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,
That 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.
on a Chaplain's life