Step by Step
My two kids face each other in the wagon, a soccer ball and two folding camp chairs on their laps. I have food in my backpack, and I pull them down the sidewalk of Route 135. The road is closed off, so there is no traffic.
I look up and see a man in a three wheel racing wheelchair, pedaling with his arms.
“Here come the wheelchair racers!”
I stop the wagon to cheer, my kids cheering with me. “You can do it!” we yell, clapping.
The man gives a slight nod as he passes by us.
I find myself fighting back tears. After a few deep breaths, I am able to walk again.
I continue on our trek to where we watch the Boston Marathon. We always go to the house my husband lived when he was single. It’s right on the marathon route, just before mile 11, there is a BBQ, a bathroom, a trampoline, a gaggle of kids and friends. With the two kids, I just can’t seem to make it before the roads close to park at the house, so I end up having to walk a fair bit. The wagon comes in handy.
By the time we roll into our destination, the first pack of runners pass by. These are the elite athletes. They are amazing to watch, like oiled machines chugging forward with speed and efficiency, the biomechanics of these athletes are beautiful in their perfection. I drool a little bit as a geeky Physical Therapist watching such perfect biomechanics.
My kids quickly jump out of the wagon and onto the trampoline, giving me a chance to watch the race.
More runners pass by, and more, and more, until the road is full of people running. I look down the road towards the start, all I see are people running towards me. I look the other way down the road, and all I see are people running away from me. It is staggering to think of all the people that have gathered here today to run this race, and all the different reasons that have brought them here, in this moment in time, all running forward, from the starting line in Hopkinton to the finish line in Boston. I can feel all their forward momentum and how their collective energy pushes itself ahead. Outside of the treatment room, I don’t really pay attention to energetics, but this feels like standing on a riverbank as the energy flows past. It’s strong, clear, and very emotionally touching.
I bring my focus to the road right in front of me. It takes my eyes a minute to adjust from taking in the crowd to taking in individuals. By this point, I am clapping and cheering. I love cheering for people. I really love cheering for the people that have written their names somewhere, so that I can yell specifically for them, often getting a nod, or mini-wave. This part also makes me tear up. Here these people are running, for all their own personal reasons, a 26 mile journey of endurance. They trained for it, they showed up, and by the time I see them, they have been running almost 11 miles. And here I am, clapping and cheering and shouting, “You can do it, Fred! Keep going, Doreen! Way to go!” In this sea of bodies running past, I can focus on one person, connecting with them in that moment in time. I share a little energy with them through my yelling and clapping, to help support them on their journey. This connection feels anonymous and intimate all at the same time. Just like all the runners passing me here before mile 11 in the Marathon, people come to me somewhere in the middle of their healing journey. Often they have been to other practitioners, and are still struggling to find functional movement or relief from pain. They are swept forward on their journey, sometimes just barely able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, trying to reach this goal of “wellness”.
Periodically, groups of soldiers from the Army run by in full gear. I see them every year, and I have no idea if they are training, if they are scouting the route for safety reasons, or if they do it as a fundraising event. I just know that I feel a little safer as they run by, and I cheer for them too, feeling grateful to them for their service.
After awhile, my children come over to me. The bigger kids want a turn on the trampoline without the little kids. One of the people we are with has brought chocolates and cups of water to hand out to the runners, and my son decides that he wants to try it. She has him stand next to her, teaches him how to hold out his arm, balancing a Peppermint Patty on his open palm. Within a few moments, one of the runners grabs it out of his hand. He looks so proud, and quickly asks for another piece. I watch him in this process, learning from another adult, standing there with his arm out straight, as she teaches him another way to support these strangers in their journey. I am touched at the sweetness of it.
Eventually, the pack of runners thins out to just the one or two last people walking, and the kids are exhausted from 3 hours of jumping on the trampoline. It is time to head home.
The kids load back into the wagon, and I walk us back to the car. We pass by people at the 11 mile water station cleaning up cups. So many empty, soggy, crushed cups. The trash from supporting all the runners and keeping them hydrated. I watch probably 50 people raking the cups and putting them in garbage bags, like big piles of leaves in the fall. I wonder if they are volunteers or if they get paid. Either way, it’s like magic. They set up all these cups before the race, they hand them out and keep the tables full of water, and then after the race they clean everything up as if the race had never happened. Whenever I see people doing that sort of job, I can’t help but think of the lymphatic system. It works the same way, keeping the fluids flowing, cleaning everything up.
As I get into my car, I feel like this whole day has been a large scale lesson in the concept of therapeutic presence.
Therapeutic presence is the way you hold your energy in a treatment as the practitioner to help support someone else in their healing process. It’s a way of staying grounded in the face of a client’s strong feelings, empathizing with the client without taking on their pain or emotions or getting triggered by their process. It’s being present for another human being, connecting with them in a way that fully supports them towards healing, while being respectful of everyone’s boundaries. It is amazing, if not always easy to achieve.
There are people on the sidelines that are formally working, like all the people at the watering stations, the military, the police, and the medical personnel. They have discrete roles they play to make sure the journey can happen. This is similar to all the parts in someone’s body, the bones, the muscles, the blood, the lymph, the nerves, the organs. Each part has a very specific role to play if healing is to occur. Some parts clean, some parts protect, some parts move other parts to the clean up areas, some parts record it all and put meaning to it.
The people cheering on the sidelines, their role to me seems more energetic, but it’s just as important. There is this big field of energy, moving in a certain direction, and another field of energy, on either side, supporting that movement. That right there is therapeutic presence. The people don’t run into the road in front of the runners or get swept away by the people running, and the runners don’t plow through the crowds on the sides. The people on the sides offer what they can, whether it’s cheering or chocolate, and the runners take what they need. It’s clear, it’s respectful, and it’s the way healthy boundaries should be.
My role in a session is to roll those two aspects together. I facilitate the body to work as it should. I use techniques to help different parts to move, exercises to use those new ranges of motion, that sort of thing. But it all needs to take place in that supportive energetic soup of therapeutic presence. When it’s blended together, the healing that takes place is truly beautiful.
I realize now why I was so emotional at the Marathon. Creating and witnessing the healing that comes from a therapeutic presence on a small scale with a client is quite moving. But being in a whole crowd’s therapeutic presence, being a part of that presence, and seeing my children becoming part of that presence too, well, that just fills me so much with awe it spills out as tears.
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