Archive for the ‘healing arts’ category

New Words for a New Year

January 21, 2017

I haven’t written for ages here. Life became very busy–new job, less time at home–and a lot of things got put aside. Music was one, writing another. But working in an office every day, I find that my creative spirit needs exercise, otherwise it shrivels up and something happens to my heart …

So once again, I try to begin. I must play the music I can find time for and appreciate the people who play with me. I can strive to write more, put my thoughts down in some concrete form. Sure, everybody is doing it these days. The noise level is astounding! And who am I to think I have anything important to say to anyone else?

Well, I’m safe on that score! I only have my own experiences and perspective to draw on. But we’re all human beings sharing a seemingly shrinking planet. Too often, it feels to me like everyone is yelling louder and louder in an effort to convince anyone within earshot (including themselves) that they’re right.

We all have the capacity to be right or wrong, just as we all have the capacity to treat each other with gentleness. One can be civil without having to agree with someone. One can be compassionate without saying one condones another’s actions or decisions. One can listen instead of always trying to speak.

If we–and in that pronoun I’m including myself as the first person being addressed–would all do a bit more of these things, perhaps the rhetoric wouldn’t reach such a fever pitch. Conversations could occur. Compromises aren’t always comfortable because everyone is giving ground. But this is where I think we all must begin each day, even if we fall short by the second hour of our time awake (or earlier, as when I react with irritation to some small thing my partner does or says or neglects to do or say).

So I begin again today. It’s evening here in the northeastern United States, but it’s morning somewhere else on earth. Every moment in our lives can be counted as the first moment of something. This can bring a keen sense of renewal and refreshment. It doesn’t absolve one of past mistakes. But it does open the way for trying again. Compassion for others must begin with compassion for oneself. If I can’t give myself a second or fifth or hundredth chance, how can I do so for another?

If you are still reading, may you feel that renewal yourself. It is a small thing, not a all-encompassing sweeping away. But in the quiet I am trying to cultivate, the small things are just as profound and majestic and lovely as the grand ones.

Peace of the Sunday Morning Stable

March 23, 2009

I spent the weekend at my parents’ home, the place I grew up in. They were out of town, visiting a brother of mine.

Life this time of year can be stressful for everyone, because it seems that everything is due “right now”–taxes, forms, insurance payments, reports, results.

Lately, I’ve gotten so caught up in all the tasks I think I have to do that I’ve let the time for quietness get pushed dangerously low. This, I think to myself, will help me get more done, and then I’ll feel better.

But it only makes me feel more frantic, and then I get less done, and feel worse!

On Sunday morning, I did chores by myself. My younger sister was at home, too–she’s still in high school, but she’s an accomplished horsewoman, and the mantle of caregiver has been passed from me to her.

I grew up among goats–milking, delivering babies, bringing in hay, walking pastures. Someday, I tell myself, I may return to it, because it is a life of hard work, but it is also one of intense peacefulness, deep connection to the land and the animals. There is no escaping the spirituality of seeing a creature born, or of standing beside one as it breathes its last. Among the goats, beneath the open sky, you can’t hide from what’s in your heart and mind.

There was no milking to be done this weekend, and there were three horses where there had once been only one. There were two newish barn cats, Pickles and Pepperoni, who had arrived feral and were now all too anxious to twine themselves between your legs as you walked, demanding to be picked up and petted.

It’s amazing: If an animal knows it is wanted, loved, and cared for, fear gradually subsides and is replaced by an abiding trust.

I saw this firsthand with my dogs, Kiefer and Ecko, who each came to me a bit mistrustful of people, but who are both totally devoted to me. Kiefer, at 15, doesn’t follow me around everywhere anymore. His hearing is failing, so he won’t respond if I just call him. But when he wants me, he wants to be right close by, where he can smell me and feel my presence.

As for Ecko, he’s the follower now, the watcher. Wherever I am, he wants to be, especially if the surroundings are out of the ordinary. And he knows my emotional weather better than anyone. He won’t let me get away with leaving things in my heart unexamined. He’ll lean his head against me, then his whole body, and he’ll demand that I first pay attention to him, and then sort out my own internal ambiguities.

