Quick survey question: How many articles have you seen on your social media feed asking some version of this question: How do I relationship?
My answer is well into the double digits. It’s a good question, and, I’m worried, one we are getting worse at answering as we retreat further away from collaborative living.
What I mean by collaborative living is this — living in such a way that we spend more time talking to people in front of our faces, where we use more voices, hands and facial expressions than emojis. But even more than that, living in such a way that we know our neighbors and we know the people who own the businesses in our area. Shopping locally, caring about the whole street where we live and not just the portion surrounding our possessions.
Lots of people write more informed words on this topic than I do. Today I am thinking about just one aspect of it that interests me. I am worried that we are losing the skill of being seen. I am talking very deliberately in the passive voice. It is not so much our ability to see and know other people that I’ve been thinking about, but our own ability to let ourselves be seen and known.
Our online lives are carefully curated, often by well-meaning but careless gatekeepers. I mean, of course, ourselves. We choose what to share and show and how to frame it. In doing so, we necessarily exclude a large portion of our reality. We tell ourselves this is because not everything we are is for everyone to know. And we are right, but we are also losing a valuable skill. The skill of letting someone see.
There are truths about myself that I don’t like. But they are true, and they are pieces of all that goes into myself. Recently, I have had the great honor to meet friends who really want to see all of my pieces, and I am realizing I don’t know how to do that. I mean, I can open up, I can show the whole picture, but I fear I have lost the knack of handling their reaction, of not taking personally those things which are not personal. And someone else’s reaction to things about me that are true — those are not mine to take personally.
I see this often with some of my clients. Even though I work with soft tissues, everyone brings their whole self into the room, and their emotional, spiritual and intellectual truths sometimes come out through the movement of their bodies. If I see someone often enough, I can start to see the changes in their lives just in their gait or facial expression. It’s not magic. It’s observation, something I’ve practiced for as long as I’ve been practicing massage. I’m not in the habit of commenting on it, but I am in the habit of seeing. Because of this, I have been fortunate enough to see how powerful it can be for a person when someone just sees.
Quick story: At the last place I practiced, I had a client I saw every week for a few years.* With that kind of continuity, you start to learn a bit about each other’s lives, and you start to notice things. She had what most of us would call a good life — lots of love and friendship and fulfilling work. She was (and remains) a seeker — of truth and wisdom. Sometimes this caused her some anxiety, especially as the world seemed o grow less compassionate in general. Most weeks, her massage was “easy.” She had no chronic pain or injury, and she did not like aggressive work. It was a gentle hour of meditation for both of us.
One day she came in and she was different. I only knew because I had known her for so long. She spoke less and in a flatter tone. She moved slower. Her whole demeanor seemed heavy to me. She asked for the same kind of work, and I did a similar massage. I felt like I moved slower and stayed still more often in response to her own heaviness. After the massage, she asked for some water and I brought it to her. We sat in silence in my office for a moment, breathing together. I made eye contact with her.
“Today is hard,” I said.
She looked startled for a moment, then she dropped her head and nodded. In a few seconds I realized she was crying. I walked over to her and gave her a hug. We sat and held each other for a moment while she let all her tears happen. When she was done crying, she thanked me, nodded, and walked out. Not completely released, but a little more quickly and a little lighter than when she walked in.
I don’t know what made that day hard for her. That’s not the point. The point is that she was seen, and it gave her space to cry. I believe and hope she felt that space was safe and welcoming.
In my own life, I have much to learn about being seen and living in my truth. I’m starting by recommitting to daily creativity, to reconnecting to my first love (writing) and trying to find again that love of how words go. I am also trying to risk putting more writing out in the world where anyone can find it — can see.
And I am also recommitting to my massage practice. While it has been a good choice to move back home, it has also been (and continues to be) terrifying, which makes it harder for me to be truthful about the kind of work I do and the kind of work I excel at. Fortunately for me, those two things are pretty much the same. The impulse in a new(ish) home with a new practice to build is to take on all clients. To fill my books by any means necessary. This would, I know, exhaust my spirit. And with an exhausted spirit, I will forget how to see, and I will never learn to be seen.