Chiang Mai 2005
I have never counted the number of times that I have been to Thailand.
Somehow, it seems important not to count. I only know that I have been going there for more than 20 years.
Much like Thomas Merton, I felt a sense of destiny from the moment I first arrived.
A sense that I was home…on a very deep level.
I travelled to Thailand originally on a series of business trips.
It wasn’t long before I discovered Thai massage, the traditional medicine of Thailand.
I tried it a few times on the advice of other business travelers and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. Soon I was taking advantage of every opportunity to return and study this profound healing art.
I gave it away for 10 years so I could learn it. When the time was right, I opened my practice. As I delved deeper into the world of Thai healing, I had a desire to return for more study. I had heard about some of the renowned old masters in the work.
I hoped to study with them while there was still time.
With that in mind, I made the long journey once more.
I was excited and happy to be back. I wondered which doors would open.
In the close-knit community of Thai practitioners, I knew that I could ask around and I would be guided to the old master teachers.
Something unexpected happened, however, as I made my inquiries.
Everywhere I went, I was being directed not to an old master as I requested,
but to a young teacher who went by the undignified name of Poo.
I persisted. “I want an old master, please.”
But everyone, without exception, directed me to Master Poo.
“He is the best. You go to him!’
I was a bit frustrated. Poo was just 35 years old... almost 20 years my junior.
What kind of master was this? I was doubtful.
But everyone gave the same advice.
In fact, all other doors seemed closed to me.
I didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter.
“Well!” I thought, somewhat disgruntled, ”If he’s that good, I probably can’t even get in to see him.”
In the end, I made the call somewhat reluctantly.
I was surprised when the deadpan voice on the other end gave me a time and an address. "Come my house...tomorrow...2pm."
It honestly didn’t sound very promising, but at least I was in.
I would soon meet this mysterious master.
The next day I found the address, a simple white house, unmarked and ordinary,
in a noisy, dusty and typical Thai neighborhood. There were kids running around, belching motorbikes, tinny music, animals roaming the streets and people moving slowly in the hot tropical heat.
Hoping I had the right house, I walked into the open garage area, stepping over motorcycle parts, children’s toys and the like and knocked on the small door at the rear. I heard a far-off voice say "Come in."
I opened the door and crossed the threshold into a large unlit room.
As my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, I made out the figure of a sturdy young Thai man.
Upon seeing me, he remarked with concern in his voice, “Oh! You are losing the vision in your right eye, aren’t you?’
My jaw dropped.
For several months, I had been losing the vision in my right eye.
It was my only health concern. I knew that as soon as I got home to the states I would have to seek out a specialist. I shuddered to think what they would want to do and how much it would cost, but I clearly had no choice.
What mystified me was that this stranger could detect this problem.
No one would know by looking at me…or so I thought.
Master Poo quickly responded to my look of fear and astonishment.
He flashed me a big grin and said "Oh! No worry! Lie down! Me fix!"
Thai medicine in a nutshell…
He crossed the room and took me by the hand and led me inside to his treatment room. There I was offered cotton pajamas and a basin of cool water to wash the dust from my feet.
He left the room to prepare himself.
When he returned, he knelt and prayed and began his work silently.
He had not asked about my problems. He didn’t have to...
He worked with total concentration and his expertise was immediately apparent. Breaking from the usual form that I was accustomed to, he extended my right arm and put a strong thumb into a spot on my forearm…a spot that burned like fire.
I gave a little yelp of shock and pain, to which he replied with a sympathetic cooing sound…”Oh…oh…oh! So sorry.” He continued his work without pausing.
He slowly moved his way up my arm tracing the fire all the way.
He knew my body better than I did!
Tears sprang from my eyes at times. In part, from the pain, but in larger part from the compassion that flowed from him as he worked.
His touch was sure and unerring… unafraid. He traced line after line up my arm patiently separating nerve from muscle. He worked through all my knotted muscles, undoing years of stress and neglect. I felt hot blood surging into the tissues for the first time in many years. There was pain mingled with relief.
After working for nearly an hour on my outer arm from wrist to shoulder, he turned my arm over and began his patient work on my inner arm.
Again I was shocked at how much pain and tension there was.
I was practically rigid with it.
Knowing what to expect now, I began to relax and accept the pain.
I was beginning to trust and I was beginning to understand, if only a little, that this pain was healing pain.
This was the pain and discomfort I had always run from...
Like many others, I had chosen to ignore, neglect and reject these signals from my body. When the pain had become unbearable, I popped pills of various kinds to make the pain go away. Analgesics, muscle relaxers and alcohol to numb everything.
Soothing, but far from healing...
This man held me in my pain. He pursued it relentlessly, knowing that this medicine would heal me.
As I began to surrender to the pressure and pain, my body began to relinquish its stress. I was wound pretty tight.
Meanwhile, Poo moved to my shoulder pressing thumbs deep into the joints, freeing them. He went deep into the armpit, going confidently where no western therapist would dare go, releasing deep layers of old pain and weariness.
