Friday, April 14, 2017
I had a dream this morning. I was in a parking lot with a bunch of people. I was throwing a Frisbee as fast and as high as I ever had. And it actually went to the person I wanted it to and not off into the trees like I was afraid it would. I was looking up into the sky along the path of the Frisbee and I saw a bald eagle descending. I put up my forearm for it to land on and it did. I was afraid that its talons would rend my forearm, but it seemed a small price to pay. It latched on and settled its weight onto me. Everyone who could see came up and reached out to touch it. I was afraid they would overwhelm the bird and I struggled to get them to approach with caution and respect. Finally, I asked for a single line, and they lined up. As people came up to the eagle, it had turned into a great big whitish owl that seemed very old. People asked it questions and I was surprised that the owl answered out loud in English. It addressed people by their names, and this seemed to be even more important than the answer it gave to their question. At one point I wondered what question I would ask. The feeling I got holding this owl was that I already knew the answer. That was the end of the dream.
I want to thank my clients for this dream because they are such brave pioneers of the heart and soul and inspire me to be more brave and vulnerable myself. I want to thank Krista for this dream, for being my teacher and my lover and for bringing me along on her path of discovery. I want to thank the land at heart song sanctuary for this dream, it is magical, I have seen a bald eagle circling at the top of the hill, and a large white owl flying in front of us across the driveway, and picking up mice from the field behind the treatment room. I have never had such a dream. It feels like love trying to come into me. I am so grateful that I am learning to let it in. Thank you.
Friday, April 07, 2017
My desire is to be well used. I want to thank cuddlist.com for helping me find people who engage me in this way. And I want to thank those people, pioneers in the social understanding of love and connection for sharing with me all of who they are. The reflection below is from a client who has my gratitude for many reasons.
"John Ellsworth is a rare find. He is a person who is completely attuned to the experience of the body, but he also has a tremendous capacity to listen to what our needs are, just talking things through. John is deeply sensitive, but is also a man of great strength. My sessions with him have been healing and comforting, but have also awakened me to look at areas in my life for personal growth in a way I hadn't expected. I can't recommend John enough for his kindness and commitment to what he's doing, and for the care he takes in being present to the experience of cuddling. He is a true artist and shaman of the heart."
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Thursday, August 20, 2015
In the first grade of my elementary school experience, about half way through the year, I got a B on a spelling test. It was such a big deal that the teacher threw a party for the whole class. I can still remember the styrofoam cup with two layers of chocolate chips at the bottom. This was my teacher's impromptu celebration. I know the teacher was being supportive but I felt so much shame, being in the spotlight, highlighting the fact that I was in a league of my own. It wasn't a good league. No one else ever got a party for a test score. Ever.
By the time I was in 3rd grade I was in special education. I stayed there a long time. I had a rough time with academic endeavors. Spelling was part of everything that was not math.
I'm 40 years old and the stigma still lingers. I shared recently in a group about being in special education when I was young. A beautiful older man with the best of intentions came up to me afterwards with encouragement. It was condescending and a little bit frustrating. I wish I could be seen for who I am and what I do, not how I stack up in a classroom. The trouble is most of who I am and what I do has nothing to do with anything that can be tested.
I get subjective validation every day with my friends and in my work. But part of me wishes I had just one single A+ to go up on the refrigerator of my childhood.
Tonight I took an IQ test. It is not a real test but but it is enough to put on a refrigerator. This site is my refrigerator. The father of my inner child would be proud.
So it took me about 2 days to realise this A+ on my refrigerator did nothing for me. It resonated with some ideals or structure that is not part of me. It was a beautiful moment to step back and consider the attributes that do resonate for me. The things that I want to put on the altar of external affirmations (refrigerator) are vulnerability, courage, integrity, kindness, connection, creative power, sensitivity, resilience, flexibility, and consciousness. These are the attributes that I hunger for, that I long to cultivate and manifest in myself and others. Thank you for the clarity. I love you.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
About a month ago my partner rescued a dog. His owner had died and the dog was having trouble adapting to his new life. He did not like riding in the car. It is possible the only times he had been in the car was to go to the vet or to be taken some somewhere and abandoned to new caregivers. Krista and I were those new caregivers. This past Saturday Krista and I were driving in the car and this dog was sitting behind me.
