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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Fixing? Helping? Serving?

Ease-ment of the Week: Footies

The summer after my sophomore year in college my friend, Narumi, and I took summer jobs as live-in cooks and maids for a wealthy family. There was more than enough work to keep both of us on our feet all day, especially if the schedule included a lunch or dinner party, when it wasn't unusual for us to work 16 hours at a stretch. Though we were young and strong, as you can imagine our feet and legs were not very happy at the end of a day like that.

After our first grueling marathon Narumi, who hailed from Japan, taught me a unique form of Japanese foot massage. She had me take my shoes off and lie down on my belly on the well-carpeted floor of our little attic apartment. She took off her shoes and, using her toes and the balls of her feet, gently walked on and massaged my toes and forefeet up to about the middle of my arches, for a minute or two. It felt wonderful. When she was done neither my feet nor legs hurt anymore. Amazing.

Then she coached me through doing it for her--and for others later:

  • Be sure to have padding under the whole body, including the feet.

  • Also have padding for the feet of the one doing the massage.

  • Don't go any further towards the heel on the foot of the person you're massaging than the middle of their arch.

  • Your toes are stronger and more flexible than you think--use them. But don't tense up or hurt yourself.

  • Rest much of your weight on your heels, but don't be afraid to lean forward a bit.

  • If you're not sure of your balance, have the person getting the massage lie parallel to a wall so you can balance yourself with your arm.

  • And, of course, stop if it hurts either one of you.

After I started writing this post I did a fairly extensive Google search, assuming I could find some reference to this technique, and hopefully a picture. I did learn about "barefoot shiatsu" or “ashiatsu” which involves a specially trained practitioner actually walking on and stroking a person's back using their (the massager's) bare feet. But there was no mention of anyone using their feet to massage someone else's feet. Strange. And I've lost touch with Narumi.

In any case, it felt wonderful and we used it with great results after those 16 hour cooking-serving-cleaning-dishwashing marathons. If your balance is decent and your feet are generally in good shape but tired from holding you up all day, I highly recommend it. Let me know how it works!

Fixing? Helping? Serving?

When I first began seeing Janet Evergreen, the woman who eventually became my healing arts teacher, as a practitioner, she handed me a brief essay by Rachel Naomi Remen. The author of New York Times bestselling books, My Grandfather's Blessing and Kitchen Table Wisdom, Remen is an integrative medicine physician, a professor and teacher, and co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. Janet told me she based her own practice on the precepts in Remen's essay, something I later told my own clients that I aspired to do as well.

Remen has also been a patient for much of her life. As she has struggled with Crohn's disease she has encountered the best and the worst of modern medical care, and everything in between.

Her life as a patient has deeply informed her practice as a physician. She distilled this wisdom into a 1999 Noetic Sciences Review article, "In the Service of Life." Here are a few excerpts:

In recent years the question "How can I help?" has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not "How can I help?" But "How can I serve?"

....Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals....When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.

....We don't serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve.....Service is a relationship between equals....When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.

....Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokeness requires me to act. When I serve I see and trust [their] wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

....We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch....We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

....If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe.

....Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will sustain us.

.....Lastly, fixing and helping is the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.

You can read Remen's full essay here.

What would it be like if the entire medical system was based on these precepts? Can you imagine? In the meantime, it is enough to remind myself to relate to people from a place of service instead of trying to "fix"or "help" them.

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Feet, Simon Berger, unSplash

Naomi Remen,

Hands, National Cancer Institute


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