Sunday, January 26, 2014

Two Words

There's this photo-quote going around Facebook which asks what advice you might give your younger self, in just two words.  I usually take a look at these little micro self-help bits, think about it for a minute and move on.  This one caught my eye, though, and I decided to share it along with my own two words.  Exercises like this force us to distill the random jumble of our thoughts to their shining, diamond essence.  We can extract what is truly precious and valuable and leave the rest behind.  Here are my diamonds:

Say yes.
For as long as I can remember, my first response to most things is "No." This changes over time, of course, but almost everything has to pass through this negative space first.  This is why 12 years passed between my first interest in massage therapy and my finally going to school for it.  Everything that has happened in my massage career shows me that this is my happy place, that I belong here.  My only regret about this career is (and will always be) those 12 years.  

Believe it.
Sometimes people say nice things to me, or write nice things on evaluations.  Sometimes I believe these things, but not always.  I am wasting time waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I don't think striving to improve always is a problem, but when I am giving someone a massage and thinking more about what I am lacking than what I am doing, I am not giving my best work.  I tell my students, "Be confident in what say, even if what you say is 'I don't know.'"  Like most advice we give out, I follow this sometimes.  When I teach, I take time to coach people on grounding themselves, bringing focus to their client and what that client needs today.  I need to add in focus on the therapist knowing and believing in their own skills.  If we know and believe our skills, we can apply them more effectively, and know better when something is beyond our scope of practice.  

What are your two words? 

Friday, January 17, 2014


Yesterday I got my course evaluations from last term.  They came bundled together in four neatly stapled stacks, one for each course.  Even though the Education Director told me they were "lovely," I was apprehensive as I started to read them.  It was a fragile week, with my tutoring hours being cut and the true realization that I needed to do something to build my practice, or face difficult financial decisions.  I didn't trust the positive feedback.  Long habits of waiting for the bite after the compliment die hard.

As I read through page after page of comments, I realized that no bite was coming.  The worst I could expect was a push -- a loving push in the direction of being a better instructor.  I laughed out loud often, and found myself touching my heart to say "thank you," as I do often in class.  Each neatly stapled stack had its own personality.  I could which class it was without looking at the labels on the forms.

My girls, who I've written about before, used words like "compassion" and "caring" and "patient." I read in their comments references to our heart to heart talk.  I saw that their experience of that day was exactly what I hoped.

For two classes, I had the same group.  A lively, funny, almost ideal community who embraced the whole shared experience part of massage school.  Their comments were hilarious.  They referenced some of the my quirks and invented rituals -- like the Story Time Chair (for sharing my experiences) and Massage Therapy Theatre (not role play.  Because we're classy.)

The largest group was also my biggest challenge.  They were young and rowdy, unused to self-discipline.  I ran a tight ship in that class, too tight even for me at times.  Many of their comments showed that they liked the strict discipline.  My favorite was the student who wrote that the favorite thing about me as an instructor was my "bossiness."

After I read through all of them, I went to teach that night's Ethics class.  A new group for me.  I hadn't met any of the students before the term started a couple weeks ago.  I am still learning how to work best with them.  Teaching them that night felt like walking through mud pits.  Just one more step.  Then one more.  Somehow we would get through.  And we did -- barely.  I walked to my train in the bitter cold, exhausted from a roller coaster day.  I had a stack of lovely comments from former students back at work, but I knew my focus should be forward, with this new group who still aren't sure what they think of me.  We have things to learn and material to cover.  Now, the evaluations go back in a drawer for a quieter day.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

His Eye is on the Sparrow

The Ethics class I teach involves a project and a final presentation.  It seems easy enough -- the students just have to stand us and tell us about how they took care of themselves this term.  My last group made it even easier on each other by being one of the most supportive and cohesive classes I've had in a while.

Their presentations were on the last night of the term, five days before Christmas.  The feeling in the room was anxious, leaning forward into their much-needed break.  One by one, they got up and told us about their self care.  They were funny, sincere, engaging and touching.  I was leaning forward into my upcoming time off, too, so I struggled to stay with them.  They brought me back again and again -- the student who praise danced for us, the one who showed us how she wraps her hair at night, the one who made us all do jumping jacks, the one who broke down telling us about her abusive relationships and ended her presentation in a hug-pile with her classmates.

The last student got up, speaking softly but clearly as she always did.  She kept her eyes to the floor and told us she was inspired by everyone.  She had changed her mind while watching everyone else, and decided she wanted to sing for us -- a song she would sing to herself to lift her spirits.  As I looked around, I could see my feelings reflected on the students' faces.  This is so brave, such a gift.  What do we do if she can't carry a tune?

Still looking at the floor, the last student started singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow."  Her voice was clear, strong -- it felt like someone you love singing you the perfect lullaby.  We sat silent as her voice grew stronger, as she closed her eyes and lifted her face.  We leaned forward. We were still.  I saw tears in some eyes.  With her face lifted and her eyes closed, she sang us through to the end of the song.  We exhaled, then stood and applauded her as she smiled and sat down, once again looking at the floor.

I wonder if she knows what she gave everyone.  She gave her class a memory to hold them together.  I am certain that for a long time, whenever they meet, one of them will only have to say, "Re,beer that time she sang?" and they will once again be connected, part of a loving community.