Recently, a friend sent me a post about a man who has gone 50 days
without food. There was something in the timing of it...
I bookmarked it, tucking it away mentally for a few days, so I could give
it the proper attention.
His experience brought back memories of an experience I had in the '90s
after my first serious round of Thai massage training in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Back then I was travelling to Thailand for my giftware design business.
After a few long-haul flights to the Orient, I finally took the advice
of some of the old 'China hands' and booked a massage at my hotel
to unwind after the rigors of the trip.
Typically, a middle-aged woman would arrive at the door, bearing
a set of oversize cotton pajamas for me to change into.
The massage that she gave was more like physical therapy
than I had envisaged a massage to be.
It was professional, no-nonsense and expertly performed.
It was certainly an unusual massage, but it did the trick.
Afterwards, I slept well and was ready to do business by morning.
As time went on, I was more and more drawn to the experience.
I began to wonder if they would teach Thai massage to a Westerner...
I found that in recent years, Western students were being given
the opportunity to learn their healing art.
A small school had recently opened.
I decided to look into it. I took the plunge...
I signed up for a course at ITM with Chongkol Setthakorn.
There was something about Chongkol from our first meeting...
I stood at the desk waiting with a bit of rising impatience as he calmly
took care of some paperwork.
I wanted to sign up and get on with my days' business.
He seemed to sense it and to go a little slower with things. I felt ignored.
It was only in retrospect that I realized he had indeed taken notice
with a soft sidelong glance.
It reminded me of working with a Native American shaman...
They size you up before engaging you...
Finally, he looked up and smiled kindly and took my registration.
There was an option to stay at the end of the school day for an after-hours massage with an instructor. I wanted to make as much use of the time
as possible, so I added that to the mix.
Classes would begin the following morning.
I arrived after a big American breakfast and struggled to sit cross-legged among the dozen or so 20-somethings from around the globe.
I was twice their age and in the typically poor condition of a fast-paced
stressed American businesswoman.
I was overweight with aches and pains, stiffness and the beginning
of health issues.
'Oh to be young again!'
This would be good incentive to make a course correction.
I got through the first day of class well enough.
There was something about this homely style of massage that suited me.
I would never use it beyond the confines of friends or family, if that,
but I wanted to learn it, if only for the sheer novelty of it...
That evening 4 or 5 of us stayed on for a 3-hour massage.
We were gathered in one room together, watching as Chongkol
paired each instructor with a student.
Lady-lady, lady-man, lady-lady, man-me.
The only male instructor was chosen to work on me...
Suddenly and without warning, my insides revolted and I found myself
beginning to panic.
I wanted to bolt from the room, make excuses, ask for a change of teacher.
I had been fine all day. Our teachers were all gentle, safe Thai people.
It was an irrational reaction...and one I couldn't manage!
I just knew I couldn't go through with it.
I weighed my options...
I couldn't lie about being ill suddenly. I couldn't just run for the exit.
Then I realized that if I asked for a change of teacher, that person
would lose face. No one wanted that...
I steeled myself and determined to just tough it out for one session.
Tomorrow, I could ask to work with one of the female teachers.
'Just get through it, somehow!'
I was thoroughly miserable as I laid down on the mat.
I could barely contain my reaction.
I felt as though my difficult past had been dredged up afresh.
I thought I had dealt with all those bad experiences years ago!
Why were they springing to life now?
There was nothing about this gentle man that was threatening.
I tried to calm my ragged breathing and my raging mind.
As the work commenced, prayers were made and the teachers
began to work in unison.
Assuring myself all was well, I tried to relax.
The opening moves were familiar and I tried to let go and breathe
Just when I thought I might gain control, his palm lightly pressed
my inner thigh just above the knee and I suddenly erupted into tears.
It happened so fast-without warning..full-blown, pain-filled.
A body memory emerged.
The tears soon turned into deep, heaving sobs.
He and the other teachers, briefly took note. He asked if I was alright.
Hardly knowing what had hit me, I nodded unconvincingly...'Yes.'
The Thais calmly continued on. They seemed to understand.
Tears flowed the whole time. I was the only one crying.
It was a river, sometimes a flood of tears for the whole 3 hours.
I felt so humiliated that I vowed not to return to school.
There were fresh eruptions over the slightest thing.
I knew I was in pain, but never had I confronted the whole of it.
It seemed every inch of me was in pain...inside and out.
I knew nothing about the emotional component in bodywork.