At an acute point in my spin cycle of darkness this rescue dog started barking in my ear. He had never barked at me before. As I came back to myself he started licking my face. The spell was not broken, only interrupted. As I slid back off my wagon of sanity the dog started to whine. Such was my darkness that I did not attribute his actions to love but rather a fear of being left yet again.
To avoid another round of barking I tried to imagine people behind me who loved me and wanted for my happiness. David Latimer, my first mentor was there as he often was in during the darkness of my youth. Other people started filling in, friends, family, and then to my astonishment, my subconscious placed my mother the circle of people trying to help me.
I know my mother loves me. And it has been tricky. I don't have a memory of feeling safe accepting her support. I have wanted to feel good about having her in my corner all my life. I have longed for her and cried over her countless times. This moment in the car with a dog barking was the first time I have chosen her to support me emotionally. I was still in a very rough patch of the soul but I was crying with gratitude that I could finally feel safe with her love. I did not think it would happen in this lifetime.
Thank you. I don't think everything is right as rain now. I am not ready for prime time with my mother in the real world. I am deeply happy that my fear has receded enough and my heart has opened enough to let her love into my soul. As for my spin cycle of darkness, I have come back. It was not easy, but Krista stood by me. I feel a robust strength and a vast capacity.
Thank you whatever gods may be.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
The point of me posting this here is not for the betterment of anyone. I mean to brag. The person who gave my name to the reporter told me that the reporter said to her, "He is the only one who does not lie". I asked for clarification and it turns out everyone else (according to the reporter) tells half the story, what makes them look good or what they think someone wants to hear. The compliment took a while to sink in but it did. I considered my advantages, that I am not looking to get clients from the article like a lot of therapists would, or even I would 7 or 10 years ago. I don't have have an employer to please or a spa to promote. But as my friend pointed out, it is kind of a big deal to be interviewed in the NYTimes. Part of me wants the article to make me look good. Part of me is excited by the prospect of being real, presenting as I really am and not just how I wish I was. Regardless of how the article comes out I'm going with the feel good from earning "He is the only one who does not lie." Thank you for what ever it is that lets me live this life!
Sunday, January 01, 2012
Thursday, December 08, 2011
I am so grateful for this kind bountiful world and for all the people who are so generous in sharing their lives with me. Thank you.
A thousand times, thank you.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
There are a lot feelings in my buffer, waiting to come though. It seems like it could be a while before it clears. Maybe it will be a while before it stops getting worse. That being said, my life is going really well. I love my work. I think it will sustain me in spite of myself. I have a therapist. I have a sponsor. I have several people who give me unconditional positive regard. I'm told this is uncommon. It feels good.
I love you John.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Some where along the way a friend had one done for me and shared a small part of it. I don't think it will ruin my life. I think it belongs in the feel good file.
A love for all things and all people that borders on the divine.
Your chart is perfectly aspected for the work you're doing.
You have a tremendous gift for healing people.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
There are those who give little of the much which they have--and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
It is Kahlil Gibran from his writing on giving. I heard it first in Sunday school when the Patriarch happened to once be my substitute teacher. I at once embraced the idea that giving should be simply a function of life. I believe that living with such an idea has granted me more peace and happiness than I would have found if peace and happiness were my goal.
Unfortunately I also embraced the idea that life was all about giving. I am afraid I found more suffering for myself and others because of it.
Now I accept that I am not aways a fragrant myrtle tree , nor should I try to be. Some days I am a stink weed. It is a realization and an honesty that I struggle to implement in my life. It is better when I do.
Thank you for the lesson.
