22 Years

heart rock On the 8th of August it will be 22 years since the day my wife and I stood with family and friends under a tent in her parent's backyard. It was a beautiful New England day, my mom made the cake, her dad made sure that his gardens were in full bloom.

We had a Quaker ceremony. We sat in silence. At times, when they felt moved to do so, some of our guests stood and spoke. Some briefly with shaking voices, others confidently and with more volume. Some of what was said was about us, some was reflections on marriage and love in general. To be honest I don't remember most of what was said. I do remember being deeply moved at the time. I felt supported, loved and cared for.

What more could one ask for on their wedding day?

When Anna's grandmother Wilda stood I wasn't sure what I expected. This woman was the matriarch of a large family and a long-standing pillar of her Quaker community. She took a breath, turned to face the two of us and said "you must always remember, and never forget, that the plural of spouse is spice". Then she sat, refolding her hands in her lap.

We've reflected on these words many times over the years. At different points in our lives they have taken on different meanings, though the common current running beneath has remained the same. Anna and I figured out long ago that the more time we spend together, the better it is for our relationship. This isn't the case for everyone, and every couple needs to discover what the recipe is for their own success. For us, we like each other's company. I think Wilda had a sense of this. It's the things we do together that flavor the years. Sometimes it's the big adventures that we save and plan for, but more often it's the unexpected moments. It's the shared experiences that add depth and color to our life together. It's a planned week in the mountains that turned into an unplanned weekend at the beach. It's the countless triumphs and challenges of being parents together. It's the 6 states we've lived in. It's all the animals we've loved and lost. It's the perfect meal, the quiet walk, the phone call that a loved one has died, the phone call that a loved one has been born, it's an ambulance ride, a sunrise, the breaking of a heart, a great bottle of wine. It's 22 years of shared moments, each one a gift in it's own way.

Wilda may have just meant to be funny that day 22 years ago, witty to be sure, and it was both of those things. It also turned out to be the only clear quote that anyone can recall from that day. I've always been grateful for those words, they have served us well. Thanks Wilda, and happy anniversary My Love.

Who's Your Daddy?

(OK, so it's July, but this was written for my other blog and I thought it was worth sharing here, enjoy!) I can’t let June slip by without a post about being a dad. Our family has never really celebrated Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, that’s just how we roll. However, lots of folks like to mark that third Sunday in June, and I want to tell you about my experience.

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always wanted kids. Happily my wife and I have this in common. I feel unconditionally blessed and humbled that we were able to conceive with relatively little effort. Despite what they tell you in high school, it’s not usually that easy.

I have two very different daughters. I love them both equally, and to the very depths of my soul. My oldest is 14. She’s a super shy, critically-thinking, amazingly brave, out gay teen. My youngest is 12. She’s more outgoing than her sister. She’s uber-competitive, loves to challenge herself and effortlessly moves through the popular crowds in ways that her mother and I never did. (ok, my wife says she was “popular”, but her class in high school had 7 kids, so I’m not sure that counts) My youngest will belt out a song lyric and lay down a dance move without a second thought, wherever she happens to be. My oldest would rather clean the bathroom than talk to the person bagging our groceries at the store.

How did two such different kids emerge from the same union? I have a social sciences background and lean heavily toward the “nurture” side of the nature vs nurture debate. But there you have it. I have no clue.

Where am I going with this? Parenting is a mixed bag. You have these little beings, helpless and completely dependent on you when they arrive on the scene. Many new parents feel as helpless as those infants at first. It’s a learning curve. Through trial and error we find out what works and what doesn’t for that little human. The next little human that comes along may respond totally differently. Maya loved to be swaddled super tight. She was our little burrito, the less she could move the happier she was. Lydia hated that. She would scream like she was being run through with swords if you tried to wrap her up. Lesson learned, and on it goes.

Parenting is a dance to be sure, but it’s improvisational. It’s more like jazz than classical. Read all the books you want, get all the advice you can, but when that child arrives, and for the next 16 years or so, you have to dance to the tune being played in that moment, and with that child.

It’s cliche to say that parenting is a journey (or a dance for that matter), but I’m going to say it anyway. It fits. One step at a time, never knowing quite what is around the next turn, you move along with your child. It requires a great many things, and none of them are ever quite what you expect. There is one thing I do know though, the only thing you really have to do to be a good parent is this:

Just show up.

Everything else gets worked out along the way.

 

Holiday survival tips

It's happened again. You skied and napped your way through late winter. You tilted your head back and drank in the first sweet breathes of Spring, you biked and hiked the summer away. Recently you looked around and realized that fall had descended, on the wings of golf ball sized hail no less. So here we are, entering another holiday season with all it's blessings and madness. For most of us this time of year is a mixed bag. We get to see family that we might only see once a year. We have an excuse to shower gifts and affection on those we love. For a brief time there is an increased spirit of acceptance and appreciation.

It's not all sugar plums and eggnog though. It can be stressful. It can be depressing. We may feel pressured to do more than we comfortably can. Our gifts may feel inadequate. We may be missing loved ones that we have lost.

How do we stay in the positive flow of these times, without getting lost in the depths of the darker side?

Here's a couple tips:

1) Know what not to compromise. Often over the holidays our normal routines get pushed aside to make others who may be visiting feel more comfortable. We may forgo our morning walk to make sure the coffee is brewing on time. The food we prepare may be richer or sweeter than we normally ingest. We might be drinking more alcohol than on just any other Tuesday night. (and who could blame you?) All these things can throw your body off, and that in turn can contribute to emotional upset as well.

