Looking Back on the Year

by David Shaddock

So many times we say hindsight is 20/20.  It is with great relief that I realize that 2020 is now only hindsight.  As the year fades into the rear view mirror of memory, I feel the momentary need to pause and consider what we’re so gladly putting behind us.  It wasn’t all bad. 

I’m reminded today of Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, which famously begins It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  A Tale of 2020 could start the same way, for Heartwood at least.  The year began with horrible wildfires in Australia, burning away much of the bush and imperiling millions of wild animals.  Some of those were the world’s most dangerous snakes, but others were koala bears.  We made contributions to a fund to save the koalas (and the snakes, I guess), during the month of January when every indicator told us we were going to have our very best financial year ever, with every course we offered that month bursting at the seams and boasting a waiting list.  February was equally busy and we couldn’t wait to catch our breath in March, when our last spring students would leave and my massage therapy training at Manatee Technical College began its spring break. 

March 10 saw us sleeping in until the unheard-of time of 6 am, and then getting up to start our ten-day juice fast.  I was determined to go back to school with six-pack abs showing, so every day I worked out and we made juice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  After the fourth day Ginny cracked and looked up research that told us it was much healthier to break the juice fast each evening with a protein meal.  And she decided that making the juice into smoothies by adding bananas and whey powder made for a more survivable beverage.  So we didn’t quite make the ten day pledge, but I lost 11 pounds and she cut out six.  And I felt great, especially after kicking my caffeine habit.  I haven’t had a cup of coffee since. 

But March 23, when I was supposed to go back to classes, we were told to stay home and hunker down.  We started zoom classes to keep our training going, and Heartwood began online work as well.  Denver and Ginny began putting huge amounts of effort into filming training sessions we’d always wanted to do, but never found the time.  Denver poured herself into anatomy and posture focus work, with help from other teachers and students who were willing to come to Heartwood, and Ginny dove deep into philosophy and marketing work.  We held ourselves to high standards in terms of video quality, investing in light boxes and better microphones to go with our broadcast-quality camcorder and tripod. 

The upshot was that, although we weren’t able to hold many of our normal courses, we were able to serve our community of teacher trainees using online tools, Zoom, and Thinkific.  We actually were able to graduate several groups of very engaged and highly competent teachers from allover the world after holding 200 and 300 level courses with the blessing of Yoga Alliance. 

I say we…  honestly, this was Ginny and Denver, and also Rachel Belle, who had come to work for us in the spring to help out in the office, teach some coursework, host some Zoom sessions, and generally fill in the gaps.  What was I doing? 

Well, in March during what I thought was my 13 days of spring break, I tore apart the old office and lobby and turned it all around, with Ginny’s advice and suggestions.  We now have a secure area for three people to work the office, more privacy for the bathroom, and a lovely boutique area that Ginny keeps stocked with amazing merchandise at bargain prices.  This all seems to be a favorite with our crowds of customers—but we don’t get crowds anymore.  Covid has changed all that.  No overlapping classes, no simultaneous trainings, no overflow students.  Everything is limited, and so far, due to all that caution, we have yet to see a case of Covid here.

So with all the bad comes a lot of good.  If we pay attention, we have a balance—sometimes shifting in one direction and other times coming back in a more positive way.  We watch the plight of black people in now-publicized peril, and feel their anguish, but we are heartened as more and more Americans and those in other countries become more aware and more active.  We are dismayed at the loss of our beloved country’s standing amongst the nations of the world, but we see the moves we’re making toward getting back on track.  We are heartsick as we hear stories of people taking online trainings that teach them little or nothing, but then we still have would-be teachers seeking quality education and willing to do the work to find us. 

I passed my medical board exam for massage therapy on my first attempt, which was an incredible relief, and then graduated my course and was licensed, right in the middle of a ban on massage work.  So it was hard getting started, but that freed me up to make more improvements on the property.  We now have blacktopped driveways all over Heartwood except for our gravel parking lots, a hefty expense by our standards but a long time coming and this will keep down our dust levels and make the property neater and cleaner year round.  And I have an excuse to dig out my size 14 Rollerblades. And we installed a new, bigger septic and upgraded the electricity to keep up with our growing needs.