Below is a picture of me next to the Patriarch.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Monday, July 05, 2010
When I was twenty two years old I was just finishing my mission. I was toast. It was month twenty one. I had invested my heart and soul, hook line and sinker and been burned to the ground. Every morning I got up and fought the good fight. It was unlike normal american life in almost every way. Part of the next 3 months was that I was trapped, every hour of every day with a 19 year old man I will call Elder W. It was hard.
I served in a mission were there was a lot of wrestling. Half of the people who read this will believe it was all homo erotic. All I can say is that I know how it sounds, but if you had been there, you wouldn't think that. If you went into all the apartments where Elders lived, you would find that one in three would have some drywall and a bucket of spackle in a back room somewhere. The reason for this is that one missionary in the act of wrestling had pushed another through a wall and they had to repair it. The supplies were still there because it was likely that it would happen again.
I wrestled with most of my companions. One of them broke my nose when he hit my head from behind with his forearm and smashed my face into the floor. But that was the exception. Most often there was no anger involved, it was just a way to blow off steam from the constant and relentless rejection we faced every day. Like I said, it was hard. But with Elder W. it was different. We wrestled every single day. I bested him every single day. There were some good moments, singing in the car on long drives was one of my favorites. There were bad moments. I remember W being so livid with anger and unwilling to talk about it. I wanted him to admit he was angry. He was having none of it. My thinking was, we can not go out there and try to represent the divinity filled with range. That's not ok. So I figured we needed to work it out, come hell or high water before we left the apartment. Well, both came. It was the only time when we were not, both of us agreeing to wrestle.
Now that I think about it I am ashamed. At the time it was the absolute dig deep best I could do. It was the best he could do too. That's the funny thing. We were both trying so very very hard to be so very very good.
I mention the bad because that is what makes what I'm about to tell you exceptional. Every night, before we got into out beds, one on each side of the room, we would kneel and pray together. And then we would hug each other. Every night. Even when we were filled with hate. The hate wasn't that often but I have never gotten over that we hugged anyway. And it was honest. We were not pretending we were not angry, but we were not acting as if anger was mutually exclusive with anything good. In spite of everything we both were committed completely to trying to be good.
I have never experienced anything quite like that in my life, before or since. I don't doubt that I am responsible for the scarcity (though I am approximating some exceptions). There was a lot that was wrong about the situation, about the way I interacted with others, but the commitment thing felt right. Thank you my friend. God bless you.
This is a picture of me and my father. He is 76 years old now. When I was born he was so happy he tells me it was the best day of his life. When I was growing up I felt like I was a tremendous disappointment to him. My reaction to his disappointment was so burdensome for me that I threatened to completely walk away unless he could find a way to love and accept me as I was. This was not an easy thing I asked of him but he did it. When I was 19 years old my father swallowed his judgment to keep his son.
My life was not and has not been on a path that has any relationship to my father's values, hopes or dreams for me. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for him, wanting only the best for me and feeling like I was missing the boat entirely. Now at the other end of his life my father's values have changed. He has let go of his cynical, critical paradigm and set his sights on serenity and happiness. He is now genuinely proud of me. I have loved this man all my life. I have never wanted him to be proud of me, but to simply love me. He does love me. And I am happy for him that he finally gets to be proud of his son.
It is true what they say. If you let go of the reins, the horse will bring you home.
Thank you Dad, for letting go. I love you.
