Hello, lovelies and a Happy New Year to you.
It's January, the time when shelter mags feature articles about home organization and "freshening up with color," when gyms enroll the most new members, and when the media earnestly discuss resolutions in a flurry of hope tempered with the experience of hindsight: the standard pieces about what to resolve and how to do so are alongside articles and news clips warning you that by February most of these new resolutions will be toast.
La dee dah.
In all my 32 years on this planet I have rarely made New Year's resolutions and only ever kept one of them, back in 2008: to get a massage every month. It is a resolution I still keep six years later.
This came about because during the prior year I had spent much of my time in physical therapy due to three painful problems: severe wrist tendonitis, pain in my right foot, and yes, vulvo-freakin'-dynia.
The three different specialists I saw kept saying the same thing: that my pain was due at least in part to severe chronic muscle tension. What the hey? I remembered adults telling me as early as the 6th grade "Oh honey, you are so tense," but it had never occurred to me that there would be any further repercussions, that my muscles would start pulling tighter and tighter until it hurt to raise a glass, walk, or sit.
I had only received a couple of professional massages at that point in my life, but I had loved them. They were a splurge, an expensive luxury to be enjoyed only on the rarest of occasions, but after all the time and money I had spent on physical therapy this delicious treat no longer seemed particularly expensive or optional.
So, my project began, continuing through a cross-country move and tight financial times. I initially thought massage would loosen up my muscles, with the goal of pain prevention, and that in order to achieve this the massage therapist would "fix" me, a passive recipient. All I had to do was show up.
Instead the process was entirely different, with me an active agent and the results spilling off the table and into my life.
I learned how to feel my own body. My newfound physical awareness allowed me to make better decisions: to move and be still differently, to feel pain or discomfort and respond appropriately. I learned which parts of my body seemingly always held tension but also noticed sensations that would come and go.
The physical awareness soon led to emotional awareness. Positions such as clenched jaws or a held abdomen didn't come out of nowhere: my body was responding to what was going on in my head and my heart.
Regular massage taught me that how I handled my physicality and my emotions greatly influenced what happened in my body. Not only that, it was a two-way street: by intentionally relaxing an affected body part, I could loosen the hold of a vexing emotional state.
Massage became so important to me that I had to share it with others: I worked as a massage therapist for two years.
* * *
In the early days of this project I rationalized my monthly massages as a responsible medical decision, but long ago dropped that Puritanical stance.
I now embrace the fact that all of these mind-body benefits flow from the intentional pursuit of pleasure. By "pursuit" I mean "an activity of a specified kind," as opposed to the act of going after an as-yet-unreached goal. My pursuit of pleasure is very much in the here and now, a practice, not something out on the horizon.
The hobby of pleasure is an essential part of healing: if you don't feel good, and don't know how to make yourself feel good, then how will you reach that state without experimentation and many hours of practice?
This is obvious once you look at it, but I rarely meet another person who thinks the same.
I continue my monthly massages to this day, and have the next three sessions already booked. They are mentally pencilled in for the next seven decades.
* * *
I don't have a dramatic New Year's resolution for 2015, but I have spent considerable time over the past week tying up loose ends, focusing my desires for the coming year, and creating more support and structure around them with the intention of their fulfillment.
I am taking stock of my strengths and for the first time in my adult life I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing twelve months from now.
My New Year's reflection has thus not produced a proclamation so much as an acknowledgement of a series of shifts, and the decision to engage with them fully.
We are neither passive recipients nor all-powerful lords in any area of our lives: making change is a dance, a back and forth between our inner and outer worlds: