Massaging with Awareness



On Saturday I mentioned in passing that awareness is important.  As we develop awareness concepts of the aura, chakras, and the likes come into our purview and we at least contemplate them even if we don’t engage in conversation about them for fear that people think we are weird.  When we go through the manual on the Human Energy Field we are engaging in an exercise that helps to create awareness that there is need for us as Therapists to be aware.  We cannot function with knowledge only.  In my understanding knowledge is the translation of an experience.  It is like a symbolism on another level.  We can think of it as a record of something that has happened, which means that knowledge is always in the past.  A gentle reminder that we cannot re-member something that we did not know, as remembering is the process of going back and accessing what we have in store.

Knowledge about something involves naming it and classifying it according to prearranged categories in the mind based on similar information we have.  When a massage technique is first introduced to us we want to know what it is called and the different ways that we can use it.  Then we attempt to use that technique and feel exhilaration when we receive feedback that it felt good or when we feel that we have executed it effectively.  Once we feel we’ve got it, we then store that translation in our memory bank.  The next time that we have a client to massage, we retrieve that technique and it is executed with some familiarity.  After using it a few times the activity begins to take on a more subtle or subconscious position in that there is recognition that we are using the technique, but we no longer need to call it by its name or reacquaint ourselves with its functions.  Using it becomes automatic and fast and we no longer take note of the dynamics of it as we had initially…we just flow during the massage.  We are now able to have myriad conversations with the client or mentally go elsewhere while our hands deftly carry on their work.

And while this is good, it is not good enough.  We are missing the present.  Awareness keeps us in the present.  While knowledge is a translation of an experience, awareness is an experiencing.  And from the little English I managed to grasp before floating all the way out of school, I understand that ‘ing’ is Continuous Tense.  Always Now.  Like everything else, awareness comes in degrees.  So we may be aware of the technique we are using, but not how the muscles are responding.  Or we may be aware of both, but now how the client is emotionally feeling as a result of our actions…peripheral awareness.  We soon realize that the larger our field of peripheral awareness, the more we are aware of.  The catch is that peripheral awareness is not something we wake up and decide we will expand.  It is a quality of our consciousness that is brought about through nurture and practice…patience.  Paying attention to our own breathing during the massage, and that of the client, is one way of developing this.  If we use a massage technique and the client flinches in pain, we are back at knowledge because it is an interpreted experience.  If we use the technique and we sense discomfort in our client we are experiencing the phenomenon of awareness which is direct (knowing).  We can then use our awareness as a guide to adapt the technique so that the flinch doesn’t occur then we take measures to fix it (action based on knowledge), but rather change the action before the flinch results.

This is not to say that awareness keeps us in a non-opinionated state waiting to blankly absorb information that has no relevance.  Awareness has noetic value, but we don’t see this readily because our systems of education keep us locked into a mode of intellectual recognition, and we continuously hold ourselves and each other to that standard.  But it is awareness that keeps it all connected, and having resolved not to do massages that are solely full of impressively executed techniques (not that such is wrong), I try to bring awareness to each session.  My feeling centers are on red alert so that I become aware of things about myself and the client that I do not ‘know,’ and I am able to adjust my thoughts/body/attitude to be a better channel to facilitate the flow of energy necessary for holistic healing.  Being aware helps to harmonize the interpreted and uninterpreted communication between ourselves and our clients and it continuously adds to our knowledge, for it is the ongoing experiences that we classify and store.

I remember my son remarking that God was too harsh in preventing Moses from seeing the Promise Land.  I asked him what Moses did.  He told me about Moses getting angry because his followers had committed idolatry, and how he broke the tablets on which the Commandments were written.  I asked him how could God not punish such behavior harshly when He punishes for the breaking of individual Commandments.  The followers broke one Commandment, but Moses was so angry that he broke all in one act; he coveted, committed adultery and idolatry, dishonored his parents, lied, stole, killed…every one broke when those tablets were crushed.  It was symbolic of breaking all of God’s Laws.  He said: Oooooh!  I see.  While the concept exists, I had no knowledge of it while answering him; I never thought that apart from Adam, Moses was actually the biggest sinner in history.  I just spoke.  Afterwards I classified and stored the information…knowledge.  So yes, maybe awareness is precarious, but there is no greater freedom from the prison of our minds than the expression that awareness provides.  It endorses that we are more than our physical bodies and can therefore access information beyond the physical senses.  When knowledge tells us that we have to do the massage a certain way, awareness tells us that it can be done differently too, and we may feel a bit of anxiety at first, but after a few tries and it’s translated into knowledge, we are fine again.

Let’s choose to be aware…stay in the moment during each massage session.  Let’s inquire of ourselves why we are doing the massage: because it pays well…it brings us satisfaction…it brings relief to the client?  How are we doing the massage: sloppily because we are tired…in a way that impresses the client or onlookers…to the best of our ability?  Is what we are doing reaching the client psychologically and spiritually, or just physically?  Has the massage become so knowledge-based that we feel bored?  Awareness reduces the struggle we sometimes feel between knowing what to do and doing it effectively.  It helps us to lose our sense of separateness, and when that wall melts away we are one with the technique, the client, and the space we are in and we are able to ‘watch’ the movements of the mind…feelings…reactions…ideas…and no matter what is done or said during the session, we remain calm.  Awareness helps us to discover that massage is definitely more than the manipulation of tissue.