Wednesday, August 06, 2008


When I was lying on the massage table last week, finally getting some relief for my poor, rock-tense neck and shoulders, I couldn't stop thinking about all the people who can't afford massages. It felt a little disgusting to spend my money on something so self-indulgent. But massages are so good for you, especially if you work at a computer all day, and then come home to play on the computer. Massages detoxify your system, increase your circulation -- and prevent tension headaches, something I suffer from fairly frequently without regular massages. I think I've had two massages since Swee'pea was born, but I used to get them regularly, and I really noticed a difference back then. No more headaches, and all of a sudden I could do head slides in belly dance, which I just couldn't do before.

Anyways, the table. I was feeling guilty. Finally, I had to say something. I had to share this burden. So I told this massage therapist, who I'd never met before, that I was volunteering at the Drop-In Centre and that I felt really guilty for being so rich when so many are poor. I mean, many people don't even have a quarter for a coffee there. I would never have considered myself rich before, only millionaires are rich, but since I started volunteering, I've realized just how rich I am. I told her about what that man had said about coming to look at the poor people. (A surprised, "Oh!" escaped her lips and floated around the room when she heard that.)

She said I have to let that guilt go. Everyone has hardships and it really does no good to make comparisons. Some may say that another's hardships aren't as bad their own, but you really can't make those judgments. But I really don't have any hardships, I said. I've been so, so lucky. (Of course since then, I've remembered a few.) The therapist pointed out that some people also just have better attitudes than others, and I had to agree. Some people are more resilient than others, although that's not to say that a person's bad attitude is their fault. If no-one in your family is resilient, if they all have poor, self-destructive or nonexistent coping skills, how would you learn resilience? (And I do believe it's a learned skill.)

I had a friend in high school whose mother was a physiotherapist, and she'd also begun to study cranial-sacral therapy. She died when we were about 21, from breast cancer. She'd fought it once, but after a few years she stopped going for her follow-up appointments, and by the time she went to the doctor, she was too far gone. She died a week later, and it seemed clear to us all that she knew it had come back, and she knew she didn't want to fight anymore. She was a truly beautiful woman.

She believed that our tissues hold emotional trauma, they have a memory of sorts. Once, she was doing a treatment on my friend and my friend was suddenly overwhelmed with incredible sadness and she started to cry. She didn't know why she felt so sad, but her mother said it was because she'd released one of these emotional memories. Once she did a treatment on me, and when I went home, my parents thought I was drunk because my gait had changed. I remember feeling like everything was just slightly out of place from where it had been before - both inside and outside my body.

I wonder if the pain and extreme stiffness in my shoulders and neck ("I'm not gonna lie," said the massage therapist the other day, "It's not looking good.") is partly the result of this guilt and shame and embarrassment I've been carrying around for having money, feelings that have only intensified over the last six months. I've never really felt comfortable with my income, I've always been embarrassed that we have a cleaner - embarrassed that we can afford one: I've never been embarrassed for being a slob.

It strikes me that this middle-class shame isn't doing me or anyone else any favours. It doesn't make me donate more or use it more wisely. It just makes me feel bad - silent and embarrassed, especially around really poor people, and I'm quite certain that doesn't help them. The same guilt and shame infect and inhibit my photography. So. How do I get over it?



Karen said...

I also find body work to be highly emotional. I release all kinds of stuff during massage. It is a little gift to myself so I don't have to carry around with me all the time.

Here's what I think - I think you should write those guys words down on a piece of paper -the ones about you coming to look at the poor people - and I think you should burn them. They are burdening you with some lies that you don't need to take inside yourself.

