Friday, August 13, 2010

Failure Guaranteed

I touch people. I try to give relief to their suffering, solace to their grief, comfort to their loneliness.

But I am not a healer, a doctor or a teacher. Suffering, grief, and loneliness are not pathological conditions. They are not diseases to be cured. They are not caused by bad hygiene or sin or ignorance.

I study, sure. I learn techniques. I have a spiritual practice that I try to follow. But I'm offering nothing from Mt Sinai. Nobody has handed me any tablets. I lay my hands on a client as one suffering, grieving, lonely human being lays hands on another.

Suffering or joyful. I draw radiance from them: I get whispers of love, intimations of plenitude, from their skin. I am profoundly grateful to my clients. Not as in “thank you for your patronage!” As in “thank you for taking me into your home, thank you for traveling these bewildering twisty roads with me, thank you for trusting me with the shrine of your body.”

It does seem to me sacred – holy. The body. I am more in sympathy with Judaism than with Buddhism, in this regard. This body is not disposable container: it's a temple. I have the same sense, at the end of a massage, that I have at the end of a Buddhist meditation practice, of having entered a special place with special rules, a place where humility is the only attitude that makes sense, a place where my quotidian agendas fall away and become meaningless.

Some of my clients see it this way; others don't. Last night I finished a massage and murmured “thank you.”

Her eyes popped open, and she said, “What? Oh. Thank you,” in a flat, ordinary voice. It was a bit startling. Had I gone that journey alone? I don't think so; but I don't think she knew I was with her.

Which is fine. I trust massage to work. It's like meditation in this way as well: failure is guaranteed. Part of massage is, and ought to be, a failure of connection, a missed stairstep. There's always a wistfulness, a heightened sense of distance, a sense of how far we are from real communion. If we were capable of perfect communion, there would be no need for massage, just as – as you always have to tell tyro meditators – if we were capable of perfect meditative stability, there would be no need for meditation. What we are working with, in meditation, is distraction: what we are working with in massage is loneliness.

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