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.

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.