Learning & Growing

“In watching thousands of people with cancer and cancer histories, I am struck by how much information, and how many skills, patients learn along the way. They master medical information, often unfamiliar at first. They learn which people to bring into the loop, and whom to hold at bay. They learn how to care for their bodies, under “new normal” conditions. They discover how to filter information, and listen deeply to their hearts, their families, and their physicians.

Massage therapists learn, as well, alongside their clients with cancer and cancer histories. We learn how to listen better, and when to keep our beliefs or judgments about illness to ourselves. We learn to accompany someone along their path, following their lead, bearing witness, remaining present to the process that unfolds, however it unfolds.”  Tracy Walton, LMT, MS (Massage Today.  Learning and Unlearning) 12/2009

As it unfolds, we learn not to say, “I know how you feel”, even if we think we do.  We learn not to suggest, “everything will be okay” even though we REALLY, REALLY want it to be.  We learn how to be quiet observers—not needing to be a part of the conversation.  We learn how to be present while keeping our own sadness in check.    We learn all of these things thanks to the gentle guidance we receive from our clients.  I believe we gain strength from their “presence” and the “space” they share with us.

I always think of that phrase “my hands are having a conversation with their soft tissue” and how the kind of presence needed to work with people in cancer treatment translates to “nonjudgmental touch”.  Our physical presence is nonjudgmental, but almost more important is our touch. I’ve been to plenty of massage therapists who advise me on how to keep my muscles loose, relaxed, etc. through diet, supplements, exercise and stretching.  Often I can feel their advice reinforced through their hands as they work and release those muscles and am reminded I’m not doing what they want me to be doing.

This approach of advising our clients is taught in massage schools, however, we can only learn the nonverbal, nonjudgmental touch conversation from each person we work on. The learning curve is steep from the “fix it /make it better” mindset to the just “being” mindset. It is very humbling when I realize I have a way to go until this non-mechanical approach is as natural a part of my massage as the mechanical approach.  But that is what learning is about and I find I have specific people I thank everyday for allowing me to learn from their experience.

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