My employment has changed. I have always been entrepreneurial (thanks Mother...). I am working for several hospices at this point, in bereavement and spiritual care. Change is in many ways... thin ice.
"When skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed". - Emerson
Change is thin ice (and it happens to chaplains too.)
Happily for me, change is less world-shattering than it used to be. Personally, that is progress. What used to feel like a self-annihilating earthquake, I now see as a river. My shift is not just from solid to liquid; it is from me to something much bigger and higher. I see myself as the river and the Earth is shore.
It is the shore and my view of it which changes.
The useful (...and maybe even the actionable)
This blog is about what it is like as a hospice chaplain (AKA spiritual care coordinator). How is it to stand by and watch with others as their world implodes and change happens. I don't offer my metaphysical views to patients or their families. They are desperate. They are full of earthquakes and the cracking of worlds.
I only offer what might be accessible for them and useful. That changes moment to moment as I look them in the eye or listen to them over the phone. It could be a familiar bible quote, or a poem or a rose from my garden, or a trinket of hope but mostly I offer my attention, and intention for a bit of peace in the storm of loss.
I offer what I am.
The Force (...may it be with you).
Sometimes words come into play but it is mostly this mysterious force called "Presence". As a CLINICAL chaplain, I live in and beside the "Medical Model" of healthcare. I try and use language that anyone will understand - especially the other disciplines that work beside me. We all have our different point of views, this is what makes us an INTER-DISCIPLINARY TEAM or an IDT. To see with many eyes is about seeing the whole patient and offering whole person care. It is our goal, we don't always get there.
When the medical model of fixing has (or in the case of palliative) is in the process of running its course, all sorts of endings show up. Palliative is infiltrating the hospitals and medicine itself with the idea that whole care is "evidence-based". There is a lot of hocus-pocus in big pharma / medical bio biz. IMHO, it is not about health...but your body is.
Predator: predating the Medical Model.
It is hilarious, really, that the new research about the benefits and efficacy of "alternative" therapies such as meditation and yoga (especially in trauma...and) in health are being studied and documented. These new alternatives pre-date the medical model by thousands of years. Who does not want to be seen as a whole person? It is the gift of the ages - to be seen as valid, good, and a loving and lovable work-in-process. This new, ancient and timeless view of healing is threatening the medical model in the holiest of its own shrines: the hospital. Palliative is beginning to threaten the medical model as a predator threatens prey. Hospice and its powerful offspring, Palliative medicine, is a focus on a good end and whole-person care.
Re-making health care to be about health, as hospice makes death about hope, is an earthquake to the medical model of fixing with the giving of another pill or operation.
Change will continue to happen and it will unearth us because ...well it is quantum reality. Change reminds us of what does not change.
As humans, we tend to forget. Time reminds us who and what we are. But in change, there are those people who stand by. We are not alone...or we do not have to be alone. We are accompanied by those we love, those who love us, and Love itself. (AKA: Presence)
Take a walk in nature... Go watch a river.
Ask it what it knows to be true. Ask it about change. I believe it will surprise you with the answer...if you listen with the whole of you.
I have just completed a training for the last four days about how to lead ritual / ceremony within the diverse soup of religions and the many kinds of spiritual seekers we have in California and the nation. Many are the spiritual not religious folks and those who do not consider themselves anything (i.e. the infamous 'Nones").
It was a fun immersion, which taught me much and pushed a few of my buttons, too.
Touching the sacred, (whether you want to or not)...
My plan is a self-care, caregiver workbook created from the Fieldguide. Part of those workshops might involve touching on the sacred and timeless. Whether we want to or not, when we show up for the big ticket items in life such as caregiving of our loved ones, we get up close (and too personal) to our own mortal fire. This involves the always dynamic equilibrium of loyalty, and authenticity balanced with compassion for all concerned.
Let me tell you what to do...
Religion works, if you trust your intermediaries i.e. the gurus, priests, ministers, pastors, rabbi, imans etc. After all, benevolent dictators can be quite effective and the most efficient forms of government. They can be wonderful leaders–or not. Keeping them honorable in the long term is the tricky part.
