I drew a chair up to the head of the table. My client's eyes were closed, and her face was beatific. (Do people have any idea how beautiful they become, after twenty minutes or so? I don't think so.) I slid my hands under her shoulders and lifted, and gently rocked them from side to side: her head lolled slightly, back and forth, loosely and easily. That's what I like to see.
Her eyes opened, and she asked, “what's the benefit of that?” Not in a snarky way, but like someone who can see something's important but can't quite see why.
“I haven't the faintest idea,” I said, and she laughed.
“I could make something up,” I said. “I could say, 'this is what you do all day, hunch your shoulders forward, and if I do it for you, then you can finally see it and let go of it.' How's that?”
She laughed again. We come from the same Buddhist tradition, one that values skepticism about the stories and explanations we're constantly manufacturing. Other clients are not so happy with my reluctance to tell a story. They want me to have a whole connected, consistent narrative about the healing journey we're on, complete with heroes and villains, risks and triumphs, critical turning points and grand accomplishments. I won't do it. Even though it has some real therapeutic value, at least in the short term. In the long term, though, it's just more of the same, more that binds us to the wheel. It's how we got in this mess in the first place: by believing our own stories.
No. Of course I lift the shoulders for a reason, for dozens of reasons. One being that I would like someone to be doing it to me, right now. I take a deep breath, and exhale slowly as I lower them again, and something unlocks in me, something deeper than scapulae or trapezius: something in the heart that imagines them, and imagines hers – both our hearts, not that they're two separate things at this point.
That's another story, of course, and I treat it like all the others: something to acknowledge, with a brief salute, as it flickers by. No need to believe any of them or hold on to any of them. We have the real shoulders and the real hands: something deeper and better than all the stories in the world.