I once took a required course in a subtle form of bodywork called Jin Shin Do. Rather than pressing, kneading, or stroking, the practitioner simply rests her fingers on specific combinations of acupuncture points and intends for healing to occur. During the first few classes, I thought, “I have all these other healing tools. Why would I waste my time on this? Who can even tell if anything is happening?!”
Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. This class gave me an appreciation for the power of subtlety in medicine. I now believe that subtle healing techniques often succeed where others fail, because there’s less potential for the recipient’s mind or body to object to the intervention, less potential to exacerbate an existing condition, plus an opportunity to “slip under the radar” and initiate a deeper healing.
Frequently, the professor broke us into pairs – a giver and a receiver – to try experiments. And there was one experiment that I’ll never forget.
While the givers’ hands rested on the receivers, she would circulate through the room whispering a variety of words into the givers’ ears. Some of the phrases I remember were, “I love you,” “You are safe,” “You are healed,” and “Everything is good.” The givers were instructed to hold each set of words in their consciousness without changing anything about what they were doing with their hands. Sometimes they were directed to think about what they were going to have for dinner or to ponder a current problem in their life. After a few minutes, both the giver and the receiver would report about what they experienced.
Nearly all the receivers, without knowing what the givers were focused on, reported feeling better when the givers were focused on a positive intention rather their own “stuff.” They weren’t always able to articulate what exactly felt better about it, but some felt more “held” by the giver, or more energy, or an alignment of their skeleton, or a reduction in pain.
There were minimal differences in the effect of the various positive intentions – except one. Everyone in the room reported that the best, most “connected” experience occurred when the giver held the phrase “I am here for you” in their mind. In fact, when the giver thought, “I am here for you,” there were sighs around the room from the receivers. Their breathing deepened and they relaxed more.
I’ve thought about this a lot in the years since. It reminds me of an anxious phase I went through as a tween. When I was 12 I had some panic attacks, and afterwards I always wanted one of my parents to be near me. That need for physical proximity eventually passed – I actually preferred to be alone much of the time – but as I got clearer about it, I realized that I what I really wanted was to know that someone would be available to give me their full presence if I ever needed it. (Kind of like the ease that comes from having a Xanax in your pocket, even if you never take it.)
This realization eventually led to the understanding that attention is an exceedingly valuable thing. We all know that “time is money” because there’s a finite amount of it in the workday. But attention (or presence) is even more precious. How often do you feel that you have someone’s complete, undivided attention?
Back in my angsty tweens and teens – before the Internet, and when it used to cost a lot to make a long-distance phone call – if there wasn’t someone nearby, it might be difficult or expensive to find a human connection. Today, it’s much easier and cheaper. We can Skype or Facetime with someone on the other side of the planet for free! We’ve made great gains in bridging distance with technology.
And yet, it seems even more uncommon to find someone who can give you their presence in a sustained way. Based on my conversations with patients, people feel busier and more distracted than a few decades ago. We have shorter attention spans and less ability to focus. (I believe the phenomenon I’ve dubbed the Human Data Stream – that massive flow of information in the form of texts, calls, videos, social media, emails, etc., and the devices that transmit it – is largely to blame.) You could be sitting across the table from someone, engaged in a conversation, and still feel that they’re not really “here for you.”
HERE. FOR. YOU.
Think about what it means to really be present for someone you care about. As in, I offer you my total presence. And consider how good it would feel if you could allow yourself to fully trust and relax in the presence of a loved one who’s holding the space for you. What a gift! I encourage all of us to practice offering our presence to others – setting aside our personal agendas and giving our full attention to the one in front of us.
Now, there’s a little more to the story. So, I realized that I didn’t need someone always holding my hand, but I wanted to know I had a support system in my family and community. I gathered folks who would be here for me if I needed it (and I for them). And I will always prioritize family and community for the rest of my life.
However, I came to understand that even that level of support was still external in a way. I don’t mean to diminish its value, but I recognized that there was a deeper or closer trust available, a closer presence, that wouldn’t require calling a friend.
I saw that I rarely offered myself my own total presence, choosing instead, almost incessantly, to give my attention to my mind’s constant stream of thoughts. I saw that I rarely told myself, I AM HERE FOR YOU! (By “I” in this phrase, I mean my Authentic Self, my Divine Self, my Absolute Self, or what many people simply call a Oneness with God.) It’s at once tragic and glorious to recognize this self-deprivation.
Sometimes I have difficulty remembering it or accessing it, but I know it’s always there. That is, I am always here. And, because you and I are one, I am always here for you, and you are always here for me. Let’s remember together, and dispel the illusions of separation that cloud our vision.
Be well my friend,