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Jet Lag

I’ve been home for about a week now. It has officially been long enough that I can no longer use “jet lag” as an excuse for not responding to messages or generally not being productive. Time to be honest.

I’m not responding (to some messages) because I don’t want to. Some things that were so important before I left are really not so important any more. My priorities have shifted. My mind has changed. This doesn’t work for me anymore.

But we can’t actually say any of those things out loud, can we? Can we?

The people I travelled with are keeping in touch on a WhatsApp group. Underneath all the funny “Here’s me after my long flight” pictures, there is a longing that we all share. It is the longing to keep something alive.

We all exited our daily lives for a while and challenged ourselves with a foreign place and the opportunity to look ridiculous while learning something new. For each one of us, it opened up something. We are trying to find a way to keep that something open. It is a question of shifting around our daily lives to accommodate, rather than shifting back into our old selves.

The thing is, most of our lives are pretty crowded, like the market stalls in the town where we stayed. Something has to shift. Something has to give. This doesn’t work for me anymore.

We started a sub-group, dedicated just to holding each other accountable for the things we want to change. Our goals range from finding space for daily creativity to cutting out narcissistic people for good and all.

It’s only been a week, but just knowing that group exists, and that I’ve written down things I mean to do, has changed the way I fit back into my home life. Some things really are not so important anymore.

Now what happens is I have to live out these changes. As soon as I get over this jet lag . . . .

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Elephants

I have been thinking about elephants.

Yesterday, I spent the day at Akagera National Park in Rwanda. We drove through the hundreds of acres in the park, hoping to see all those big animals you go on safari to see. I was most hoping to see an elephant.

We have been learning a bit of traditional Kinyarwandan dance. The day before the safari, we learned a bit of a dance for women called umushagiriro. The movements were meant to mimic the grace and elegance of elephants.

Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

It was a surprise to me since I am used to the American idea of elephants as clumsy, lumbering sort of beasts. I thought if I saw an elephant in a more natural setting, I might understand the dance a little better.

Outside of a zoo, I’ve only seen an elephant once, while traveling in Thailand. It was awful, to be honest. It was a young elephant who was chained to a steel frame in the middle of an empty field. The elephant rocked back and forth, shifting aimlessly. It reminded me of a traumatized child, rocking in a corner to soothe herself. As it turns out, the comparison was apt. The elephant was in the cruel process of being “broken” so it could be ridden by tourists.

We did see an elephant in Akagera Park. It was seated in the middle of tall, lush grasses quite a distance from the road. It looked so much like a stone that we only knew what we were seeing when it moved it’s ears. We stopped the car and watched for a few minutes, mesmerized by the movements of the elephant’s ears. We all agreed that it did indeed look like the graceful and elegant moves of the dance we were learning.

So, I have been thinking about elephants.

Our perception of elephants in America comes from our so limited perspective. We see elephants in captivity, constrained by the size of the zoo where they live. Or, we see elephants on television, filmed in their natural habitat. Still, they are constrained by the editor of the film and the size of the screen we watch them on. The elephant I saw in Thailand was altered and restrained, mistreated into becoming something different than a wild elephant.

It makes me wonder about other mammals, humans in particular.

How many people, who we judge as awkward or unattractive, are just beautiful souls who are constrained? How many people, whose behavior seems strange to us, are just suffering under some cruel outside pressure?

And, what can we do to release our fellow humans into a more natural habitat so they can rest in comfort and safety and reveal the grace that was there all the time?

I believe this question will drive the next phase of my professional life, so I will keep it close to me as I take more dance classes to learn to move like an elephant.

Thoughts on the profession

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It is New Year’s Eve. I took on an extra couple of massages at a local business today. I probably should not have done it, but I am getting ready to travel so I thought it might be a good idea to make a little extra money.

Holiday massage clients are generally not the clients I work best with. Infrequent consumers of massage. Out-of-town-travelers. Lovers of all things “deep tissue.” My clients today were the deep tissue kind.

I’m not going to spend too much time on the whole question of the effectiveness of deep tissue. Not in this post, anyway. The more interesting thing to me, on this eve of the new year, is how I reacted.

It wasn’t pretty.

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

The first client assured me I could “dig around in there” and that he didn’t like the “fluff and rub” kind of massages. True, the spot he pointed to on his neck felt noticeably different than the opposite side of his neck. As I worked into his tissue, I had an almost shaking wave of anger.

This is not my client. This is not my work.

I worked the entire session while breathing through this anger and holding it away from the space I tried to hold for the client.

The second person came in and told me almost right away that she liked a “firm” pressure. As the session went on, it became clear from her feedback that what she meant was wrenchingly deep. And again I felt this wave of anger. And again I spent the session breathing through it, holding it away from the client.

I’ve written in this blog before about how I am not a deep tissue therapist. I have no desire to be a deep tissue therapist. But, since I work sometimes at someone’s else’s business, there is always the chance that I will be assigned a client who wants to “feel the massage” — meaning they want to be sore when they get up off the table.

