Sunday, March 18, 2007

Making the Space

I'm at the door, about to leave, my hair tousled and a little sticky with oil, my heart rate a good ten beats per minute slower than usual. I can feel its deliberate throb, and the unfamiliar way it's letting go completely after each contraction. I feel at once deeply grounded and deeply dislocated.

"I don't know whether you're more inspiring or more discouraging," I said.

"Why, what do you mean?" she asked.

"I'll never be as good as that," I said.

"Oh, that's just time," she said dismissively. "I've been doing this four -- five years now. You just learn the techniques. And technique you can pick up anywhere." She becomes more serious, and says: "Really it's intention, holding the intention, staying present."

"Yeah." I nod, and add, a little ruefully, "I wasn't talking about technique."

Herbs over the door and windows; little bundles of grasses by the window. I love this room. I've been in it three times now. A square carpet acknowledges the squareness of the room; an oblique mat matches the diagonal orientation of the table. Rice paper blinds, and two lamps, low to the floor: the room glows. For ninety minutes I've been elsewhere, out of the ordinary world. For the first few minutes I tried to make notes to myself -- I'll need to write about this, the stretches and movement -- but the current was way too strong, and anyway I wanted to go with it, so I went.

Where do I go, during a massage like that? More or less the same place I go when I sit shamatha -- nowhere but here, intensely here. It's not really that I've gone anywhere, it's that I've started to pay attention to something other than the continual gloat and fret of the monkey mind, the storytelling mind, all my repetitive coveting and fearing. And switching my attention away from that is so far out of my ordinary experience that it feels like going a long way away.

That's backwards, though. Where I usually am -- that's what's a long way away, tangled up in my stories, in my hypostasized fantasies, preoccupied with the the miscellaneous grab-bag of qualities I've accumulated and assured myself are me. This was just being present.

Or -- it's just the endorphins, you could say. Or a longstanding psychological yen to be mothered. Both plausible stories. But I don't believe either. What it really is, is that there's another way to be in world, and someone can lead you there, if everything lines up just right. Massage is just one way. There's dozens of ways, maybe an infinite number of ways.

But you need to make a space for it. The sage, or whatever it is, over the door -- that's part of it. Setting the wards. And you need to make yourself vulnerable -- that's what taking off your clothes is really about. The ordinary world, the ordinary bounds, the ordinary defenses, all have to be displaced.

I've been so busy, with work and massage school, that I've fallen into the old trap: thinking that I'll just get something done -- something, anything, be it grad school, raising the kids, settling into a career, exercising regularly, massage school, whatever -- I'll get that done, and then I'll begin my real life, the life that's in synch with the dharma, in synch with what I really think is important. But again and again I learn (and forget) that I can't finish anything, not really, without the dharma. Sure, I could finish massage school, and I could begin practicing massage, without it -- but then when it's done it would only be replaced by the next thing and the next and the next. Because I don't just need to have a massage license. I need to have meaningful work. I could turn massage into just another version of my long stint of cubicle-confinement easily. And I will, if I don't meditate, if I leave my spiritual practice for later. To do what Michelle does -- which is what I want to do, and which is why I went to massage school in the first place -- I'm going to need to be grounded and unafraid. Everything converges on that. It's the only thing that really needs to be done. And the only way I've ever found to do it is to meditate.

So it's back to the cushion. All paths lead back there, eventually.

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