massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Good Conversation, Better Work

For the past couple of months, I have had the immense privilege of hosting Healwell’s online webinar series, The Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery.  This past Sunday was Episode 2, featuring Janet Booth, my new best friend and amazing, thoughtful human.  We spent an hour talking about end of life care, and what it takes for practitioners to serve clients at the end of life.  By the end it was clear — we needed at least two more hours.

 

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Talk is amazing.  And talk is cheap.  I found myself wondering this morning about the practitioners who watched the webinar, and whether anything practical was happening. We talked a lot about doing the inner work necessary to serve other humans.  Across the video conference lines, there was a sea of nodding, agreement, engagement and awareness.  Now, in our separate states, are we doing that inner work, or are we playing Candy Crush on our phones and ignoring our own uneasiness?

 

Since Sunday evening, I have been noticing all the ways I avoid or numb out.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of them.  It’s not always things that are clearly unhealthy.  Sometimes it’s exercise.  Or a book.

 

I had a new client a while back, coming for a massage after several months of not receiving massage.  Healthy, right?  Good self care?  Yet — I wonder.  During the intake I learned this new client had just received some very difficult health information.  Just received, as in about a half hour before the massage appointment.  The client made it clear that the entire massage was a time to forget this looming diagnosis.

 

It is not my place to tell someone how to handle their own bad news.  It is my place to serve without judgement and to create a place of safety.  But that client stayed on my mind for a long time.  I wonder if there is a place where that person can acknowledge what they feel in a place of safety and comfort.

 

Is there a place to be comfortable with our own discomfort.

 

I am working on creating that place and carrying it around me wherever I go.

 

Thoughts on the profession

The Imperfection of Sight

“It wigs people out when someone actually sees them.  And it wigs us out to fully see ourselves.”

I am fortunate to be able to teach in a number of different venues, and I love them all.  My favorite, though, is the almost overwhelming intensity of a short workshop. With a room of people who have chosen to spend their time and money in a very particular way.  I teach continuing education, and in the workshops we often take time to consider ourselves, and what version of ourselves we bring to our clients. 

A few days ago, we were talking about working with people who are seriously ill.  We were considering medical decisions, and what we might do if we are working with someone who makes a decision that is different from one we might make.  The question on the table was about a specific case; about our thoughts, resistances, and feelings.  It was about what we would do.

Everyone in the room took the time to think about the question.  They sat in their groups and talked animatedly with each other and when we came back together, they gave their thoughts in echoes. 

Of course we would work with this person. 

We are massage therapists.

It’s not our concern what decision someone makes.

And that was the end of it.  Or was it?

I agreed with and believed everything they said. We are compassionate professionals and we practice unconditional positive regard.  Everyone’s health care decisions are their own to make.

And yet.  After the work is done and the client feels better and we get home alone at night with our feelings and our truth, what is there? Is there only a practiced neutrality that never allows for any conflict or feeling of distress?  Are we that good?

We are not.  I know deep in my own being we are not.  Because we are human.  The thing we are good at is hiding the uncomfortable bits of ourselves.  Our fears.  Our prejudices.  Our anger and our hurt. 

There were only a few minutes of class left.  So, I took a deep breath and offered some homework.  Dig a little deeper, I said.  I told them the truth.  I had conflicted feeling about working with the person in our scenario.  I saw wasted resources in the decisions being made.  I have prejudices that are causing me tension around the whole situation. 

If we don’t take out our darkest feelings and consider them, how do we trust our light? 

Remember when you were a child and were scared of the monsters under the bed or in the closet? Remember that a swift antidote to those fears was to go and look.  Put on a light and see the places where your fears reside. 

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It wigs us out when we see ourselves.  Because when we do, we must acknowledge the parts of ourselves that are not kind, not loving, not full of unconditional positive regard.  In our oversimplified way, we might think this makes our kindness and love somehow invalid.  What is does, really, is give us the tools we need to make our kindness and love richer and more true.  It saves us from collapsing under the weight of our unacknowledged shadows.  It returns us to our wholeness. 

The students left with the homework.  I hope they went home and looked into their own hearts and saw everything, or a little closer to everything.  I know some of them did not.  But I believe some of them did, and that is enough.  It is imperfect and it is enough. 

massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage

The Impossible Task

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I have two hours this coming Thursday to teach a roomful of massage students about Oncology Massage.  I will fail at this task.  I know I will fail because I have deliberately, and with careful attention, set myself up to fail.  I look forward to it.

If you’ve been around me for anything more than an hour or so, you know that I practice oncology massage, and I teach oncology massage basics whenever I can.  This is a three day, 24-hour, continuing education workshop where we routinely end the class by telling people how much more they have to learn.

About 8 weeks ago, when I took a good long look at the syllabus for the Pathology class I’m teaching, I saw that I had one class period to cover oncology massage.  Just one class.  Two hours.  To me, this is barely enough time to really make sure the class understands what cancer actually is, other than something you wear pink or run 5Ks to “cure.”  I decided that I needed to get in front of this topic right away.

The information I can cover in two hours is maybe just bordering on enough to give students the right intake questions to ask — the questions that will help them know when they need to refer someone to someone who is trained in oncology massage.