Alright this sounds cheesy. There is no way around it. And yet, in the moment it was rich and full and I want to remember it. Here it is. The other day a mother was on my table. She was so tight that her baby was hiking her shoulders sympathetically. A baby with tight shoulders is so wrong. I will call the mother Shannon. The baby girl was crying and ended up breast feeding during the massage. Shannon's sister was there to make sure the baby did not fall off. My fingers were deep in Sharon's armpit between the ribs and the shoulder blade working on a very tight and sensitive medial rotator. The experience was painful but in a way peaceful because it was needed so profoundly. The baby's mouth and hands where on her mother. Shannon's hands were on the baby. The sister's hands were on the baby and the mother. That's eight hands all together in a pile of intense and attentive support and love. I drew Shanon's attention to this and we both agreed it was beautiful. My work is most often beautiful but this was exceptional. Thank you. I love this world.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Over the past decades I have collected some beautiful praise for the life I am trying to live. This week something really good came in the mail. I have not heard from or seen Aaron for 14 years. When I was 21 we lived together for a few months. When I say lived together I mean we worked, ate, slept (in the same room, not the same bed). We were in each others literal line of sight all day every day with the sole exception being the use of a bathroom. We did not know each other or chose to live together. Our work was rife with rejection and frustration. There was no space or time to hide, retreat or recover. This man saw me at my best and worst. I am enormously grateful to Aaron for being a friend in that crazy and sometimes beautiful situation, and for this letter.
John, ... I wanted to let you know when I first emailed you how much serving with you meant to me. It is really rare to meet such a good hearted person. I hope you never lose your awesome capacity for compassion. I have thought about you a number of times since our mission, on most occasions it was when I needed a boost to my own humanity. I am really glad I had the chance to meet you.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Will has apparently not always been a buddha. He has suffered in unspeakable ways from the day of his birth. The suffering before his memory was explained to him by his parents who were also responsible for it. I have heard of people who feel like they were raised by wolves. Will's parents make the wolves seem like Mother Teresa. To this day his mind still goes to a place of disgust when he sees his picture. And so it was a huge boon to me that Will let me photograph him. Will and I have sat and looked at these pictures for several hours on different occasions. We talk about what we see in the face of my friend. I found tears flowing down my face as I tried to convey what I saw and how it made me feel. Will held the same kindness in his voice as he talked about what he saw but it was both sad and brave and powerfully beautiful. His face was no less dry than mine.
During the afternoon when I was photographing Will I said "Will, you are a beautiful man." His response was surprising and beautifully honest. He told me that this was only the second time in his life that anyone had told him that he was beautiful. He said the first time was when he was 20 and he thought that was about something different than what I was talking about. He told me how surprised he was at how it made him feel, how he had not realized how much he had been wanting to hear those words. It makes me cry to think of that moment.
I happen to know many people who know Will. We all talk about him. Just tonight a man who has an office down the hall from me told me that last night Will was in his dream. Everyone I know who knows Will thinks he is an amazing, wonderful, beautiful man. I had of course told Will how everyone felt about him, and then encouraged people to tell Will just exactly what they thought of him. Life is too short to be ignorant of the love others have for us.
This is in a way a sad story. I can not go back in time and protect or love Will. We can never change the past. I am sure every one around Will assumed that he was confident in his beauty. It seems to me such a loss that someone who had suffered so much was unaware of the succor around him. The good in this story is powerful for me. I have come to know my buddha like friend so much better. I am more aware of what I take for granted. I feel more free and braver in telling the truth of any beauty or kindness I see in others.
Thank you Will. I love you.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Not so long ago I was traveling backwards in Annie’s truck on I-87 at 60 miles per hour. The picture above is of the truck before. I had been visiting my sister, her husband and their five adopted children up in Plattsburg. My oldest sister and her three youngest children were there as well. They will be there for a year to help out. The children are growing up so well. I could not be prouder of them or their parental grownups of which there are many.
We were all together for Thanksgiving including Annie and my third sister Michelle and her two kids. Everyone was standing around the piano singing with a child in their arms. Ok that doesn’t quite explain it. The room was filled with love and dancing and the kind of singing that requires no inhibition. It was unreal even by my standards. If you would like to see pictures of the weekend click here.
