The Lightest Touch

The other day I tried to calculate how many hours I have done massage. I came up with an estimate of 6,124. I’m not sure how many hours of schooling I have in massage. I think it’s around 1,000.

That’s a lot of oil.

It's not even Christmas, but I’m going to teach you my best move. I learned it in Boston a few years ago at a 4-day workshop for oncology massage led by Tracy Walton, but it has taken me all this time to really get it.

I did it the other night on one of my clients I have worked on for two hours every Friday for the last three years and something new happened. Something wonderful.

But before I tell you, first let me teach you the move. It’s so simple, I could have learned it in kindergarten. 

In other words, I’m about to teach you a move that could save you roughly 6,124 hours of practice massage and 1,000 hours of schooling. Why am I doing this? Because I love it so much, love giving it, love receiving it, and I want you to know about it, feel it. 

Rub your hands together and repeat after me, “This is my lucky day.”

I would like you to find someone who will take off his or her shirt for you. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You don’t have to have oil, but it makes the move smoother. Coconut oil works. Jojoba. Almond. Apricot Kernel Oil. Hell, you could use olive oil if you felt like it. You don’t need a lot—just enough to lightly (!) coat the person’s back.

Ideally, you’d have this shirtless person lie on a massage table, but the floor or the couch or a bed is fine. Somewhere you can stand, sit, or kneel at their head and have full access to their back.

Warm the oil between your palms and then do a few gliding movements up and down the back, adding oil if your hands don’t slide over the skin.

Now here comes the move:

Press your palms together for a moment, as if you were praying, and feel the warmth of your own touch. Close your eyes and pretend all the vision you have is in your palms. Then move to your heart and pretend your heart lives in your hands. All the love you have for the world is in the skin of your palms. The love you have pours out of your heart, down your arms, and out your hands. Feel the energy of this between your hands. If you feel nothing, don't worry about it. You just don't know what you are looking to feel. It's already happening. Just fake it 'til you make it.

When you feel ready, lightly place your hands half an inch or so above your dear one’s shoulders. Without looking, how do you know, just from your hands, that you are hovering above a person and not a rock? Wait until you feel the energy bridge that forms, connecting you, telling you human. It will feel warm, maybe even magnetic, alive. Lightly, lightly, lightly lay your hands on the skin of the back.

When a person has cancer and is going through chemotherapy or has had lymph nodes removed, you must be very careful with touch so as to not cause injury. This move I am teaching you is for people for whom touch is, as with everyone, so needed but for whom can also be very harmful. So lighter is better. Focus more on moving the heat of your hand over the heat of the back more than making the skin of the back move. It's not about massaging muscle. It's about feeling the surface of the skin. 

The key word is feel. Feel, feel, feel the skin. Pour the love that is in your heart through your arms and out your hands and fill the person’s body with this love.

Slowly, slowly and then five times more slowly than that, run your hands down the length of the back, one hand on either side of the spine. If you have your thumbs pointing forward and your fingers stretched to the side, you can cover a lot of territory.

What happened when I did this last time was that I said hello to the organs as I slowly passed over them. Hello, heart. Hello, liver, Hello, lungs. Hello, kidneys. I said hello to the guts.

And here’s the crazy thing, the thing that had never happened to me before. I felt the organs—or something inside the body—press up against my hands again and again. It was as if my hands were on the surface of the water and fish lightly bumped up against my palms.

It was so lovely and surprising that I did it two more times, traveling from shoulders to the top of the iliac crest, slowly, slowly, silently greeting and loving everything I passed over with my hands.

My client fell asleep. Later he told me I had drugged him.

He was very happy.

I watched Leaning into the Wind today, a documentary about the artist Andrew Goldsworthy, and there was a section of the movie that followed leaves floating on the surface of water, and I realized that all these years of trying to get below the surface in my writing (for in graduate school and after I’d been told that my writing stayed on the surface and so for years and years and years I tried to figure out what it meant to be below the surface) that maybe I’d been focusing on the wrong thing.

Watching the leaves brought me to tears because I saw them live out a relationship. One leaf floated and then its edges caught another leaf and they travelled over the surface together, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancing and spinning, until some object in the water separated them, and my heart cried out, Let them find each other again! for it was so clear these two leaves belonged together, needed each other. There they were, on the surface of the water, beings without a heartbeat, making me cry.

They travelled separately and the scene ended, and my heart broke. I felt the leaves, their connection, their loss. 

So maybe trying to get below the surface in writing, in living, is not exactly the point. Maybe it’s about paying very close attention to the surface. Maybe we are most alive when we live in our eyes, in our hands, in all the skin that covers us, and see what we see and feel what we feel instead of listening to the crazy chatter in our head that’s telling us what’s what, and could we please get a move on because we might miss the opening credits.

Of all the different types of massage and bodywork I have learned: Strain Counterstrain, Swedish, PUSH Therapy, Reflexology, Deep Tissue, Sports, etc., etc., I love this slow move the most. It can be done anywhere on the body, and you don’t have to have oil. It’s very sweet done just on the forearm. See how slowly you can go. See how much heart you can get into your hand, how much love.

Have someone touch you like this. It feels like your skin is dying of thirst and someone is giving you water. It feels like your body wants to flower.

We feed each other. We keep each other alive in so many ways, some that can never be spoken or seen, only felt.