A Massage of two Minds

I had an experience the other day that reminded me how malleable reality is. Matt got me a special Ayurvedic Massage for Valentines day. I went into the little north-shore plantation cottage with an open mind. Beautiful solid-wood furniture, lavishly illustrated coffee table books about Hindu art and the basics of Ayurveda, heavy brain-softening incense smoking on burners in every corner. Two sundamaged white ladies showed me the massage table, the sauna box, the shower, then handed me a paper loin cloth with a hemp string and said, "meet us at the massage table, wearing only that." The table was like a butcher block: solid wood, slick with oil and fragrant, with a gutter all around. The need for the gutter became apparent.

The ladies had me lie on my back, and they did a little pre-massage yogic warm-up. And here is where I felt a mental switch get flipped. The inner cynic smirked. I squinted at these two aging hippies saluting the sun and bowing to each other. But then, switch, I like ritual beginnings to things. Humans universally stop to say, "we are making this event special, from this moment on."

They import milk-and-spice infused oils from India, and heat a gallon of the reeking stuff in a little crockpot on the window sill. They took measuring cup-fulls of almost-too-hot oil and poured it in swoops on my back and stomach and feet and legs and scalp. Then, for half an hour or so, they did a four-hand synchronized massage. Drizzling cup after cup of hot oils, flipping me over and over on a wooden slab. In my paper loincloth, I couldn't mentally settle. I felt like like something that should be dipped in cornmeal and deep-fried. But the hot oils and the ministering-angel attention were lovely. Was it absurd or pleasureable? Pleasurably absurd or absurdly pleasurable? Switch, switch, switch, like watching a movie where, according to my attitude, the lighting and the soundtrack flip from "shampoo commercial" to "slasher film."

The last step was a 15 deep steaming in a wooden sauna box. One of the ladies (I noted her smeared mascara and felt mean) had me lie down on a rolling wooden platform, and closed me into the dark hot box. All the oils are deep-soaked into your skin in this hot box. I thought, "oh, this is lovely, oh no get me out, I'm going to suffocate, this is heaven." For fifteen minutes. An egg timer rang, she pulled me out of the box, I showered off, drank two tall glasses of water from the sink. My skin radiated tomato-paste and oregano. For three days every room I walked through smelled like a restaurant. And the whole thing left me puzzled. Was it insane, to submit myself to a gallon of oil and two new-age strangers and their hot-box? Or was it a restorative indulgence? And the massage wasn't really the message-- I left smelling like a vindaloo pizza but pondering the noisy interference of my mind.


  1. I think any sort of faith ritual looks absurd if you look at it closely. We're just more used to the ones we have in our lives than the ones we don't. But if your cynic voice never quiets, feel free to send any/all future four-handed massage gift certificates my way. My inner cynic is grounded when it comes to any kind of massage. :)


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