Some weeks ago I had a unpredictable accident. I had come out of a yoga class with my wife and as we walked down a dark street, I stepped off the curb to get to our car, struck my toe on a defect in the road, and suddenly fell flat on my face, breaking three of my upper front incisors. It’s been a fairly unwelcome, but fascinating process getting the dental work. Equally and a bit surprisingly, it’s also been challenging handing the feelings that have accompanied the injury and the subsequent dental treatment.
I forget sometimes, for optimum healing, that people’s bodily tensions and injuries give rise to feelings, some of which can be less acknowledged yet even more challenging than the injury itself.
In fact, now I think that it is almost weird that so many people come for massage therapy, like I did for the dentistry, with just the desire to be fixed – and no interest or even awareness that to be finished with the healing process we need to process the emotions that accompany our physical pain and tension, not just “get over it”.
When we are injured a whole host of feelings may arise. Many of them can relate to our “ancestral chi”, that is, feelings and world-views have been passed on to us from our families and they from their families, as family constellation theory points out. I, for instance, have “inherited” from my Jewish parents and ancestors, a feeing of misery that can easily be re-triggered. Whenever I’m having a hard time, that misery with tenacity keeps washing over me
Of course, it is not in our scope of massage therapy, to put ourselves in the role of psychotherapist and to have the person process the feelings that may be coming up around their dis-ease, tension and injuries in our office. At the same time, we may be the only person they will see after the onset of their back pain, neck strain, post-dental work, headaches, operation, etc. It is our job to give expert treatment, to care, and to give information or refer them to information from other professionals to facilitate their thorough healing from their tension, injury, and disease.
So, at the least, we need work with compassion and the knowledge that often the person may not be processing their feelings around having this problem. We can certainly find a “tone of touch” that allows for their feelings. For instance, we can use slow and gentle strokes for the person to really feel care through touch, and that may in turn reinforce their compassion for themselves. We can affirm when they inadvertently express the emotions they had or are having, that all these feelings are normal. We can say just as a scar after a cut needs to form then be resolved in the skin, so challenging emotions and a bit of emotional chaos or scarring are way stations along the path to greater wellness.
I suggest having a self-help paper you can give them which can help the person feel better not only physically but also emotionally and mentally.
Fortunately in some respects, so much of our tension is held unconsciously. Thus, very often, our emotional tension resolves unconsciously over time without our ever becoming conscious of it. Often our dreaming, for instance, successfully processes and sorts out unresolved tensions in our lives while we are asleep! Just so, while we touch, it is useful to realize the autonomic accompaniments to our trauma may live within our bodymind and that caring and understanding touch can have dramatic impact on resolving these directly through autonomic impact of our pressure, warmth, rhythm, gentle conversation sometimes, tone of voice, tone of touch, etc. Often no words are needed. As Ashley Montagu reminded us in his book Touching “for 99.9% of our mamallian journey there were no words”. To talk to the deepest parts of each other, touch sometimes communicates better than words.
Often it is love we are missing along this journey. Sadly, self-hatred, impatience, irritation, anger, grief, fear and any combination of these can take the place of love. What touch will most help restore the person’s compassion for themselves and help them deal compassionately with the negative feelings that may arise?
There is no simple answer to this. However, as long as we ask ourselves useful questions, we can help. How can I as a massage therapist best understand this person’s unique problem and their psychophysical response to it? How can I best respond to that person, within the scope of massage therapy, in the most effective manner, facilitating healing on the physical, emotional and mental level?
Ultimately, of course, it is the person who does the work of healing. How do we empower the person to let love be the great healer that it is? How can they themselves meet the natural and difficult feelings that accompany injury, tension and disease? Just like break-ups in relationships, when done well, these feelings teach us extremely valuable lessons and can take us to a new level of awareness in life. Every episode of tension, injury and disease and the healing from those can take us to a higher place. We emerge from the difficulty not just without the problem, but ideally we end up at a higher level of living as a result of how we dealt with the problem and what we learned unconsciously and conscious from that process.
Healing is not just restoration of normality. At its best it results in an evolution of our clients’ self-healing capacity. At its best these problems we have become touch stones, existential amulets, that add meaning to our lives.