This has always troubled me. It always felt like this kind of work was not my style, and often was not even effective in the long run. (If someone gets a punishingly deep massage every week for the same pattern of tension, is the massage really working?)

I used to be able to do the work with just a mild sense that I was not at my best, then move on. As I lean into my plans for 2019, I am finding that this is becoming impossible. This next year is forming into a year of clarity, of integrity, of letting go that which does not serve. It started last month with the end of a friendship. It is continuing, apparently, with this visceral reaction to work that feels wrong to me.

It is New Year’s Eve. My new year starts in a few days, when I take a very long plane ride to another country and spend about two weeks all the way outside my comfort zone. I’ll be there when this blog gets published.

In a different country, without the constraints of the familiar, I plan to examine what I mean by working with integrity. Today, two clients gave me a very big clue. I thank them and honor them for that.

Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

It Depends

There’s this thing that gets said a lot in almost every class I teach, no matter what the subject or how (in)experienced the students: “It depends.”  Meaning: more information is needed before I make a recommendation.  Meaning: every human is different.  Meaning: never stop thinking.

I am sitting at a desk in a remote location, away from home and away from people, planning out my 2019. What are my goals for the year? What do I want to create? What do I need to let go of?

I used to do this on a fairly regular basis, but it has been a couple of years since I actually sat down and wrote out the plan for the next year. The first time I did it, the words came to me faster than I could write them down. There was so much missing from my life at that point. It seemed lots of plans and ideas wanted to rush in to fill the vacuum.

Before I started writing today, I looked at that plan. Most of it didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t happen in a way I expected. There was one sentence though, stuffed into the middle and written when I was tired and wanted to go to bed, that happened exactly as I wrote it. It was eerie, how precisely this thing happened. This one, half-forgotten sentence that became the thing that shifted my entire life.

So, can you plan an entire year before it happens?

It depends.

To me, this writing is an exercise in continual awareness of the kind we want our students to have when we say, “It depends.” Standing rigidly with knowledge or plans or protocols limits our ability to help. And it kills our ability to find wonder in the unexpected, half-asleep moments of our lives.

We stand, in this profession, in our knowledge and our experiential learning. We are not, should never be, trapped by it. We work with humans, after all, in their infinite variety. Every one of them is different, and if we stop thinking we stop serving.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let us not be constrained by the container of our own understanding. Instead, let’s try to flow, like cats do — adapting to the shape of the container before us, or abandoning it entirely when it doesn’t serve.

May your new year be full of awareness, critical thinking, and the magic of conditionality.

Inner World, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Objectify

Last night I watched this documentary about Maria Callas. I had a small sense that there was something tragic and sad about her life outside of opera, but I had no idea just how tender her story was. She existed in this space where she had attention, celebrity, adoration — but she didn’t have the love that she wanted. In her last relationship, she was literally a commodity, a glittering novelty collected by a rich man who loved the idea of her.

The idea of her.

This led me to thinking about a recurring, spiraling conversation I often have with my friends. Our conversation is about humanity, and about our particular skill in honoring humanity. Too often, our default mode is to objectify, to make of each other a one-dimensional thing. The person in my way at the store. The person who is driving too fast. The person talking too much at the end of the day.

Another recurring and spiraling conversation I often have is about the role of massage therapy in health care, about how we can integrate the profession into the medical model in a way that elevates patient care. Believe it or not, watching that documentary brought both of these conversations together in my mind.

What I am hearing sometimes, even in my own head, is that we might be taking on the least desirable parts of the medical model. We might be turning people into objects. The frozen shoulder. The back spasms. The testicular cancer with distant metastasis.

While this objectification might be useful for a moment — we have to apply specific knowledge to be safe and effective, after all — it too easily becomes a habit. And hidden within this habit is the seed of what could be damaging cruelty.

Turning someone into a limited object is a door that opens onto a path. This path has so many stops along the way that drift us further and further from each other. Stops like: not listening with full attention and an open mind, ignoring someone’s stated needs in favor of our own assumptions. In the darkest depths of the path as it winds through the shadow side that is in all of us are the -isms and oppressions that break our collective hearts.

I am in no way saying that integrating in the medical model will make us into a crueler, harsher profession. I am saying that constant vigilance is required. May of us went into massage therapy because we loved the idea of working with a whole person. Many medical professionals love this idea as well.

As Maria Callas grew into her talents and found fame and recognition, her personal life started to fall apart. As this profession grows into its next phase, we must be ever-aware of the state of our own being.

Maria Callas often spoke of herself as two different beings: Callas, the diva and performer, and Maria, the woman. By all accounts, she didn’t find a way to integrate those beings. As we grow into next-level massage therapists, let’s continue to find ways to integrate our two beings: the evidence-based practitioner with the human-loving soul seeking connection.

Inner World, On Writing

Which Draft Is This

We went to a show, my friend and I.  It was full of flashes of brilliance — beautiful gems that could be pulled out, polished and made into an even better show.  But it was a one-time-only experience.