I, who was normally so reserved and self-contained, experienced
a complete and disconcerting loss of control.
The Thais continued on, calmly overlooking the outbursts.
I was undone...
At the end, I felt dazed...scarcely understanding what had happened.
I washed my face, trying to gain some composure and headed to the guesthouse to get some sleep.
By morning, though I had decided firmly to drop out, I was strangely drawn back to class. I was a bit sober and wary, not understanding, but I was there.
At the end of that day, I somehow mustered the courage to stay.
For reasons I could not fathom, I decided not to disrupt Chongkol's choice.
There was a moment of hope as a bit of teacher-student shuffling took place,
but my fellow was assigned to me once again.
With a bit of apprehension and a stoic attitude, I laid on the mat.
The prayer was followed by the work...and again, I cried.
The only one. All three hours.
Memories flooded in at various junctures...even long-lost childhood memories.
There was little rhyme or reason. Much of the time, it was just fresh waves
of tears and undifferentiated pain.
Each evening continued in this way.
Though I was far from understanding it, I began to yield to it.
Each evening, my teacher patiently and compassionately applied this strange medicine through the tears. Not backing off, but working through it.
The tears continued, but with softening pain, even smiling through the tears.
By Friday, we could softly smile and joke about things a bit.
Not only could he anticipate my pain, but he could always tell me what denomination of baht note I had tucked in a hidden pocket.
His gentle way of letting me know...
I began to realize how deeply intuitive they all were...
5 days...5 massages...and then it was time to take a weekend break,
do a little shopping and fly home to the States on Monday morning.
Time to get back to normal life...
Whew! What a week it had been!
As I rounded the corner to my guesthouse, I felt an intense wave
of nausea wash over me.
'Oh no. Must have been something I ate. Food poisoning!'
As I entered my room, everything hit with a vengeance.
For the next 40-odd hours, I was running a high fever with chills,
strange tremblings, retching, everything coming out of everywhere.
I was drenched in a strange sweat. Never had I been so sick.
I was incapacitated...too weak to even call for help.
I really thought I was dying.
At one point, as I was hallucinating from fever, I felt like I was
experiencing every illness I had encountered since birth...
in the reverse order of appearance.
That had to be the craziest idea of all! I chalked it up to the high fever.
Little did I realize how true that would prove to be...
Just as I began to ease out of it and gain a sense that I would actually live,
my landlady came looking for me, as I hadn't stirred for 2 days.
She took one look at me and rushed off, greatly concerned.
A few minutes later, she returned with a cup of strong, bitter herbal tea.
"You must drink," she urged. She was an herbalist and knew what was needed.
I started to emerge from the ordeal. All the strange symptoms began to recede.
Greatly relieved, I was well enough in time to make the flight back home.
On the long flight home, I realized that I no longer had the persistent
sick headache that I'd had for years...8 yrs.
I had managed to keep it to a dull roar with round-the-clock sinus meds.
At first, I thought I was imagining things...that I was just happy to be alive
after all I'd just been through.
But by the time the plane finally touched down, I was certain...
no headache whatsoever. In fact, I felt quite well...unusually so.
When I arrived home, I dropped my bags, headed to the bathroom
and proceeded to flush the bottle of anti-depressants I'd recently been taking.
I did it quite without thinking.
I just knew, somehow, that I would never need them again.
And, in fact, I never did. (that was 25 years ago)
I felt a new sense of hope...
That evening at dinnertime, I wasn't particularly hungry.
I felt energized and unconcerned with food.
Then it was time for bed. I would need to get back on schedule
and put in an appearance at work the next day.
I laid down to sleep, but to no avail. Sleep eluded me.
Jet lag, I thought. I'd be over it in a day or so, as usual.
My energy was good, so I got up, kept myself busy through the night
and worked the following day...all day...still feeling quite energetic.
I continued to skip meals...very uncharacteristic of me.
When it came time to sleep, I'd lay down for the night and soon realize
that I had too much energy to sleep.
I felt really great! Sleep struck me as a waste of time.
By the 3rd day, I tried to force myself to take a bit of food,
but as I brought the fork to my lips, I instinctively rejected it.
First, I was not in the least hungry and secondly, I felt too good
just the way I was. It was quite curious.
Sleep was still not forthcoming, either.
This was not a simple case of jet lag...not at all.
Overall, I was experiencing such a sense of well-being...to a degree
I had never known.