Then he worked around and under my shoulder blade, again deeper than anything I had experienced before. There were ripples of shock as he contacted nerves and set them free. Then he moved into the thick muscles between my neck and shoulder.
He knew I would be bruised from the deep work. While sympathetic, he didn't hold back. My body resisted and then released at every point.
Then Poo traced a line along the base of my skull, pressing tender points until they gave way under his knowing hands.
He began to teach me, saying," Your muscles are so tight that they are choking off the supply of fluid, blood and nerve transmission to your eye. That is why your eye is dying before its time…before the rest of your body. We are releasing the muscle’s hold on your nerves and blood vessels."
I had never thought in those terms before. It made sense.
I thought of the 10 long years of running my factory with a phone crooked between my right ear and shoulder for 15 hours a day.
Even though I was no longer doing that, my muscles were still locked in work mode. Not knowing what else to do, I had simply tried to ignore it and was now paying the price.
Every place he worked was now hot and throbbing, but everything also felt really alive.
It would be nearly three weeks before the bruises healed. In three weeks time, my vision was restored. Seventeen years later, it is my best eye.
Needless to say, I was very impressed.
He was indeed an old master… just housed in a young man’s body.
He worked for over two hours on my arm, shoulder, neck and head.
Afterward, he brought me tea and told me to rest awhile.
“Come back tomorrow same time,” he said.
The following day when I returned, I found Poo lounging in the shade with his daughter, a beautiful bright-eyed toddler. He spoke softly to her, gave her a little hug and sent her off to her mom.
He smiled kindly at me and said “Better today?”
He led the way inside and motioned for me to lie on the mat.
He knelt, prayed and began his work, this time at my feet.
Skillfully and with just the right combination of strength and tenderness,
he worked his way around my body for the next four hours from my feet to my head.
It was an amazing dance of healing.
He kneaded, stretched, and released my joints and muscles.
Surely this was the most intelligent form of body work I had ever encountered.
I could feel how important it was to treat the whole body...not just the painful parts. Everything was related...
I clearly experienced the connection between the emotions and my body as various pieces of history surfaced.
I remembered falling out of a tree as a child and how the fall bent my arm
and bruised my hip in quick visceral flashes.
I realized that I had never stopped guarding those places.
Many times I had the feeling that early events came to the surface and were somehow resolved and put to rest.
There was such depth in his work.
It was something that just had to be experienced…
In my evening walks through old Chiang Mai, I met several other students of Thai massage from around the globe. I recommended Master Poo to them. When I brought students to him. he would invariably invite me to sit in on the sessions. Those sessions became impromptu classes.
As Master Poo worked, he explained the theory behind his style.
He told us a little bit about his early life and how he had come to Thai massage.
He was only 35 but he had already been practicing for 20 years.
No wonder he was so well regarded. He brought the art alive for us.
One late afternoon as we were preparing to leave, he said goodbye to the other students and saw them off, but he asked me to remain behind.
His mood shifted slightly. He asked me to follow him into a small room directly behind his massage space. He turned to me and said simply but with emphasis
"I give you this for an example…"
When I stepped inside, I saw that the small room was dominated by an altar.
There was a large statue of Buddha flanked by a smaller statue of the founder
of Thai massage, Dr. Shivago. There were beautiful fresh flowers and a bowl of fruit.
I saw photos and sketches of the various people that he prayed for arrayed on his altar. There were several other small objects that represented people in his care. He had a stack of textbooks representing his future students. He seemed to read my mind as he said with a slight smile, "I pray for the right students to come at the right time and for all the others to stay away...until the right time."
How unlike us, I thought. We in the west who always crave more...
More students, more patients, more money, more fame….
It occurred to me that we never ask for things to be just right… We just ask for more.
We rarely made good use of what we already had…
Next to his altar was a thin mat for sleeping. "Five nights a week I sleep here. When I go to bed at night, I pray for two hours and then I sleep for two hours, then I chant for two hours, then sleep for two hours…all through the night. On the other nights I sleep with my wife. But mostly I sleep here.”
We stood in silence, letting the words make their impact.
Not a day has gone by in the ensuing years that I haven’t heard those words again in my mind. Such a powerful example…
This was his secret…
This is how he knew what I needed the moment I stepped across his threshold.
This is how he knew what each one needed…
He walks that close...
I will always remember the simplicity and humility in his voice and manner.
He did not consider his actions to be unusual. They were due service...
Devotion to God and to this work of healing were deeply entwined.
I was initiated into a more serious calling than I had realized before.
Service to God and man with prayer as the foundation .
As a westerner, I thought once again “They have left us in the dust….”
Later, I was to learn that Poo knew the hour and the manner of death of people. It was typical for him to recognize a student as they arrived for the first time...he had already met them in his meditation. He diagnosed without a word, as he had with me. He also had learned of his own past lives. He was a powerful healer and seer.
In their tradition this was considered normal attainment, not something extraordinary .
Master Poo’s powerful example has kept me on the path of prayer and devotion and the silent, hidden things that undergird our life experience.
Today I remember to keep my altar, to pray above all...to go deeper…
all rights reserved Debra Robinson firstname.lastname@example.org