Inner World, Massage Tales, On Writing, Thoughts on the profession

Until They Know

The other night, I sat with my partner, talking about life’s work, life’s purpose, and other meaningful things. We have that conversation a lot, both as a way to check in with each other for support and as a way to clarify for ourselves what is truly important. Sitting there, in our middle ages, we stretch forward and reach into what we both hope will be our renaissance.

I was telling my partner about the moment. The moment when I was sitting with a client, presumably massaging them but really being a loving, peaceful presence for them. In that moment, I felt all the struggles and blocks to my creative energy dissolve away. I felt open to receive and translate what ever might come forward. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was in the exact right place doing the exact right work.

My client that day was frail, small, elderly. My client was also an open fount of love and kindness who never let me leave without telling me how beautiful and sweet she thought me to be. She was exhausted from a restless night and bouts of nausea. She was in extremis. From the outside, it looked like all I did was sit next to her and gently hold her hands.

As I finished telling the story, I tried to find a way to explain the rightness of that moment, to translate it into words that could describe what I want my work to be. Finally, I said:

I’m just here to love on people until they realize how much they’re worth.

And that was it. The exact right phrase. I have found my mission statement for the remainder of my career, and, truly, of my life as a human being.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In my past, I spent several years in corporate America, and in those years I learned to deeply mistrust the idea of a “mission statement.” To me, it had the association of wasted hours in meeting rooms and whiteboards full of meaningless phrases. It meant a lot of back-patting while everyone settled back into the exact same soul-numbing atmosphere as before. Mission statements, I thought, look nice on annual reports or company-branded merchandise, but in practice they meant nothing.

When I hit on that sentence, though, I also hit on a new understanding of mission statements in general. After the political and religious definitions of the word “mission” in the dictionary comes this definition:

a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling

dictionary.com

I am not a traditionally religious person, but the idea of a “calling” still resonates with me. The truth is, we humans really are intertwined and connected in ways we don’t quite understand. There is a need in the community that each of us is suited to fill. That need has a voice, which calls out and, I think, it is our job to listen, and, on hearing, respond.


A few weeks ago I started out trying to write a few different posts about relaxing massage, gentle massage, and the underappreciated benefits of both. As with much of my writing, I thought I was doing one thing, but the writing eventually led me to a new (better) place.

I thought I was providing some education about physiology and the mechanisms of massage therapy as I understand them. In fact, I was writing my way into my personal mission statement, the guiding force that all my endeavors must support.


I have a postcard on my refrigerator which I got form an artist at the St. James Court Art Show a couple of years ago. It says: “Don’t become famous for doing something you don’t love.” I get that now, in a way I didn’t get it before.

It’s the love. It has always been the love.

Inner World, Massage Tales, Modalities, Thoughts on the profession

Chicken Skin and Butterflies

“Rebecca, your touch is so gentle I bet you could pet butterflies.” She said this to me as she dropped into the table and let her arms fall away from her body. She breathed deeply and evenly and within a few minutes I could see that she was asleep, or nearly so. At the end of her session, she smiled at me warmly and said she appreciated being able to fall asleep comfortably.

Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

She reminded me of my time in Thailand a couple of years ago. I studied Thai massage for a couple of weeks — just enough time to confirm that I really know nothing about Thai massage. The teacher used to joke about “elephant skin people” and “chicken skin people.”

Elephant skin people, to him, were those who wanted more aggressive bodywork. They seemed to thrive on the deepest compressions, the most rigorous stretches, and the rough handling of their bodies. He gave a demonstration on one of these people while I was there. The client, a muscled American motorcycle rider complete with leather vest and chaps, groaned and whimpered his way through the session with my teacher. After the session, he got up from the mat, smiling and testing his newly mobile joints.

Chicken skin people, on the other hand, required gentler handling. Their bodies could not take deep work and they often could not move into some of the postures typical of Thai massage. My teacher teased me that I was a chicken skin person. In that, he was (is) completely correct. I do not respond well to aggressive bodywork.

And, as I am starting to fully embrace, I am a massage therapist for the chicken skinned. I feel most connected and at my best with those whose bodies, minds, and/or spirits require gentle handling and a careful, loving approach.

My client, who found such a vivid and lovely metaphor for the way I work, also gave me the perfect ending to this three week exploration of “just a relaxing massage.” I am here to whisper, gently, to your nervous system and let your body sink into its own healing capability.

Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

Be the Weirdo

There are so many conversations I would like to have about massage therapy, and about health care in general. The one about equity and accessibility of care. The one about basic massage education and its preparation (or lack thereof) for a career. The one about how much to charge and when/if to raise your rates. The one about complementary and alternative and where does massage live.

That last one — the complementary/alternative one — has been on my mind lately. For myself, I’m pretty firmly decided that massage therapy is complementary in nature, and is most effective when used in concert and communication with other forms of care. What’s on my mind is how we think and talk about those other forms of care.

I am struck by how many people come through my office and will tell me about their doctors with an eye-roll or knowing wink. Some will straight out tell me that their doctors are scam artists who are just in it for the money. I am working on changing this kind of talk.

There are better and more productive conversations we can be having about healthcare right now. I’m working with some super-smart nerds at Healwell trying to have those conversations in public.  In my daily private work, it’s a little more challenging.

It all comes down to acknowledging the feeling behind the words, the hidden voice that speaks through the filter of disdain for traditional medical care. And to honor that, to hear it, I need to ask better questions. Questions like: where did you feel unheard? What calms your mind? What wakes you up at night? And, when I’m feeling a little combative, questions like: do you think doctors go to medical school because they want to hurt people? How would you handle a day scheduled around too little time with every one of your patients?

Questions that want to look directly into the heart of the heart, the deep and vulnerable truth that always comes out somehow. This is terrifying, for both me and my clients. I am not sure how to do it.

I am bolstered by a conversation I’ve been having with some of the people I traveled with last month. In the country we visited, the standard greeting was a warm, heart-to-heart hug, sometimes with a kiss on the cheek. People we met thought it was strange that we would wave and say “Hello” without reaching out to touch them. We got used to the hugs and the human connection.

As we got home, some of us joked about becoming the “weirdo hugger” in our workplaces. But at the same time, many of us noticed that the same people who thought it was weird when we hugged them, would linger a bit until they got their hug. Every day.

This makes me think that we really do want to connect with each other in some real way. We have just built some of the most elaborate defensive systems on the planet to protect ourselves. And sometimes all it takes to get through those defense systems is to become the weirdo. Hug the people. Ask the questions. Start the conversation.

It’s not always going to end well. I have had experience with that this week. I had a couple of honest conversations. The outcome was not ideal, but my comfort and peace in my own soul was off the charts.

Weirdo power.

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.

Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

A Day Late

I made myself a promise a little over a year ago.  I promised that I would write a blog post every week.  Every single week.  I chose Tuesday as the day I would publish the post, and I promised not to let my internal editor sabotage everything.  I wasn’t going for great literature.  I was going for consistency, showing up, and just doing the work.

So how am I doing?

Well, I missed a week — the Tuesday of the midterm elections.  This week, I am a day late. My internal editor is as robust as ever, although slightly more likely to wait to speak until spoken to.

I am calling this a win.

I’ve heard people quote “the past is prologue,” meaning that what happened in the past predicts what the future will be. More and more, I think this is ridiculous.

The past isn’t prologue.  The past isn’t predictor.  The past is —- past.

close up of woman holding a hamster
Photo by Rudolf Jakkel on Pexels.com

Sure.  There are hints and whispers and echoes of the past everywhere.  Every time I see a mouse, for example, I have the overwhelming echo of the time my upstairs neighbor’s pet gerbil chewed through the ceiling and dropped onto my bed.  *shudder*

But, just because I hear the past whispering in my ear, doesn’t mean I need to do what it says.

See, in the past, if I dropped off a plan I made for myself, I just kept dropping until I decided the plan wasn’t that important in the first place.   I dropped back into the story of The Girl Who Does Things 3/4 of the Way.  The story of my life.

Except now I know, I am the writer.  I tell the story and I’m telling it differently.  You can hiccup and still breathe.  You can stumble and still keep walking.  I can come to this blog a day (or a week) late and still get back on track.

I’m going to attempt now to connect this back to the thing I’ve been doing while procrastinating this blog post — watching auditions from the X Factor on YouTube. I have heard, over and over, judges saying things like “natural talent,” “born performer,” or “gifted.”  I find this deceptive and slightly dangerous.

Sure, some people may be born with an affinity, but talent?  That is pure, uncomplicated, consistent, work.  Showing up, consistently, and working at it.  Being frustrated or tired or unmotivated and doing it anyway.  Missing a practice (or a deadline) and getting back into it anyway.

So, here I am, with my imperfect ideas and slightly burnt coffee just showing up.  A day late, but here.

How are you showing up for yourself today?