites and all.

Cracked, But Not Completely

The sun is at a low angle nowadays. As we shuttle fast, ever faster, towards winter solstice, the sun shines its starlight with blinding force, only to suddenly drop away and leave us in darkness, once again. Even from nearly 93million miles away, its atomic power breaks your trend, stalls your gears and shuffles your deck.

A massage therapist filled with equanimity and ease will not be millimeters from flying into a rage when the sun shoves itself into her eyeballs, but I have not been filled with equanimity and so I tolerate my crazy fuming over the sun, but just.

I seem to be entering the troubled lands of peri-menopause, and managing it with progesterone cream, herbs, tinctures and moderate exercise only works up to a point. Eventually a girl realizes that vast discomfort with oneself and the tendency to be hot under the collar at any perceived slight is like being in a time warp: the 13-year-old you, all over again, and just like then, there’s not much to cure it except time.

It’s ironic, really: here I am, in the best decade of my life, at the top of my game, and experiencing some of the bottom-most moods I ever had.

On Tuesday I was out of control. Small events turned into fantastic stories, woven ever more steadily in the silence between breaths. Seeing clients was a relief, however temporary: focusing wholly on them, working at interface, helped me feel less insane, but all of my anger and fear kept resurfacing and coming at me from weird angles. I felt like I was beating back dark birds, session after session.

I prayed a lot, first with calm request, then bordering on hysteria.

A challenging email from my sister-in-law sent me over the edge. In the brief amount of time I had before my last client showed up, I flailed, collapsed, foamed, and left a gibbering and incredibly unhelpful voicemail on my husband’s phone. Gathering myself together from the pieces I’d left all over the room, I prayed she wouldn’t ask me how I was doing, because I was rather sure I would unfortunately spill my beans.

“How ARE you?” There it was. I wanted, desperately, to segue neatly from pre-session check-in right into the work, but I was battle weary. My officemate Jean had been out most of the afternoon, and so reliable moments of decompressing with her between clients hadn’t happened.

Maintaining facade with this wonderful client required more hormonal fortitude than I had. So I told her.

“Hmmm,” she said after a brief silence, after I explained as succinctly and powerfully as I could what I had been feeling all day. “You know, I hadn’t thought about that. I mean here you are, in a profession where you kind of have to emanate all this love and caring. It’s your job. And you do it so well, I mean everyone is like ‘Oh I can’t wait to go see Kristen,’ you know?”

The compliment took me off guard completely, and I was suddenly aware that this was the other vital piece to why I’d felt so wretched: on top of everything else, I’d put a heaping pile of guilt, for not feeling nicer. I was afraid of feeling so bad, because I took it as a sign that I wasn’t being a good practitioner.

Massage therapists are trained to work with personal emotion and move past it, continuously, using meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, but because I’ve been tortured by perfectionism my whole life, I threw “does not freak out or get overwhelmed” into my list of things to accomplish. Not realistic, even for a good day, but especially on a day when I could barely cope.

“If I’m having a bad day, I just take it out on my students,” she said, with a touch of a wink and smile. “You can’t really do that here, can you.”

“You weren’t here when I was kicking the table!” I said, as we both started to laugh. “I did have an eye on the parking lot the whole time so I could see if you were coming in. I threw a few things too: a towel, I think. I might have said some bad words.”

“The phrase ‘raging hyena’ comes to mind,” she said, and conversation lapsed because we were laughing ourselves purple. (This is something we’ve done before.)

Like a couple thirteen-year-olds, I thought to myself, and while I didn’t find anything attractive about the huge mood swings I’d been experiencing, there was redemption in knowing the cracking sound I was hearing wasn’t the sound of me losing my mind, but my heart melting: towards my day, and my awful awful self. “That’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen sang, and the bells rang that still could ring.

In this line of work, you meet, sole to soul. Doubtless it’s good to try and bring your best self to every client, but sometimes the best self you have to offer is the one that’s honest, and willing, albeit messy. Our presence with one another is the greatest help, especially as it’s unclear who or what else will save us in the growing dark.