We lost our beloved India, the best Heartwood dog ever, but within a short time Ginny had found a puppy replacement, an adorable little Australian shepherd.  We named him Shiva as a reminder to our yoga students that Shiva is the name for the male energy & supreme consciousness in the Hindu tradition.  He has a lot more male energy than we’d like at the moment, but day by day he’s settling into a more mature groove.  At four months, he’s over 30 pounds and he just loves people.  We have high hopes that he’ll grow into a great Heartwood greeter and protector.  Wish we had some sheep to keep him busy, though.

Along the course of this year, Denver and I both were able to return to massage work under safe circumstances.  Some truly wonderful people have come into my life this year, some through massage and others through trainings, but some through business relationships.  I feel truly blessed that so many remarkable friends appear at Heartwood, and so many appreciate the calm and peace that seems to envelop anyone who enters the front gate. 

There are a lot of new homes in my family this year.  Neva bought herself a house in Baltimore, since she’ll be stationed at Fort Meade for most of her work in the Air Force.  Her significant other moved in with her several months later and they got to enjoy the Covid shutdown under the same roof.  I didn’t get to see my mother from March until the end of the summer when I helped her move up to Amelia Island near Jacksonville, where she now lives in the downstairs master suite at my older sister Laurie’s gorgeous new home.  And Denver and her fiancé Nick bought a house together about ten minutes from Heartwood, a lovely two-story place in a gated community.  All seem happy and content with their new digs.

We are here at Heartwood, utterly grateful that during the time of the shutdown we were quartered in a place with seven acres, gardens and pathways, and a pavilion for exercise.  We had cases of bamboo toilet paper that had arrived on a delivery schedule but were unused because we didn’t have customers.  We had three refrigerators and a freezer full of food which we dove into and prepared hundreds of great meals, at home, and finding ourselves saving thousands of dollars because we weren’t running off to restaurants to grab a quick meal or get away from work for an hour here or there.  Ginny has continued to exercise and shed weight, and I’ve been working hard and staying in shape by hauling materials, digging trenches, and working around the place.  And our biggest project yet is still underway but almost completed at this point—a total teardown and renovation of our house kitchen.  I’ve added two feet to the old kitchen layout, and we bought custom cabinets that give us an embarrassing amount of storage.  All the old 1983 appliances are now replaced, and we love the new look and increased utility. 

So it was a hard year in many ways but it was a rich and rewarding year in many others.  Yes, I’m very glad to see the end of the 2020, with its destructive wildfires and horrid weather and political turmoil and rampant illness and utter isolation.  But I am grateful—grateful that I’m Buddhist enough to live in the present, not fearful of the future and always forgiving of the past, and grateful that so many good things happened last year to make us appreciate what we do have here in Heartwood and those who come here to share our lives. 

Taken By Surprise

And what really surprises me is how much I love doing the work!

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been utterly taken by surprise with an educational course, and I hope it won’t be the last.  I remember entering the first yoga teacher training that my wife, Ginny, held ten years ago when she had finally registered ReFlex Arts as a Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance.  She wanted me in her class to provide feedback on her teaching and to help her remember the names of the 19 enrollees.  I wanted to take the class to become more flexible. 

I got so much more than I bargained for.  Yoga helps with physical flexibility, of course, but it’s so much more than that.  I gained mental, emotional, and spiritual flexibility.  I learned breath control and meditation techniques, but more importantly, I learned what to use them for—to pursue self-examination, detachment from distractions, focus on the true Self, honest and enlightened awareness of how I see myself and how I interact with others. 

Along my path since then, I’ve gotten 500-level training, and become a Reiki master, and taught more than a thousand students some of what I know and have learned.  I get better as a yogi with time, because I’m paying attention and doing the work.  So recently I decided to move forward with another aspect of training and get schooled in massage therapy. 

Honestly, I did this so that I could legally perform Reiki (for compensation) in the State of Florida.  Florida is one of the only states that does not allow Reiki practitioners to perform treatments unless they hold a license to do bodywork (massage therapy, physical therapy, or occupational therapy).  As a founding member of the Florida Reiki Association, and as a person who has attuned and trained well over a thousand students of Reiki in the past seven years here at Heartwood, it seemed unconscionable that I had to turn down the many requests I’ve had from people who wanted me to work with them to help them heal problems.  So I began Massage Therapy training at Manatee Technical College.  And that’s where the surprises began.

