As a new therapist I drove my clinical supervisors crazy. My clients told me about their struggles. I responded with a view of their potential. I was quick to tell them how this situation would make them stronger. My supervisors called this “a flight to health.” They told me what I was saying about my clients was true. However, I was like a waitress who cleared the table and brought dessert before the meal was consumed.
My timing was off.
Learning to slow down and respond to where clients were in the moment helped them do their work. It taught me to drop into where they were and look through their eyes. Emotional disturbances look so different to me at 72 then at 42. My younger self wanted my clients to expand their view and to help them get over what they faced.
Now I see the elegance of emotions like sorrow. They stop us in our tracks– covers us like a heavy blanket, press awareness into each moment. Our challenge is not to escape difficult emotions but to engage them. This turning towards pain is where we find strength.
Maybe you are saying, “That’s interesting but what does it have to do with me I am not a therapist?” Friends, family members, coworkers and others come to us when they are struggling. Learning to be with them is healing for them as well as us.
When people we care about struggle it’s difficult to watch. We want them to know a better life waits. Not doing any thing leaves me feeling powerless. Back then and even now some of my motivation to help is to avoid feeling powerless. When I have an answer for them I feel useful and my powerlessness fades.
Growth comes by going through the swampy muddle in the middle. A flight to health is an invitation to fly over the painful parts. True faith in their potential requires trusting their ability to face difficulties. How can we be useful? Our support can come in the form of questions that help them explore their situation. This is an art and takes practice.
Frequently, it means doing nothing, well except for the hard job of listening with an open heart.
We underestimate the profound power of simply listening. We think our view of them as whole is what will save them. Tender mercies are often more powerful than our words, a bowl of soup, a bouquet of flowers or a shared cup of tea. And if we cannot offer a bowl of soup or share a cup of tea then a simple, “I hear you” can be a healing balm. Or asking, “Is there anyway I can help?”
When people are depressed they need professional assistance. Hopefully, they will sit with a seasoned therapist who will guide their inquiry as they regain their direction. That is not our job. What I am writing about are the everyday bumps and bruises that others share with us. These situation range from listening to a teenager talk about heartbreak to sitting with a dying friend or relative. That is when our faith in their inner strength is tested. That is when our faith in the power of being is tested.
Unfolding:has a subtitle that’s a good model for where to start.
Slow Down: be aware of who is in front of you. Listen carefully.
Drop In: to your experience while softly and courageously pressing into what is wanted and needed in this moment. It might be silence.
Dare More: by trusting the strength of being over doing.
These are little things that make a huge difference.
Photo Attribution: FreeFoodPhotos.com
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- 2023 Women Writing to Unfold (Taos, NM)
- 21 Aug 23