But the spiritual not religious folks, are demanding a bit more autonomy and efficacy. They do not wholeheartedly trust their leaders which is what pushed them out of the fish bowl and into the ocean at large. I had excellent leadership at this seminar but the subject came up over and over, for me, what kind of leader do I want to be in this new place I am growing into.
Serving (not fixing or helping)
As a chaplain, I reside each day on the side of service. I companion people as a clinical hospice chaplain. I am part of a team of clinicians who focus on comfort. I have no agenda other than that. Though, as part of the job title/description I sometimes get projected upon by people who have been wounded by the authority structures of organized religions. Not complaining...it's all part of my job, really. Sometimes the only service I can be, is to give my patient a last shred of control to throw their offending religious symbol (that would be me...) out of the room. Ahem. It does not happen very often. Most times, I can overcome their initial mistrust by being hospitable, kind and simply standing by. Even then, some people will not, or are unable to accept support. Sometimes it is me, (I could have done that call better...or something else triggering to them, which could be a bad hair day on my part...).
Many times it is not me at all.
A Workshop Servant Leader?
That said, as a hospice chaplain, I am guided by a 1996 essay by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, In the Service of Life. She says serving is different from helping or fixing. It is not about pushing through or controlling, but allowing things to open up by service (and good, open-ended questions).
Helping is based on inequality. It is not a relationship of equals - when I use my strength to help those of lesser strength...People feel this inequality...We don't serve with our own strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life...Service is a relationship of equals.- Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen,
The beautiful old mama crone in the habit, got it right, again:
We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy. - Mother Teresa
The other's highest priority needs...
The idea of servant leadership goes back at least a couple thousand years. The modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf who was in turn inspired to write it by Herman Hesse's book Journey to the East (says Wikipedia). In this classic essay, The Servant as Leader, it said:
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? –Robert K. Greenleaf
The sacred/secular leader's question
And that is the governing and orienting question a sacred/secular leader can trust. It is the balancing question that I will keep returning to: seeing the wholeness in the apparent brokenness...or simply that we are better healed to wholeness and health by being treated as a whole person with integrity.
This is the kind of peer leadership I am planning...in my future self-care caregiver workshops. It's a dynamic balance and the way I, myself, want to learn. But the point of these workshops are to model, in a fun and joyous way, that caregiving is a circle of care. To be sustainable, we, the caregivers must also be fed. The biggest, baddest, blackbelt servant leader, Jesus, had the fine print worked out:
Love your neighbor as yourself. - Mathew 22:39
I am gestating yet more big life changes...Actually there are a few, which is the way my life seems to move. (It's less metamorphic than igneous...) Life has been working well, in a lovely and calm way, then the volcanic eruptions begin...and it is not usually of my choosing.
I have learned to adjust, but it is not comfortable. For me, it manifests physically as body aches, which are bone deep. My brain can more readily accept concepts and new ideas, but my body is slower to process, digest and clean out those old stories. It is yet another physical way grief/loss works it's ways with us–with me. As I tell my bereaved, loss and grief are real damage.
The stories to which I am referring are the very early ones, which got baked in bone deep, before we knew we were in an oven.
But if the story I am holding, is no longer working...it is good and necessary to let it go... The most obvious catalyst in my world now is my employment, which is wobbly and has been for a time. But the mental linkages to how I make money in the world root into to my very identity, who I trust, and how I contribute to the world. These are internal stories, too. Something in me has shifted around the idea of enoughness. Parts of me, which have been largely known but inaccessible, have aligned. I feel wiser, more ready and, perhaps, riper (Ahem...ripe in the sense of wine not compost).
What is 'enough'? It has to do with expectations & our stories.
The answers around enough-ness are both bone deep, and flowing like a thought river, constantly in motion while eroding and re-depositing all those earthly rocks I have come to think of as unchanging. Enoughness and gratitude is a present moment calculation, of sorts. David Brooks in a 2015, NYT column, The Structure of Gratitude, says
''Gratitude happens when some kindness exceeds expectations..." - July 28, 2015
Appreciating 'What Is" in front of me or cling to old stories?
