by David Lauterstein
The recent elections’ results continue to be a clarion call. Perhaps the most important message is that the world has reached a new limit of how far we can proceed with only the education of the mind. Because as long as mental prowess is the main focus of our education, the heart is left behind. Abandoned, the undereducated heart remains comparatively barbaric. So while we think we are proceeding intelligently, we are actually sustaining comparatively ever-greater emotional lack of development. As long as unchecked mental emphasis dominates our education, we are in ever-increasing danger of barbaric action.
The unexamined desire for revenge remains in the heart of fundamentalists of all persuasion. Prejudice and genocide are imbedded in violent, revengeful counter attacks. Sexual hypocrisy, exposed throughout the Catholic priesthood, points to the contrasting sweetness and truth within most religious doctrines, alongside the sourness of, again and again, the failure to behave in concert with those ideals. Corporate greed for evermore income with little regard for ethics or social impact is certainly one of the taproots of heartless action – witness the banking scandals. And real people suffer everyday from politicians’ allegiance to the self-interest of corporate profiteers – enabling, for example, politicians to deny global warming as a fact and not take action to assure a livable world for our descendants.
What do these point to? A group heart that is stunted! Is there any more desperate need than the education of the human heart?
It is said, “to be (a blues singer) you don’t have to play the guitar brilliantly or have a beautiful singing voice – blues singers don’t, as a rule – you have to be open enough about your emotions to make them important to whoever happens to be listening. The more direct the path from your heart to your fingers and throat, the better you are.” The corollary holds true for the kinds of education and touch we need, the more direct the path from one heart to another’s, the deeper the learning.
How do we educate the part of us beyond the mind? Well, my experience is that massage is possibly the best way. The experience of receiving and giving high quality touch is an experience that largely bypasses the thinking mind. High touch is direct and loving. It reminds us that there is a world out there and in here, with which we must reconnect. We are alive! This is such a fundamental miracle that it should give us occasion to pause in wonder each day. Of all the particles and waves in the universe how unlikely that they should coalesce in planetary life and equally in your own conscious, living breathing self!
To evoke the experience of this unlikely embodied soul with kindness and skill is the heart of massage therapy and teaching. When our students encounter the kindness and skill of our teachers, when they touch with clarity and compassion, we see again and again, a dramatic and rapid evolution. And most of the students say it with eyes wide with wonder – “Boy, everybody should learn this!!!” Convincing the hard-hearted with contrary opinions is just about impossible. But touching the hard-hearted (and we all have some of this hardening) and watch what often happens almost all at once. They begin to relax. They become more balanced in their nervous system, dropping out of the fight or flight response. They become more kind to themselves because they are being treated more kindly. They remember that the greatest gift is simply being alive. They drop the focus on acquiring things and gratification from without. They drop the fixations of rage, envy, hopelessness, and their excessively mental emphasis. They regain an experience of their health and their wholeness in just an hour that seems to last an eternity. They realize that they had somehow lost touch with their inner worth and health. Often there is a rededication to remembering the health that lives within each of us – we just have to be aware that wholeness is always there.
Reason plays a secondary role in the heart’s evolution. Science, reason’s handmaiden, does even not recognize the existence of spirit! Art, while compelling, sends a rather general message. But massage is an art (based on the science of the body) and a spiritual exercise that uses as its medium not of tones or strokes of paint, but uses the very substance of life itself, the individual person, with their unique tissues, thoughts, and feelings as the medium. Massage is manual evolution. The only art truly and desperately needed now is the art of evolution. How can we as a people make as much progress in the human heart as we have with, say, computers? Isn’t it obvious how necessary this next evolutionary step is?
As they explore anatomy and massage and the psychophysiology of stress, our students and clients truly appreciate the deep, original meaning of kindness. Beyond all our differences, we are the same “kind”, we are “kin.” This lesson is communicated to some extent in every massage. The kinship of all life is something that is immediately known by the enlivened heart.
We can no longer proceed as a civilization without committing to advances in kindness. These advances include the awareness that all feelings are at one time or another common to all of us. Virulent hatreds, the hunger for power, feelings of uncontainable lust – these are not just the property of our villains any more than great love, courage, ferocious loyalty and compassion are just for heroes. And in each of us as well live the unique mixtures of feeling that take time and insight to sort out – feelings, like nutrients, are rarely unmixed.
The key to advanced kindness is total compassion toward the feelings we have and a vast, measured thoughtfulness prerequisite to our acting, so that both reason and feeling inform our responses. These advances ultimately need to be made part of the everyday challenges within our elementary and secondary schools, colleges and adult education. However, the only educational context in which I see this happening is in the few holistically-oriented massage, yoga, or psychotherapy training programs. We are exploring a model for the education of the future.
Receiving, giving, and learning about skilled, compassionate touch is one of the keys to a healthy world. In this world the heart is given a chance to catch up to the mind. In this world we recognize that what we know “by heart” is equally or more true than what we know with our head alone. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” has changed from being a subcultural sentiment to a socio-political imperative. Touch, being the most direct way to actualize love in the physical world, is the key that opens the door to the next step in human evolution.