“How’s the picnic basket coming along?” I asked Georgine,* a spirited crafter who sees me weekly at the spa. Week by week, she’s shared progress reports with me about this homemade wedding gift. What should the handles read if I woodburned them? she once asked. (She loved my suggestion of the bride and groom’s names and the wedding date.) One week she told me about the picnic quilt’s pattern: ants!
This is the same woman who came back to the spa to give me some frozen salmon she’d just bought. That was a first for me and a direct result of her knowledge of the gut-balance diet I’m on.
I remember regarding with amusement some of the items other therapists have received as gifts or tips: freshly prepared venison, homemade cloudy-looking cocktail mixers in mason jars, tickets to various events. I was always fine with cash tips but wondered what it was that kept my clients on the straight and narrow.
It’s obvious now: me. When I’m uncertain about something, I tend to cling to the rules until establishing a sense of security. My massage school did a good job of teaching us about boundaries, dual relationships and other ethical and energetic concepts that could muddy a professional relationship fast if you let go of the reins. Don’t overshare about yourself. Don’t let them know where you live. The session is all about them, not you.
This never posed noticeable problems with clients, my guarded professionalism, but looking back I think they sensed that trying to engage me would lead to a dead end. In my attempts to remain professional I was inadvertently snubbing them. (It calls to mind a line in Arrested Development: “She gets off on being withholding.” I’d like to think I’m nothing like any of the characters in the show, yet here I am, able to draw a parallel with the coldest one!)
An eye-opening moment arrived when a self-proclaimed clairvoyant client told me that a) there was another woman in the room with us and b) I was open and closed at the same time. I laughed and said, “That’s an Aquarian for you!” But I recognized that her comment stung a little after she and her invisible friend left at the end of the session.
Georgine blew those school rules out of the water. A newer client, she seemed to relax better when she talked. Some people need a verbal release, so I never discourage when they talk throughout a session. (Of course, if they want quiet time, I honor that, as well.) But Georgine asked me about my life in such a disarming way, it was easy to respond. Soon we were talking about our daily lives, family dynamics, religion, even. Her beautiful, open mind and warm demeanor made me feel safe enough to share. I strove to create the same environment for her.
And then a funny thing happened: some of my other clients joined in on the dialogue during their own sessions. Just last week another client asked me a question and concluded that my dad, like hers, tends to have a grumpy demeanor. This statement led to the discovery that they’d both worked in the HVAC field. The session became just as much a dialogue as it was physically therapeutic. She left looking refreshed and relieved, and we were both smiling.
In the Buddhist organization I belong to, dialogue is upheld as the ultimate way to engender peace. Walls come down when we ask questions, listen compassionately and seek common ground. I just came back from an SGI women’s conference in Fort Lauderdale. During the conference we were shocked by the news about the Orlando man who shot up a nightclub a mere three hours’ drive from us. It clarified the purpose of our conference. Peace is no pie-in-the-sky dream. We need to actively connect with others and strengthen the bonds between people, even those with whom we seemingly share nothing in common. Because separate-ness is an illusion; the reality is that we’re all deeply connected to one another.
I kept my Major Tom necklace on throughout the conference, and a friend of mine asked about it. I realized aloud that there’s a profound message for me in that image and song: Stay engaged. Don’t float away; remain grounded. Connect with others.
I’ll think about that as I marinate this salmon. Sure, my career has taken a potentially risky turn, but in this muddy world (mappo) attempting to remain pristine misses the point altogether. We can no longer afford not to get our hands dirty. There’s much work to be done.
*She’s not actually named Georgine!