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A few days ago, I experienced a bad Thai massage; I mean really awful. I’ve been lucky with bodywork in the past; I’ve mostly enjoyed every experience with the exception of this one. I went into the room for the one-hour session (typically they are 90 minutes to 2 hours but something told me to go for 60 minutes this time) and it felt cold and dark. I changed and laid down under the thin sheet and as my practitioner entered, I was asked, “Ok? Any pain?” “No pain”, I replied. I felt it right away with very firm, intense sliding down my feet, bones pressing into the table beneath me. “Give it a moment”, I told myself; “relax into the pressure”. The practitioner worked up the backs of my legs, briefly passing over my gluts and up my back to the space between my shoulder blades, a place I had circled on the intake as an area where my body holds tension.
Without much warming up, the practitioner began to use an elbow and a LOT of pressure and weight to carve around my left scapula and slide abruptly off of my trap over, and over, and over. After what felt like at least 10 minutes and much grimacing, wincing, yelping, and eventually tears, I was asked “ok?”. I said “ maybe lighter pressure” in a small voice. The practitioner made a sound and continued with the same movement and the same pressure. I said “lighter” two more times and the practitioner moved to the other side to do the same move. The (what felt to me as) abrupt and insensitive bodywork continued with elbowing along my spine and thumbing with full weight into my low back/kidney area. Needless to say, I walked out of the session in more pain than I walked in with and felt pretty emotionally jarred. I paid (and even tipped!) with a smile and said I was fine to the desk staff, and slumped out to the car. “How was it?”, AJ (my husband) asked. “Terrible”, I said as I started to tear up again. As I recanted my experience, AJ said “What! Why didn’t you yell? Why didn’t you say stop? Why didn’t you get up and walk out!”
“Good question”, I thought to myself, wondering why I chose to endure 60 minutes of many levels of discomfort while thinking about leaving many times and just hoping that the 60 minutes went quickly and the practitioner didn’t go over on time! As I wrote up my experience (as part of my Thai training requirements) I began to see a much larger pattern emerging, a default way of responding. In Yogic philosophy we call these patterns of behavior that we repeat, often without conscious awareness, samskaras (subtle impressions of past actions; like a snapshot that gets stored in memory). With repetition these samskaras create deeper and deeper grooves in our consciousness until they ultimately color or bias the way we perceive situations (these deeply engrained ways of experiencing the world are called vasanas).
As I continued to reflect why I would endure pain (in this instance, physical) for an extended period of time with out speaking up or changing my actions, I swung, memory by memory, back into my early childhood. In the early Elementary school years, I experienced what I perceived to be severe bullying. I tried pleading and bargaining with this group to be accepted, and eventually told my parents, who told my teachers. While afraid of what “telling” would cost me with the bullies, I hoped that the adults or mentors would “save me” from the situation. Despite their methods, the bullying didn’t stop. It didn’t stop until middle school, when I finally realized that they weren’t the only people in the world, that I didn’t have to stay stuck in this cycle and I decided to let it go and to let them go. In other words, it changed when I changed my perception of the situation and took different action. Another memory that bubbled to the surface was my experience as a competitive gymnast, and experiencing my coach as demanding and demeaning, using a “tear you down to build you up” approach. I took it and took it, hoping the situation would change, hoping one day my parents would say something to her or somehow know that I didn’t want to be in that situation any more and take me out. It continued. It continued (for 9 years) until I was 12 years old, and decided that gymnastics wasn’t the whole of my life, and that I had a choice to stay or leave, I faced my coach and I chose to leave.
Fast forward a few years into the future and I am in a long-term relationship. We’ve moved across the country for my graduate training, and within a few weeks, we are both stressed, depleted, shut down and completely emotionally unavailable to one another. At the time I saw only my pain, and as I cried on the floor for him to love me, and for the nonstop schedule of homework, clients, presentations, studying to cease, I hoped that someone would wipe it all away and we could, I could, be happy and in sync with life outside of this situation again. Nothing changed. Nothing changed for two years in either case until I decided NOT to pursue a doctoral degree, and I decided that our relationship had run its course (after almost a decade). Completely broken, I felt a strength, a freedom, within me that I’d never felt before: the feeling we feel when we know that we can’t actually be broken and we tap into our innate power. Despite the newfound strength, the habit and tendency (samskara and vasana) were strong, and soon enough, I found myself on a non-stop travel schedule all over the U.S. in my first career out of graduate school. This strenuous pace (for me) continued for two years until I finally decided I was at a breaking point and walked away, pretty beaten down physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
It has been a couple of years since that time, and I’ve chosen to dedicate a lot of time to self-study and practices that help me to increase awareness: awareness of my body and what it’s communicating, my mind and its tendencies, awareness of the infinite space we all exist within and the possibility that that brings in each moment. Despite this intention and the many ‘aha’s’ and shifts in belief and perception I’ve experienced since then, as the Thai massage experience so viscerally demonstrated to me, the tendencies to:
So despite the sore muscles and the pain in my kidneys when I breathe, I am so, so grateful for that awful Thai massage. The pain woke me up the realization that I am missing out on a major contributing voice to my own health, safety, and wellbeing: MY OWN! The waiting it out, hoping someone will come save me, enduring extensive periods of pain on all levels starts and stops with me. It starts and stops with you. What are the repeating patterns (samskaras) in your life? How have they influenced or biased your way of responding to life’s events (i.e. have they become vasanas)? Are you willing to become aware of them? Are you willing to change the way you see and respond? If we are, we tap into the power of our Inner Knowing, which is connected to the power of the Universe; we create infinite possibility for ourselves. As we become aware of our power to choose, and to rewrite our responses to life, the grooves of our mental patterning shift and change accordingly. Our subconscious responds in the same way. We rewrite our past, our present, and thus our future. There are literally no limits; how’s that for a New Years Resolution?
I am partly joking about the latter, but if you are interested in furthering this discussion, and are looking for a safe space to speak your Truth to a loving sounding board in community with fellow Truth seekers, please feel free to join the private Facebook group Modern Yogi Wisdom for details about our next Wisdom Gathering.
To the Infinite power and wisdom within you, within me, within us all, I bow.