November 9, 2019

Life Lessons from my Massage Mentor: Can you dance? Cradle a baby? Do you offer your Love Freely?

I am a yoga teacher, a massage therapist, and a musician.

I sunk into this chapter of my life after spending 20 years as a VP in corporate America.

My former life was one of competitiveness, accountability, setting challenging goals, then striving to meet those goals. This livelihood served me well during my 30s and 40s, but as I was facing my 50th birthday, I wanted to create a livelihood that would allow me to bring more of the fullness of my spirit into my work.

As I was contemplating how I would craft this new vision of my livelihood, I met a special person who mentored me into my career as a body worker.

I went to school to become a certified massage therapist, but what I learned in school was perfunctory. In contrast, the lessons I learned from my mentor were profound and made a deep impact not only on my massage practice, but on my life.

I told him I wanted to be the best therapist I could, so I could serve my clients in a comprehensive and memorable way. I wanted to connect, not just with their physical body, but with the depth of their entire being.

As a reply to my goal, here’s what he said:

“Can you dance?”

“Can you cradle a baby?”

“Do you offer your love freely?”

He told me that engaging with a person on the massage table was like doing a delicate dance. There needed to be a fluidity to the dance, an anticipation of each next step. There needed to be a sensitivity to the knowledge that I was leading the dance, and at the same time, an openness to follow as the subtle cues of the body would lead.

He taught me that when I touched a body, I must touch it with the sensitivity I would use in touching a sleeping infant that I didn’t want to awaken. He taught me that as I offered my hands to an arm or a leg, that I should do so as if that part of the body was a baby that I was tenderly cradling.

He taught me that my job was not just to offer a therapeutic treatment to the body, but to touch the person’s entire being with love. He taught me that touch was sacred, that the exchange between a person receiving a massage and the person giving it was a contract of deep trust and that I must always honor that. To be able to offer something as precious as love through our hands, as the instrument of giving, he said, was a practice that would bless me as much as it blessed my clients.

I contemplated these simple questions, and practiced using these techniques with each client I served. And I have, indeed, been blessed beyond measure. My massage practice thrived and I have been doing this beautiful dance for 20 years now.

Can you dance? Can you cradle a baby? Do you offer your love freely?

I came to understand that the lessons I learned from my mentor were not just applicable to my massage table. I learned to ask these questions as I moved through my life. I found them to be valuable in my relationships with people, with animals, with the earth, and most importantly, with myself.

As I move through my day, am I moving rigidly? Do I feel unbalanced? Not centered? Or can I move as though I’m dancing? As I walk, am I stiff and constricted? As I sit, do I flop onto the chair or do I sit slowly and gracefully as though I am Margot Fonteyn, gliding to a seat as Juliet in the infamous ballet she danced with Nureyev?

If I’m feeling more like Shrek than Fonteyn, what can I do about it? Perhaps I can go for a long walk to create some length in my legs. I can go to my mat and practice my yoga. I can stretch. The more I become aware of how my body holds itself, how it moves, the more I can choose to dance instead of stomp my way through the day.

How do I hold myself when I’m feeling challenged with sadness or anger or hurt feelings? Do I call myself stupid? Do I ridicule myself for my feelings? Or do I soothe myself as I would a precious infant? Do I know how to self-soothe? Do I know how to change my self-talk so that it sounds more like cooing at a baby than growling like an angry dog?

As I recognize myself as an inhabitant of our Mother Earth, how do I treat her? Am I respectful of my walk on this earth? Do I walk softly or do I walk in haste, leaving a huge footprint that will ill-affect generations to come? Can I treat the earth and all of her inhabitants as respectfully as I would that sleeping infant?

What about love? When I meet others, can I meet them with curiosity rather than judgment? Can I ask about, and be empathetic in, hearing the stories of their life? Can I turn the phone off, discard the small talk, and sink deeply into conversation? Do I recognize that each encounter with another can be a contract of deep trust, an engagement of sohbet (deep listening and transmission of the heart)? Can I encourage these types of conversations in lieu of shallow, surface exchanges? Do I honor love as the greatest of all virtues and live my life striving to transmit love in every interaction?

Can you dance? Can you cradle a baby? Do you offer your love freely?

I invite you to contemplate these questions as they relate to your life.

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