Know what you need to stay on course physically and emotionally, and don't compromise on it. Your family and friends will understand.

2) Take time for yourself. It can be tempting to make sure you spend as much time as possible with out of town guests. After all, you don't see them very often and soon they will be gone again. Keep in mind that you may be much better company if you preserve some time to yourself, especially if you are used to having alone time during the day. Even a solo trip to the store to pick up a forgotten item can be refreshing, and you will be better company, and more appreciative of your guests, when you return.

3) Go easy on the gifts. In some families, and with some friends, there can be tremendous pressure to give expensive gifts. Don't buy into it, pun very much intended. Do you remember what you received for holiday gifts last year? Maybe one or two stand out, but maybe not even that many. Personally, I love Thanksgiving because the focus is on good food and company, my favorite things. But no matter what your religious or social persuasion, sooner or later between Thanksgiving and New years, the gift giving will happen. Maybe a few less pre-made gifts this year could help you be less stressed. Perhaps spending a portion of that money on an activity or some special food items would be more memorable and less costly. Here's another idea: My wife comes from a large extended family and each year they do a Secret Santa ritual where everyone chooses one name from a hat and that is the only person that person purchases a gift for. Everyone gets a gift and no one feels overwhelmed or insecure about the gift giving experience. I love this.

4) Get outside. We live in one of the greatest outdoor playgrounds in the world. Even if you don't have a house full of Olympic skiers, it's a good idea to get everyone out of the house, even if it's only for a quick walk. It clears your head, breaks the routine, and helps you move some of that fruitcake.

Keeping some of these things in mind can help your holiday season to be a little more pleasurable, and a little less stressful.

 

 

 

Pick Your Parts Carefully

I had a client tell me a story the other day. As I was working on the bottom of his foot, he said: "You'll find a lot of scar tissue in there. When I was a kid I was swimming in a quarry and I split that thing wide open. My friend ran out to the road, about a mile and a half away, and flagged down a truck. The truck driver hiked in to the quarry, carried me out and drove me to the hospital. Now that story lives right there in that foot."

This man is entering his 70th year, so I'm guessing it was 55-60 years ago that this occurred. True enough, he was carrying some scar tissue in there. Where there should have been soft and yielding flesh there were areas of rigidity. He was also carrying this beautiful imagery of a stranger helping a kid in trouble. He talked about that, and not about the pain, the blood, the fear, the hospital experience or his recovery. The part he kept there in his foot was the kindness of that man who stopped what he needed to do that day to help him.

We all carry stories along with our scars. Sometimes it's hard to find the grace in there. Often we can choose which stories we cling to, and that can radically effect how we move through the world.

It's also worth noting that every day we have opportunities to play our own parts in other people's stories. How we play those parts will be carried with them too, so it is well worth paying attention to how our characters unfold.

 

The Edge And The Wall

I read this great article this morning on the importance of not overstretching. It came to me through the magic of Facebook by way of two great massage therapists in Midcoast Maine, Kristen Burkholder and Katia Ancona. Remember that your tendons and ligaments have very little blood flow, and so they take a very long time to heal if damaged.

My massage instructor, Donna Kraft Smith, who was also a yoga teacher, used to say when we were doing our daily yoga practice "know the difference between the edge and the wall". The edge is where you feel resistance, this is where the work should be done. The wall is the place where you feel you can go no further, listen and respect that boundary to avoid injury.

How are You?

It's been raining here in Colorado. You may have heard. Thankfully here in Durango we are not suffering from the horrific flooding that the Eastern part of the state is, and I find my thoughts often drifting to those folks lately. It's a helpless feeling, watching an unstoppable natural event. Here in South West CO we need the rain, and this past week brought more of it than we have had all summer. I've noticed an interesting thing. Even though we are a seven hour drive away from the areas hit hardest by the flooding, and to my knowledge the rains here have been more of a blessing than a curse, people are looking out for one another. Multiple times last week I had clerks at various shops say "stay safe" rather than the usual "have a nice day". I think there is a heightened awareness of personal safety when part of your state is going through something like this. Maybe it was because last week also contained September 11, a day when everyone seems to be a bit more open and sensitive to the well being of their neighbors.

While I obviously don't wish tragedy on anyone, I would like to see more of this attitude expressed in general, and preferably without the need for catastrophic events.

I'm fortunate to be in a profession where asking how someone is, and really listening to the answer is a big part of my day. Or rather, I prefer this attitude, and so here I am in this profession. Often when I first greet a client there will be the obligatory "Hi, how are you?" and the answer will be "great!"

After all, they are here to get a massage, so life is understandably grand.

But once they are settled in a chair and I ask again, it's often a different answer. The stories of broken hearts or disappointments come. The lost job, the, ailing parent, the falling out between good friends. Somehow it's just not OK to let out the truth that we may be struggling with something in public. Not until we feel truly engaged by another do we let the wall slip.

I do understand that sometimes it's better not to lay all of our woes out in the grocery line just because someone happened to ask how we are doing. There are rules and social queues that help us negotiate when and where it's OK to say how we really feel. On the other hand, I have seen some truly beautiful exchanges between folks who do not know each other. Sometimes all it takes is an acknowledgement that this person in front of you is moving through something hard. A touch on the hand or shoulder. A look in the eye that says that you hear them. It can make all the difference. You may be the only person that day to truly acknowledge that life for them is hard right now. Often that one exchange can lighten that person just enough. It can make a real difference, perhaps for both of you.