I was happy without effort, full of energy and I found myself
on an immensely creative high, as well.
It was absolutely out of character and so strange, but it was impossible
to deny how fantastic I felt in every way.
I was working a double shift at my factory with no ill effect and tending
to everything around the house and farm, as well.
'Where is all this energy coming from!?'
Things were about to take a little stranger turn...
At night, I would take long walks to pass the time.
I lived on a narrow country road with little traffic.
One night as I walked, I began to take notice of some shapes that were walking alongside me. I realized they had been there several nights running.
When I focused on them, I realized...quite calmly...that it was a family of bears.
Two parents and a cub. They were full size from the outline I could make out. They were ambling down the narrow lane almost within reach.
Yet I felt no fear. Their presence was almost friendly...comforting.
It was as if they were in a parallel world...the unseen world.
They felt like they were companions, somehow...even protective.
I was in a heightened state and very little would surprise me after several weeks in this space.
In fact, all of the parallel faculties of seeing, hearing, smell, taste and touch
'popped open' during this time.
I'd had an experience of the gifts some 20 years earlier during a time
of spiritual opening.
After an experience of the Light, where it seemed all the worlds had dissolved (blessedly) back into the Source, I emerged back into this existence with a full array of paranormal abilities.
I lived in that heightened state for several years. The abilities were well-used in helping people.
On a personal level, the experience was so intense and I was so unfamiliar
with such things, that I had asked for much of it to be taken away after a few years.
It was significantly diminished after that.
Now here I was all these years later, more mature and seasoned...
and the gifts returned, clearer than before.
On one of those night walks, around 3 am, I heard a voice cry out.
It was sharp, urgent...a crisis!
I recognized the voice as that of a neighbor who lived 1/3 mile away.
I heard him as if he had yelled in my ear.
This was physically impossible.
Startled by the tone, I quickly prayed for him.
The next morning, I heard that he'd had a serious heart attack
at that same hour. He survived.
During this time, every physical issue I'd had was clearing up.
Aches, pains, hypertension, stress and mental unrest, weight gain,
headaches and malaise were all receding.
I was rapidly feeling more alive and alert than I had felt in many years.
But it was more than that somehow...
The accumulated stress of my early life was no longer weighing
in the background.
Whatever had happened in that 5-day span at ITM was powerful and real.
It would be another year before I discovered that massage was the primary medicine of Thailand.
I had thought it was merely akin to physical therapy.
In fact, it was much more than it appeared to be.
I had just glimpsed the visible layer.
I was beginning to experience the extraordinary impact it would have
on my mind, body and spirit.
Slowly, the true picture was emerging...
I had not suffered from food poisoning. The deep, thorough bodywork
had dislodged the overload of toxins already present in my body.
I had lived 40 years as an average American. Though I had leanings
toward eating clean, in actuality, I was far from healthy.
I could not have conceived of being that toxic until I experienced the detox reactions and then experienced life on the other side of that deep detox.
It seemed like my body was suddenly running on a much cleaner engine
and everything started to work properly again.
There had to be more of an explanation, however...
Where was all this energy coming from, if not from food or sleep?!
It was more than just energy...
It was a feeling of happiness and well-being that I had never experienced before. It continued to carry me through the days and nights.
I seemed to be running on a CURRENT of energy that I did not know existed. This was a QUALITY of energy I had never experienced.
This energy was more than sufficient to take the place of food and sleep.
Spiritually, I was also thriving. My ability to understand subtle and complex thought was heightened. I saw things from a higher perspective.
In addition, my relationships to people and to life itself were transforming.
Every level of my being was impacted.
With this in mind, I began to wonder about the energy lines that were part
of the treatment.
At first, I had thought of them a bit skeptically or theoretically.
I was beginning to realize they were quite real...and tremendously powerful.
Now and then, I would test the waters, thinking that one had to have sleep
and food at some point, but I continued to find them unnecessary.
Earlier in life, I had done a bit of fasting.
It wasn't so much voluntary as born from an inner call or inclination.
I wasn't strong enough to initiate it on my own.
There had been a number of 3 day fasts one year and 2 memorable 7 day fasts with just water.
I remembered the curious course that each fast took...
Hunger and the eventual passing of hunger, needing less sleep
along with heightened energy and sensitivity.
I naturally sought to compare the experiences.
In the end, this was a much more powerful...'Other'...experience.
I began to understand that physical life was not strictly tethered to food,
sleep or even water. The current could sustain life at a much higher
and more desirable level.