First of all, the facility was incredible.  The staff, the building, the programs, the students, and the teachers were wonderful in various ways.  My instructor, Nancie Yonker, is a handful of years younger than I am but she’s devoted most of her life to massage.  She used to instruct at Sarasota School of Massage, teaching there for seven years, and then did a couple year stint at Keiser, and finally got brought in to MTC to help them develop their program there.  Denver got her training at Sarasota School of Massage, and I can attest to how much skill she has due to that wonderful education, but I feel I got at least as much for much, much less tuition. 

I have a respectable medical background, having worked five years as a paramedic and I also was one of the first five certified Emergency Cardiac Technicians in Illinois.  But I learned so much about anatomy—not just the muscles and bones and tissues, but about cell operations and subtle energy and chemical reactions and how and why we do what we do as we move through life—that I not only passed my medical board exam on the first try, I now have a ton of material I feed into Heartwood’s newly accredited yoga therapy training.  Before this, I knew what muscles and bones were moving and operating throughout each yoga posture.  Now I know exactly what is going on under the skin as I touch and move and manipulate all the tissues of the body.  I know the names of virtually every obscure little muscle, but more importantly, I know how to relax them, or make them stronger, or make a client more aware of them. 

And what really surprises me is how much I love doing the work!  To feel a client’s resistance to movement melt away under my touch, or to see the relaxation grow into a client’s features, or to sense the body’s internal rhythms slow and relax or quicken and strengthen as I work become amazing affirmations of what properly-done techniques can mean to help another human being become better at living in their skin. 

And some of the adjunct therapies took me by surprise as well.  Debi Kleer, a fellow student, is an old friend of mine who was trained in reflexology when she lived in South Africa.  She needed a massage therapy license to pursue that career here in the USA.  I never much cared for reflexology since my feet are really sensitive to touch—my only ticklish spot, and I find walking barefoot on gravel or shell excruciating—but we had a visitor to class, Sam Belyea, who is known as the foot whisperer.  He opened our eyes to the way reflex points on the feet and hands can actually be used to diagnose conditions and suggest treatments.  He and Debi speak the same language, so she was a step ahead of all of us, but we got a chance to experience what reflexology can do.  I’m not inclined to pursue this therapy myself; I’ll leave it to Denver, who does it here, and Debi, who does it elsewhere.  But it was fascinating to see it in action.

And then I love Thai massage.  We had gotten some training previously in Thai massage by Joni Masse, and it whetted my appetite, but I knew we couldn’t legally do it here with a license, even if we were going to call it Thai Yoga or something like that.  We have too much at stake to risk losing Heartwood over trying to skirt the law.  So Ginny set up a plan to ship Denver and me to Thailand, enrolling us in their famous massage institute at Chiang Mai, one of the few that are fully accredited in the USA.  We were planning to go in September and stay long enough to get certified to teach massage and herbal applications, and then come back to set up a legitimate teaching system here at Heartwood and add another skill set to our practices.  But, Covid…  Those plans are on hold until next year.

The adjunct therapy that really did speak to me, however, was craniosacral therapy.  We had a guest teacher come in and demonstrate for us, and let us work on each other a tiny bit, and that was enough to whet my appetite to learn more.  All that time doing Reiki shares and attunements and demonstrations have given my hands a wonderful sensitivity and I was easily able to feel the delicate craniosacral rhythms in a client’s head and feet.  I decided to enroll in training with the Upledger Institute, founded by Dr. John Upledger, an orthopedic surgeon, and become certified in CST.  The training was so much more than I had anticipated.  Not only did I learn the science behind this gentle practice—involving pressures on parts of the body that are never more than 5 grams, about the weight of a common nickel, that coax the body into helping itself resolve issues on all different levels—I learned techniques to make this work very effectively for clients. 

When I took the training, my massage partner, Bernadette Brelsford, a fellow student and a practicing esthetician, performed a practice 10-step protocol on me, with particular attention to my right shoulder, which had been quite painful for almost nine months after a fall from a ladder while working on my barn roof.  Shortly after the session concluded, I discovered that my shoulder pain was totally gone.  “I’m a healer!”, Bernadette responded happily.  Well, along the way, I’ve been discovering that I can help clients achieve similar results for themselves.  It amazes me each time these ever-so-subtle pressures can wreak such remarkable results, but as time goes on and I gain more experience, I am starting to expect these things rather than be surprised by them. 

I didn’t become an overnight convert to yoga, and neither did I dive passionately headlong into massage for its own sake.  Both surprised me with how much they have affected my life.  Yoga has turned into a lifelong learning path.  I fully expect massage will be the same for me.  I welcome the future with open arms and willing hands.