Anyway, there was deep healing and comfort for me in the barn yesterday morning. The goats bleated to me and stood up with their front legs on the fence rail, craning their necks to be petted, nuzzling me for kisses, even though I’d just filled their manger.

The horses whinnied to me and kicked up their heels on the way out to pasture–luckily, I was behind a stall door, well away from their friskiness.

The cats meowed at me until I fed them, ate their fill, and came and meowed some more, just to let me know they were still there.

I stayed out there until my hands were good and frosty and I was certain I’d begin to make the people in the house wonder if I’d gotten into trouble. On my way out, I made sure to pet every four-legged creature and thank them for their attention.

It’s Monday morning, and I can think of a long list of things I really have to do–taxes, bills, reports. None of it thrills me, but all of it is necessary.

But just for a bit longer, I’ll stay here, quiet and still, and savor the peace of the Sunday morning stable.

The Mind of a Composer

February 25, 2009

I never thought, as a piano performance major in college, that I’d spend a good percentage of my professional time composing.

As a concert pianist, I’m immersed in the ideas of other composers, and I love the intellectual challenge of trying to figure them out. Most of the time, it’s fun, although there are stretches that are just plain hard. Like now, as I painstakingly make my way through the Allemande from Bach’s fifth English Suite. There are so many changes in harmony that don’t quite seem logical to me–but, hey, I’m just the player. Yesterday’s practice session got me to the end of the first half, and it’s always interesting to see what stayed in memory a day later when the piece pushes my mind to its limits like this.

On another level, I’ve earned a good portion of my annual income from composing. My “Soul Essence” pieces have continued to sell steadily, and I passed the hundred-song mark sometime last December. Besides these individual portraits in sound, there has been the “Five Elements” series of music for healing, meditation or plain enjoyment, and I’ve written lots of things to enhance my piano teaching.

Perhaps the most fun, though, is my teaching composition to students. These range in age from five to their late teens (pretty much K-12 kids). So many kids tell me, “I can’t compose,” because they’ve never tried it and, to a lesser extent, their creativity hasn’t been stimulated.

Every year, I hold a series of competitions for my students called the Piano Olympics, and one of the categories is for composition. Once kids discover that they can be creative, that, with the technological advantage of a digital keyboard hooked up to a computer and software that not only creates lots of different sounds but can also correct uneven rhythm and otherwise produce a very polished end result, and that there is no such thing as a “wrong” composition, they often surprise themselves.

Often, this process takes a few years to unfold. Students who only composed the first year because I made them do it decide they want to try something bigger their second time around. And they’re not content to do two songs that sound alike. They begin exploring different moods, styles, and national traditions–music with an Asian flavor is popular.

There’s a different frame of mind for each of these. As a pianist, if I’m interpreting someone else’s music, there is room for my own personal sound, and this is what sets me apart from the other thousands of pianists out there–it’s what distinguishes Pianist A from Pianist B and both of them from Pianist C. But, the composer’s ideas must take precedence and guide what I do.

Writing for students, with a pedagogical goal, requires me to work within sometimes very strict limits. A first-year piano student won’t be able to play what a third-year student can, and yet, both deserve engaging music that is enjoyable to play, teach, and listen to. How, for instance, do I create a full, rich harmonic landscape without moving beyond the scope of what a 5-year-old’s hand can reach?

Finally, music for healing or as an expression of a person’s humanity, perhaps more than the other two forms, demands that I, as an individual, step aside, make room for the “song of the spirit” to come through. It’s the same tenet that should guide healing of any kind: “It’s not about me”.

One of the things that gives me the most satisfaction as a teacher is that all my students don’t sound like me. They don’t even sound too much like one another! We produce a CD of their Piano Olympics compositions every year, and it’s always fascinating to me to listen to the whole thing, as a group, and hear just how diverse the music is.

We’re heading into “crunch time” now–the deadline for the composition competition is April 1, and some of my longtime students, who can usually be counted on to produce very interesting pieces, haven’t even started yet. As I write this, two kids are just about done, and two more have the main content of their work finished. A fifth has a melody, but nothing beyond that.

