spa experience as a microcosm of society
4th Mar 2011Posted in: Blog 0
spa experience as a microcosm of society
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It occured to me the other day while soaking in a hot tub that my experience at my favourite spa was in some relative sense a microcosm of an individual's experience in society.

For example, as my body is soaking, i realize that my calm head sits above the water. Here, my rational mind is chattering away, even though i have become better at silencing it. But still, i can hear an occasional rumbling emanating from the black box which sits atop my neck. It is cooly and calmly ingesting the experience and processing it while looking for novel information. The thing with the mind is that it is always looking for something or trying to figure out the thing it is looking at. Mainly though, it is attempting to remain in the moment at this moment. The moment of the experience of now. Below the head is the ever quiet body, sensing and sending. Soaked in a warm bath, my body receives the heat of the water, the movement of H2O propelled against my back while the bubbles lure themselves into my trunks, draging along my spine one vertebrae at a time. And so it occurs to me that my body is the right brain, immersed in experience, unquestioningly doing what it knows how to do. Above is my left brain, analysing, integrating and processing that experience. Possibly even recording it. Then I think about Freud's analogy of the psyche being something like an ice berg with consciousness about and the unconscious below the water.

Later, after a steam bath a sauna and a nap, I get a massage and i am again silencing fighting with the chattering monkey. The last thing you want to be doing when you are getting a massage is thinking. Within about 15 minutes i am totally asleep. While I sleep, i am wondering how it is possible to sleep while someone is completely working you over with a deep tissue Swedish massage. It is possible to leave your body behind even though it is being stimulated, i can assure you. If the stimulation reminds you of being a small child in the arms of a nurturing mother then you will just fade to night with not even a stars light to distract you. I also wonder how it is possible to be thinking if i am completely asleep but i have learned not to question that too much. I go into a dream which i am vaguely aware of when i step out of it 5 minutes later but my thoughts are not on my dream at that point. No. My thoughts are on on the question of what it means to have a total stranger perform a service as intimate and therapeutic as a massage on me. On one hand, I am feeling completely immersed in the soothing pleasure of gentle human contact but on the other hand, I am feeling akward about paying money for something so human as touch. I guess it feels like being engaged in prostitution. Every prostitutional (if this word does not exist, consider it currently in existence) encounter involves two prostitutes in contrast to the commonly held notion that there is only one prostitute and one client. There are two, but this is perhaps another post. Suffice it to say that in this case, the prostitute of the body is me because i surrender it and pay money, and the prostitute of the soul is my masseuse because she does for me what one ordinarily reserves only for ones most intimate of companions. Surely, this comparison may be a little far fetched for even the most avid Tomartist reader but there are parallels and i have promised to draw them where i see them. So we are both willing participants in an action which does both of us a lot of good for different reasons. In that sense there is a parallel to be drawn between an encounter with a masseuse and an encounter with a prostitute. In the case of prostitution however, the gains are illusory and what the client wants is never really achieved while what the prostitute pretends to offer something which is never really available. In the case of getting a massage, the client does achieve a real and lasting sense of satisfaction from having been treated with dignity and the massage therapist ideally gets some satisfaction from having done a good job and from having been generous with another human being. I do not in anyway suggest that a massage therapist is akin to a prostitute. That would not be reasonable. But i do not either want to debase the profession of selling sex for money. They are different, and each has a place in society, I do not place moral judgement on either, in spite of what my words may lead you to believe. But if we are going to discuss one, it would be good to remember that there is a correlate in the other. Each scenario has something to learn from and teach the other.

The masseuse spends months training to ply the trade, makes a good living out of it and brings real, long lasting therapy to a client. A client receives therapy in this context and finds that their mood is lifted, their stress dispersed. We could agree that physical ailments are not the only or even the main cause for consultation. Pleasure is the main cause. Human contact is the main cause for consultation. And so it is with prostitution. In the case of the massage, it is the human contact and only the human contact which can alleviate the stress and anxiety causing us to seek help. Only the physicality of human touch and the empathy it embodies can help to quell the anger which settled in to rest in our bodies after we thought only to invite them for a moment. Anger is a big reason for consultation with a massage therapist. It may be a reason for consulting with a prostitute as well. I don't know but i think prostitution is more about sadness and despair. Anger though will tense up your muscles, clench your jaw and change the look of your face. If you are angry enough, often enough, your appearance will be that of an angry person even when you may not be angry in a given moment. It can settle in and damage your immune system. It can rewire your brain. In a sense it is not the anger of others for which we should be affraid but our own anger. This is not a post about anger. The massage sinks in, redistributes the body memories, drawing attention to some places where some things happened, while taking attention and memory away from other places. Massage is a re-boot on your system. You don't come out of there feeling rested, you come out of there feeling re-born. I am pretty sure that massage could prove as effective a medical intervention as most currently accepted mainstream interventions including medication and emdr for stress relief or depression. But as you know, this is just theory based on personal experience rather than any scientific data. Intersubjectively, I am pretty sure everyone who has had a massage will agree that any stress they may have been feeling prior to the experience was substantially alleviated.

When it comes to prostitution, there is no therapy. No creation of new understanding. No evolution but merely a temporary alleviation of desire. It is not even the real desire either. It is just an alleviation of the illusion of a desire which comes to sit upon the true desire for human connection. It manifests itself as a sexual connection because the desire for intimacy becomes confused by a number of confounding factors including sex instincts, the socialization of masculine roles and stunted self esteem. So the poor client of prostitution is usually left at the end of the transation feeling more bare than he was to begin with. More empty, more worthless. The alleviation of the desire for intimacy is only effective in the process of the transaction and fades mere moments afterwards. Just like a cigarette really. The illusion of a craving placed on top of a genuine human need for happiness and satisfaction. This is by the way the main tactic of advertising which seeks to piggy-back a product on top of a desire which itself sits on top of a fundamental need. A brutal game really consisting of divesting humanity of its very soul. Right, so back to the spa for a second. Relaxing music, the scent of lavender and lemon grass. Dimly lit candle light carressing the walls adjoining infinitely recessed ceilings of a thick pulpy blackness...are you with me?

Then I thought, it does seem strange then that we should pay for something so natural and so abundant in our world as human contact whether it be in the form of sex or a straight forward massage. For that matter, it is strange that we should pay for education, psychotherapy, police, healthcare or any other social service which we have in such abundance. After all, these are the only gifts we have to give one another. If we charge money for those things then the only kinds of gifts remaining will be those left under the christmas tree and who wants that garbarge?

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