| At the first course I ever took on manual care, I was told to remove my watch before handling anyone. I complied, and over twenty years later, I still do. I can’t think of any other instructions from that week that I still follow.
A couple of years ago I read Einstein’s Dreams, a novel by Alan Lightman. Each chapter describes how massively our lives would be altered if the nature of time were any different than it actually is. Lightman shows us how disruptive the actual ability to see our future would be or how a life lived backwards would be experienced, how even the tiniest shift in the linear march of the minutes as we know them would change our entire culture. Every chapter describes circumstances and behaviors that are foreign to my experience. Every chapter, except one.
The one that sounds familiar and perfectly plausible describes “body time.” Lightman says, “(Body time) is not predetermined, it makes up its mind as it goes along.”
A major part of the care I provide involves getting patients to sense and then express their naturally occurring inclinations to move without plan or willful intent. I call it “spontaneous correction,” because it leads to parasympathetic tone and pain relief. It makes sense to me that we would possess this capacity. How else would we so commonly get better in the absence of intervention?
Having seen it thousands of times, I find in this movement the qualities of effortlessness and grace. These are not typically seen in public, and certainly not where training is the predominant form of treatment.*
There is something else about movements that emerge via an unconscious motivation and lead toward repose; the one who moves has no distinct sense of how long they’ve been doing them. It is as if they have shifted their perception of time in such a manner that clocks become irrelevant. They lose track of their schedule, and instead, attend to the rhythms of their desires. They obey their inclinations and do not order them. In this “body time” the praise they offer their own bodies often makes time dart forward. When not moving like this, the minutes drag.
Lightman suggests that it is very difficult to experience body time while we gaze at a clock. Think of how disruptive a glance at a watch can be if done while we are speaking to another. It’s more than rude, it brings natural processes of learning and sensing to a close, and we feel not only disruption, but a destruction of what’s already been said. We feel like we have to start all over again.
When a patient tells me that their doctor or previous therapist didn’t give them enough time, I think that they don’t always mean this in the usual way. Perhaps they are saying that their care did not provide an environment that encouraged their own spontaneously emerging inclinations, their unique expressions of health.
Training is one way of expressing health, and it’s fine for many problems. But it does not often include the “time” necessary for the corrective movements so many patients need.
The act of removing my watch before I touch another is both symbolic and practical, and although I can’t speak for my patients, I know how it affects me. I enter a perceptual realm that appreciates the small nuances of correction. My attention to the task at hand is sharpened, and my therapeutic presence grows larger.
* See "The Loss of Care" by Barrett L. Dorko P.T. Copies available from the author