I’ll return to the backwards driving. It was in the wee hours of the morning. I was alone. It had been getting warmer all day. I was going south. I was going through the mountains. It was the gain in elevation that got me. The road was wet one moment and the next moment my back tires started drifting out in front of me. I corrected, and then the tires were drifting out in the opposite direction. I corrected again and again, oscillating wider and wider. Pretty soon I was bouncing between the guardrails like a ping pong ball. It was at this point, flying backwards on the highway I thought it might be over.
This is an exceptional place I think for anyone to be in. I did not see my life flash before my eyes. All I thought was, “Is this it? Have I learned enough?”
This response was surprising for me in a profound way. It implied a lot regarding how I understand my relationship with this world and my life.
After the truck stopped moving my mind was flooded with all of the things I was grateful for. I was in shock, felt nauseous and had trouble standing. I was standing near the truck looking over the wreck when the first car came by. The car stopped and I was invited in out of the cold and was kept at a safe distance from the truck until the police arrived. I assume I would have survived without this help but it is possible I could have died from shock. Even sitting in a warm car I was having a really hard time. I am enormously grateful for the kindness and patience of my fellow travelers.
The accident was a good lesson. I now know more about black ice. The importance of that knowledge was impressed upon me with out any permanent damage. I also discovered that I am not so much the intellectual cynical unbeliever I thought I was. It’s good to know what I’m working with.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I had him lay down and made sure he was warm. I passed my hands over his body and found physical problems like a knee that was bothering him. I don’t know how that works with out touching and though a blanket but there it was. And I let it be. I put his chest between my hands front to back. There are a lot of ways to engage a body. There is pressure that matches the impedance of muscles; there is pressure that matches the impedance of viscera. You can similarly engage a body neurological or thermally. What I did with my father was none of these things. But I engaged and found in his chest hardness I had never felt before. I talked to my father about the importance of not judging the hardness. How this hardness had probably worked hard to protect him for most of his life. I helped honor this part of him and let it go. His chest softened. I worked on the rest of his body helping the loosening and opening.
When I was done my father told me he felt wonderful. That his body felt so happy it was like it was laughing all over.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Our hair and clothes are plastered to our bodies. I am on top. He is trying to throw me. He arches and twists. I resist using my head as a lever pushing off of the ground. This is the third time he has arched and this time my neck is not long enough and we roll over my head. He is on top.
My muddy feet are alive like badgers trying to find a way out. My toes lead my feet nosing at his leg looking for a path past it. They find and I push out pulling his leg straight and long away from his body. His arm is out to keep us form rolling. I grab his wrist and push breaking his friction lock with the ground. Rain is falling in my eyes. His arm is away from me. I try again and again. I palm his shoulders and push him towards my feet. It is not far but enough. His arm goes out and I catch it and pull. I am pulling so hard I feel the ribs of my chest bow out. His arm comes in. I arch hard and there is nothing to brace with. We go over. He kicks off with his top foot, the foot I am not pulling long. He is back on top.
An hour later and we are done. My body feels hot and torn. I feel so weak and sick from the exertion. It is delicious. I feel like a deer on the side of the road. Hit by a truck but still breathing. Covered in cold sweat and rain but still burning hot like a stove. There is some kind of magic that keeps us from breaking.
The rain has stopped and he is pulling blades of grass off of my face. The wind is blowing in the leaves and heavy drops of water are coming down. This man loves me.
I have always been jealous of the platonic affection women can express with each other. I have seen them hold hands, lean and even lay on each other. They can run their hands through each other's hair. I have seen it. I know it is not all the time or with everyone but it is real. I'm not talking about gay people, just loving and nurturing people. It is something I never had. Don't get me wrong, I have been blessed with a lot of female affection but it is not the same. It is not what I have been missing.
I feel like I have it now. This man loves me and touches in a comfortable and grounded way. It does not feel like he is feeling me up or trying to get into my shorts. It feels safe. It feels like healing. It feels good.
