Focusing on Compassion

By Jacki Sellers
[Mind of an MT]

“Is love available, even here?” This is the question I have been learning to ask, and it’s applicable to various situations. It traces back to a Sufi spiritual teacher, and I first heard about it in a class I took about money. Yes, money. My teacher used this question to get to a softer, more open way of looking at life. Sufism (pronounced Soof-ism) is a mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through the direct personal experience of God.
My own limited exposure to Sufism was through this course, in which we practiced devotional techniques to get in touch with our hearts. Using the word love in this way is not necessarily the type of romantic love we might normally think of, but rather the love of the divine. I also think of it as referring to loving ourselves—or as a Buddhist might put it, practicing compassion for self and others.

Applying the Wisdom
One Saturday, when I was working my shift at the high-end spa where I have worked as a massage therapist for more than seven years, I asked myself this Sufistic question when faced with a difficult situation. My client was booked for a 90-minute massage and was rather terse in her answers to my intake questions. To each question I asked, she gave short one- or two-word answers. She said she wanted the focus to be on her back, so I started her massage by working on her back, even though I normally start with the client supine. About 10 minutes into the massage, I asked her how the pressure was, and if she wanted me to change anything. Her reply was, “Good.” I spent about 30 minutes on her back and then moved on to her legs.
At this point, she asked rather brusquely, “When are you going to do a real massage?” I was taken aback and answered that I was doing a massage, and then she made two comments you never want to hear a client say:
1. “I am not happy!”
2. “Do you even know what massage is?”
I will admit I was shocked by her question and my initial reaction, inside my head, went something like this: I know what massage is! I have other clients who refer to me as the “muscle whisperer,” and say that I perform Jedi magic on them! I’ve been a massage therapist for 10 years, so yes, I know what massage is!  
Of course, that was all in the bubble above my head. I asked her what it was that was missing for her and she responded: “There is no momentum!”
Now I was really stumped, because I had no idea what that meant! So, I took a deep breath and asked if she could tell me more about that. In my head I asked, Is love available, even here? My head responded, No! This lady is crazy! Then, I decided to ask my ego to step aside to see what I could learn from this situation.
We talked a few more minutes, and I asked if she would like to stop the massage. She answered no, and I finally figured out that all she wanted me to do was to keep moving my hands and basically keep “rubbing” her. Then, she told me how she once had a masseuse (her term) who came to her house and what a wonderful masseuse she was, and on and on. Every massage therapist has heard this one, and I simply told her that I could not be that person, because I could only be me.
I just kept breathing and asking myself, Is love available, even here?
I proceeded to do a massage that was not at all what I usually do, and by then I was feeling fairly resentful that she did not like my slower, more methodical style. Yet, I kept asking myself, Is love available, even here?

Finding the Love
After I finished with her legs, I once again massaged her back, with “momentum,” and she loved it. When I asked her what she wanted once she was faceup, she replied that I could do whatever I wanted because I had done what she wanted on her back. I still gave her the nonstop movement, because that is what she liked. She started to talk a bit, and we chatted for just a few minutes. In the end, she left happy.
I know I was able to move from being resentful to accepting because I kept asking that one question: Is love available, even here? That question kept this session from turning into a bad situation and transformed it into one where I learned something. I think if I continue to answer this question for myself, some surprising things can happen!

Jacki Sellers, BCTMB, CMLDT, has been an ABMP member since 2007 and is passionate about teaching oncology massage as continuing education. Contact her at