Fortunately for me, every class mentions a cancer of whatever system we happen to be studying, so I have frequent, relevant times to set expectations.  I have repeated variations on the phrase “more training is needed” since the first week of class.  I have tried to repeat often that the best therapists are those who work within their knowledge and skill set — those who are generous with admitting they don’t know something.  I am trying to set them up to know what they don’t know.

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This Thursday, armed with our textbooks and the 70-or-so slides that go with it, we will attempt to talk through oncology massage.  We will fall short.  We will, in other words, fail.  And in doing so, we will gain the much more valuable knowledge of our own limits.  I will be happy with that.  If I can release these students from this class with more questions and curiosity than answers and certainty, I will have done my job well.

Let’s get to falling short.

massage education, Thoughts on the profession

There’s a Week for That

Did you know there’s a thing called Teacher Appreciation Week?  I had no idea until a little into my second year of teaching at a massage school in Chicago.  When I discovered it, I also discovered what my students really thought about me.  It was surprising, eye-opening, unforgettable.

When I arrived for my evening classes, many students stood clustered around a long table in the hallway of the school.  Some bent over, awkwardly cradling books, bags and papers in one arm while they wrote on something with the other arm.  I made a minimal-detour beeline for my classroom, as I typically did, and figured there was some kind of group interview or job fair coming up.  And here is where I admit that I am that guy — I check email selectively, particularly email that is very specific to one of my jobs.  If the subject line or the preview does not seem to be directly related to my job (in this case, to my students or the classes I was teaching), then I delete it right away.  I am that guy who asks stupid questions, like, “What’s with all the birthday cakes in the lounge?” or, “Why are there a bunch of students clustered around a long table in the hallway?”

It was, as a colleague told me, Teacher Appreciation Week.  On top of that table were cards, one for each instructor.  Students got to write whatever they wished to whomever they wished, and at the end of the week, the cards appeared in our mailboxes, complete with messages.  I picked mine up at the end of a day and read it on the train home. I was shocked.

I teach because I love it, and because, some days, I’m pretty good at it.  I’ve written about it here, and I hope it comes through that I feel a pretty strong responsibility to the students who end up in my class.  I try to start each new class with two assumptions:  we are adults, and we are able to learn.  My job is to create the right circumstances for learning and discovery to happen.  Some days are better then others.  Some groups are easier than others.

pexels-photo-887353.jpegRight there, though, on the card in front of me, was the written proof that somehow these students learned lasting and special lessons that maybe had nothing to do with myelin or the pathologies of the cardiovascular system.  Their messages ranged from the simple “Thank you,” to heartfelt words about some specific thing I had forgotten that I did or said to them.  One class, small in number but strong in personality, took a whole extra sheet of paper to illustrate and label one of their favorite (?) in-class activities.  (I laugh-snorted at that one, and other people on the train gave me lots of room.)  I had no idea that so many things were sinking in, coming through, and being remembered.  Of course it touched and moved me just as any true sign of appreciation and gratitude touches and moves any human.

I still have that card.  I pull it out on days when I am not sure if I have this whole life thing down yet.  And that is my enduring gratitude back to everyone who wrote on that card, even if it was a quick, perfunctory “Thank you.”  To all of those former students — I thank you.  You held me up in ways that you don’t even know.

And if you are thinking of someone, feeling grateful for any little thing, wondering if it would be weird to send a quick message of thanks, let me know:  it’s not weird.  It’s beautiful.  Do it.

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Oncology Massage, S4OM

Report from S4OM

This past weekend was the Society for Oncology Massage’s Healing Summit.  It was a gathering of oncology massage therapists from around the world and a chance to learn from each other and geek out about science, research, and other things that make our practice deeper.

As I did for the last Summit, I arrived a day early so I could take part in the Educators’ Forum.  This is a day-long meeting of people who teach oncology massage, or who are interested in teaching oncology massage.  As I suspected, the day was both inspiring and frustrating.  In the morning, we sat in small groups and I gathered a lot of business inspiration from my colleagues.  They reminded me that creativity is not just the realm of the fine artist, but of every human endeavor.  And collaborative creativity is the finest idea generator of them all.

In the afternoon, we gathered as a larger group and tried to talk through some challenges facing us as educators.  Although nothing was decided, and I am not sure anything will actually get done as a result of those discussions, It was good to see again how much we all share the conviction that what we do is needed, important, and should be held to high standards.  Even if we do often disagree on our definition of “high standards.”

The rest of the weekend I got to be a student again, and learn about radiation therapy, research into massage on cancer pain, and music therapy.  It was wonderful, and I am still buzzing with the information.

Now that I am back at home, going into my office again, my challenge is to translate all of this material into something that will actually benefit clients.  Something beyond the benefit of a knowledgeable and curious therapist.  (Although I still strongly believe a curious therapist does better, more effective work.)

What keeps resonating for me right now is not specific information, but rather more of the feeling.  That unique and energizing feeling of being completely “all in” with what you are doing.  That delight in moving towards the obligations of the day.  It helps that it is Spring in my part of the world, and the colors of the flowering trees are brilliant in the radiant days we are having this week.  My task, my goal, my object now is to carry the dedication and energy all the way through to the next Summit, or the next gathering of like-minded souls.

Forward.