Monday, November 20, 2006

Being there

I've been thinking lately about how very lucky I am to have the job I do.

This weekend, one of my best regular clients hired me to drive out to Long Island and give her mother a massage. She paid for gas and travel time, plus a long session, and told her mother that my fee was $50. I wasn't entirely comfortable with this, but my client is like that, and presumably her mother knows her fairly well. Also I really enjoyed the excuse to get out of the city for a few hours.

When I arrived, I honestly believed that my client had put far too much faith in me. Her mother cannot be younger than seventy; she was in so much back pain that she could scarcely walk, sit or lie down. It was quite a job getting her onto the table at all, and she certainly wasn't about to lie on her stomach.

I know from long experience that very old people are the hardest to treat. Problems that have been developing for decades do not respond readily to an hour and a half treatment, particularly a subtle one; older bodies, as well as older minds, are much less responsive, and less resilient. As I stood there, planning out a strategy for how to address the severe back pain of a person whose back was almost inaccessible to me, physically and otherwise, I felt like the biggest fraud on the planet.

About ten minutes after I'd started work, she said calmly, "That seems to be taking the pain away."

At the end of the session she got up and said, "Wow, I haven't felt this good in...I can't tell how long. I don't have any pain. Just kind of the memory of pain. I have to remember how to walk!"

The daughter called me up later and said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. My mother actually went to a party this evening."

After awhile, maybe a day or two, it dawned on me--I'm a success. I set out to help people heal, and I'm actually doing it. Wow. I hadn't noticed.

The reason I'm lucky, though, is that in my job, people are almost always present with me. They show up and tell me the truth. They're not making nice, defending, trying to prove something, trying to manipulate, extract, put up a smokescreen, or otherwise imposing an agenda on the interaction. They just tell me, "I hurt here. This is the story. This is what's going on."

Since they're present, telling me the truth, any communication we have is genuine, whether or not I'm able to do them any good. This is both a necessary part of the healing process, and something that is rare, in most ordinary social interactions. Not only do most people have a false self on, while charging through their lives; they're constantly telegraphing both an agenda (get this thing, make you think this, change this person's mind), and the woundedness underlying the agenda, without acknowledging either one. If you call them on it--if you say, "I perceive that you're trying to achieve this thing in the physical world. I perceive that you're doing this in order to avoid or work out some pain," they respond as if attacked. Properly so; that type of perception is almost indecent in its presumption of intimacy.

So of course, I don't do this. It's rude. But it means that it is almost completely impossible to genuinely communicate with most people, most of the time.

Since the vast majority of my human contact these days is with clients, family, or close friends, I forget how rough it can be, out in the social world. It's quite shocking, actually, running into an old acquaintance and having them hoosh me with "career this, politics that, oh I must run here do this schmooze this person fix that problem oh could you drop me off here I'm sick and tired NO I don't need a back rub."

Yikes. I'm just not used to it.

Moreover, since I'm spending the vast majority of my time listening, absorbing, assisting, paying attention, working to make sense, working to remain grounded and peaceful and supportive, I can't really tolerate much craziness from actual 'friends' anymore. I need to be listened to, all the way through, as well. My friends aren't my clients. I can't sit there and absorb the shrapnel, in my 'time off.' For me, friendship is no longer about dovetailing agendas. If people can't be as present as a person who is lying silently on a table, they're not friendship material any longer.

It's important for me and my clients to understand that I cannot 'fix' anything, ever. I have noticed that the number of astonishing occurences in my healing practice has sharply increased, once I started telling people, "I can't fix this problem. I'm not going to try. We're just going to find out what's there, what's going on, and see what feels good for a bit." Healing happens when you let go and allow it to happen. Trying gets in the way.

The same thing is true, I think, of art. The art is back there; I just have to allow it through. Messing around with 'career' concerns creates big whopping huge creative blocks. Which is, perhaps, why I haven't been making any art for the last couple of months. I'm fine with that; it feels like I'm re-calibrating my art-sensors. When I start allowing it again, I think it will be real.


anna said...

Dear Serena,

I'm a regular visitor on your blog. Once yuove helped me with an advice voor the medium. Iwas busy graduating from de art academy. Now I,m done and have more spare time to follow you, but even in the most stressful time i kept reading your diary. I think you do have a talent for writing ( as well as painting and healing).

My best wishes,

Anna from Holland

serena said...

Thank you, Anna! Congratulations on graduating. I hope to have more time for writing on this blog next year--I've been quite busy with other things as well.

Lisa Hunter said...

Lovely post. Seems to me you're just expressing yourself artistically through another medium -- you're a terrific writer.

serena said...

Thank you, Lisa! I met you in person last week. Congratulations again on the publication of your book, and thanks for the lovely party at Ed's! It was fun to meet so many other art bloggers.

Anonymous said...

what a lovely, heartfelt and beautiful post. you're a credit to our species, serena - there are so many of us that need to be reminded of the wisdom you write; and to be healed from our own slipping. i am so grateful that you and other people like you walk among us all; thank you.