 

When it all Falls Apart

flower and handsWhat do you do when you feel like you've lost the thread of who you are and where your life is headed? I don't mean when you are having a bad day. I mean when an event, or series of events occur that cause you to go for weeks and months being unhappy with who you are and/or what you are doing. I've been there, though I'm not there currently. I do have a couple of friends who are there. For many of us a change in our work status can cause us to question everything else about ourselves. We constantly define ourselves, and are defined by others, as "what" we do. Rather than "who" we are. This is all very commonsensical, and it's easy to just say, "buck up chum, it's not that bad". But sometimes it can feel that bad.

For most of us, we are more than the label of what we do for work. However, that doesn't mean that it's not a huge part of our self image. What do we do when we feel like there is nothing that excites us? How do we move out of that place of despair and begin to find a new path among all the brambles and dead-fall?

Do we need to define ourselves differently? Can we cast off the importance of the professional label? Yes, that would be very helpful, but bucking the dominant paradigm when we are already feeling unworthy is pretty tough.

I'm not a big fan of trite little feel good sayings. They usually just piss me off. It pisses me off even more when they are true. "One day at a time" is one of these. It just works sometimes. If we can let go of "what about the rest of my life?!",  then sometimes we can breathe a little deeper. And that's important.

It's OK not to know what to do. It's OK not to know where to turn. It's OK to let it all go just in this moment. Break your routine. Get outside. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself be angry. Feel sorry for yourself, it's good for you. No one can mourn you like you can. Sometimes we need to spend some time letting go of all the things we thought were going to happen. Often that is heartbreaking. It doesn't get done in a day. Eventually it is the way we make room for something new.

Oh, and believe your friends when they tell you you're awesome, it's so true.

 

A Little About Grief and How We Can Help

anubis This might be a bit off topic for a massage blog, but then again perhaps not.

I want to talk about grief, and specifically how we as Americans traditionally deal with an unexpected death in our communities. I think we could do a better job.

I could write this in the abstract, but maybe it's more effective to say that this post was requested by a dear friend who lost her 12 year old son two years ago. He had an undiagnosed heart condition and collapsed at soccer camp.

The following months and years have been a nightmare, of course. How could it be otherwise? But, there are some things that might have made it less so.

Media.

It's easy to be shocked and dismayed at the way most of our news outlets treat the victims of tragedy. My friend was hounded and harassed by the media immediately following her son's death. Including but not limited to helicopters hovering over the house. This is inexcusable.

What can we do?

STOP BEING A CONSUMER OF THIS TYPE OF COVERAGE.

Understand that what those folks are doing when they conduct themselves in such a way is providing what "we" want. Our culture is addicted to "real drama". We need to understand this and ask ourselves why. Write letters to your news providers, especially the local ones. Let them know that this is not what you want. Demand a different kind of coverage that respects the privacy and personal boundaries of people who are in crisis.

The next issue is how we relate to someone we know who has been effected by something like this.

Many times over the past two years my friend has been in the grocery store or some other public place and people who know her have literally run away. Presumably their fear of saying or doing the wrong thing is so intense that they flee instead of lending support.

Death is scary. It's the biggest scariest thing there is. But how we conduct ourselves in the face of it can say a lot about who we are. People who have lost loved ones, especially unexpectedly, need the support of their communities. Not just in the few weeks following, but for years. Again, this is not something that Americans excel at. We love to band together and get something done. We are generally great in the moments following a crisis.  We drop everything, dig in, and lend a hand. We take photos so we can remember how great we did that. We feel good about being of service. All good stuff.

But, the pain doesn't end for the family when the novelty wears off. It's just beginning. Too often the families who were suffocated by support in the days and maybe even weeks after a tragedy are suddenly left alone. The unspoken message is to "move on with your life", "get over it", "don't wallow".

What can we do?

Set up a system of support that is sustainable over the long term. No one person can support a family through something like this. It's commonly heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, the sad fact is that it should take a village to lose one too. What if ten families worked together to provide a couple of meals a week, some general house cleaning, child care, whatever is needed? No one person needs to feel burdened, and the family in need feels supported over time, not just in the moment.

It's OK to say "what can I do?" It's OK to say "I don't know what to say". It's OK to be awkward and overwhelmed by how to approach a family in a time like this. It's not OK to slink away from someone you cared about so you won't be uncomfortable. I guarantee that will leave you feeling worse. Give them a call. Write a card. Show up with a bottle of wine and a bag of M and M's.

Death is not contagious. Grief is not a communicable disease. It's hard. It's messy. It doesn't always follow the rules of social conduct that help us all know what to do when. There is a way to know how to help though.

Ask.

 

(My friend Deb and her husband Ralph are amazing people, as was their son Josh. They have set up an incredible foundation that helps provide early cardiac screenings for kids. Please check out their website )

 

 

It Happens To All Of Us

  sika1-1 copy

My dog Sika is a large girl. She weighs in at about 85 lbs.

She is the happy (for us) result of a St. Bernard in heat, a determined Golden Retriever, and a weak fence. She is one of the sweetest animals I have ever known. She is not however one of the brightest. She is well trained. She has figured out that cats are sharp and unpredictable. She knows every possible word that relates to leaving the house or having a treat. She is mortally afraid of anything resembling a gun shot, including but not limited to fireworks, car backfires, doors slamming, loud tupperware lids, and both bubble gum, and bubble wrap.

