It’s hard to hold the hot potato, friends. At Healwell, we expect to continue to do it for a while longer. People say, “We’ll never be 100% safe, so when? When will you go back?” We’re all asking these questions to which there are no real answers.
Even the members of the Healwell therapist family have varying answers to these questions, moment to moment and day-to-day.
So, here are my thoughts from one human to another, one therapist to another.
I wish I could offer a date or a number or something concrete, but I can’t. I need to feel like things have changed; things other than the narrative. From where I sit, nothing has actually changed in terms of COVID except our ability to tolerate the sense of isolation and an intensification of our desire, our sense that we have a right, to get back to normal.
I feel pretty darned sure that infections will spike again when things open up. All things, not just massage. I have never wanted to be wrong so badly in my life.
I look forward to the time when, three months from now, the profession and my colleagues mock me for what has been described as “panic” and “fear-mongering.” When the phases of reopening move forward, in neat two- and three-week increments without an overwhelming of the health care system by new infections and massage therapists have been back to “normal” for all that time.
I will eat crow with relish.
As I sit this morning, contemplating the “guidance” from Virginia’s governor to basically “open if you can” and for “massage centers” to do their do, but to do as much of it as possible while adhering to social distancing, I am exhausted.
I wonder what is needed now.
How do I keep from being weighed down by the lack of clarity? How do I keep some vague sense of trail cleared? How, most importantly, do we keep from splitting at the seams as a community as we each try to create clarity where there is none?
I have spent the last 15 years of my life working to increase my capacity to stay present to discomfort. Discomfort, dissatisfaction, what Buddhism calls “suffering” is a fact. No matter how “good” you are at this thing called life.
I am deeply aware of the discomfort that exists on so many levels even in my pre-COVID human experience. I’ve made relatively good friends with it. I wonder if this makes me tone deaf to the experience of people who believe in control and who believe in the worlds they have created and how those worlds will hold together.
I am reminded of a quote that has been attributed to the Enlightenment writer and activist, Voltaire. He emphasized, above all, tolerance. He is said to have suggested that, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
We walk around, when there isn’t a global pandemic intruding on our daily experience, in a relative sense of (false) certainty. And even now, there are people who are “certain” that they are ready to go back to work as a massage therapist. People who are certain that they can disinfect and PPE and all the rest to a level that will make them and their clients safe. And then there are people who are certain that’s impossible.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but man do we hate the middle. And when the truth lies in the middle, it's easy to get defensive, because the falseness of certainty is exposed. It’s an act of self-convincing on both sides. Personally, I see the value in a few more weeks at least of obvious and inescapable uncertainty. This is when growth happens. When old patterns get examined and revealed. It’s when the Buddhist concept of ye tang che happens. It’s when we actually become tired of ourselves.
An odd idea, I know. But this is where I decide to stop telling our same old stories and I notice how exhausted I’ve been by these stories and for how long. I have the time to notice I'm telling them and to choose to stop. I see the opportunity become less habitual in the way that I receive the world and respond to it.
The word surrender continues to come to me, but I think something slightly more active is maybe called for. So, I turn to what is called, in theological circles, discernment. Discernment is when we make mental and spiritual space for perception in the absence of judgement with the goal of coming to a new and more clear understanding. I want to say that again: perception in the absence of judgement.
I remind myself to feel that. Just see. Resist the habit to react. Reaction is distracting.
In practice, this means understanding that the time for “convincing” myself and others of my perception is passed or at least it takes a sabbatical while I become clear inside myself about what feels true. When I allow the truth to arise it does not feel indignant or angry. It lands softly, but clearly and then guides my actions and speech. It doesn’t share itself in all caps. It doesn’t worry that others feel differently. It’s not threatened by other ideas. It doesn’t need external confirmation, but it remains aware that there are other truths. it doesn't necessarily stop my worry about others or my concern that things will not go the way I would choose, but it doesn't waste valuable resources on those things like it did before.
I wonder if you'll join me. Let's slow down and stop arguing with ourselves and each other. As communities and states continue to open, each of us will find ourselves in the unenviable position where circumstance moves us from theoretical to actual. It feels easier to hold the hot potato when nobody’s officially asked you to drop it. When the rubber meets the… spud (forgive me), we will each have to make real decisions that feel harder and murkier.
I will hold this potato lightly. This morning, it feels likely that I will continue to hold a line of feeling that this is not the time for us to return to work, but I will put that down each night when I go to bed and then make a conscious and considered decision about whether or not I pick it back up again the next day.
Does it feel accurate to keep holding this today? What has changed inside me? What has changed outside me?
I was talking with a friend who is another stripe (in discipline only, not in heart) of integrative health provider and she described my own internal struggle so clearly. “I feel like my whole career path has been turned on its ear. I go back and forth between being inspired by the possibility of new growth and overwhelmed by the work it will all take and just bewilderment at the sheer unknowing.”
Inspiration, bewilderment and overwhelm take up a lot of bandwidth on the emotional hard drive. Discernment is like a defrag (remember those?) of that hard drive. I want to make space to let in what’s new, including research and data, but also what’s new inside my own mind and heart. And make space for my fellow humans to do the same.
There are no answers.