In Austin, we have a saying, “Keep Austin Weird.” I have always prided myself and our school for helping to keep Austin weird – since massage is still regarded as a little weird by some people. It still gets made fun of in movies, TV, cartoons, etc.
Then I asked myself, “Well, what does being “weird” really mean?” I started by looking up the root meaning for the word. Here’s a summary of what the on-line etymological dictionary had to say:
- 1400, “having power to control fate, from wierd(n.), from Old English wyrd “fate, chance, fortune; destiny; the Fates,” from PIE *wert- “to turn, to wind,”, also from the German werden, Old English weorðan “to become”. (The witches controlling fate in Shakespeare later gave rise to the sense of ‘unearthly’).
Frankly this blew my mind. The deeper meaning of weird tells us that being weird is actually connected to the power to fulfill one’s destiny. With this we begin to see why keeping things weird is actually incredibly important.
Society pushes us generally in conventional directions. There is pressure to fulfill the expectations of people around us. However, most important is that we fulfill our own expectations – that we are willing to risk being unconventional for the sake of fulfilling our own destiny. It is important that we can work to turn the society or city in which we live into a more fulfilling community for all.
That’s what the willingness to keep things weird most importantly means.
As far as massage goes it IS certainly an unconventional form of healthcare.
- We touch bodies for a living. – the intimacy of doing massage is intimidating to people who have ambivalent feelings about their own bodies.
- It is a form of medicine that feels good. – Conventional medicine still has not realized that pleasure may be the most important and powerful ingredient of health.
- We are commonly if inappropriately confused with prostitution. – Our society fosters a very confused relationship to sexuality. On the one hand, we see it everywhere used to get our attention – in movies, commercials, magazines, in music lyrics, etc. On the other hand, there is a puritanical backlash that condemns sexuality in adolescents and views it as suspect in adults.
- Massage therapists are legally prevented from diagnosing or treating disease or injury. This means we are one of the only health professions that 1) is concerned with amplifying health, not treating disease; 2) takes the “care” in healthcare quite seriously. We spend a whole hour generally with our clients – the average health professional spends five minutes. In an hour there is time to care and, with touch, the feeling of caring definitely needs to be conveyed. As a matter of fact, touch is the first way we all feel care. It is the first sense to develop in the embryo and it is the last sense to depart when we pass away.
- Massage, especially in America, developed out of the “human potential movement”. This began on the West Coast with the awareness that beyond conventional goals, the most important goal is the fulfillment of “human potential.”
So what about Austin and what about our school?
The natural beauty of Austin with its confluence of four ecological regions, the varied landscapes and lakes, Barton Springs, with the traditionally liberal University of Texas, and home to many graduates who choose to stay and enjoy the stimulation of living in Austin has become a bastion of weirdness – in some ways the preferred liberating destination for Texans and other people tired of the conventionality of their surrounding cultures. It is a place that somehow has captured the spirit of you can be who you truly are here – however unconventional.
Our school wasn’t founded by some national corporation or by entrepreneurs looking to maximize profits. It was founded by two teachers who couldn’t find a really good school to teach in. So John Conway and I, in search of an environment where we could teach and nurture what is best and most inspiring about learning and doing massage, started a school as if by default.
Unlike most schools and businesses our first mission was “to run the school in a manner as healing as the subjects” we teach. In every class, there is information conveyed through lecture, through discussion, through giving and receiving high quality massage – that enables our students eventually to fulfill their work and life potential.
That in turn gives them the skills and understanding to help others – their clients, friends, and family – have this same opportunity. That in turn gives our graduates the opportunity to earn a living doing something weird and incredibly helpful about which they never have to doubt the integrity and meaningfulness.
Because here’s what we’ve learned from weirdness. We need to be ourselves. We all need to truly become who we most deeply are.
Michelangelo famously said he carved his Angel out of a marble block by simply removing everything that was not angelic. Similarly we believe weirdly enough that our students, their clients, and all people deserve the opportunity to find and take their destiny into their own hands and hearts.
So we proudly proclaim – we are weird. And being weird is perhaps the best thing we can all aspire to being.