Almost nowhere in our modern lexicon
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That’s where the Light enters you.Somewhere deep within you I suspect that you already know the truth of these three lines.Yet, despite this knowing, we are continually turning away from ourselves, from the fullness of our own experience.During the last ten years, I have met thousands of health professionals pained by the distance they felt between themselves and those who seek their care, wishing things could be different, wondering where to begin.And I have met even more patients who have touched their own inner strength by looking into the bandaged place with new eyes.Eyes willing to look unflinchingly into what is most troubling and distressing, only to simultaneously discover, in the depths, the entering light.It is here, in this commitment to awareness, that patient and practitioner can meet.And if we keep our eyes open, we begin to discover that the healing relationship is itself a pathway, a Way of working with ourselves and others leading to the blurring of contrived boundaries, an awakening into our mutual, shocking brilliance, the recovery of a deep and abiding joy.In actuality, the healing relationship has always been a crucible for mutual transformation.The bare willingness of human beings to encounter one another in the midst of our weaknesses and strengths is the quintessential transformative agent.But my experience tells me that it is nearly impossible for us to relate to another human being in this way if we do not begin to relate to ourselves in the same manner.This is called mindfulness.But mindfulness is not simply a technique.It is an act of love.Our willingness to see, to hold ourselves closely just as we are, while being this way with another, is a revealing and deeply healing expression of care.An embodiment of compassion.Compassion begins at home, with ourselves.Whether offering or seeking help, we are all wounded and we are all whole.For the most part, we have lost sight of this interdependent actuality.Our willingness to recognize and hold such vision is an unfolding process of intimacy and healing.The loss of normalcy, the disruption of perceived wholeness, the felt sense of isolation and limitation are at heart the primary predicament of the patient.Yet these feelings are common to all of us, whether we are caregivers or in need of healing.Helping, if it is to be healing, requires practitioners to enter into and begin to understand the disruption, uncertainty, and chaos of identity faced by those seeking their care.Because these sensibilities are a part of our commonwealth, we all have within us a polestar, a Chiron, by which to orient.Navigating in this way is possible only if caregivers learn to suspend, at least momentarily, the addictive, intoxicating drive to do.If health professionals are to help in the fullest sense of the word, then we must make this journey.This is not painless.Not the stuff of résumés.No doubt there is a measure of truth in this biography.Yet if this stands alone as the standard of our unfolding calling, the vocation of becoming a True Human Being, much is lost to us and to those whom we serve.Seen from this vantage point, those seeking our care, those we call patients, are ourteachers.Their instruction is subtle and deep, continually turning us back on ourselves with remarkable skill and precision.In so doing, a plaster has been applied to the wound of separation, offering instead a soothing balm of unexpected connection.In this way, we are doctor and patient for one another.Two sides of the same coin.Don’t turn your head.Keep looking at the bandaged place.That’s where the Light enters you.These three lines are all the instructions we need to begin.Show up.Tell the truth, without judgment or blame.Don’t be attached to outcome.The presence of children is pervasive.Shoes and boots line the hallway.Out here in the corridor, as I take off my shoes, one of the nurses just looks down the row and smiles.The nurses are used to us.Sometimes I wonder if their feet long for the same invitation, the same respite.Momentarily, we catch each other’s glance, then continue on our separate ways.In the classroom some people are talking.After a few words of introduction, I say that we will wait a little while before beginning.Then, moving around the room, I greet each person individually, shaking hands while exchanging names.By 9:00 there are more than twenty of us.By 9:05 the room is full.As I greet a woman with sunglasses sitting in the seat right next to the door, I see that she is crying.It probably took a lot for her to come through the door.Sometimes I think that getting through the door on the first day of class is the hardest thing anyone will do in the clinic.Her tremulous hand and the tears streaming from beneath her glasses attest to this.Sitting with these thirty people feels something like waiting in an airport boarding lounge.Some people turn their chairs, others twist their upper torsos in the direction of the windows.Some kneel in front of their chairs, resting their arms on the seats.Many sit on the floor, using the round, colorful meditation cushions stowed under each chair.I ask them to allow their eyes to simply receive anything in their field of vision.Soon the room is silent.People become still.I suggest that we begin to notice the way the mind places names on what is seen, and whenever this occurs to simply observe it without judgment or striving while gently drawing our attention back to seeing.The silence accompanied by a growing stillness invites us to continue with no more words.This is our first meditation.As this foray into attentive seeing ends, people leave the world beyond the windows and turn back toward the center of the room.Then I place three