She sometimes gets nervous.

When she gets nervous sometimes she forgets how big she is.

When this occurs sometimes bad things happen.

Glasses break, food spills, furniture is toppled, children and adults can get in the way. I won't even mention the cats. The phrase "bull in a china shop" applies. We sometimes call her Cow. Usually in a loving way.

My story does have a point this morning, it's about getting stuck. It's about going to places that we have been before that didn't turn out well, and yet here we go again.

Last night Sika got stuck under the bed. By stuck I mean some part of her was under there, and other parts were not and she was unable to get either all the way in or all the way out. Like Pooh in Rabbit's hole, but more panicky.

This has happened before.

We wake up with bed thrashing about, like a very focused earthquake. I worry that she will seriously hurt herself with this. It requires me to get out of bed and decide which part of her that is accessible would be best to yank on. Talking is not helpful. She is in a state. After she is extricated she shakes it off (literally) and lays down somewhat away from the offending furniture, heaving a great sigh like she has no idea why she must be subjected to such abuse.

We all have been there. We all have done things that did not benefit us in any way, that from the outside were obvious folly. Yet we were not on the outside. We could not see how this would go. Maybe we even do these things more than once. Or maybe once is enough, it depends.

If you are very lucky, you have someone in your life who knows how to pull you out. Not by telling you how dumb you are behaving, but by knowing what to say or do that will move you into a different place. Once away from that place we often have no clue as to how we got there, or why we thought it work out well.

I am blessed to have such a person in my life, and today marks the 21st year of our official union.

Thanks Anna, for continuously pulling me out when I get stuck.

"Just Back and Neck"

In the last week or so I have had two new clients who both were very clear during their intake about not having their legs worked on. One who didn't want feet, arms or hands done either. "Just back and neck" Which is fine, it's always your call, and I wrote a blog about this last year. Here it is. (go on, I'll wait here)

Curiously, they both gave me the same reason, "I don't appreciate it, so it's just a waste of time". (I did have to send my ego to daycare for a little while so I wouldn't come out with "well, when I do legs and feet it's not a waste of time, blah blah blah"

The first person to wave me off the legs was actually a try-out for a part time gig at a spa. I was working on the owner, and so didn't feel like I could argue with her too much. Though I did say "If you were just "any other client" I would feel compelled to lecture you on how everything is connected, etc". She laughed and said all her massage therapists tell her that.

The second was a new client who came in to take advantage of a free session. I did try to talk to her a bit more about how she's not just a back and neck, but a whole system that is completely tied together. How work on her legs and feet can effect how her back and neck are feeling. She was having none of it. Which is fine.

Some people have issues with certain parts of their bodies being worked on, and it's imperative that we hear that, and respect it. Often they will say something to effect of "I just don't like it". That to me is a flag that there may be a deeper issue and I need to proceed with caution.

The "waste of time" comment was a new one on me, and hearing it twice in a week was odd. Though there is good possibility that this was just their version of "I just don't like it" and I treated it more or less the same.

I did ask if they were comfortable with some compression done over the sheet, and they both said they were. I asked if it would be ok to bend their leg at the knee and work on their hips, they both agreed to that. In fact they both commented that they specifically liked that work after I had finished.

I would never work on anyone outside of what they expressed they wanted. But I think it's important to thoroughly examine what they really want from the session and to educate my clients about the benefits of incorporating the whole body. By identifying what the goals are, we know where we are going. How we get there is up to the client, and that's where the practitioner needs to be as flexible as possible. Compression, traction, stretching (passive, assisted and active), energetic work, these are all viable options if the client is open to them, and none of them involve "massage" per se.

The more tools we have in our bag, the more route options we have to get where we need to go, but the client is always in the driver's seat.

VIP, the Way It Should Be!

Venue My wife Anna and I took a trip this weekend. We drove for seven hours to go see the Indigo Girls with our daughters . Our oldest is 13 and a huge fan. We removed her from her community in Maine a couple of months ago, and she has not been nearly as nasty about that as she could have been. She earned it, and we promised, and so we went. We found that they were playing at a small venue outside of Fort Collins, North of Boulder, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains from where we are. OK, why not.

We left on Friday morning and arrived in the afternoon, road burnt and wired from the travel, but happy to have landed. Saturday morning we went into Boulder and had a great time window shopping (which is the only safe kind of shopping to do there). We had a great meal and went back to the hotel to get ready for the show. Due to a slip of attention on my part, and possibly some sneakiness from Hotwire, our hotel was not in Fort Collins as we thought, which would have been quite close to the venue, but about 1 1/2 hours away instead. Oh well, what's a little more driving at this point?

We drove, and in fact drove through a very impressive storm, complete with the kind of rain you really can't drive in, winds high enough to bend trees to the ground, and National Weather Service alerts that portended baseball-sized hail and tornadoes. It was biblical, apocalyptic, Good times. Did I say it was an outdoor show?

Happily the storm moved on as we drove and by the time we were approaching our destination it was mostly clear, with no sign of the gully-washer we had driven though ever having reached this area. We turned off the main road and headed up into a canyon, following the Poudre river, referred to and pronounced locally as the "the Pooder". After 20 minutes of winding up this road and seeing only a few other cars, I started to get excited. I love these women, I've seen them 3 other times. It's safe to say they largely wrote the soundtrack to my 25 year relationship with my wife. And yet this was no major event center we were heading to. We came around the bend, my GPS lady announced that we had arrived at our destination, and I saw a little burger shack with a wooden fence around it. This was the place?