And then there is the wrestling. I feel my body, my muscles changing. This is good for me. I feel stronger. I feel open and honest. I feel alive and moving, clawing at the world before me like an animal running explosively through a forest. And in that moment of fight I don't have to protect him. I don't have to be nice to him. I don't have to hold back for fear of breaking his bones or bruising his feelings. And I get to use all of me, fight with everything I have pushing one hundred percent. And we laugh. And it feels safe and sane and healthy. I want this feeling for my every day honesty. I am working so hard to have this in my everyday life. This feels like good training. And yes it feels good.
Thank you god. Thank you my friend.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
When I first started with massage people tried to teach me about energy. I remember putting my hands on another’s body and trying to feel what others could feel. I could not. Others could feel the energy in my own hands better than I could. Years of training and exercises followed and slowly awareness emerged of something more than raw anatomy. At first I could feel and think of it only as heat and then maybe some sort of bioelectrical current.
Other therapists were talking about bad energy, about taking on other people’s energy and becoming overwhelmed. Apparently many colleagues had to give up their work because they became contaminated with the negativity of others. At one workshop the teacher was explaining ways to prevent unwanted energy from entering the body while working. The teacher went on to suggest that some people were not bothered by the energy of their clients. The idea was put forward that some people used the perceived energy of their clients as a diagnostic tool.
Years later I have found that I often have some sort of physiological empathetic proprioception while working. I will sometimes feel sensations in my own body as I work that don’t fit with my history or understanding of my own body. I have come to ask my clients about their own bodies regarding the locations I feel bodily and it almost always lines up.
The other day I had a sensation that did not belong to me when I was not working. I was listening to a woman whom I had never met. I could not see her as she spoke. It took me a while to guess at what was happening. When I had a chance I asked the woman. She explained she had a condition that affected the side I was inquiring about. I asked about the specific location and she drew a line on her body illustrating perfectly the path of the sensations I had when she was speaking.
When I would have these sensations while working on my clients I always assumed it was how my subconscious mind was communicating subtleties. Little things like posture or skin temperature may have been adding up in the back of my mind to form details I could not consciously grasp but could feel in my own body. I have been told that when a person watches another person perform a physical activity the observer’s muscles fire in the same pattern as the observed but often below the threshold of self observation. I imagine what I experience is something like that.
When the woman was speaking I was feeling information about her body. I feel confident making that statement. What I am uncertain about is how I obtained it. Was all the information carried in her voice? Did I observe people observing her and some how ended up with accurate second hand information? Or is all the information for all people available to everyone and it is simply a matter of choosing to tune in to a particular person? Not that it matters, but I am curious. Perhaps it is the same curiosity and focus on the body over all these years that has led me to this path in the first place.
I am by no means a master of this understanding. It is not a trick I can pull out of my pocket at will. And yet it feels helpful at times. And if nothing else it is at least interesting. It seems there is more to life than I had ever guessed. Thank you. I love you my friend.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I don’t have a boss. That’s pretty good. There is a woman I call my boss though she is really more of a landlord and colleague. I thought I had a pretty solid understanding with her but over the past several months I felt like I was getting more and more of a cold shoulder. I would ask her about it but I never got satisfaction. Finally I was able to sit her down for a solid hour. At the end of that hour I got a hug from her. It was a real hug. Later I got an email that said “I will always start....and 'end'...with I love you John.” That’s pretty good too. Ok it’s pretty amazing. I know I have only conveyed words but my understanding of the experience is something more. It is a promise to assume love in all interactions, most importantly in misunderstandings.
I honestly doubt that promise will be strictly held. But even just that someone would be genuine in making it is a beautiful thing. It is a complicated and imperfect story. I still feel grateful and humbled by it.
There is a slogan I have been told. It is “I would rather be happy than right.” I take this to mean that if you have what you want you may lose it by trying to satisfy your ego. During that hour long conversation I had a lot of points I wanted to bring up. When I realized I had everything there was to be gained I had to let go of everything else. I know that sounds obvious but I am just figuring it out. I have been told that the path to enlightenment is endless. I hope so. I have a lot to figure out along the way.
