When I was 13 I was hit by a wave of overwhelm – at the hurt and pain and “brokenness” of the world. The war, the famine, the greed, and the poverty. I was on a school trip at the time and I remember several nights crying myself to sleep. I’ll never forget the room I was sleeping in that week – and the incongruity of being on a “fun” trip to France, sightseeing and swimming, while internally I was struggling to deal with the realities of the world.
That experience precipitated close to a decade of very active involvement in various campaigning organisations, primarily anti-nuclear with Trident Ploughshares and Youth & Student CND, and opened doors to new ways to connect, new ways to live, new people, new perspectives. I didn’t realise it at the time but one of the most significant new doorways was to receive a clothed shoulder massage one evening at a party when I was 18 – another was an introduction to the principles and practice of non-violence.
After the black-and-white ideals of my younger years, my mid-twenties to mid-thirties saw me exploring routes which didn’t seem much related to conflict resolution, the career path I had dreamed of in my teenage years. Throughout this period I was training in NO HANDS Massage and latterly working both as a trainer and administrator / organisational facilitator for the company. From that first Massage at 18 I had felt an intense connection with the power in Touch and year on year developed an even stronger appreciation and understanding of this power, its simplicity and at the same time its depth. But still there was a part of me that felt like I wasn’t doing enough – that there were people’s lives being torn apart by violence in all its many and varied forms and here I was, giving large chunks of my time, energy and attention to “just Massage”. Yet still I persevered down this path.
Other aspects of life continued to change and evolve along with this – moving to different parts of the country, exploring relationships, having periods of excellent health and other periods of struggling (notably from a mental health perspective). And I feel like I’ve reached a watershed.
This weekend I had the great privilege to be part of the course team for a NO HANDS course where I got to meet 12 phenomenally committed practitioners, each of whom was accounting for and facing their own personal challenges in order to offer the best possible experience for their clients. Their dedication and humility, their eagerness and openness to learning was inspiring. And still is as I think of each of them. Each course is a snapshot of the wider NO HANDS community and reminds me of the many and varied ways in which this brilliant community of practitioners is, quite literally, changing the world one Massage at a time.
And although I’ve loved and lived by the NO HANDS Mission Statement for many years now (“To heal the world through the power of transformational touch“), something significant has dropped into place. I may not be in a war zone, but the impact respectful and gentle yet powerful touch has on both the giver and receiver is one of the most powerful tools I know for healing ruptures – and laying the foundations and continue building a truly non-violent world.
I am in the right place, doing the right thing – and I know it on a level I never did before.
At the same time, it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that I rediscovered in these past few days a whole bunch of material and books I have around conflict resolution and non-violence, not least Peace Direct’s Unarmed Heroes (which I highly recommend). This snippet from the introduction particularly struck me:
Stories like these can uplift us not so much because they are about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, but rather because they are about ordinary people doing what human beings are capable of. We are inspiring when we transcend the situation we are thrust into by life to get a bigger picture of how things are and how things can be. We are inspiring when we go on to make space in our lives to live out our part in that bigger picture. This is being human at its best.
I feel a renewed energy for the other end of the non-violence and conflict-resolution spectrum (which also links in with the volunteering I do with AVP Scotland) and feel incredibly excited by what the next phase of my life holds.
The list of influences, amazing books, incredible people and precious experiences I have had the privilege of interacting with is a book in itself – and continues on a daily basis. Many of the most important lessons have not come easy and have not been comfortable – but the sense of clarity and purpose I find myself sitting with is utterly invaluable. But that book is not for today.
Instead I feel an immense gratitude for every aspect of life I’ve been touched by, in every sense of the word. And for that I say two words which somehow seem incredibly small but in their simplicity sum it up: Thank You.