My first job out of physical therapy school was for a hospital in the inner city. During that time, much of my abilities as a healer came out to meet me.
When I went to massage school in the early 90’s, I was besieged by emotions and memories when putting my hands on others. Waves of screaming would sometimes pass through me and I can remember several times leaving the room overcome and overwhelmed. Sometimes touching others felt like fire and pain in my fingers as if my hands were bursting into flames. At times I thought that they would blister. At other times, I would remember abuse I went through as a child from a neighbor. I knew I was to work with people with my hands but needed a filter. I was working in a research laboratory for the Navy back then, so I decided to switch schools and apply to graduate school for physical therapy. Making myself work intellectually and getting into my head and away from my body was a way to channel the streams of information coming through me. It was also a way for me to avoid what was already there beckoning to me to listen. I put myself in psychotherapy. I thought I was crazy.
After physical therapy school, I went to work in the inner city of Washington DC, in Anacostia. It was a new experience for me. Very new. We did not go jogging by ourselves. The sounds of popping in the streets at different times of the day was gunfire, not some random machine. The people I dealt with were very often living on the fringe of society, and in poverty. Yet there was true nobility here; poverty, poor health, poor family structure and lack of education did not deter many of my patients from connecting with me in a heart felt manner. I remember one day, an elderly lady with severe arthritis in her fingers made me a sweet potato pie. “Honey, I want you to have this whole pie to yourself.” She sat there with a smile that shone across her whole being, I swear her fingers straightened and her pain went away when she watched me eat that pie. And it was delicious.
But in working, the buzzing started to happen again in my hands, the heat and the fire. I could feel myself frequently disoriented but unable to leave this job. I couldn’t. There was something about where I was that compelled me to stay. The longer I stayed, the more I became aware of an “inner knowing”, something “telling” me about the person in front of me before they told me about themselves. The voice would get stronger until it started coming out before I even realized it, I had to learn to control the knowing and its expression.
Early in this process, a young man came in. For the sake of privacy, I will call him Barrett. Barrett was a tall, defiant strong 19 year old, clearly hardened. Sometimes it was intimidating enough working, the additional flood of “knowing” was at times overwhelming. With Barrett, the flood of information was very challenging. The physical therapy consult said, “bicipital tendonitis’, I breathed out, saying to myself, “Okay, I can do this”. We started the shoulder evaluation, he talked a little bit, and then he took off his shirt to show me how his shoulder blades moved. It was then that I sat down hard. He sat down too and looked at me.”You can see me, can’t you?”, he asked. I said, “yes.” There was the clearest form of connection, something we both sensed and felt in the deepest way possible. It was as if everything he was I could see, and he seemed to know it. He sighed and looked at me, “what do you want to know?” I said, “tell me the story of how your brother died. That scar.”
Barrett said, “I have never told anyone that story. And I don’t know how you knew it was my brother. But I will tell you.: I am the oldest. My mom could not support us and I had several brothers and sisters. Some days we had no food to eat. I can only remember that from the time I was young, I was the one that they came to, and I was the one that took care of things. There was always gunfire around us. I don’t remember how old I was but one day, my little brother was running to me and then I remember turning and pain went through my chest. really went through my chest. Like a fire exploding through me that roared out to the other side. But the fire struck my little brother. He died, I did not.” He was sitting across from me at this point, shoulders sagging, head bowed no defiance in his 19 year old body to be seen. “Those other scars are from other bullets. But I never felt those. This one, this one went through my heart and I don’t know why I am still here.”
I reached out my hands with my palms up, and he placed his hands to reach me, hands over mine. His shoulders started to shake, and I reached my head forward to touch his. We sat like this for a long time, forehead to forehead, hands touching for the rest of the hour. He cried and cried. Those wounds of the heart that had been frozen were a burden too long carried. Too long held up and out and away from his body. I breathed for both of us.
It is strange to remember this story now. I have never actually shared it myself. I tucked it away. But it was triggered today by a friend who shared with me a story about MC Yogi, a former graffiti artist and troubled youth that turned his life around through yoga and rapping. He had many opportunities that this man did not, a loving set of parents that put him in a home to be watched over, and a father who took up yoga.
Barrett found a home in his gang, but he was not happy. He wanted relief from this burden. The burden of carrying a guilt that was not his, the burden of not having a childhood, the burden of seeing the world in its bleakest form at such a young age.