Thank you to all of my teachers. I love you.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
There is an old woman who sits in a chair on the sidewalk near the corner. She smiles at me every time I walk by. She asks fondly about my sister and her five new kids in their new home. She says I remind her of her priest.
Another woman works on the corner. She teases me and rolls her eyes at me. I find myself smiling and often laughing with her.
Half way down the block there is a garage where all the guys smile or wave when I ride by. They help me out and one of them spent several hours rebuilding my starter motor with me and would not take my money when we were done.
There is a man who works at the other corner. He greats me with “My Brother, how are you?” He gives me fruit. Every time I go in he tells me to take a fruit. Even when I am only buying an orange he tells me “And have and orange.”
These are not huge things. And there are moments in my life when I take them for granted. But regardless of how rushed or overwhelmed I might feel it is always better when I acknowledge the kindness of those around me. When I first came to this city I found it so hard that the mere gesture of another holding open a door for me was shockingly beautiful in contrast. It has gotten better. It feels like home now.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Someone once asked if I have bad massage clients. My simple answer is no. I have had bad experiences giving massage though. Most of those sessions were not awful and in total make up much less than a percent of the work I do. I feel especially lucky about this. From what I understand this is not the case for every therapist.
Before I go on I want to be clear that I am not talking about bad massages I have given. I weigh those much more heavily because I can do more about them. I also count them differently. To be honest I can not count them very well at all. If someone has a bad experience I assume for the vast majority of the time they won’t bother to tell me about it. I have made educated guesses and assume that it is much more often bad for my clients than it is for me. In my defense I believe the frequency of this is still much less than one percent and gets smaller every year. I would be profoundly grateful for anyone who would speak up and tell me how I could have made it better. When I worked at Stone Spa I would ask the front desk to try to read the level of satisfaction in my clients when they checked out. I no longer have a system like that but it seems less of a problem as I have become more sensitive and all of my clients are hopefully some species of informed referrals.
The worst massage I ever had to endure giving was very early in my career. For a short time I worked at an awful spa. The owner was so determined to make as much money as possible that when a therapist called in sick she would make the cleaning staff work as massage staff. Clients would sometimes leave that place worse than when they entered. The owner was usually on site. To say that she was willful would be saying it kindly.
One day the owner took a client who requested a female therapist and talked her into working with me because there were no alternatives at that time. The woman came back to my massage room obviously upset. I asked her what had happened and she told me. I told her she didn’t have to have the massage, that the owner could badger people sometimes and that I would make sure she got her money back. It was a big gesture and might have involved me paying for the massage or even terminating my employment. What happened was worse.
She decided to have the massage. She may have been forced into the decision but had made the decision her own. And so I was trapped. The idea of refusing to work on her did not occur to me. Even now I’m not sure that would have been the best path. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to have a massage from a man. Some of them make me sick to think about. You can bet I was thinking about them during that massage. A massage is a very vulnerable thing and to feel unsafe or uncomfortable on any level is all wrong. I wanted to cry or throw up. I felt like I had become an unwilling party to violating this woman’s will if not her body. I talked her through every option, offering to just massage her hands or feet if it would make her feel more comfortable. She asked for a normal full massage. I don’t know if was being brave, stubborn, thrifty, or was just defeated. I could tell it was still a big deal for her. It was one of the worst hours of my life.
She relaxed, and was appreciative and seemed happy enough with me and my work when she left. I think she could tell that I was working hard to make it as right as I could for her. Later I told the owner if that happened again I wouldn’t be able to work there anymore.
There is a feel good here. It is not equal to how bad it was but it’s something. I acted in the best way I knew how. I am proud of that. And years latter I told this story to someone who I thought knew all about me, and it changed her understanding of me. The change was favorable and that has meant a lot to me.