It was unique, rare, and temporal.  It was deeply unsatisfying.

As we pondered these truths, imagining the new and gorgeous work of art that could happen if this section came out and that one expanded and it all had a more coherent frame structure —  we also pondered what it was that was so deeply unsatisfying.

“You know what it is?” my friend said, “They stopped at the first draft.”

And of course that was it.  We watched a first draft, knowing there was no possibility of a next draft, and still seeing the potential that a next draft could be.  Frustrating.

So, of course, I will quote that Anne Lamott line about “sh*tty first drafts.”  Here is whole quote:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

It’s a great line, and a great sentiment.  Just get the words out.  Just work.  What happens too often, what happened in that show we saw, is that people get out the first draft and stop there.  The effort of putting forth that much feels like enough.

As Anne Lamott, or any other writer, would tell you — it isn’t enough.  There are revisions and reworkings and next drafts to go, long before something is all the way done.  Some things are never all the way done.  Construction on Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s adjective-defying cathedral in Barcelona, began in 1882.  It is projected to be completed in 2030.  Maybe.

On a more local scale, I’ve been contemplating my professional life, and how it has shifted and changed over the years I have been a massage therapist.  I’m on, I think, my third draft at the moment.  And several people I know are still on their first draft.

I’m becoming aware that it is part of my mission as a massage educator to get people (and maybe the profession?) to move through whatever draft they are in right now.  It’s so easy to get comfortable with a limited repertoire.  Are we doing things because they are intuitively and scientifically effective, or are we doing things because we always do them?

Every new draft grows under the skin of the old draft, and when it pushes through it is often familiar enough to be recognizable.  So why are we sitting with the old drafts, afraid to move through it into the next best version?

Let’s get to the next draft.  Let’s start by making space for each other’s mistakes, blind spots, and outright incompetence.  These things are temporary, and necessary if we are to move into something new.  Just work.

Hey — Speaking of work — Did you know I host a monthly webinar series called The Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery?  It’s where my friends at Healwell and I interview someone who is doing excellent work in health care, and we try to learn how to break out of our silos and step up our service game.  If you’re a human who has ever interacted with health care, this might be for you.  Check out the episodes here.  (And while you’re there, take a minute to look at the wonderful goodness Healwell is putting out into the world.  These people are the best, the brightest, the funniest.)
Inner World, Massage Tales

The Unarmed Opponent

I am doing battle with words and today I am the unarmed opponent.

 

It is a slow time of year for my massage practice, and I am finding myself with long stretches of unstructured time.  The perfect situation to get a little ahead on the blog posts, maybe re-write my website, dig deep into my long-term writing projects.

 

And yet today I faced down my morning pages and all that came out was blather.  Isn’t this the point of morning pages, though?  That is what I told myself, and so I closed the journal and came to the computer hoping all the detritus was out and the good stuff was rising to the surface.

 

I’m looking in the water and it’s still murky.

 

A few days ago I saw a movie with my partner — Ralph Breaks the Internet.  It was silly and goofy and had some really sophisticated moments, like this scene where one of the main characters finds herself in a room full of Disney Princesses.  The Princesses tell her that she needs to look into water and eventually she will spontaneously start singing about her deepest and most desired dream.  It’s a funny moment that pokes fun at the structure of Disney movies.  Last night, I was talking with my partner, and he joked about holding a cup of tea in front of me so I could sing about my deepest and most desired dream.

 

This morning I am here with a cup of tea, doing unarmed battle with words, about to dive into a project that is actually my dream, I think.  And yet no song is forthcoming.  I look deep into the tea cup, and all that comes to me is: “location-independent lifestyle.”

 

Dreams are terrifying.

 

I have built, am building, this massage practice, deeply rooted in the community where I live.  I chose this community after a couple of decades in Chicago, because I thought I could build a long-term life here.  I love my work.  I love my clients.  I even love the alien-looking terrariums my office mate has put all around our space.  But more and more, I am feeling the need to get back on my trampoline.

 

action air balance beach
Photo by Rafael on Pexels.com

For a little while, I had a trampoline life.  I would travel, gather experiences, challenge my comfort zone, then come back home long enough to regroup (do laundry) and then go out into the world again.  It wasn’t always a trip to an exciting international destination, but still, it was getting away to a place where all of my stuff fit into a small bag.  I got so good at packing light and gathering all of what kept me alive.

 

am doing unarmed battle with words because, among other things, I have not ventured out.  I am aware, also, that venturing out is more than physical removal from my home city.  It is taking a chance with my mind as well.  What kinds of new words can I generate if they don’t have the new thoughts to back them up?  

 

My practice is quiet these weeks, the days can be as slow as I want them to be.  I am seeking out mental and physical challenges to re-arm myself with experiences that I can then turn into words.  Eventually, I see this growing and changing into a location-independent lifestyle, happily back on the trampoline.  For now, I am taking these weeks to sharpen up and prepare.

 

I am going to make myself another cup of tea and sing about it.