Sunday, December 22, 2013

Self medication

Library of Congress, Jefferson Building

I don't remember if I read this somewhere or it came to me somehow, that every philosophical dilemma arises from the basic problem of reconciling homeostasis, the almost freakish consistency of temperature, respiration, heartbeat and so on inside the body, with the exterior environment which is always in flux.

Like Brother Wind who, though annoying, is simply trying to stabilize atmospheric pressure, we humans try to create conditions that will enable homeostasis to remain in place. When it gets cold, we put on more clothing (or -- we should), we eat soups and stews, we sleep more than we would in warmer weather. The skin is mighty but it is porous and thin. It can only do so much.

What we crave for dinner (chili in December, not so much in July in the northern hemisphere), how long we sleep, how we decide to spend our days, has at its foundation this never ending struggle.

Part of how we deal with the problem is, we self medicate. Every being self medicates. Food, clothing, activity (or not) could all be included under the heading of self medication. Many people only use the term to describe drug and/or alcohol use or abuse, but I don't think it's that simple.

One of the drums I beat regularly has to do with the truth that we humans are not chemistry sets, machines, or in any way predictable. It would be so great if health was directly related to the right numbers on our blood tests, how often or how vigorously we exercise, what we eat or drink or don't. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there really were only one Right Way to eat, live, sleep, work? Oh man.

Of course there isn't because we are not machines, we are not chemistry sets. No. We are complicated!

Caffeine, for instance, has different effects depending not only on who partakes, what time of day they partake, but also depending on who they are at that moment in time. I know that there are days when I can drink coffee and I'm fine with it. Other days, my hands sweat and my heart pounds after only a few sips. Tea affects me quite differently than coffee, even though allegedly, the craving for both has to do with my wish to self medicate with caffeine.

Tea clarifies my mind in a smooth, high-toned way. Coffee is more guttural. What I mean is, coffee kicks me in the ass, kicks me into gear. Caffeine is not the only important facet of these stimulants. I drink one or the other depending on what I need at the moment in space/time. I am self medicating.

Sometimes of course I drink the "wrong" one and end up even more out of balance than before I took my first sip. It's unfortunate, but very common. Self medication is a lifelong art to learn.

Chocolate is not just about sugar. Chocolate is holy, it surely is. I think of the Mayans, drinking chocolate without the ameliorating benefit of sugar or milk. Good lord. If I drank that stuff, I too could plunge my hand into someone's chest and pull out their heart.

OK, maybe not. But chocolate is powerful.

I could get into a whole thing about intoxicants, should I? Or tobacco? The Indians understood Brother Tobacco to be the perfect drug, both energizing and relaxing. They knew to only take one puff, then pass the pipe. It only became toxic when we decided that if smoking one puff was good, smoking an entire carton of cigarettes would be even better. And then we started adding all those toxins to the herb, wrapping them in carcinogenic paper. Nowadays we blame the tobacco, but it isn't the fault of that plant. It's our tendency to go to extremes that's the problem.

I could say a lot more about self medicating, but the point here is that right now, at the bottom of the year (in the northern hemisphere) we humans are battling -- raging, you could even say -- against the dark. Our self medication at this time of year includes rich foods, a lot of sugar, alcohol. We find ourselves in groups of people, bellowing over loud music, wearing funny clothes, drinking way too much, eating way too much, misbehaving.

This is how we fortify ourselves during the holiday season. It is perfectly normal. We are self medicating.

Come January 1st, a different need will sweep over most people; a need to cleanse, let go, detox. I recommend tea as self medication during January -- at least that's what I'll be drinking.

Ah but we aren't there yet. It's December 22. The effort to reconcile 98.6 F, 130/80, 70 heartbeats per minute with the dark, cold, rain/snow/ice involves a hell of a lot of self medication. It just does.

May you find balance between inner and outer as we complete the secular year. May it be so!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bad massage

I have had dozens, probably even hundreds, of bad massages, oh man have I. This is because I like to receive from many different practitioners. I always learn something - either something I wish to integrate into my work, or something I would never subject a client to.

That's the thing about massage therapy - every therapist brings something different to the art. The experience of receiving can be spectacular, mediocre or just plain old bad, depending not just on the skill level of the practitioner, but on the rapport between practitioner and receiver.

A massage is a dance in which rapport is crucial. If there isn't a good alchemy between therapist/practitioner and receiver, things can go terribly wrong - as they did on Monday evening. I received a massage from a complete stranger on the other side of the country where I was visiting for Thanksgiving. She didn't lack technical skill, but she seemed to have no empathy. There was no poetry in her work. She was what I call a massage mechanic.

Receiving from a massage mechanic is not a bad thing if they follow the same protocol for every massage, as they do at spas, but when they go rogue and think they can figure out what needs fixing in their client, well, bad things tend to happen. I know someone who received a massage from someone who decided to give her an osteopathic treatment, immediately after which she developed a hideous case of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Massage mechanics should stick to the program, not try to be creative.

To move beyond the mechanic stage involves people skills and a sense of rhythm, contour and energy. Those who can put it all together are therapists.

I'm inspired by therapists who listen to what I say, but also "listen" to my tissue and are able to get into the rhythms of the complicated being that is me - my breath, heartbeat, cranial rhythm - so as to enhance the possibilities for balance and wholeness. What they do is never as important as how tuned in they are to my body and being. There's a world of difference between massage mechanics and massage therapists, though we share the same degree.

The mechanic I received from the other day had a sharpness in her energy right from the git-go, as if perpetually waving a finger at the world, or perhaps standing with her hands on her hips, glaring. I noticed, but sometimes things change once I get on the table. Not in this case, but sometimes.

The verbal intake was a disaster.

Practitioner: What can I do for you?
Me: I love a full body massage, though if you want an area to focus on, it would be my shoulders, neck and back. I'm a massage therapist, so my upper body can get stiff, but please don't spend too much time up there because it brings all my energy up rather than helping me feel balanced..
Practitioner: You're a massage therapist? Oh no - the worst kind of client.
Me: What are you talking about? Massage therapists are great receivers, in my experience.
Practitioner: We don't take care of ourselves.
Me: Who is "we"? I take great care of myself.

She just stared at me. It was vaguely hostile.

OK, you would think, after that exchange, I would have decided to skip the bodywork. This was clearly going nowhere good. She told me right to my face that I'm the worst kind of client. Still, I was curious about what the experience might be like.

She spent almost the whole hour on my neck and shoulders, largely ignoring my arms, hands, legs and feet. In other words, she did the exact opposite of what I'd asked her to do. It was a horrible massage and I'm still sore from it.

A bad massage can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. It is discouraging. If you receive a terrible massage, please do not assume every massage is going to be so bad. Massage therapists and massage practitioners come in many forms. Bad massage is a part of my professional research and development, but for most people, it is slightly traumatic.

Rapport is at the center of every kind of healing relationship. Doctors, acupuncturists, dentists, psychotherapists, M.D.s, and massage therapists need to be people you respect and trust. If there is no rapport, even if the practitioner is said to be the "best" (whatever that is), if you don't like them, it makes everything harder.

As for the practitioner from the other day, needless to say I would never go see her again. The experience was certainly not a waste of time. I was reminded of how good I am at listening and taking in what my clients say - a nice confidence booster. I was also reminded that when I encounter that sharp energy from someone, letting them work on me is always a bad idea.

Oh well, lesson learned.

May there be harmony between you and those who lay hands on you, the massage therapists, doctors, dentists, hair stylists, manicure/pedicure people, etc. We humans are animals. If we hope to find healing and wholeness, touch should occur in an atmosphere of compassion and trust. Believe me.