Inner World

Compassion: Sweet, but not Pie

Well, what an interesting couple of weeks we have had.  I took a week off to vote, and to remain attentive to the larger world around me.  There were wins and losses, both personal and political.  Today I am reflecting on losing a friend, and the larger lesson of compassion that remains in their absence.

My friend did not die.  My friend did not split away from me because we had such opposite voting strategies.  It was a much more subtle end, and the culmination of a pattern that lasted our entire friendship.

The whole story of what happened belongs to my former friend and me alone.  I am certain our versions would diverge widely, and like Rashomon, each one would contain only part of the truth.  That doesn’t matter.

sliced apple pie on brown surface
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

What matters to me is this: in the conversations where our friendship was ending, I realized that we have fundamentally different views of compassion.  They saw compassion as a limited thing, to be offered first and fullest to an inner circle of trusted people.  Then, if there was anything left, it could settle on some other people. Compassion was a pie you offered only to those who had earned it.

I see compassion as a running spring, where you can dip in again and again and still come away with a full cup.  I felt like I could care about and comment on the injustices faced by one group of people and still care about injustices for other groups of people.

And, for me, in the weeks leading up to midterms, there were so many injustices to care about that if compassion were a limited commodity, I would have been out of it almost immediately.

There is a small way that I realize my former friend is right, however.  Without adequate self-awareness, self-care, and support, any human is subject to burn out.  It’s part of the reason why it is so much harder to hold deep compassion for large numbers of people than it is for a single individual.

I come back, then, to this moment.  Sitting here in the aftermath of midterm elections and the demise of a friendship, thinking about what comes next.  For me, that involves looking keenly at the world right in front of me and seeing where I can be kind.  At the same time, it involves keeping my larger eyes open to a world that is changing in ways I don’t understand or agree with, speaking about what I see, and standing up for what I believe is right.  This commitment to speaking up started a couple of weeks ago with my former friend.  I already know sad, bad, and unexpected things can happen.  And I know it is necessary.

massage education, Thoughts on the profession

Job Description

The question that often follows “How long have you been doing this?” is: “How do you like this work?”  The answer is pretty easy.  I love it.

I’ve tried several other careers and even done well in a few, yet none of them held my heart and my interest like massage therapy.  This particular work is, for me, a fantastic blend of several different jobs.  I am a massage therapist, which means I am:

A Scientist

It started in school where I did a deep dive into the anatomy of the muscular system, and started on the path to learn more about Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology.  It continues now as I try to connect everything I do with some understanding of the working of the human body, and with information from the latest research I have been reading.  It is my job to be curious, to ask questions and to continue learning and discovering.

A Tradesperson

I learned a skill that I perform with my hands.  After my period of learning and apprenticeship (at the student clinic) I started practicing this skill and I work every day to further perfect and advance my skills.  I have apprentices (students) of my own now, and as I am guiding them through how to work with their hands, I am finding better ways to work with my own.

An Educator

Given the chance and the interest, I will talk to every client about what I notice and what that could mean for their particular body.  I will also take the time to talk through what massage might be able to address and what might need a different kind of support.

A Student

As I said to a client this week, I may be the “expert” in the room on muscles and soft tissue, but each client is the expert on their body.  I am here to learn from them.

An Artist
person with body painting
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every human, every human body, is unique.  Every day and space that body moves in is unique, so every time a person walks into my office it is the time to create something that never existed before.  Massage does not, for me, happen by formula.  It happens by being completely present in the moment so I can make something new that will never happen the same way again.

I have the opportunity to be all of these things, and sometimes more besides.  This week some asked me, “Have you always been a massage therapist?”  I’ve had lots of occupations, and this is the one that lasts because it pulls in all of those jobs.  It asks the most of myself and give the greatest rewards.

Massage Tales, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Don’t Rush the Intake

I have unusual leisure in my practice — I can usually take as long as I feel necessary for an initial intake.  Despite the added stress of being in business for myself, this leisure is one of the things that makes it all worth while.  Here’s a story about that.   All client details have been changed.

My new client arrived late.  She had trouble finding the building, then had to circle around a few times to find parking.  She walked in already a bit anxious because of the time, and because it was her first massage.  I left her in the quiet of the waiting area to finish the health history form and assured her there would be time for most of the scheduled session.

She handed back her completed form, and we began our conversation.  I took my time, making sure to ask about everything she had marked on the form.  After I felt sure that I understood her health history, I told her what to expect during the massage:  how to get onto the table, what parts of her body I would touch and in what order, how draping worked, etc.

She smiled and nodded through this whole explanation.  As I finished she said, “That all sounds so good.”  She paused. “I want you to know, though, that when you get to the front part of my legs I might tense up a little,” she raised her shoulders and tensed her arms, then released them, “See, I’ve been sexually assaulted and I just might be a little nervous.”  She had a friendly smile on her face and tears in her eyes.

I settled further down into my seat.  We had more conversation about how she was in charge of the massage, and that she could tell me at any time to change or stop what I was doing.  “You get to direct how and where you are touched,” I told her.

If I had to rush the intake, I might have missed this vital fact about how she experienced her own body.  I certainly would have missed the chance to reinforce for her that she has dominion over her own body.  I might have never been able to build enough trust with this other human that she revealed her own fears to me.

person holding hand
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

She arrived late, and the intake took longer than “normal.”  In that extra time, she was able to trust me a little more and reveal something vitally important.  This helped me approach her with more compassion and awareness.  She emerged from the massage smiling wide.  She thanked me and gave me a hug, and made an appointment to come back again.  This never would have happened if I rushed the intake.

Book Review, Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

See Like a Whale

I am thinking of whales.  Of their gigantic eyes.  And how these eyes have nothing to do with how they see.

Well, not exactly nothing, but certainly not as much as our eyes.

I am reading a new book, The Left Brain Speaks, The Right Brain Laughs by Ransom Stephens.  Despite the inaccurate duality in the title, it is (so far) a very clear and correct description of how our brains gather and process information.  In a section abut vision, Stephens talks about how whales see.

photography of whale tail in body of water
Photo by Daniel Ross on Pexels.com

Whales use sonar to create a picture of their surroundings.  Their eyes, like our own, are unable to see clearly in the depths of the ocean, so they rely on sounding out their surroundings.  In many ways, their sonar is much more accurate than our own limited vision.  For example, a clever scenic artist can easily convince us that a piece of painted cardboard is a heavy oaken door.  A whale would never make that mistake.  Their sonar sends them information about the weight and composition of objects that we rely on our sense of touch to gather.  Whales are, in a sense, able to see through objects and other creatures, into their core.  Whales know immediately when another whale is pregnant, or if a creature has a tumor or some other internal growth.  Their sonar adjusts the internal picture for all of these changes.

I am a creature of metaphor, and this particular whale fact set my associative brain to work.  What if, I thought, what if we tried to see like whales?  Not to invade someone’s privacy by peering inside their bodies, but what if we tried to see beyond the pictures our eyes show us?  What if the shapes, sizes, colors and impressions we gather upon looking at someone were never enough for us and we felt compelled to look beyond?

I love this idea.  And not just because I am a sucker for science-based metaphors.  I love this idea as a way to relate to other humans.  To see like a whale, looking beyond the surface and into whatever truth sits peacefully beyond the pictures my eyes send me.  This seems like a skill worth developing.  Whale vision.  Sounding out the environment.  Looking beyond.