The Dharma of Bodywork

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The Dharma of Bodywork

Encouraged by our teachers, by each other, and by our own inner wisdom, Middleway Method massage therapists practice bodywork as an expression of the Dharma.  We feel inspired to do this because we recognize that the Dharma in the West is more likely to thrive and spread in the realms of bodywork, psychology, ecology, and education than in the realms of religion, mysticism, and esoteric philosophy.  For all of us, it is important that we continue to study and practice the Dharma in the time-tested, lineage-supported traditional ways, and so practicing bodywork as an expression of the Dharma is not intended to replace the lineage practices, but rather to express and embody the blessings and awakenings that have opened within us as the result of those living lineage practices.

Chogyal Namkai Norbu often teaches about skillful means with respect to individual capacities, as direct and practical manifestations of the compassionate wisdom that arises from formless natural state.  It is Dharma practice to walk kora and chant mantra; it is Dharma practice to constrain one’s karma through the rigid conduct of the monastic life; it is Dharma practice to bear witness to the five poisons within oneself, and then to transform them through compassionate understanding into the five wisdoms; it is Dharma practice to recognize the natural state and thereby disperse the necessity for accepting one thing and rejecting or transforming another.  Where are bodywork and bodywork education within the continuum of conduct, contemplation, transformation, and direct recognition?

At first glance, it may seem that the various styles of bodywork are corollary to the various practices on the Stages of the Path. For example, for a client who has no experience working with their own body-awareness, direct manipulative and circulatory techniques in which the therapist does the work and the client passively receives may seem corollary to things like receiving blessings and chanting mantra in hopes that some external force will make one’s life and future lives better.  Similarly, for a person who either naturally knows how to work with their own body-awareness, or has learned how through experience, the neuromuscular techniques in which the therapist merely makes suggestions and the client does the work seem corollary to the contemplative and transformative practices of the Great Vehicle Path of the Bodhisattva.  And lastly, when both practitioner and client have some capacity to recognize the natural state, then the most subtle “energy work” techniques seem corollary to Mahamudra and Dzogchen states.  While this model does make a certain amount of sense, it suffers from a fatal flaw: in all cases we are working within the context of the therapist/client relationship, and for that reason, the model does not fully support the client in becoming a self-actualized, self-motivated practitioner on the Path, but rather always the subject of the therapist’s activities, even in the context of the most subtle work.

Massage and bodywork students’ experiences with developing mindfulness and compassion on their way to becoming therapists are much more direct and more thorough than most clients’ experiences under the guidance of even the most skillful therapist.  Working with students, we can teach directly, while working with clients, we support and encourage them as they discover things on their own.  In other words, the seeds of compassion, mindfulness and even some recognition of the natural state are better germinated, watered and fertilized in the teacher/student context than in the therapist/client context.  Put another way, being a client is the first stage of the path, being student of bodywork and becoming a bodywork therapist is the second stage of the path, and being a teacher of bodywork is a later stage.  In this way, the Middleway Method correlates with the traditional Stages of the Path. It goes like this:

As we have the Lesser Vehicle Sangha’s path of conduct and blessings, so we we have the path of the bodywork client interacting in a karmically favorable way with the therapist; as we have the Greater Vehicle of the Dharma’s path of study, contemplation and transformation, so we have the path of the bodywork student/client becoming a therapist; and as we have the Buddha’s pathless path of recognition, supported by the vehicles of conduct, blessing, education, contemplation, and transformation, so we have the bodywork teacher working skillfully with each individual student’s capacities.  Within that structure, we find the broad-based, universal support of the combined perfection of the Three Gems and the Three Vehicles.

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For questions about Middleway Method training, call Tobin Rangdröl, LMT, at 707-633-8046.

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