There is no artificial separation between us a humans. The things that divide us are the things that we allow to divide us. You know your true purpose for being there and that is all that matters. You have been a help to people - you don't need this guy's blessing. Who knows what is up with him that he has taken up such an attitude, but it certainly has nothing to do with you.
You are taking good care of yourself and your family - that is both your responsibility but also a way you have of being grateful for your ability to do so. You aren't wasting your treasures. You offer to others what you can - your time, your talent, the ability to listen. Those are not small gifts. You aren't in this to solve the issue of homelessness. That can't be one person's job. You are in this to help real people - and you are.

Beck said...

I think that being a massage therapist is an honourable occupation, and hiring a massage therapist - when you need one, which you do - is nothing to feel guilty about. You're keeping someone employed, which is always a good thing.
You are actually doing something FOR the poor and disenfranchized. This is not something you need to carry guilt about, I think.

zoom said...

I share your irrational middle-class guilt about poverty. Interestingly, though, I don't believe you should feel that way, even though at some level I believe I should.

But on a conscious rational level I don't think either one of us should feel guilty.

Denguy said...

I've lived at both ends of the economic scale and I, too, feel guilt--especially at the grocery store where I can buy anything I feel like and the lady with the three kids in front of me has a basket of no-name, items and pasta.

I don't know what to do either.

Kyla said...

Oh, I completely believe that about our bodies carrying emotional memories. Massage often releases those sorts of feelings, but so can other types of touch. I think that when the masseuse or person delivering the touch has the gift of empathy it is even more powerful. They can draw it from the depths of you out into the open.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Let me relay a story that my dad told me a couple years ago.

My dad used to work at a company that ran nuclear power plants. One of his plants was in a town where a lot of people were poverty-level and the schools sucked. So as an ambassador of his company my dad went to see the superintendent of the schools there. How can we help? my dad asked. The superintendent got all excited and shouted New books! We need new books! Great, my dad said. You got 'em. Now, HOW CAN WE HELP?

I've been pondering that one for awhile.

Here's the thing. My dad's company was being generous, sure, but it was also acting out of self-interest. It wanted that superintendent to graduate well-educated, hard-working future employees. In the office that day a deal was being made.

People understand deals, you know? Trade. I give you a dollar, you give me a cup of coffee. We're all suspicious of people who give "out of the generosity of their heart." So that guy who accused you of oggling the poor people? He was just ascribing a motive to you. (Well, he was trying to hurt you, too.) He figured that in exchange for your time, you were getting -- what? a chance to feel good about yourself? Tell him you're assuaging your middle-class guilt! I bet he'd laugh. Tell him you're appeasing your gods.

I wonder if your guilt is actually fear. If you feel like you were given a lot & haven't had to pay for it, then maybe you're worried that someday you will have to pay? OK there ends my armchair psychology!

Janet said...

I don't know the answer but I would suggest that you are doing more than many people by volunteering at the drop-in centre. Could you do more? Sure, we all could. But it's something, and it's meaningful.

Don't feel guilty for what you have; focus on what you can do with your gifts.

Mad said...

I stalked the comments here yesterday not sure what to say. Sometimes I wonder why we should give up our middle class guilt. It's becoming one of my only motivators. If I lost that I would simply rest content with the state of things and where would that leave us? We are so very much entitled, you know. I'm not sure I want to also be entitled to a guilt-free life.

You are doing good work at the shelter, Sin. That's enough. The guilt? It will likely linger always. It's part of who you (and I) are.

Mimi said...

Hmmm. If your guilt is causing you physical pain, rather than acting as a motivator (as Mad suggests ... but maybe we can differentiate here between 'guilt' and 'conscience'?) then it's not helping.

I get tension headaches, and I used to feel guilty about massages, but ... the headaches stopped. Still, I haven't gone in forever (headaches ... back!) because I feel I don't deserve it? I'm not sure.

Elizabeth said...

I don't have any advice to offer on assuaging middle class guilt. It can be a difficult thing to reconcile. But in the incredibly materialistic world we live in, I think it's important to recognize and feel fortunate (even guiltily so) with what we have, rather than constantly wanting to possess more, which seems to be the norm these days.