Nobody wants those cards back

We think death is what happens to other people, until it makes someone we care for vanish from our eyes, or takes one community member too many. (We’ve had our share here in Waldo County. Last week’s suicide is not resting easy with me, and hopefully never will. Sadness: the price you pay for putting down roots and getting to know people.)

Your youth might have been cast in the gloaming light of perpetual twilight or dawn, with gentle humor and romance and mild discomfort resolved in time for merry holidays, but live long enough and death moves out of the dark woods, into the backyard, and right up into a lawn chair at the neighborhood picnic.

Act like it’s not there, but it kind of casts a pallor on the festivities. What with that raspy breath and sunken eyes and everything. What a downer. Someone make more sangria.

Our bodies give us hints all the time but we are adept at ignoring those hints because hints slow us down. Here’s one such: your body doesn’t like to hold on to things. In fact, its whole purpose is to get rid of what it doesn’t need, through elimination: sweat, tears, mucous, respiration, menses, #1, #2, and going bald.

But we think holding on to things – be they physical, emotional, psychological – is a good idea. If we don’t hold on, how are we going to make them last?

What, says body? You’re not serious, are you? Make what last for what? Our body doesn’t know the date of its imminent end, but it’s hard-wired for letting go its whole life long. Death is merely the final act for the cell birth-death-birth-death it rehearses every day.

My client and I were comparing mothers: this is what women my age and older do, now: discuss our mothers as if we were talking of wayward children. Hers had sadly passed; mine was still very much alive, but both of ours had a lifelong habit of holding on to everything.

“SHE THREW NOTHING AWAY” my client bemoaned and I had to commiserate, as she regaled me with tales of entering her mom’s house and finding everything just as she had left it, which was now my client and her sisters’ task to clean up.

I had a one-up on her, though, which I enjoy pulling out at moments like these. It’s pretty bad.

“Yeah,” I said, “That’s awful. Hey. Did she ever send you back the cards you sent to her? From, like, years ago?”

“Oh my word. Yours did that??”

Yes, in brave attempts at de-cluttering, my mom will sometimes send me overstuffed envelopes bursting with magazine articles, newspaper clippings, the inevitable Christian tract (never mind I’ve been a Born Again since I was 8, she assumes I still haven’t heard the Gospel, otherwise why did I vote for Obama?), and copies of letters from former neighbors, some of which are quite interesting.

These envelopes then include a card or two that I sent to her, 15, sometimes 20 years ago. I receive these with the horror one reserves for reading one’s own journal from high school: extracted with thumb and forefinger, hastily scanned, hiked into the woodstove with a shudder.

If you send a card to someone, you don’t ever expect to see it again, do you? It’s the assumption, nay the hope, that once they have it they will dispose of it as they see fit. Possibly recycled, but even better flipped into a fire. Nobody wants their cards back.

Unwanted stuff — from our past, from the cluttered homes of our mothers — is one thing. The stuff we carry around inside, personally manufactured, tended, nurtured, kept alive over the years due to spite or ego or pain or some macabre cocktail of one or more stinging condition, is a whole ‘nuther. It’s the stuff that blocks the tender inconvenience of moving on, something our body is keen on, if we but let it do what it wants to do.

The body gets it. We don’t. It feels like a personal affront when we’re asked to let go. So we hold on….and on….and on.

I happen to think massage therapy is exemplary on a number of fronts – spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological – and, here, it also shines in all its beauty. There is no simpler method for helping you surrender emotional baggage, mental clutter and habitual tension than getting a massage therapy session.

Experiencing the professional, loving, attentive hands of another person detangling your nerves, spiraling out your stiffness and giving you cellular affirmation that, yes, you are going to make it after all, is an intervention of the highest kind. Your mind quiets, your body relaxes, and somewhere in that silence under your skin healthy things happen: you get off the table, and as you dress, voila. A certain plague has left you.

We really have a hard time saying goodbye, although it’s the most natural thing for our bodies to do. Professional touch, in the form of massage therapy (and other such modalities) helps us move from one place to another: from birth to life, through trauma towards calm, from frigidity to freedom, from loneliness to comfort.

We can let go because we’re reassured. The past is over, even if the past is only 60 minutes old. It’s left behind in the massage therapy linens we climb out of, free and clear, and able to try again.

