Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

Desks shoved aside in the second-floor classroom created open space for three pairs of wooden chairs facing each other. They comprised separate Healing Touch stations, with a seat each for the healer and the client. Peace prevailed despite the bustle of the Wednesday afternoon food pantry underway below in this apartment building converted to parish center.

Healers began conversation with an open-ended question. “What can I help you with today?” Then foreheads nearly touched as clients leaned in with their concerns. It might be a physical complaint like aching knees or back, or something emotional. “I’m worried about my son.” “I’ve just got a lot of anxiety.”

One by one, each healer rose to their feet, moved to stand behind the client, and rested hands on their shoulders. Clients closed their eyes as soft music accompanied the gentle work. Light snoring often ensued.

My initial experiences offering Healing Touch to people other than family or fellow students occurred in this upstairs room. After I began training, my friend invited me to join the twice monthly Healing Touch team at the pantry. It felt awkward, assuming the role of “healer,” while trying to recall specific teachings about hand placements for each technique, and which one to do for headaches vs. joint pain. Yet there was a plainness about the setting that gradually released such performance anxiety.

In time, because of pantry logistics, clients were asked to wait in the adjacent church, so our Healing Touch team followed, setting up chair stations in the vestibule. This location offered ease of access without stairs. Many who sought Healing Touch had mobility challenges. Then It turned out that the clients preferred waiting outside under the trees, so eventually Healing Touch migrated to a tiny corner in the middle of the main floor, at the heart of pantry traffic.

“I think of us as a MASH unit, setting up wherever we can,” my friend and co-volunteer Helen remarked one Wednesday as we crammed the chairs into place. Despite the surrounding noise and cramped space, we agreed we liked this central spot best.

“Yes! You’re exactly right. I love that description,” I said.

Without realizing it, in that moment Helen resolved a dilemma for me. By then subsequent training had shown me that that Healing Touch practice involved more than what we provided at the pantry.  Typically, a session would begin with gathering a detailed history from the client who would then lie on a table for a session that would last at least twice the length of a pantry session.

This dichotomy confused me as I considered my future with Healing Touch. To become certified, I needed to practice full sessions and develop case management skills. Helen’s MASH unit metaphor showed me that I’d fallen prey to binary thinking, as though I had to choose one way or the other of practicing Healing Touch. Both models have value in different circumstances. In fact, I realized, becoming certified would allow me to grow and lead additional volunteer teams at other locations if I wished.

Sadly, the pandemic prevents our pantry service for the foreseeable future, but the simplicity that I learned there will always infuse my approach.  Presence and intention form the foundation of healing work.