I’m not sure what else to say. I wanted to talk about the bad because I have been talking so much about the good. I want there to be some balance and integrity even in this file designed only for things that make me feel good. I had noticed that three of the previous six posts had the word “good” in them. It seemed excessive. I love you my friend. Thank you.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The other day I had a massage therapist come in who has built a healthy medical practice for the past eleven years. As I was working she told me I made her want to go back to school and asked if I taught. If you don’t know what that feels like, let me tell you. It’s wonderful. She booked two hours for her sister so we could work on her together and I could teach her what I know. I was a little bit surprised that everything I do in one hour can not be learned in two. We focused on three moves, and then I just demonstrated the rest.
I got to share what I have discovered about body mechanics, how to line things up so you don’t get tired or hurt, and can deliver more pressure. I know it sounds dry but I am excited by such things. We talked about quality of touch and transition, how to shift hands so the client doesn’t feel your hand leave the body. Then there was palliative anatomy which has been a passion and my foundation for everything.
At one point, while demonstrating with both of my elbows and forearms doing their thing in our subject’s lower back I almost belly laughed out of happiness. It is true that I love my job more than most people enjoy their hobbies, but I rarely get to share that with anyone. I am sure that my clients are getting satisfaction from what I do and that they feel and appreciate my happiness but it is not the same. To bring someone back stage and share my beautiful tools and tricks pushes it over the top for me. I feel like I have found a secret trove of endless treasure and am as excited as on Christmas morning watching others unwrap something really good.
Even better, my colleague was still excited when we finished and booked another session. It is true one man’s treasure is another’s trash, and that some if not most people don’t care about all these inane things that fascinate me. That just makes me all the more ridiculously happy when everything does line up. To the god of this bountiful universe, thank you.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I have been exclusively devoted to massage as a profession for over eight years now. I have been using first cold press 100% organic jojoba oil for about three years. It was just in the past year that I noticed jojoba has a smell. I was cracking open a fresh gallon of it and gave it a sniff to make sure nothing was amiss. In that moment I was struck by the smell and it made my mouth water. Since that moment whenever I consciously breathe in that aroma I am moved in a pleasurable way. The first time I tried a jojoba from a different farm it just made my heart race instead. Subsequently my mouth has watered almost every time.
I have been wondering about this reaction. Jojoba is supposedly eatable, at least for wildlife. I have tasted it and it is unremarkable at least for now but then again I thought it had no smell for years. I don’t think it is a hunger response. I think it is a Pavlovian response to my work. I love my job so much I actually salivate when I smell the oil I use to massage. If it was just the oil then I would have salivated the first two or three years when I was sniffing it. It took years to build the association.
I think it is a pretty sound argument. But if it is a Pavlovian response to giving a massage then why don’t I salivate during the massage? The truth is I might very well be salivating and just not be aware of it because I get so focused on my work. Additionally salivating is a parasympathetically driven neurological response and massaging is a sympathetic nervous system activity. And as every good student of anatomy knows the two systems are reciprocally inhibitive and so the act of massaging would suppress salivation.
And so it is a little embarrassing that I love massaging people so much it makes my mouth water. I’m not entirely sure what to think about that. The truth is I always feel better after I give a massage regardless of how I feel before. I find my work deeply satisfying and fulfilling on a physical, emotional, and intellectual level. It’s good living. Is the cumulative effect of years of this kind of work responsible for the association that makes my mouth water? It apparently is. Apparently my life is that good. Thank you.
After having written this I started to pay attention to my mouth while I worked. Turns out I salivate all the time. I asked my mentor (while she was working on me) if she salivated while she worked and she said she had never thought of it but yes she was salivating at that very moment. I asked her if I should wear a shower cap and she laughed. She doesn’t know why that happens either. She seemed to think it was a physiological phenomenon as apposed to my psychological theory. It was comforting to hear that I’m not the only one. It makes me feel like less of a freak, or at the very least that if I am a freak I am not alone. And who knows maybe everyone does this and just never notices or talks about it. I will have to start asking other therapists.