It was indeed. We waited a few minutes for the doors to open into the courtyard, where we could see the stage and the enclosed area for the fans. It was small, and the river was right there, you could just walk into it from the yard. Soaring up behind the stage was a beautiful mountain, cradling us, a natural amphitheater.

OK, this is cool, I'm happy. We inquired about food and were put on a waiting list. We had 2 hours before the show, so we were happy to hang out. When purchasing the tickets, I opted for "VIP, Bird's eye seating". It was $4 more per ticket. We like to sit, so it seemed the thing to do. I saw the little deck, just off to the side of the small area where I imagined there would be standing and dancing. There were no seats, just an empty deck. Oh well, at least we could stand there or down below as we preferred. I decided that we should go up there to see how it felt, so up the stairs we went.

This is where it gets good.

We were approached by a security guy, who checked our wrist bands to make sure we were allowed in this exclusive area. (really, it was a 10 x 12 deck, just 5 steps up from the ground) He cleared us, all alone on our little platform, and left us there. We looked around, declared it to be ok, though seats would have been nice. Suddenly a woman appeared with comfy camp chairs and introduced herself, saying she would be taking care of us for the night. I like it when people say that to me, it makes me feel safe and looked after. It's usually not true, but I like to hear it anyway.

This time though, it was true. She set four chairs up, right up at the front of the deck, and said she would go check on our table. She would let us know when it was ready. She would save our seats for us until we came back. She would run a tab for us. Would we like anything while we waited? Holy crap. This is what $4 got me? While the other folks were filing in, jockeying for a spot on ground, leaving at least one member to defend their territory while drinks and food were fetched, we were cared for. Our places were reserved, we left and had dinner, we came back. We were no longer alone on the deck, but our front row seats were waiting for us. we had drinks. We had a great view not only of the stage, but of the mountains and the river. The sun had come out and was slowly slipping behind the hills. My daughter, who doesn't smile much lately (in a completely age-appropriate way) was happy. She felt special, we all did.

Of course, we all ended up down with the throng in front of the stage by the end of the show, and it was a great concert. My girls' first concert.

This is how I want my clients to feel when they come see me. Cared for, special, listened to. They will not receive a cookie-cutter massage. They will not be met by a stiffly polite and largely indifferent practitioner. They will be remembered upon their second and subsequent visits. Their preferences will be noted and followed through with. They will build a relationship with me so that as time goes on and their needs change, their care will shift with them. They are all VIPs to me, every one, every time, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

 

Why I Don't Know What Reiki is, and Why it Doesn't Matter

Yesterday I wrote about the massage industry and their inclusion of energetic modalities. This is one of those posts in which I could end up alienating people on both sides of a disagreement, leaving me all alone on my Island of How Rowan Sees the World.

So be it, I like it here.

As I said yesterday, I am a Reiki Master/Teacher. I have experienced the benefits of Reiki many times, both first-hand and with clients. I have taught many Reiki classes and helped others become Reiki practitioners.

What is Reiki?

I don't know.  (my apologies to my Reiki teachers, keep reading please)

I could talk about "Universal Life Force Energy", I could say that this energy does not come from me, but through me, I could just say what I usually say these days, which is that it's just Love. But I don't really know what it is. You may wonder how I could teach something that I don't understand. That's a valid point, and one of the reasons that, as I said yesterday, I don't believe that it belongs in a massage therapy curriculum.

Here is what I do know, and why I think Reiki has made me a much better massage therapist...

Something happens when we intentionally focus on helping another person. When we lay that person down and give them permission to just let go, and they give us permission to help, something happens. There is something very powerful about holding space for someone in this way. Whether or not we are effecting their energy field is irrelevant. Whether we are channeling something from another source or not doesn't matter. What matters is that our client feels safe. They are allowing a space for themselves to shift something that is not in balance. We are there to look after them, to care for them while they do whatever it is that they feel needs to be done. This is what I taught my students. You can call it whatever you like, and you can argue forever about what that is, but every massage therapist that reads this, even the super duper evidence-based clinicians know what I'm talking about. It's about the part that we don't understand but that we nurture anyway. We know there is more to our work than the manual manipulation of tissue and limbs. There is an emotional component, a loving component. That moment when you cradle a head in your hands and connect. When you see your client release their shoulders into the table and you know they have shifted to a truly relaxed place. It's not magical, but it is intangible, and it's what sets us apart from most other professions. We don't need Reiki training to turn out good massage therapists. We do however need training that speaks to the crucial importance of caring for our clients. We need training that focuses on the immense trust that our clients place in us and how not to ever betray that. We need to know how to help our clients through emotional breakdowns, panic attacks and the sudden surfacing of repressed memories. We need to understand that sometimes a still hand is more powerful than a massage stroke. There are lots of ways to talk about this, from the esoteric focus on energy fields to the evidence-based proprioceptive reflex. The language should be appropriate to the field of study.

It might be valuable to keep in mind that in most fields of study that involve the human body, what is considered "real" is constantly shifting. If we had a less monetary focus on health care in this country, I believe we would see more information sooner, especially when it contradicts what we have held to be true for a significant period of time, or if it calls into question a lucrative pharmaceutical.

