The time I went to massage school

Winter, 2003

How I got into massage school is another crazy twist in the path of my life. For over fifteen years, all of my adult life until age 34, I worked in the corporate world. I started out as an office assistant and worked my way through graphic design, multimedia design, web design and project management. Though there were elements to the work that I always enjoyed, I was also always dissatisfied because I knew that, at core, none of my work really served society. I was a cog in the capitalist machine, working for no other reason than to feed the machine and keep myself occupied. I dreamed for years of leaving the machine, but could never envision a viable exit strategy. (Just listen to me - even now using phrases like "exit strategy.")

Finally, I burned out with no idea what to do next. I continued working, but I was a shell of my former self. I had no direction or enthusiasm as I went through the motions of my former life. And then the best thing that could possibly happen, did. I got laid off.

It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds though. I was a junior partner of the company I worked for, and until I burned out, I'd had a huge emotional investment in it. I only stayed as long as I did out of tremendous loyalty to my boss and senior partner, John. John and I had a close relationship and he showed great patience and compassion during my last year, giving me every chance to recover my verve. But eventually we made a mutual decision, and in August of 2001, I left, retaining my shares in the company and a good freelance relationship.

Because I couldn't think of anything better to do, I moved to Los Angeles with a girlfriend. I was still unhappy there. I moved back six months later, alone.

And then a funny thing happened. I refound my passion. For everything. I started seeing someone new, organized crazy events, bought into my favorite restaurant, and began building a dense web of community around myself. I didn't know where I was headed, but I knew I would never again be satisfied by anything that didn't provide some beneficial service to my immediate community.

Event planning was incredibly exciting. The height of any event for me is looking around at all the participants and knowing that I brought these people together, made this venue for them, helped them to create this shared experience. But because of the peculiar nature of my personal ethic system, I found myself unable to enjoy it, or even be effective at it, if I was trying to profit from it.

Similarly, the time I spent working at the Green Cat Cafe was very satisfying and I knew I was providing a needed service and sincere friendliness to my customers. But I had little interest in the restaurant business outside this, my favorite place, and I knew it would never provide me with a living.

I was still on the lookout, and I still couldn't say for what. But numerous parts of my life were soon to come to confluence, like facets of a gem used to focus the light of a beam.

Facet: I learn best through practical application. On the job, need based, what have you. Theory without immediate application has no appeal. So while I've taught myself several programming languages, I've never been an exceptional academic student.

Facet: I've always been intensely oriented around my hands. My sense of touch is highly developed, and I pay great attention to tactile sensations. I use my hands as much as my eyes to gauge things in my environment. I have a natural ability for sculpture and love working with clay.

Facet: I grew up an only child in a small family without much attention. I entered adulthood as a severe introvert lacking, among other things, any idea of how to touch people. Part of my personal growth in recent years involved learning to touch. It was a huge leap, and I was amazed to find how it changed my interactions with people. Eventually I became very comfortable with myself and people around me, and even needed to touch.

Facet: for about a year I'd been experiencing phenomena such as are described by people who talk about reiki, chi, kundalini. I'm a confirmed atheist and have always been deeply skeptical of such things. But I couldn't ignore the phenomena manifesting themselves in me. I had a growing feeling that the energies I was channeling could be used for healing. A number of experiences helped to confirm this for me.

Facet: in August of 2002 I went to Burning Man for the first time and had several defining experiences there. Among them was this. I visited the Temple of Tears one day. The Temple was a five story structure built of balsa scrimshaw and destined to be burned on the last night of the festival. People left in it messages to be burned. Messages of hope, of prayer, of remembrance. Even though only temporary, the Temple had the gravity of a holy place. I found there, among the crowd, a man resting on his knees outside the Temple, and sobbing. I had experienced a lot of recent unhappiness myself, and though I had no idea what was hurting him, I felt great empathy. I said nothing but sat down beside him and put my arm around him, rubbed his back, held him, let him cry. When he was calmer, he thanked me. I gave him a smile and left. Just a small moment in our lives, but it and other moments like this convinced me that I needed to find some way of providing therapeutic service on a one to one basis.

Enter the Brian Utting School of Massage. I had been intrigued by the tiny ads in The Stranger for their once-a-month one-day massage workshops. I had never once tried massage, or even been massaged very much, but I felt drawn to it. And so I attended the October 2002 workshop. I found the experience intensely fulfilling. I got to use my hands. I found an immediate practical application for the anatomical knowledge I had to learn. I was able to channel my emerging energy into a physical path. And I found it richly satisfying to create a warm, safe, space and provide a beneficial healing touch to my clients.

The next full-time program would begin in January, 3 months later, run for 16 months and cost $10,500, plus another $2,000 or so in expenses. It required a huge commitment. But everything I had learned about myself in the last two years showed me that this was right. I applied to the school immediately, after one day of exposure, and also signed up for a 5 week beginner class.

I had my interview with the school a couple of weeks later. They screen carefully to find out such things as whether the applicant is a personality fit, if they truly understand the requirements of time and money, if they have an emotional support network outside of school, what sort of academic skills they have. I was given a provisional acceptance. My provisions were that I was to receive 3 deep tissue massage sessions and attend an upcoming anatomy class. Later, I was also asked to attend another one day workshop, and then come back for a second interview.

Ironically, the one thing that came closest to keeping my out was my curiousity about energy work. I raised it in my first interview, not because it's a huge part of my life, but because I felt it was something I should share with the admissions councillors. They apparently interpreted this as meaning that I had a major interest in it. They wondered if I would be satisfied by the education offered at Utting, which is primarily based in western medicine and teaches a firm grounding in physiology. They also feared that I might be too new age for some of the other students. This all came out at my second interview. It would have been funny if I hadn't already felt that I'd been made to jump through a lot of hoops because of it.

I was accepted on December 11, 2002. The program started on January 6, 2003. With luck, I'll graduate as a fully licensed massage practitioner in April 2004. I'll need lots of people to practice on, so if you need some free massage, drop me a line!