Sangha

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Thai massage open practice has grown, shifted and changed through the energy that we’ve put into it. From something that started as what seemed like a fluke I nurtured those who wished to learn some Thai massage and continued promoting free bodywork til hours that eventually annoyed those we got space from. The issue was that we have too much fun, we break all the rules and no one really understands what we’re doing. Who does massage in a group setting til 2am on a Thursday night for free? We do, that’s who!

Thai bodywork has an ancient lineage and tradition. At a heart level I’ve done my best to honor that tradition while realizing that this is America, this is central Texas, whatever does not fit into our cultural lives will vanish. As a group we’re helping Thai massage evolve, we’re allowing an ancient healing practice to grow and develop in new ways. The acroyoga community in Austin has pushed us forward and helped syncretize something that’s never existed, healthy Buddhist night life in Austin. Is what we do yoga? It’s it acroyoga? Is it Thai massage? I’m not sure anyone can really answer. It’s none of those things but it’s more than the sum of those parts.

Licensed therapists and traditionalists have announced that we don’t meditate enough. No one is certified and there’s no established authority and control. This doesn’t look like Thai massage in Thailand and why is someone playing Jimi Hendrix on a stereo? Shouldn’t there be massage music? I’ve heard complaints til I’m blue in the face. Why have I persisted? I’ve persisted because almost nightly someone new has come to me and said, “This was Great!” Regulars come up to me and hug me earnestly, thanking me for keeping the group going and tell me it’s the highlight of their week.

In that space, what am I to do? Who am I to listen to? I, much like you, go with my heart. My heart tells me to continue Thai massage open practice but maintain no ownership over it. I do not directly profit from it’s existence and give it away for free. Many of you come to me with injuries, aches and pains and I distill 11 years of study to help you, for free. I could say no, but I will not.

I will not say no because I had to search, dig, scrape by and live in a world of pain for years to find those who had information to help me. I will never stop helping people and sharing because that is what the tradition says I must do.

Let me express this so it’s clear. Jivaka, the originator of Thai massage was the Buddha’s doctor. We’re told that as Buddhism spread from northern India into Thailand the monks preserved it, it mixed with local indigenous Thai medicine and there it sat. Thousands of years went by and Thai massage became distinct, nuanced, some mix of what looks like passive yoga and bodywork. The monks worked on each other to facilitate their meditation practices. They stretched each other out, did blood stops to get their legs to wake up after falling asleep from meditation and on they went, wide awake, alert and calm from the Thai massage.

Beyond that, these monks who knew the body were the local healers. People from the village came to receive the Thai massage to help with their aches and pains. The monks worked on them free of charge, helping them with their pain and hopefully encouraging them in their spiritual lives. Metta, or loving kindness was the deed of the day. If you were a monk you meditated, helped others and focused on Buddha, dharma and sangha. It was part of your spiritual duty to help others.

I’m not formally Buddhist. In fact I dislike organized religion. I’m a farang, a non-asian foreigner. I took the Thai massage taught to me and have given it 9 years to percolate through me and my yoga practice. When Thai massage open practice fell into my lap, my choice was to nurture anyone who wanted to learn, to give or receive for free. I work 6 days a week and take one day off every week. I still put energy into our group because It Must exist.

People want to feel better? Then come out. You want some bodywork for free? Then come out. You want something fun to do that doesn’t involved drinking and drugs? Come out. You want a way to be physically expressive and intimate with like minded people? This is your group. This is Thai massage open practice.

If we dressed you in saffron robes and had you do bodywork in a Thai temple, the people would mostly recognize it as Thai massage. They may look at you funny for some oddity of movement or positioning but make no mistake that the skeleton is still Thai. We’re adding our own influence just as people have done to yoga in America but now it’s time for Thai massage to spread. It’s time for this healing art to flourish in the west.

I don’t care if you have a license or not. I don’t care where your religious views lead you. I care that you wish to help yourselves and others. Metta belongs to no one. Loving kindness cannot be bought or sold, only given away freely. Everyone is fixated on rules, money, ego and personal gain in our culture. I can give because I have enough. You give because it makes you feel better. You all come out once a week and relieve each others suffering. In that sense, you’re all very good Buddhists.

Thai massage will continue to change in the U.S. There’s no way that the influence of western culture won’t have it’s effect upon the practice. Instead of avoiding that influence I decided to grab the wheel and help steer it where I think it should go. Massage therapists are slow on the pick up, yoga teachers love it but aren’t massage therapists and then comes the acroyoga community. The acroyoga community looks like a bunch of anarchists who’ve decided gravity is our friend. I happen to agree.

I write this to try to explain my position. We’re at a unique crossroads in the U.S. We’ve irritated and annoyed some because we refuse to play by the rules. The rules say that something isn’t of value unless it can be commodified, packaged, processed and sold in a drive through. We’re doing things right, creating community and helping people. We’ll never appeal to everyone but those who like what we’re doing seem to Really like what we’re doing. Everything in my being says find a new space and push the gas pedal to the floor.

Thai massage is good for everyone. Massage therapists, novices, yoga teachers and maybe, one day if we’re lucky, acroyoga, Thai massage and yoga for kids in public schools. Imagine recess where kids run outside and do bodywork on each other and therapeutic flying. You, my friends, are helping create that world. Focus on what you love and make it happen.

Sangha is a Buddhist term. Loosely it means community. The triple gem is Buddha, dharma and sangha. The Buddha represents the potential for enlightenment, dharma are the teachings that help us on our way and sangha is community. The community we’ve created is my sangha. I’ve sat with many massage therapists and felt alone because they’re not my people. I feel the same about much of the yoga community, just at odds with the dominant paradigm. Thai massage open practice and the Austin Thai Massage community have always been home, from the first day I set foot in the place. You’ve understood what we were doing and happily taken up the practice and shared with friends like you’d found gems underneath some dirt.

I’ve always been a loner. I anger many people. My thoughts and feelings on issues politically, religiously and otherwise annoy most. I’m always calm with our group. I feel understood. You are my sangha, my community, my friends.

Thank you for what you’ve helped create. We will have a new home soon. We will show Austin, Texas what night life can be for a 21st century human who’s decided to keep the healing heart of the Buddha alive in central Texas. Love in contagious. Thai massage is an idea whose time has come. We’ll feed the flame until it becomes an all consuming fire in our community.

Namaste’,
Robert

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