We travel to find answers to questions we didn’t know we had.
My first day at our teacher’s house in Thailand, I realized that my question was whether I still wanted to be a massage therapist at all. I spent the day confused and frustrated, unable to make sense out of the work people were doing, and nursing my bruised ego. (For the first time in, well, ever, a teacher told me I was “terrible” at something.) I spent the day thinking maybe it was time to say goodbye to massage. Although the thought broke my heart, it seemed necessary. I arrived in Thailand almost hollow inside. I felt like if you tapped my chest it would resonate and echo like a bell. Maybe that meant I was done.
A few days later, back at our teacher’s house, I decided I should at least try a little bit. Try again to do this Thai massage thing that continued to baffle me. A friend suggested I work with Beatrice. Beatrice had never done any kind of bodywork. She had been learning at our teacher’s house for a couple of weeks. She was often the first one there in the morning, and she practiced when she could and watched when she couldn’t. Plus, she had a very kind face. I made it a point to start a conversation with her as soon as we arrived. After morning chanting, she asked if I wanted to practice together and I said yes.
We moved off to a corner of the room, leaving the center for our teacher and some of the more confident students. Beatrice worked on my legs and feet, taking time to position herself and occasionally sighing or apologizing when something didn’t quite work. After a bit she sat down next to me, smiled and said, “I think that’s all I know how to do.” We traded places.
I worked on Beatrice’s arms and shoulders. Before I started, I acknowledged to myself that I knew nothing, and said a little prayer that I would do no harm. I forgot the names of muscles and bones. All those origins, insertions and actions I worked so hard to learn and teach — I let them go. I watched Beatrice’s face while I worked and let my gut be my clock. I have no idea what I was doing — probably something very similar to my “usual” type of work, just adapted for using legs, knees and feet and for working on the floor. After a bit, I laid my hand on Beatrice’s shoulder and said, “I think that’s all I know how to do.”
Beatrice sat up, looked at me with her kind eyes and said, “I don’t know what you did — but I felt something, I –” and as words failed both of us, she wrapped her arms around me and we embraced. In that moment, I expanded and the empty, hollow places inside began to fill.
I guess I’m not done yet.