Get more than one glass of wine into a neurosurgeon and ask about her work. She will most likely start on about how much we guess about, how much of what she does works, but she doesn't know why. These are the realities of working with the human body, but that's not the information she leads with when seeking greater inclusion into an evidence-based group of practitioners. It's not what she puts in her grant requests. It's not the argument she uses when lobbying for better positioning with insurance companies. And it shouldn't be ours either.

Make sure that when a student of massage therapy graduates from any approved school in this country they know their gluteal tuberosity from their olecranon process. Keep the mystery, revel in the unknown, rejoice in the intangible beauty of what we do. Take a Reiki class for Pete's sake. But do it on your own time. Recognize it as something that can be incorporated into your practice if you like, but it is not massage therapy, and shouldn't be part of the training. Rather, lets take what's relevant to massage from these modalities, because they have very important things to teach us.

 

 

 

 

But Enough About You...

  Hi,

Let's talk about me. It's been a big year, I have some things to share. (we'll get back to you and all your wonderfulness tomorrow, I promise)

At the end of May Anna and I started driving west from the coast of Maine (that's pretty far east for those of you keeping track at home) in a big U-Haul truck, towing a car. Strategically placed in the car we were towing were our three cats. They may have been yowling some, I really couldn't say. (before I get a PETA cross burned on my lawn, I should say that we had sun shades up, and windows down, and a remote temperature sensor so we could tell from the truck how hot it was back there) It's safe to say it wasn't the best week of their lives, but then again, it was no bed of roses on our end either. We also had our 85lb. dog up in the cab of the truck with us. Needless to say it was just the kind of blissful second honeymoon kind of trip that we hoped it would be. (did I mention the 70 MPH winds and tornado warnings all across Oklahoma and Texas? Did I mention that the rig I was driving was not exactly aerodynamic?)

Anyhoo, six days later we arrived in Bayfield Colorado. We unpacked, we waited for my saint of a mother-in-law to deliver our girls. (which she did, along with her high school chum and a three part skit they wrote on the way and performed for us on arrival. Amazing)

We have been slowly settling in. The boxes are more or less gone now. We know where to find groceries.  Anna gets up at 5:30 every morning and drives for an hour and a quarter, does her part to save her little corner of the world, then she drives back, arriving exactly 12 hours later. We had two months together while waiting for our licensure to come through. Lazy mornings, walks with the dog, planting the garden, we even went to the movies a few times. I guess that was really the honeymoon, and we needed it, and it was good. But I miss her now.

I have a new massage studio set up, I even have a gig working at a local day spa a couple of days a week. I have a couple of clients that I love working with, and they are helping to spread the word that coming to see me might be a great idea. Each week there are new faces at my door and on my table.

We miss Maine. We miss our friends. We miss knowing half of the faces at the grocery store. (OK, I'll admit there are times when I really like not seeing anyone I know) But we're ready for some new friends, and some visits from our old ones.

We love it here. The mountains are amazing, the sky is huge, the people are friendly. We're learning about life at 7,000 ft. We're learning about drought.  We're learning that when we see the word "Florida" referring to a river or a street that it's pronounced with a hard E, Floreeda, the Spanish pronunciation. We're learning to revel in the rain when it comes, which is rare. Sometimes when it does the air smells like sage, which smells like home now. Ouray

A Flag, a Prayer, and Gust of Wind

I'm looking out at the prayer flags hung over my garden. I love the concept of the prayer flag. (and in this case the flapping just might deter the deer from lunching on my greens, but that's a beautiful latent function. I would hang them anyway) This idea that one can place an intention, a hope, a desire, a need, (call it a prayer if you like) onto these small blocks of fabric, and then, over time, as the threads drift away that prayer is lifted up into the universe.

I like that.

I also like that each time I see these flags, because the process of fully transmitting the physical matter into the universe takes time, it reminds me of my original intention. It reinforces it and asks me to check in about what I am doing today to make this prayer happen. I like the phrase "Trust in Allah but tie up your camel".

Faith is important, even crucial, but in general it's up to us to make the thing happen.

Without getting too Hallmark on you, I might suggest that each of us is like a small prayer flag. We move about the world, losing threads one by one to the people and situations that end up defining us. Sometimes they are given freely, a gift of comfort, of understanding, of support, of Love. Other times they are ripped from us in ways that feel violent and unjust, and only in hindsight do we see that it could not have been any other way. That piece of us needed to let go in that way. More often they float off and leave a subtle trace of our essence, a memory and maybe even an inspiration. A token of the best of us that we have to give. They get picked up and woven into other people's lives. Into their own nests, into their own flags.

Just like those squares of color floating over my garden this morning, we can place intention on our own essence.

What will you leave behind as you move though the world today?Prayer-Flags-5-Flag-Set-(2320)

Self Care - The Banana and the Two Minute Stretch

What does "self-care" mean? Well, if you figured out how to turn on your computer and read what's on the screen, you probably can reason this one out on your own. So a better question might be "Why is it so hard to do the things that we know make us feel better?"

It's really not the individual things on the list that are difficult. It's changing our routines that is the struggle.

In general we are creatures of habit, and inside our little rituals that we do every day, there is safety. We know what this or that will feel like, taste like, sound like, etc. They are the small things that we can control in a world where many of us feel out of control.

