Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Belated but not belabored thanks

  • Thanks to the Italian blood in my family that turns each large gathering into a loud, passionate and loving brawl.
  • Thanks to the little evil geniuses, princesses and brats (both of the world and of my clan) for not being mine.
  • Thanks to the elders and the elders' elders for showing us one way and letting us wander off in another.
  • Thanks to the quiet, rainy home to which I will always return.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Woo-Woo versus Screw You

I recently spent four days in a certification program in massage that serves the elderly, ill and dying.  Compared to the detailed techniques of angle, pressure and position I've acquired in other workshops, this work is much more about being focused on the moment, learning to communicate and being open to unpredictability.  It's about facing the fears most of us have about our own mortality and the kind of lives we may lead in our old age.  In other words, this workshop was a wonderful, difficult doozy of an experience.

I don't, in general, do well with any activity or language that veers toward the spiritual and in particular, the wide and varied realm of new age beliefs.  I don't like the packaging of these rituals, the blurry language and blurry thought.  I don't like how it simplifies the world into bullet points or spirit cards or mantras.  It in no way enhances my life or deepens my experience of the world.  It's just doesn't work for me.

At this workshop we started every 10 hour day "in circle."  As soon as I heard that term, a little cold steel cage went up around all my more vulnerable spots:  my brain, my heart.  At the end of every day we did a variety of activities to enhance our personal growth.  I felt the bitterness snake through my body.  But here's the thing – it's really, really hard to stay hardened against a group of people willing to work with this population.  It's really, really hard to do this kind of massage work with any kind of judgment distracting you from the person you're with.  And so I had to find a way to move through my resistance and get what I could from it without cynicism or hate.

What finally worked was this:  On  my last day in the health center where we were visiting and working with the patients, I had the opportunity to work with a woman I'll called May.  I don't know May's diagnosis but the first time I worked with her during the Level One training, she was almost entirely non-verbal and very stiff.  This time, she exhibited a series of repetitive motions and was very talkative, though she had aphasia so her words were jumbled or non-sensical for the most part.  As I tried to enter her world on her terms, I became fascinated by the way she used language.  A white sweater she asked me for became a "white water fall" in which she wanted me to hide my hands. Her verbal tics were playful and fun: "choosy, cheesy, chintzy," she said.

I suddenly realized that it wasn't that I had no interest in enhancing my life or deepening my experience of the world.  I simply already had a way of doing this that worked for me:  Language and story.  In this case it was the unexpected language May shared with me, but it's also this story that I can tell and all the other stories that I'm still working on telling.  All the stories out there to hear.

I will never fully embrace the woo-woo or completely abandon the screw you, but I'm beginning to see a way to balance the two.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Politics sucks but the leaves sure are pretty.

As if nature understood that we needed a balm for our political headaches, we are offered this:  one last sip of summer, windows knocked open and the streets alive with the applause of bright leaves.  None of this is enough to make me forget the gains of the willfully ignorant and blatantly deceitful in this latest election, but it is a reminder that beauty can be blind to politics and a note of gentleness can ease the pain of change.