Still, I had never heard of such a thing and a little fear crept in.
'How long could this be sustained?' "How long could I fly above like this?' 'Aren't there clearly defined laws governing these bodies?'
I wondered if I could be given to a bit of spiritual extreme...
And so, I kept watch over myself.
But the experience, though extraordinary, was wholly beneficial.
I was calm, joyful, energetic and quite stable.
However, I found the isolation a bit wearing at times.
Finally at around the 40 day mark, I began to call a halt to the experience.
I began, bit by bit, to force myself to take a little food and to lay down
in bed as I tried to re-establish a somewhat normal routine.
A part of me believed this couldn't go on indefinitely...the rational part.
It was a long time before I came all the way back down in terms of the opening that was forged, but in retrospect, I regret that I tampered with what had been achieved.
As had happened many years before, the isolation of the peak left me
in a doubtful state and I caved in to the internal pressure.
Fortunately, a few other experiences like Kundalini awakening, Reiki
and Chi Gong healing subsequently provided access to these higher states,
Throughout that incredible time, I suffered no ill effect, mentally or physically.
I lost only a handful of pounds, which was also quite curious, defying logic.
During the year that followed that period, however, I dropped 80 lbs without
The 'cleaner engine' effect?
By year's end, I was quite transformed on every level.
The tears, the physical release of pain, the shed traumas returned me
to a state of wholeness, I would not have reached on my own.
I began to comprehend the profound connection between mind, soul and body. It was as if Thai massage had brought the broken, disparate pieces back into a whole, properly related union.
It defined the word 'holistic' in an authentic way.
One year later, I surveyed my personal landscape, still wondering at the magnitude of change on all those levels.
Over time, I understood my panicked reaction to the gentle male teacher
who assisted in my healing.
All my unresolved trauma and the resulting complexes were triggered
in that first encounter.
In western culture, we deal primarily with the mental and emotional
aspects of healing.
We heal as best we can along those lines.
But what happens to us happens to our bodies...and until we bring the body back into the equation, healing is still far from complete.
Trauma continues to reverberate throughout the nervous system.
Thai massage, rooted in the body, yet directed at all the levels of being,
had been the catalyst and the key for deeply transformative healing.
Not only that, Thai massage propelled me into an experience of the incredible potentials of the bodymind that are available to us once the traumas and debris are cleared out of the way.
From the first moment of my teacher's touch, I was galvanized.
This was the 1st time in my life that I had been touched in a wholly appropriate way. Not a spanking or beating, not a sexual advance or furtive, dishonest or predatory touch.
This touch conveyed spirituality, respect, compassionate loving-kindness
and a depth of wisdom. A connection to Spirit, above all...
In retrospect I surmised that I might be the only woman in America who had been touched non-stop for 3 hours by a man for 5 days without it being sexual. Rather, it was respectful, spiritual and compassionate...without shadows.
Given in service...
It was deeply life-altering. And I knew it would be for others, as well.
It became the journey to wholeness... The opening of potential...
The beginning of learning and giving back...
At the end of the week, Chongkol took me aside for a parting remark.
He had quietly overseen the events of the week. He knew how traumatic the sessions had been and how raw I felt. Perhaps he knew what lay ahead...
In a surprising, then-inconceivable parting remark, Chongkol said
in a penetrating way,
"Never forget....you have 'Laughing Buddha'. Never forget."
I was the saddest thing ever... How could he think that of me?
I had never heard of 'Laughing Buddha.'
What did Chongkol see that I couldn't possibly have seen or imagined?
But that enigmatic remark proved true over time...
It pulled me forward...beyond the difficult past to a future I could not
Beneath the sadness and the pain was indeed 'Laughing Buddha'...
an unending source of joy and equanimity, mirth and wisdom.
It would be 10 more years before the energy of Thai massage
had sifted through my being and made me appropriate to the beginning practice of it.
Rough edges, judgment, haste, ego were chipped away as by a sculptor starting with a block of marble.
Big chunks to start, followed by countless refinements.
I left my former careers...indeed, my former selves...when I received
the call to practice.
Sixteen years later, the refining continues.
I give thanks to the Teachers who so deftly put me on this Path...
The Thai people made an indelible impression by their example...
It is a servanthood of the highest calling, if one is paying attention.
I am honored to follow behind them...
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You are welcome to contact the author, Debra Robinson, with any questions
or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org