raisins in each person’s hands.I don’t usually do this so early in the class, but today their attention is so present and pervasive that there’s no point in missing this opportunity.Using the senses of smell, touch, sight, and sound, we explore these raisins for some time.Asked simply to report their bare experience, people voice their perceptions with sparse precision.I ask them to try speaking in this way, simply naming, with out anything extra, exactly what they are noticing.There are lots of comments.We go back and forth.Our discussion feels like a cross between play and science.A native curiosity and inquisitiveness so essential to scientific inquiry is arising out of the simplicity of carefully attending to these ordinary objects.Such deliberate attentiveness is, and will be, the formative ground for our work over the next two months.Then, one by one, we slowly eat the raisins.Those who hate raisins have tried at least one.Thirty minutes into our journey, they have taken up the opportunity to work with repulsion in relationship to these raisins.Some speak openly about this, asking if they can throw the uneaten ones away.Others speak about pleasure, about wanting more, about feeling anxious when the last one went away. We will revisit these states of mind often during the next two months.Despite all that has already transpired this morning, we are still strangers sitting together, somewhat stiffly lining the four walls of the room.I want to be sure that we know something about where we are going, so although each person has had an individual interview explaining the details of the program before entering this room, I decide to review our itinerary.Not so much the details but the mode of travel and the commitment required.Often when doing this, I ask everyone to decide if this is where they choose to be and say that, if not, they are free to leave.Sometimes I have been taken up on this offer.Today, sitting in silence, the smiles, nods, and stillness say, Let’s go. We begin going around the room, with each person having the opportunity to speak his or her name and tell us a little or a lot about what brings them here, and what they hope for.I ask if anyone needs to go first, since going last might be hell.But today I’d rather tell you about Marie, the lady crying near the door.She begins her introduction with a disclaimer, telling us that the person before us isn’t who she really is.Marie tells us that what she most wants is to take back her life.The bag is on the floor, tucked close to her.Listening to her and looking her way, I wish I could see her eyes.But we have not been long enough in each other’s company for me to ask this of her.Can you say something about what you mean by taking back my life?I want to be the way I was before all of this happened.I want to get back to being who I used to be.Do you think that you can ever go back to who you were?I’m not sure that’s possible.I’m not sure that you would want to, even if you could.But I used to be so strong, so energetic, so able to handle all kinds of situations, and now look at me.I’ve got to have this bag.I didn’t drive here, someone drove me.I want to get better.When I said I’m not sure you can ever go back to who you were, I didn’t mean that you can’t, as you say, get better or grow, just that you have changed.You just told us that you’ve gone through something that has altered you.There’s no telling how you will be, but if you place a memory of how you were over what you are becoming, you might close out all sorts of possibilities.Can you sense what I mean?Marie’s I think so is filled with both relief and bewilderment.Relief born of possibility and hope, bewilderment arising out of the unsettling realization that she is indeed on a journey whose destination is no longer evident or well marked.On this first day of class, Marie seemed to speak for many of us in the room.Each of us wants to take back life. But what do we mean by that?How can we possibly do anything but live our own lives?Perhaps what Marie was telling us was that she wants to be more awake and alive to living her life.Maybe this was what she was saying yes to when asked if she was ready to board the plane and begin the journey.There is no telling what the outcome of saying yes will be for Marie or for the rest of us.Only time will tell.Tell the truth, without judgment or blame.Don’t be attached to outcome.This single sentence conveys an essential ingredient of mindfulness practice.The words simply ask us to be present.Looking deeply into whatever is before us, looking closely at that which we’d rather not.For those in pain as well as those serving to alleviate it, such careful attentiveness is one of the most vital elements of the healing process.Health practitioners find themselves, on a daily basis, face to face with the bandaged place. This tends to arrive in the guise of another.Yet so often it seems as if all of those whom we call patients have concealed and brought with them, into our unknowing presence, an empty mirror.Then, when we glimpse their torn and wounded places, we behold, quite unexpectedly, reflections of ourselves.Likewise, as patients, when confronted with illness, with the unexpected, and on the receiving end of powerful suggestions from health practitioners about our future, it is easy to turn away from ourselves, losing all sense of direction, no longer trusting our innate wisdom and navigational sensitivities.But if, in these moments, we learn to stop and be present, we have a chance to learn a lot.In these moments, no matter what our role, so much seems to be at stake, so much of our identity ripe for loss, uncertainty, or displacement.And so we often turn quietly away.This is our common habit.It is understandable, because none of us wishes to be hurt.