A Lesson in Nonjudgment

By Jennifer Friedman
[Mind of an MT]

Early in my massage career, I worked at a day spa. One day, a client walked in and my first instinct was to not work on him. But because I was the only available therapist on staff, I smiled and shook his hand and led him to our session room.  
He looked like a body builder and was much taller than me. I am only 5’3”, so working on this huge guy was going to be a workout. There was another glaring thing about him: he had a small firearm fastened to his pants. Because I don’t have any experience around firearms, my alert went up immediately. How was I going to bring the proper energy for this session when I was intimidated by his very presence?
He politely shook my hand and flashed a huge smile as I led him back to the massage room. While he was undressing and getting on the table in the session room, I washed my hands, said a positive affirmation, and took a deep breath.
Once I re-entered the room and put my hands on him, within minutes I could feel his muscles relax. I also felt something very strange—it was a sense of him not being him and me not being me, but us as one entity. I felt a calm in the room, almost the complete opposite of what I was feeling before. Then, he spoke.
“So, how are you doing today?” he asked.
“Great, thanks,” I said, and asked him the same.
“Why, very good, thank you. Much better now,” he replied, and somehow we got into talking about his life story.
Sometimes the person you are touching and making contact with is nothing like you think. It turned out this man was one of the most amazing people I had ever had the pleasure to meet and massage. In a nutshell, his story was that he was a retired police officer. He told me about the day he was in his patrol car with his best friend who was suddenly shot, his friend slumping over and dying in front of him. This caused a major depression in his life, and he turned to drugs. Not only that, but soon after, his wife left him. For a long time, his life was complete misery, and finally he had to do the one thing he never imagined he would have to do: he filed for bankruptcy and became homeless.
As he was telling me this story, my hands became increasingly more loving, and I almost started to cry, but stopped myself because I needed to be professional. My compassion for this man was tremendous. I felt amazed that, for one, he trusted me enough to tell his life story and, two, that he had been through so much.
He told me that he had been an addict and lived on the streets and was ready to take his life when things turned around. He met an amazing woman, they married, and now have seven children. He went to drug rehab because of this woman. He became a pastor, and now is a well-respected member of his community.
After he finished his story, part of me wondered what I should say. I just said “wow” and nothing else, partly because I was still digesting it all and because I was already embarrassed that I had judged him before I got to know him.
After the massage, I thanked him for coming in. I think he could sense my gratitude—not only for letting me hear his story, but for helping me alter my original perception of him. Even though it was many years ago, I still think about that interaction.
The Spectrum of Forgiveness
A wise friend once told me, “You can judge a person, but you can’t judge their soul.” Not only is nonjudgment hugely important when doing bodywork, but forgiving ourselves for any negative thoughts toward someone is important, too. After all, we are only human, and each person is really just trying the best they can. Every time I start to have a negative thought or judgment about someone, I try (and still don’t always succeed) to remember that retired police officer and what happened as soon as I put my hands on him.
Humans are unique in that we are the only beings who judge each other. Whenever I feel that judgy feeling coming on, I just take a breath—breathe in the air that never judges us and breathe back out the air for the universe that doesn’t judge us either. When we can get to the point where we are that space between breaths and that universal rhythm that moves the waves, I think we will find that the world becomes a more peaceful place, and our bodies become the microcosm of that peaceful place as well.  
 Jennifer Friedman is a licensed massage therapist based in South Florida who specializes in craniosacral therapy. You can reach her at oceanbliss770@yahoo.com.