Up in Arms

Arlene! Oh Arlene. Arlene of the locked knees, protracted scapula, stiff fingers and unyielding arm. Some clients flop. This one juts.

When I first started seeing her 10 years ago, I would drape her left arm and she would shoot it out at me from up off the table, in virtual salute. Each finger would get extended, stiff as PVC pipe, as I attempted to massage her claw-like hand.

“I’ve got it,” i would remonstrate softly. “You don’t have to help.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, and the fingers remained unrepentant.

Arlene* is, in a word, crusty: old (will NOT tell me how, but I would guess late 60s for sure). In another word: classy. Well dressed, well spoken, well traveled. (She has flown the world in quest of the perfect fishing hole.)

Loves to dish the gossip on her road (we have mutual acquaintances), appreciates the bad luck of others, and finishes most phrases with “Isn’t that awful?” but under her handsaw exterior has one of the most warm, generous hearts.

I’ve never received so many thoughtful presents from someone: “Hope you like it!” she says and hands me a gift bag, nowhere near holidays or my birthday. She and her husband, transplants to Maine from the Pittsburgh area (another place we intersect: both from PA), spend every Christmas working with a local charity providing gifts to low-income families. When she goes on her lengthy shopping sprees, most of the time it’s for those kids.

It has taken ten years, but now she knows how to let go of her hands…sort-of lets me into her upper back…and almost unlocks her knees, I can only traction her legs once. Twice is a no-go, it’s like trying to lift twin jet skis without a forklift. I have gradually worked it down to just her left arm.

This left arm: this left arm. It is like trying to train a cat to fetch, is getting her to give me her arm.

I’ve tried everything: I’ve ignored it, I’ve tried to ply it, I’ve not massaged her arms, I’ve spent 10 minutes per arm. Nope. I’ve given her imagery:

“Pretend your arm is a great big overcooked noodle!”
“Drop your wrist into my hand.”
“Give me the full weight of your arm?”
“Relax your whollllle arm, from shoulder joint through elbow…through wrist…”
“Let go of your arm, Arlene.”
“Just…let go…”

None of this works, of course, because she was perfectly fine until I started fussing. She rouses from her somnolence, and, in attempting to make me happy, becomes self-conscious and the arm seizes up even further. I know: it’s my fault. I tried to make a difference, and I knew it wouldn’t work. But, I had to try. Right?

I had to make her arm let go. I WILL get that arm to let go.

One of my previous clients to Arlene told me of a saying that she learned from her yoga teacher: “1) Observe 2) Accept 3) Let Go.” She and I giggled ourselves purple over our own interpretations, as they are enacted in our lives: “1) Observe 2) Point Out 3) Point Out Again” and “1) Observe 2) Judge 3) Fume.”

Truth is funny.

There are two people in the room for Arlene’s massage session: Arlene, and me. Who is tenser? Who, actually, needs to let go?

I consider Arlene, and what I know of her life. Adopted. Raised Baptist. One of her daughters has become a man. Another wants to find a man to marry, but can’t. Arlene’s husband served in the Vietnam War, came home and attacked her in the middle of the night, thinking she was VietCong. He became a workaholic, consumed by his pediatric practice: she raised the family.

“I used to have my own life, before,” she told me once. “He would do his thing, and I would do mine. Now he’s with me all the time, and he can’t remember a thing, from one moment to the next. Not a damn thing.”

Her husband has PTSD.

“I just want to kill him,” she says to me, in a low whisper. “Isn’t that awful?”

I look into her face, expecting a laugh on lips, which I get. What I didn’t expect is the tears in her eyes, plain as day.

She doesn’t cry. Not for nuthin’.

“My daughter thinks I should be on anti-depressants,” she told me once, “This is my therapy.”

I consider that our arms are the extension of our heart: that what we do with them is an expression of our love, or how much love we can give…or take in. I also consider that, for her to relinquish any part of herself to another – even someone who she’s known for over ten years – is huge.

I observe this. And I accept it, whole thing, left arm and all. And, I let it go.

At least until next week. When I get to practice, all over again! Oh Arlene…

*name has been changed

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 #21. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)