Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Someone Else's Sending

The leaves and branches hang quite still. A quiet morning. Grateful for a pause.

I've been slammed for weeks, not only at the Foundation -- the usual rush of charitable giving at the end of the year -- but also with massage: I've been booked solid, for weeks. Everyone's New Year's resolution seems to have been: get more massage. Also I've been taking a couple insurance clients, and people schedule a lot more frequently when they don't have to pay out of pocket. It's only a couple new clients, but they've both been twice-a-week people. The equivalent, in other words, of sixteen new once-a-month people.

I love that more of my sessions are with regular clients. The rapport deepens, and I become more confident that I know what works with this body; I try new things, let go of old things. If I was going to get tired of massage, I think I'd know by now. It's always new, because people's bodies and spirits are always new. I'm continually astonished both by their fragility and by their resilience.

There's the anchor of touch, of connection, but there's also intellectual challenges, the deductive part of tracking pain down to its (sometimes improbable) sources. There's hanging out with all manner of people at home, en deshabille -- in their bathrobes with their hair down. There's people bursting into tears and trying to figure out what their lives are for. There's people who drift out into wide waters of stillness, and take me with them. And always there's that moment, the unmooring: laying on hands, and becoming aware of my breathing and of theirs. You just never know where they're going to take you.

Things that have always been wrong with me are suddenly virtues. That I simply go where other people are emotionally. That I need to be in physical contact with people in order stay oriented. That my own agenda tends to dissolve when it meets someone else's. That I'm willing to follow narratives and metaphors that other people find incoherent or contradictory.

I have no intention of calling myself a shaman -- I'm always skeptical of people who borrow the glittery parts of other people's religious traditions without taking on the disciplines and sacrifices of them -- but I think I'm the sort of person who becomes a shaman, in cultures that support that. Someone who sees around corners and crosses boundaries, who's willing to be a bird in the air and a fish in the sea and a ghost in the past. I put on the dress that makes sense for the road I need to take. I don't mind that things are strange and disgusting sometimes; I don't mind that I find myself sometimes a snake, sometimes a girl, sometimes a swirl of dirty water. I'm always half a spy, half an envoy. I'm someone else's sending.

At this point I pause, and look over what I've written suspicously. I dislike the genre of self-congratulation-disguised-as-confession: and somehow it's those people who most loudly declare their marriages perfect that you're least surprised to see turn up in divorce court. What am I not saying?

Well, one, that it's not always easy to be traveling on other people's behalf: sometimes I wonder if I shoudn't be traveling on my own behalf instead.

And two, that I'm not always sure it's in perfectly good faith. Oh, I observe boundaries scrupulously. But a touch can be lover-like without being technically improper. You can call all this border-crossing and wearing of elaborately carved personas a high spiritual quest: but you could also call it a masked ball for incorrigible flirts. There's a reason, beyond prudery, that people look askance at massage.

But that's all I find, in the minor key: and it's not as though those reservations were unique to my massage relationships. In fact the massage relationships are generally more straightforward. I bring more awareness to them. It's more clear that care is needed.

I'm going to have learn to deal with a full schedule. A new, welcome, set of problems.

I push my fingers into damp moss and the water pools between my fingers. A faint smell of toast; the shrill peep of an unseen bird. Slippery clay. A white and formless day up above the canopy of firs: there are no shadows, only shifts of light. Every flaw in the bark draws an arresting coastline. Map after map of unexplored countries, unreachable worlds. I miss you. Somewhere up above a thrush gives a long, echoing, humorless laugh.

Over across the unfolded continent, you stand at the window, looking out at the white, shining Berkshires. The baby on your chest is momentarily quieted by your slow shift from foot to foot. You are composing prayers to your rash, inexplicable God, our absent mother. I can't follow: I only hear your resonant voice, a little hoarser and fuller with motherhood, slightly thickened with the milk coming, the deeper splay of the ribs, the wider stance. Once you have given hostages to the World, your relationship with it will never be the same. It's a helpless codependent relationship with a moody, violent husband, now; and God may sympathize but She won't intervene. You'll have to work it out yourselves, She'll say.

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