When I work with clients in my massage practice, the ways the tissues can feel tangled is so obvious under my fingers. Lines of tension, sometimes so tight they are reshaping the body out of alignment, pull this way and that way. Sometimes I talk with the client, and they may tell me what they feel about that entanglement that is causing them disharmony in their physical system. So often, it is tangled with the emotional aspect of our physicality, and with thoughts and memories and stories. There is no part of us that is separate from another.
This probably seems obvious to you as you read this. You've heard it before, and you've experienced it yourself, perhaps - the way everything is woven in together.
What I find, though, in myself and others, is that when the intensity of a situation builds, this awareness gets overridden. When there are too many incoming stimuli for us to process quickly, we tend to focus on one.
Often it's the physical pain that gets the most attention, as that is often the loudest voice, and it can grab us hard and fast, or in a sustained ache that never seems to let up.
When we can get our breath again, the invitation is to look at what else is there. There's the big knot of pain - and what else is there, woven in and through and under? What emotions get riled up and pulled in this tangle? What thoughts and stories and memories come up? Noticing them isn't going to make the pain magically go away (though sometimes it does!) but it is going to give you some context to work with. It is going to give that pain some room to feel support.
Here's my real world experience of this.
My left shoulder is where I really hitch up. That shoulder is a bit higher than the right one, all the time. Most of the time it doesn't hurt, and I catch myself a hundred times a day and let it go as much as I can.
When I first started noticing it, it was causing me pain. Sometimes enough pain to make my jaw and molars hurt - I actually went to the dentist once wondering if I had a tooth infection. Nope. Just some super tight traps.
I take Alexander Technique lessons with Shirley and Michael Wade-Linton, and that really helped me begin to release the physical tension. It's a life-long, ongoing practice.
Woven into and all around that recurring tension tangle are memories of my dad squeezing my shoulder there very tightly when he was trying to get me to behave in public. The physical sense memory of leaning against the window of the bus as I went to and from school - a place I hated in my three final years of highschool. If I could say I have a chip on my shoulder, it's definitely sitting there on the left one; ready for me to raise my fist against the patriarchy, consumerism, war - all those marches I've participated in.
My hitched up shoulder is tight, but also, sometimes, it fees like home. It's been building on this pattern for a long time.
When I'm in a moment of discord with my partner, it feels crazy to try to relax that shoulder - I might need it to fight or flee! Phew. I tell myself we're okay, and try to take a breath to soften myself up a little more.
When I'm remembering a moment of shame from the past - that time I got cut off in traffic, and then tailgated that car for the next 5 minutes swearing at them, while my young daughter watched from her carseat - my shoulder hitches up instantly - I want to hide, bury my face and tuck myself into a smaller shape.
And sometimes it's nothing conscious - I just get home at the end of the day and my left shoulder is hard as a piece of wood. What was I doing to it all day? Just holding it up. Just hanging onto it like it was an anchor is a sea of stimulus.
Not any one thing. Many things. Layers and complexity.
We tend to want one specific answer, and if the pain is from a specific injury, we have one.
But when it's chronic, when it's come out of nowhere, when it comes and goes as the years go by - then we look for the complexity. We delve into the entanglement and see what we find. See what we learn about ourselves, and how we might begin to untangle these layers.
I haven't met anyone yet who has reached a pinnacle of balance and stability and managed to stay there forever. So, this is a part of our life process, whether we really want it to be or not.
I'm in relationship with this left shoulder of mine, and it's the innocent party. I can give it disparaging glances and thoughts, or I can talk to it like a sweet sister. What's she telling me? What's that tension in response to?
I can listen to the threads and hear the deeper conversation of happening in my body.
That's part of what I'm doing when I'm working with massage clients. Listening to the deeper conversation of the body. It's a good way to spend time with another.