But how often do we really pay attention to how something feels in our bodies? That piece of chocolate at 3pm gives you a little boost, both emotionally and physically. You feel like it helps to move you through that part of your day. Maybe it really is the best thing you can have. But maybe replacing it with a banana for a week and really paying attention to how that feels might be worth trying out.

Many people, especially those who sit in front of a computer most of the day, are in constant pain. They have accepted this as a part of deal. Imagine though if you were not in pain. How would that impact all the other parts of your life? Would you be calmer, more pleasant to your spouse and kids? Would you be more active? Would you be more productive?

Yes.

What if you got out of your chair for Two minutes every hour and just did some simple movements. Bend down and let your head and arms hang, stand back up and stretch back, looking up at the ceiling. Do some gentle spinal twists, roll your head around on your neck.

Two minutes. (that's a small fraction of the time you spend checking your Facebook page per hour)

For one week, two minutes of stretching and a banana instead of a sweet. Then just notice. It's free, it's simple, and you have nothing to lose but your discomfort.

Let me know how it goes.

Just Own It

There are times that, despite our best intentions and efforts, we just can't deliver. It's a hard thing, to have promised something, even to ourselves, and then find that we cannot make good on it. It happens to us all. What do you do with that?

Generally there are two courses of action.

The first is to make excuses.

This includes blaming others:

"Oh well, I would have had it done, but she didn't get me the thing I needed, and she said I would have it, and I couldn't do it without that, so it's really not my fault".

Pleading ignorance:

"You never said that was due today!"

And the ever popular "You don't really need that, it's not a big deal"

The other course of action is to own up to the fact that you screwed up.

This isn't as popular as the other options, but I would like to see it embraced a bit more. I could launch into a long-winded rant on the lack of accountability in general among the American public and how I think this is a shift that started in the 1950's alongside corporate ownership of our government and the lack of transparency on all levels that trickled down from it. BUT, I'm on vacation in Florida (from snowy, icy, cold, blustery MAINE) and I need to go stroll on the beach with my wife and I just don't have time today for that.

So, let me just leave you with this.

Own your shit.

When you screw up, disappoint, fail to deliver or just forget...just own that. Not in a "YA, I SCREWED UP! WHAT? OH, LIKE YOU NEVER SCREW UP?!" kind of way, but in a sincere, apologetic, "Ok, I did drop the ball here, and I'm sorry about that. You have every right to be frustrated. How can I move forward with you in a way that keeps the trust, respect and warm fuzzies that we have between us intact?"

In the long run, this is the better choice. We all mess up, sometimes in little ways, sometimes in gigantic life changing bad choices or missed details. Almost always the emotions die down and the person you screwed will reflect on how you handled it. That's where the real reckoning happens.

So let's all take one giant step forward on the maturity board. Stop behaving like the kid with blueberry all over their face who looks into their parent's eyes and insists they haven't been dipping in to the pie.

pie face

Oh, and you may find that you like yourself better this way. You know the truth, own it and move on and stop strangling yourself with your own rope.

An "Awkward" Age?

My daughter received the first phase of her orthodontia adventure last week. She had one apparatus placed on her lower teeth, a lip bumper. It's a kind of an internal face mask that makes her look like she's taken up chewing tobacco, minus the spitting. On the top teeth she has a more medieval kind of thing that we need to crank on every other day. Like a tiny torture rack for her mouth. My wife and I were commenting the other day on the unfairness of taking a human at the most baffling and uncomfortable possible age, a time when just being in your body feels like a betrayal of some sort, and then inserting items in your mouth that hurt, make you talk funny, and prevent you from eating all of the most fun foods.

She's been a rock star through this. She couldn't eat solid food for three days, she came down with a nasty head cold the day this work got done, all in all it was a miserable week. One of the things I admire most about my daughter is her ability to just put her head down and move through something unpleasant. She is the more fearful of our two girls, the least likely to choose to do something she hasn't done before, the one that hangs at the back of the pack. And yet, when a situation is thrust upon her, when there is no choice to be made, she just sucks it up and keeps on swimming. Among other things, this makes her an exceptional traveling companion. She'll get quiet, almost to the point of disappearing, but she's with you and she stays with you until you come out the other side. I like that.

Sometimes you see things in your kids that make you feel like they're gonna be OK. For me it's not so much grades in school or sports trophies. It's major personality traits, and habits that seem like they have been solidly woven into the fabric of who they are. In her case these include an addiction to reading, a keen eye for the weirdness of what we as a society have chosen to deem "normal", and the ability to just go deep and wait out a difficult moment. Maybe I had something to do with this, maybe it's just who she is. It doesn't matter to me at all how these things came to make up a part of her. It just makes me smile to see it.

 

I'm proud and delighted to have kids that I actually like as human beings. Real individual people that I would most likely choose to hang out with, even of they weren't my kids. They say it's an "awkward age". I disagree. I think it's our own discomfort with ourselves that feels awkward. The deeper our comfort level with our own bodies, past traumas, present dramas and future prospects, the less awkward this age group feels to us. They have great things to teach us, if we can be brave enough to take on the lesson.