Like the grateful people described in his column, I have become more present-minded. My expectations of life are more about appreciating "What is" than expecting life to conform to my baked-in ideas of what I thought was true. "These people may have big ambitions, but they have preserved small anticipations (expectations)". He says these people are hyper-aware of our continual dependence on others - parents, friends, ancestors (and I add partners). They are connected in their stories of gratitude. They are interdependent...and stronger more resilient for it.
Gratitude creates a gift economy...and a better world.
Gratitude is a form of social glue. In a capitalist economy, debt is to be repaid to the lender. But a debt of gratitude is repaid forward, to another person who also doesn't deserve it. In this way each gift ripples outward and yokes circles of people in bonds of affection... Connections are nurtured not by self-interest but by loyalty and service.
As my fiance says (yes, I am, ahem...also getting married...) "We are all dented cans." There is empathy here. There is compassion here for ourselves and our others when we can reduce our expectations. Or release them... if we are ripe enough to do so...
Happy Inter-Dependence Day - We are all dented cans...
My expectations are gratefully burning up with those previously mentioned volcanic eruptions in wonderful ways. We are all dented cans...and I am following the path of kindness, loyalty and service. Life is very sweet today. I am connected in ways I could not have imagined in previous stories of how "Life should be..."
I am appreciating 'What is' enough...to see the blessings in front of me. 'What is' - expectations = blessings.
Why put those two things together?
Grief is bad; innovation is good.
What could grief possibly have to do
with innovation? (Isn't grief what some
lucky working stiffs get three days
leave to deal with?)
Grief does not work that way: it takes as long as it takes.
Anyone who is human and loves, will encounter grief and find this out for themselves. Reconciliation, (not recovery...as Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief expert instructs) is the path. It is a slow road of feeling what arises. Sound Zen? It's even more ancient than that.
In our speed culture, why lavish the time needed to grieve?
Because it affects our ability to discern, and perceive... (and wait for it) create the new. If we live our lives numbed-out and afraid to see in the dark, we cannot see the whole range of challenges, opportunities and possibilities before us. We limit ourselves; our lives become smaller.
Our garden is choked with weeds...(and right weeding is the answer).
Better to 'dose' yourself, rest, and repeat...until you thaw.
Humans avoid and deny what is painful for many self-protective reasons, but all these fearful strategies, are for the sprint. They don't keep you safe in the long run.
The good life is about the marathon–not a sprint (of denial).
The only authentic long term strategy for a good life, is to deal and cope in time and, as you are able with the spiritual compost of loss: jobs, relationships, marriages, identitys, aging, caregiving are just a few examples of the trenches of love we humans may experience. They are all little deaths and the only way beyond them is through.
Yep. It's messy to go through your loss, but you can then access your best life. (As Oprah correctly shouts from her magazine covers.) It's a sound bite, but it's true. Authenticity is about seeing better...so is innovation.
Necessity is a mother, alright.
So is grief, but we can do this...with the uber superpower of kindness, patience and persistence A.K.A. love.
I know a couple of things for certain... about grief
We must wait here...like a garden in winter.
When we wisely do the honest, inner work of grief...at root level, we can THEN mourn into the world that and those we have loved and lost. In this way, we can be ripe enough and ready enough to plant new seeds and new stories.
The Earth answers us... with spring.
To paraphrase ee Cummings the poet, in his early work, when we ask difficult questions, which are on our heart, of nature...the Earth answers as she has always done... The earth answers us with the season of Spring – with its promise of renewal.
When we ask our higher power, (the Holy One of Many Names, God...) these same mortal questions, our answers are not in denial, fear and anxiety...the answers for us are in Love.
Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star... –e.e. Cummings
My fellow chaplain and author will have the final word here:
Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning.
For grief is just Love squaring up against its oldest enemy.
And after all these mortal human years, Love is up the challenge
–Rev. Kate Braestrup, Beginners Grace
Taken in part from remarks prepared for an AseraCare's annual celebration of life, Stockton, California, Saturday, June 8, 2019.
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