March 30, 2019

Handwritten Massage

Tracy Walton, one of the most thoughtful people who writes about massage, considered a passage she wrote twenty years ago, and pondered whether she could still endorse it:

Handwritten Massage

She decided she could, that she did. But in mulling it over, and thinking about what massage as a business and a medical intervention has become, she wonders: is this what we wanted? Is this really what we were trying to create?

Reading Tracy's post made me wonder something more immediate and more personal: how well have I kept my own practice aligned with what I am trying to do in the world? How hard have I even tried? And have I ever really thought it out? The anxiety of "can I actually make this work?" and the day to day business of getting a practice off the ground have carried me along -- in my case, for twelve years. The work itself is absorbing and joyful. My practice is a personal and practical success. But what am I succeeding at?

I wanted to be my own master, choose my own hours, make my own rules: and my life has been much happier and calmer since I achieved that. I also wanted a life that encouraged -- demanded -- a daily cultivation of compassion. I wanted, in Tracy's words, "to build a bridge that may heal us both." Have I done that? Well, in some ways.

This is where the larger context of massage as business, massage as medical intervention, comes into play. I don't actually get to set my own rules (nobody does.) Whatever I do, I'm working with my clients' expectations, and I'm working within the laws and customs governing massage here in my corner of the world. By local expectation, law, and custom, massage is a business, selling a personal service, as a hairdresser does; and it's a medical intervention, treating musculoskeletal ills, as a chiropractor does. And then (not by law, but by alternative custom) it's sometimes a third thing: a healing ritual, addressing spiritual ills, as a shaman does. In any given day I might have clients who think of a massage primarily as any or all of these. I'm an affable man and I try to deliver what's expected. But what do I think it is? What do I want it to be? I'm going to think about that for a while. I don't have a simple answer.