Cynthia Waring Matthews makes no claim to psychic powers. Nothing she does is supernatural or beyond the bounds of the scientifically possible, she would tell you; nevertheless, her abilities and experiences are surprising, intriguing, and a little bizarre.
For the past 32 years, she has been a masseuse and massage therapist. Having given, she estimates, a mind-boggling 25,000 massages during the course of her career so far, you’d have to search far and wide to find someone with a more intimate knowledge of the aches, pains, and quirks to which flesh is heir. Like any good masseuse, she can tell at a glance when a muscle isn’t as it should be. But throughout the years, she has developed a more unusual talent-the ability to know, before a client has spoken, what pains and troubles they’ve had emotionally, based on physical cues.
According to Waring Matthews, every part of the body has a story to tell. The direction a person’s feet point, the shape of the shoulders and the navel; each indicates a different past and a different personality. It is this relationship between the body’s physical indicators and the mind’s twists and turns that she explores in her new performance piece, Bodies Unbound, which takes a fresh look at the way we perceive our personal histories.
Several years ago, scheduled to teach a writing workshop at a women’s conference, Waring Matthews was asked if she could, in addition, read from her book, also titled Bodies Unbound. With several months to prepare for the event, she began to practice and memorize her material. She added props and atmosphere-a massage table, candles, and music. The performance was a hit at the conference, and a show was born.
Serendipitous as this was, the start of her life as a masseuse was more so. “I was walking through a shopping mall,” she said, “and saw a sign for a masseuse wanted. I had never had a massage, and thought you just rubbed some oil in someone’s skin. On the way home, I went and got one, memorized what he did, and got the job the next day.” Although she did eventually go to massage school and acquire formal training, it was her natural feel for the way the human body is put together that allowed her to succeed as a masseuse, and to connect what she does with a physical body to the troubles that underlie physical problems.
For Waring Matthews, nothing is purely physical, and there are no accidents. If a part of the body is in pain, it is at least indirectly caused by some action, inaction, or repressed feeling in the sufferer. She takes it a step further than this, and connects certain types of pain and discomfort with inherited, ancestral troubles. For example, in her work with African-American clients, she has found a link between certain types of physical strain and racial tension and the lingering effects of slavery.
And there are many other examples, she believes, of this type of inherited pain. During her “journey through humanity,” as she calls the wide variety of clients she has treated, she has realized that although physically helping those with whom she has worked is satisfying, she hopes to dedicate more of her time to eradicating the emotional and social stresses that cause their unhappiness. Our stories, she said, are “locked in our bodies until we integrate them in a conscious way.” Bodies Unbound will, at least, integrate the stories she has heard and sensed with a physical expression of her viewpoint, and the show ought to be every bit as fascinating as the theory behind it.
Bodies Unbound is at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) on Friday, August 17 and Saturday, August 18 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, visit centerstagetheater.org.