 

 

The War Hammer and the Cup of Tea

New Year's Eve has long stopped being an opportunity to party all night long for me. I don't think I've purposely seen a midnight in 12 years. ( As I said to a friend recently regarding the midnight hour, "If no one in the house is throwing up, I'm not awake") The last one I remember was the totally underwhelming Y2K thing. My partner Anna was on the couch, two weeks away from giving birth to our first daughter Maya. She had been told in no uncertain terms to stay down, bed rest, keep that baby in. So a friend of ours and I went outside to build a little fire to welcome in the new year and came disturbing close to burning the house down. (did you know that garden hoses when left outside in the winter become non-functional? True.) Anyway, the house didn't burn, Maya was born 17 days later, and to my knowledge no planes dropped from the sky due to computer error. January 1, 2000 came right on schedule with hangovers, sunrises, love won, love lost, and all the rest.

Fast forward thirteen years later and we have seemingly dodged another apocalyptic bullet. So what's next? I'm a firm believer in new days. We all need them, and sometimes the big ones on the calendar just aren't where and when we need them. New year's day is a great opportunity to take stock, and you have lots of company. Everyone is doing it. It's the first day of the rest of your life! Let's get the healing done! Let's lose the weight, the bad habits, the negativity, (along with the sweaters we received under the tree that we will never wear). We'll get to that just after we sober up and finish off the goodies we made last night. After all, it wouldn't do to waste them.

I have a suggestion. Rather than confronting yourself once a year with the War Hammer of Judgement, wielded in a two-fisted grip, try checking in more often with a cup of tea and a lot more compassion. Try making small changes by paying closer attention to the myriad of choices you make each day. There is value in the Large-Scale Revue. Sometimes it comes on a day like today, with lots of company. It's been stalking you since November. You knew it was coming for you. Other times it sneaks up on you. Maybe you find yourself alone in the wee hours of the morning surveying what just yesterday seemed to be a not-perfect-but-acceptable life, and now looks like a village in ruin. Homes burned out, the well poisoned, the horses let out of the barn.

Ugh.

OK, remember this is the Large-Scale Revue, this one can hurt sometimes, then again, maybe you see the good. Maybe you have worked hard and made some really great decisions this year, maybe you can be proud of who you are and where you're at. If so, good for you, carry on, you rock! If not, be gentle. Make the tea, have a seat, take a really deep breath. Let the lessons come without judgement, it's not easy, but it's possible, and it's a lot more constructive. Bring it back to the small stuff. We're told these are the things not to sweat. BUT, that doesn't mean they are not important. I would argue that the small decisions we make each day is what will make or break us by the end of the year. making huge changes can feel great, but they seldom stick. Small changes aren't sexy, they don't make for great conversation, and they can be harder in some ways to track. But they have the potential to change your life in a much more dramatic, positive and meaningful way than jumping out of a plane or deciding that you really aren't too old to try peyote. (you are, by the way) When you wake up the next day from making that huge decision, you're still the person you were yesterday, and keeping that giant ball of energy moving in front of you can take a lot out of you.

More often than not, change happens intentionally and in small pieces. Tea is optional, cookies help too. And you can do it every day.

Losing Track

Sometimes we hurt others. That's part of being human. Sometimes we do this intentionally, other times it's totally unforeseen. Then there are the times that we lose ourselves. It happens slowly, gradually, so we might not even notice if we aren't paying close attention. It's the paying attention part that really matters here. When we stop checking in about who we are and how we are conducting ourselves, we leave ourselves open, and not necessarily in a good way. We can start telling ourselves stories about what's not working for us. About who's fault that is, and about how it might be better if some of the other people in our lives were just a little different. When you stop hearing yourself in these stories. When how you might take responsibility for your own happiness is curiously absent, that's when you need to pay very close attention. The best and most dangerous thing about the human mind is our ability to believe what we keep saying to ourselves. This can be very beneficial. It can help us to shift into a healthier, happier place. To motivate, to move on after trauma, to inspire. It can also cause us to lose track of what is truly important. Be careful about the stories you tell yourself, check in with people in your lives that you trust, and more than one or two. If you consistently hear from them that these stories are true and helpful, then take them to heart, allow them to fill you up. If you hear caution, if you hear that these stories seem divergent from who they know you to be, or not in the best interest of you and the one's you love, then listen to that. See what's missing. Dig deep, then dig deeper. The life you save could be your own.  

 

The Double Doors

(Post #28 in the 31 in 31 blog challenge, read more about it here)

This is the time of year that I put the new class list together for the Wellness Room (our awesome high school program that allows kids to get bodywork, read more about it here, go ahead, I'll wait)

There are about 185 new freshman this year, and as I typed their names into the data base my mind drifted back to my first day in high school. (actually, I was in 7th grade. Our school was 7-12) It was overwhelming, scary, exciting, humbling (like we need more of that when we're 12) and just intense in every way. For many of these kids they are coming from small k-8 schools where they have been top dog for at least a year, and likely felt like the masters of their domain for the the last two or three. That changes for them today, their first day of 9th grade at the high school. They are folded in with four other towns, so most of the kids in their own class they won't know. They are suddenly at the bottom of the heap, being the youngest students in the school. It takes herculean courage just to walk in the door, and some of them will need a few trial runs before they actually get through it, but almost all of them will, and they'll keep coming back. Yes, they have to, and that's why they do, but they are also learning one of the most valuable lessons in life. Fear can be worked with. Fear can be faced, taken in, and overcome. 

That set of double doors on the school won't be the last scary door for them. In fact, it is my hope for them that they will find themselves in front of scary doors their whole life long. That they will take a deep breath, they will will themselves forward when everything in their body is telling them to run, and they will grab that handle and pull. When we step through, we leave fully half the fear on the other side of that door, and the rest is put on notice.

Where's your next set of double doors?