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Isolation: An Invitation to Imagination

COVID has made the world a different place. These days when I wake up, I check the news. I’m not sure why I do this. Maybe I want to stay on top of current information. Maybe I want to be a part of the conversation. Maybe I’m just curious, and it feels a little bit like rubbernecking—slowing down to see the damage. But what I suspect is that I am searching for a deeper truth.

I want answers. As you do. As we all do. Who are the experts? What are they saying? What should we do? What am I allowed to do? When I read the articles and talk to my people, I find that everyone has different answers. Maybe that’s because we live in different parts of the country—or different parts of the planet.

Even in my community, there are a hundred theories on exactly what is going on and how we need to move forward. Today alone, I read one article declaring that there is no end in sight and yet another professing a promise of hope. I have also read a thousand thoughts on how to manage the chaos—all holding vastly different messages.


Yesterday, my 13-year-old son decided to make a cake. He found a recipe on the internet and pulled the ingredients from the shelves. We didn’t have everything he needed—and I am not taking extra trips to the store—so I encouraged him to wing it.

He responded by telling me to stop being crazy. He put on what I call his lawyer hat, and he started to bullet point all the reasons why he needed to follow the recipe to the letter. He made some valid arguments, but I countered—as moms of teenage lawyers do—and he didn’t win. After all, I am the Mom, but I am also the judge.

After a short cooling-down period, we decided to look up a couple more recipes online. The original recipe called for buttermilk and powdered sugar. We didn’t have either. Other recipes left us in the same boat. So, we were stuck.

At this point, I looked at my son and asked him, “What do you know about what goes into a cake?” We had perused enough baking websites to grasp the basics, so I wanted him to tap into his imagination. He looked at me like I was the most annoying person alive at first (because that is what 13-year-old boys do), but then he began considering his options.

Back in massage school, the four main modalities I learned were Swedish, shiatsu, deep tissue, and orthopedic massage. In each of the classes, I learned routines and protocols I could apply to varying situations. I practiced these sequences and performed techniques I was taught on other students and in our student clinic. This is how schooling works.

As an MT, I learned that when a certain variable shows up, I should pull a particular routine out of my recipe box and follow the steps. And this works for the most part. When a client shows up with complaint A, ask these questions, work these muscles, use these techniques, and done. But what happens when it doesn’t work? What happens when Technique 5b doesn’t resolve the pain complaint it is prescribed to help? What happens when Variable Q appears when we never studied that? What happens when we are missing an ingredient?

The answer, I found, is to turn inward. Ask yourself what you know about what goes into a “cake.” What do you know about muscle tissue? What do you know about connective tissue? What do you know about your client? The answers may not come immediately, but your ability to think independently (and work in isolation) of what your mentors have been teaching you will ultimately surface. You will learn how to use your own imagination.

It will take time. You will try some new approaches, and through the basic principle of trial and error, you will eventually come to some conclusions. Each client is different. Each dysfunction is different. Each ingredient is different. But by thinking about the basics, applying them to the individual circumstances, and listening to client feedback, you will become your own mentor.

My son ended up making the most amazing cake. It would not win any awards. It was dense and weird. He used hot cocoa packets to make it a chocolate cake and found a jar of Nutella, which he melted over the top as icing. But he learned how to think about the bigger picture. He drew from his newly collected knowledge about cakes and applied that to imagine something not written in front of him. Without the possibility of following a protocol, he figured out new possibilities. And he created something awesome.

For me, when I open my computer and look at the news, I try to take the same approach. I read the article that tells me we are overreacting. I read the article that tells me we are not allowed to leave the house. I read the articles that give me statistics that all contradict each other. I take it all in. And I turn inward. I imagine that the answer is somewhere in the muck and the mire. I imagine how to manage this new way of life. I imagine how to make it work.

The world has slammed on the brakes. We now have time to think. The feed of information is constant. We turn to the experts, our teachers, and the internet in search of protocols, recipes, and guidance. But for the first time in a long time, we have time. Time to take in the information we seek and absorb it. Evaluate it. Imagine it. Taking this time to learn how to think in a world where we are constantly being told what to think is probably one of the best side effects of our current state of affairs. Isolation turns us inward. And inward thought leads to imagination. This, after all, is not a bad silver lining.


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