The Four Noble Truths
There is suffering.
There is the origin of suffering.
There is the cessation of suffering.
There is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.
For massage and bodywork practitioners and clients, at first glance the Four Noble Truths make sense in a simple, obvious way. We can think of all of the ordinary physical suffering we see and experience on a daily basis: the sore muscles, the fatigue, and the anxiety of ordinary life. The origin of this kind of suffering in our modern, first-world societies is mostly stress, and less frequently injury or disease. We know this kind of stress-based suffering to be temporary and remediable, and it’s natural to think of massage and bodywork to be aspects of the path that leads to its cessation. On the surface, the Four Noble Truths of Massage could look something like this:
There is the suffering of muscle pain, fatigue, and anxiety.
Stress is the origin of this muscle pain, fatigue and anxiety.
Stress can be relieved.
Massage relieves stress.
That’s simple, clear, and true. When a person gets a good massage, it relieves some of the symptoms of their stress, like muscle pain, fatigue and anxiety. It is for this reason that massage therapy is so popular: because it temporarily relieves the symptoms of stress. Massage therapists can feel good about the service that they provide, because it brighten’s peoples’ days, relieves pain, and provides people with an hour or two of blissful pleasure. While that is all true, it doesn’t constitute a Noble Truth, because massage that provides temporary relief from the symptoms of stress is not “a path that leads to the cessation of suffering.” However, it can be. Receiving massage from a therapist who understands and embodies the deeper path can be an opportunity for clients to discover what that deeper path is: cutting the cause of the stress at the root, so that the symptoms cannot grow. That is the work of the Middleway Method massage therapist.
For most of us, stress most frequently arises from how we are thinking, and less frequently from what is actually happening. In other words, most stress we experience is mental stress, not a physiological response to immanent physical danger. Mental stress arises when we worry about the future, despair about the past, want what we don’t have, and don’t want what we do have. Those are all thoughts not related to the present moment or circumstances. Massage therapy grounds a person into a safe, pleasant, present-moment experience where the causes of mental stress are much less likely to arise. When someone comes in to receive a massage, their future, for one hour, is one that promises to be filled with pleasure and mindfulness, their thoughts of the past are gradually overpowered by the pleasure and mindfulness of their present moment, and they enjoy what is happening to them so much that they are temporarily relieved of the stress of wanting what they don’t have. For that hour, the causes of a person’s mental stress are reduced, and thus they are given an opportunity to view their world from a new perspective. Massage therapy reminds a person: What is happening now is good. This perspective is the opposite of the stressed-out one that they came into the session with, and that change of perspective is the first step on the deeper path of true relaxation.
From the perspective of a Middleway Method massage therapist, stress and the symptoms of stress are the result of the simple laws of cause and effect: the mind worries, so the body suffers. In mindfully observing the ever-changing circumstances of our own lives and our clients lives, we come to understand that the world around us is constantly changing, much of it beyond our control, but that there are choices that we can make that promote our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. We see, in all of the stressed-out, suffering bodies that we treat each day, that grasping on to that which will not stay with us, and reaching out for that which we cannot get always leads to pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Reminded of this again and again throughout our day at work, we cannot help but begin to develop a new, healthier perspective on life, the world, and our place in it. We see that grasping and reaching, as expressed in muscle tension, fatigue and anxiety, are not activities that promote well-being, while we see that releasing and giving are. Our generosity breeds more generosity, and the heart recognizes that it’s natural will to work for the benefit of others is a good and trustworthy motivation. It is this deeper recognition of the benefit and potential for our work and our path to truly bring about the cessation of suffering that gives us the energy, curiosity and passion to dedicate our lives to the service of others.
There is suffering – pain, tension, fatigue and anxiety – caused by mental stress. The origin of mental stress is in grasping and aversion. The release, relaxation and present-moment mindfulness brought about through skillful massage therapy educates both clients and therapists about the potential for lasting relief from mental stress. Supported by mindfulness, our awareness of cause and effect, our awareness of impermanence and change, and motivated by the basic goodness and generosity of the heart, we embark, therapist and client together, on the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.