projects and writings of T.A. Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 2.
I’ve been a practicing full-time massage therapist for 20 years. While my skills have improved vastly over the years, and I’ve picked up new tools here and there, in a lot of ways I’m still using the same therapeutic relaxation techniques I started out with. My body no longer loves this. It wants to be softer. It wants to work softer.
With that aim in mind, I enrolled in a massage workshop in a technique that uses a very body-friendly approach to working with some of the subtlest undulations in and around our tissues. In other words, work that could easily find a place in the land of crystal healing and animal spirits. That’s not a land I’m very comfortable in. Luckily, this is bodywork and the body is marvelously, palpably real. I believe in both its broadest expressions of skin, muscle, organ and bone all the way in to its smallest ripples and most mysterious vibrations.
Over the course of the three and a half days I tried to feel some of those ripples and some of the stillness in between. But you have to be very quiet to feel such things. I think a lot of people would say I’m a very calm and quiet person. And I am to a certain extent, but quiet outside doesn’t mean quiet inside. There’s a lot of noise in my brain and in the rest of my body. And it all came screaming at me for much of this workshop.
On day one I was near tears because of my complete frustration at being able to feel or even understand what I was supposed to be open to experiencing. When the instructor or one of his assistants would ask what I was feeling I repeatedly reported “nothing.” And while they were very good about sharing that they’d been in this position themselves when they first started, it was little comfort. In truth, what I was feeling was the bullying taunts of my mind saying my shoulder hurts, I’m so fucking tired, why won’t someone help me, this is stupid.
Day two was more of the same but this time with a bad night’s sleep to ratchet up the noise. I started seriously weighing the idea of not coming back for the rest of the workshop. The work is about feeling into the body, not thinking into it or onto it, but this is a tough place to get to. As a student, we were all taking in these new concepts, forms and rhythms and then trying to feel them with our whole bodies, not just our hands and definitely not just our heads. It sounded lovely but I was a million miles away from it.
I knew if I quit the rest of the workshop I’d have to face more bullying brain taunts about not being kind enough to stick it out in a softly lit room with humming music and a side table full of nuts and chocolate and fifty kinds of tea. Not open enough to be with sweet people massaging each other for hours on end. Not strong enough to, at the very least, fake it ’til I make it.
I sucked it up and entered day three after an even worse night’s sleep. The insomnia fog, however, proved to be useful. Too tired to listen to my brain, too tired to rationalize away what I was or wasn’t sensing under my hands or in my heart, my body started to take over. This provided the smallest inkling of what doing this work might be like.
And now, workshop complete, I can appreciate that I stuck it out through those powerful feelings of frustration, unknowing, awkwardness and doubt. On the other side was this place called the body, my own and others, that speaks its own amazing language. It’s a place that invites me in, over and over. And even though I’ve been massaging for decades, I’ve only taken a step or two into the waves. There’s a whole ocean in there to float in.