Massage Tales

Scoliosis Orca

My client has a chronic genetic condition*.  As a child, it caused so much discomfort that she spent weeks confined to her bed at home.  During this time, she developed a habit of spending hours searching the internet for interesting facts.  She read voraciously about many different subjects, and deeply about very few.

She was the kind of client who needed to chatter for the first third of the massage before she could settle into her body.  How could I blame her?  Her body had never been a comfortable place to be.  She felt safer in her mind.  Those 20 or so minutes generally consisted of a wide-ranging array of different facts and stories ranging from the bathing habits of Ancient Romans to genetically modified, drug-testing mice.

One day I will always remember, though, because she spent her entire “talk time” telling me one story.  Apparently somewhere in the wild is an orca who has scoliosis.  Scientists have been following this whale (and his related pod) for some time.  Left alone, this orca would die.  His spinal curvature keeps him from hunting effectively, and he does not swim as fast as the other whales.  Scientists noted, however, that other whales in the pod were actually helping this orca.  They would bring food to him, and if he fell behind, they would sometimes even wait for him to catch up to them.  My client had spent much of the night (she didn’t sleep well) reading about this whale and watching video footage of the whole pod in action.  At first, it was the orca’s mother doing all this tending, but then even after his mother died, the rest of the pod continued to take care of him.

My client went over and over this story, each time remembering little details from some video or website or other.  Eventually, as in every session, she relaxed into her body and gradually dropped off talking.  I had a nagging little sense that something was being opened to me, but I put it aside to focus on her massage.

After she left, I started thinking about the story she told me, and how much it captured her attention.  I remembered something a co-worker once said to me: “We use metaphors because they tell us something real.”  Of course.  The story of the orca was a metaphor.  Here was this creature with a chronic genetic condition.  Left to his own devices, he would have been abandoned and left behind, possibly even left to die.  Instead, his fellow creatures stepped in and took care of this creature’s needs, thereby keeping him connected to the whole of his world.

My client maybe thought she was telling me the story of an orca, but really, she was telling me the story of her life.  Of all the people who stepped in to help and support her when she could have easily been left behind.  She told me the story of the orca gave her hope.  I suspect it highlighted the hope she already received from those closest to her — her own pod who kept her connected to the whole of her world.

*– names and identifying details have been changed

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