At some point, he finished and we both sat back. I handed him his shirt. He said, “my shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore. The scar (he tapped the one that he shared with his brother) I feel now but it no longer hurts.”
He came back one more time, 2 weeks after. He did not keep his appointment time but merely to come in to thank me and tell me that his shoulder pain was gone. I never heard from him again.
The process of connection with him, opened a gateway to healing for him and me. I became aware of somato-emotional pain on a profound level. But also aware of the level of suffering that some individuals go through that most of us do not even have to think about much less live in this life.
My mom was horrified, “that is too close. I don’t like you talking to people this way.” She was not saying this as a judgement but out of concern for me. But I also didn’t feel I could tell anyone without it sounding titillating or just plain crazy, or outside of the boundaries of being a physical therapist.
Other patients followed, some who had stories I would hear before they told me, or able to intuit or help them in a way that was different than either of us expected. It was definitely out of the box but confined within the evaluation and treatment of the physical therapist. The environment and my training started to get smaller and smaller and the awareness of a healing “force” greater and more vast than my mind could comprehend made its way to the surface. I started to become aware of the possibilities of healing that existed without even the knowledge of biomechanics or science. Yet the science gave some of the healing a language, and for many, the science and medicine was a necessary part of the healing process. What was all this?
I started having dreams. Dreams of seeing people dying, dreams of people dying becoming happy, dreams of being in space and large volumes of light and energy shooting through me, dreams of “landing”, dreams of hating being here on this planet. What did this have to do with healing?
In time I was having dreams of leaving the hospital but I ignored them. One night I had a particularly vivid dream, of things exploding. The staff secretary the next day said to me, “Rita I had a dream of you last night…you were standing at the bottom of a staircase and there was a bright light at the top, you were holding the hand of a little girl and she was looking at you wondering what to do next. Then I woke up and felt I had to tell you this dream”. Her telling me the dream delayed my going out the door by several seconds. As I left and approached the edge of the compound, I remember hearing the familiar gunfire pop pop, but this time something happened. There were 2 little girls across the street. I remember seeing shafts of light shining down on them, they were standing behind a bus bench. Two cars came roaring up the street parallel to each other, pops getting louder and louder. And then the road and the sidewalk started exploding around me, and one of my headlights exploded, the glass blowing up and a bullet ricocheting off the hood of my car. I didn’t duck, I was too focused on the 2 little girls, my whole energy and self focused on them, everything was in the slowest motion. The girls disappeared behind the bench, I remember whispering prayers, of things exploding around me, and then getting out of my car looking around me wondering, “what just happened”.
Something in me later told me to work with people but in a different way. That the hospital was no longer where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know where, but it was time for me to go. I remember driving home that day, a friend following as I started to shake soon after the event, yet I could not get over how crisp, how beautiful, how blissful everything was. The contrast of the tree branches against the bright blue sky, each blade of grass so green, every person in front of me so very sacred, so very special, and i couldn’t understand how people could not see each other. Something in me cracked open and i could not see how why we were so separate from each other. There was nothing separating any of us, from nature, from each other. Yet we were all separating ourselves and forcing that separation.
I forgot about this experience soon after. It has been a journey ever since of coming back to that place and then popping out. Being a healer does this, it awakens you, it puts you at the bridge between life and death. And at times, if not held in balance or under great duress, that bridge of life and death can get very confusing and over self identification with one or the other can occur.
I made several decisions over the years on the healer path. To explore creativity through poetry. To work in a day spa as a massage therapist. To explore subtle therapies such as craniosacral therapy, lymphatic drainage and the Feldenkrais method. To study energy medicine and meditation. To open my integrative healing practice. But through out all that there has been one constant, a desire to find the language, the means with which I can help people to find their own healing potential. To go in and touch the incredible source of creation that lies within and to use it to make this world a better place.
Funny how the simplest things, the gift of who we are and the ability to heal ourselves is right here in front of us with no manipulation, no learning, just here. We are already born free and born with all the love we need. But we forget. What we want the most and what we have the most of is very often what we push away the hardest. Yet if we return breath by breath, time after time, we can touch those places of love and healing for ourselves and the world around us.
May we be open to who we are and live in the beauty of this presence. May all be well. May all be happy.