Over the next few weeks, guiding students in what to listen for as they create, how to balance repetition and change, using instrumentation to highlight their ideas, and coming up with a title that fits the piece, I’ll be challenging them and challenging myself to think and hear in new ways.

Let the games begin.

Potent Words: Pity Versus Compassion

November 7, 2008

Language is powerful. It is the trait that sets us apart from other animals, although there are other species who you could say have some form of “language” (dolphins and whales, for instance). The distinction between those other species and us, though, is that we humans seem to have countless ways of expressing abstract concepts, and often, gradations within those concepts.

It’s been widely portrayed that the native peoples of Alaska have hundreds of words for snow. Actually, they have varying forms of similar linguistic bases that describe different snow-and-ice characteristics, something like our “slush,” “sleet,” “snow”.

Language is a potent communicator between people, but it’s just as powerful within the mind of an individual. We talk to ourselves constantly, from the moment we awaken each morning to the moment we fall asleep at the end of the day—even after that, if you count dreams, and I do.

We can never leave our inner voice, and the messages it conveys to us do more to shape our lives than any other influence.

The words we use, whether we’re thinking to ourselves or speaking out loud, carry layers of context. A single word brings with it a whole set of underlying perceptions, often dictated by the particular culture and community we are part of.

All this is simply a foundation for the point of these next few posts, namely, that words we often think of as having the same or very similar meanings, that we use interchangeably, are really vastly different when considered from the perspective of their underlying contextual layers. These layers are frequently based on emotional reactions, and whether we realize it or not, the word we use in a particular situation can deeply color how we respond to others in that situation.

This series is certainly not complete, but I’ve tried to focus on a few instances that I feel are particularly important, especially in light of healing.

That’s why I begin the discussion with “compassion” versus “pity”.

When we are confronted with circumstances in our own lives or the lives of others that highlight the challenges we all face as human beings, particularly in responding to pain (emotional, physical, etc.), we are given the choice to engage in many ways, depending on how we relate to those circumstances. Often, these circumstances produce a deep resonance within us. We can relate to having similar experiences, or we simply see the need for some sort of response from us.

In these instances, people often talk about feeling compassion or pity. The words are often used without regard to what each implies, simply to denote a desire to have a helpful or comforting interaction with the person involved in the situation. For example, someone’s house burns down, and we might say, “What a pity,” or comment that a particular gesture was “compassionate”.

Or, in another example, if you happen to meet someone who can’t see, can’t walk well, or has great difficulty speaking clearly enough to make themselves understood, you’re faced with an illustration of someone who is trying to go through life without the benefit of a trait (seeing, walking, speaking) that you usually take for granted.

Compassion and pity are, I believe, on opposite ends of a spectrum of responses to these types of situations. I think that, if you look at the word itself, how it’s spelled, it’s easy to keep the two straight.

“Pity” is an emotional response based on fear and misunderstanding. We “look down into a pit” and see someone in a condition very different from ourselves. From our vantage point far above them, we can enumerate all the things that separate “us” from “them”. We work to keep “them” at arm’s length, throwing things into the proverbial pit that we think will alleviate the misery down there, but not considering how we might help the person get out. We focus so much on the current condition they’re in that we don’t look at the potential of where they might be. We become so consumed by fear (“Oh, what if that were me—thank God that’s not me—I couldn’t imagine living like that!” that it restricts our response to actions that will preserve our position of power. We think that, if we can maintain that “higher ground,” we’ll somehow insulate ourselves from the possibility of future challenges for ourselves.

“Compassion,” by contrast, is “coming alongside another human being”. The “passion” at the end of the word implies that, somehow, the heart has to be deeply engaged. From this perspective, we see someone eye to eye, even when that’s uncomfortable for us. We don’t let ourselves get bogged down or overwhelmed by the other’s circumstances, but we don’t shy away from “getting our hands dirty” in order to help them help themselves. We relate to and interact with them on the basis of our shared humanity, always working to preserve their dignity and maintaining a respect for them. This respect and love for a fellow human being are the roots of compassion.

In a healing situation, the pity response is when we simply give pills or patches for pain management, increasing the dosage as the pain gets worse, without any deeper consideration of the other, non-physical components of pain as well as the non-clinical aspects of drugs (i.e., how they affect the mind and how those effects feed into a person’s self-concept and interactions with the world). Pity says, “It’s not my problem” once the meds have been given, and caps off any change in prescription with, “There, that should take care of it”.

The compassionate response involves actually listening to someone talk about pain, even if they’ve already gotten a pill for it. Why isn’t the pill working as well as it’s supposed to? How does the patch make them feel on an emotional level, and does the person believe they have adequate opportunities for dealing with these emotional and psychological parts of their treatment? Are there other, non-pharmaceutical, alternatives that could be tried? Is the person receptive to those? Am I, as a healer, open to the fact that I may not be the one who can best provide help to a particular person, and if not, how do I respond to that?

Compassion is a process, not a single action. It’s a series of questions that engages two people in response to a situation, not a desire to simply have all the answers so you can tie up all the loose ends and move on to the next project. Pity is easy and doesn’t require self-examination or thought, but compassion challenges us to discover what we think and then often further encourages us to expand our perspective to include ideas we never would have considered before.

When we “have pity on” another person, we rob them of their essential humanity. Putting anything “on” someone else implies that we are the ones in control. “Having compassion for” someone is completely different. It preserves the common ground between us and them. To me at least, “for” is more active, more interactive, than “on” when other people are involved. You, as the person responding in compassion, must decide how involved “for” is going to be, and you also must accept that the other person’s response to “for them” might not be what you expect.

One of the most wonderful consequences of a compassionate response is the opportunity it provides for us to see others grow. I have seen this over and over in my own experiences. Once, I was working with someone who was in severe pain, facing death sooner than planned. Fear, hopelessness, anger, mistrust and loneliness were all making things even more unbearable. The individual wasn’t sure if reiki would help, didn’t put much faith in “weird” stuff like that, and didn’t even know if they wanted to have to interact with yet another person.

Sometimes, the best sessions occur when we simply let things take their own natural course. I spent a majority of the time I had with this client talking—no, let me change that, it was mostly listening, seeing where the conversation was headed, and asking a question that would keep it moving. Anyone who was observing, thinking about reiki in the “traditional” sense would have thought I’d just wasted over an hour and called something a session that was no such thing.

When this client did, in fact, die, the comments I received from those close to them at the end and who had seen the session all focused on a few things—disappearance of pain that had been unresponsive to any other treatment, laughter, and peace.

When I’m coming to the end of my own journey here on earth, I hope there is someone who won’t just pity me and hand me a pill and say, “Call me in the morning”. I’ve got to get through the night, and so do those around me!

No, I want a compassionate response, someone who isn’t afraid of my crying, who will talk about anything or nothing, even laugh, as I make my peace and take my leave.

“Pain” is a Four-Letter Word

October 27, 2008

I thought I was done with “four-letter words”. But …

Emotional and physical pain are part of being human. Not that we should expect them, but they do occur, and no one is exempt.

Western medicine has developed a vast array of drugs to combat pain, both psychological and physical. Even so, it’s the elephant in the living room—definitely there, but too often, not discussed.

People on both sides of the patient/physician spectrum have deep-seated notions about what’s “acceptable” as far as expressing pain. We all, at some level, think that it’s “better” to simply endure silently or with as little fuss as possible. “Complaining,” “demanding,” “difficult”—all these words are the last labels we want attached to us as patients.

We’re taught to “quantify” pain to try and understand it better. We say, “On a scale of 1 to 10 …” On this scale, 1 is barely a nuisance, while 10 is so excruciating it is unbearable.

If I’ve learned one thing, both as a healer and as a recipient of healing, it’s that people’s scales are all different. One person’s 3 is another’s 9.

Many people have also absorbed the “no pain, no gain” lesson a little too deeply. (I know I have—and then I wonder, “How am I supposed to relax and receive if it hurts so much?”.)

Medical students spend a lot of time learning how to fix the body, diagnose symptoms, and prescribe drugs that will produce specific results. With so many drug choices, pain can become just another symptom to assign a chemical solution to. We hear, “Tell me where it hurts,” or “Describe your pain,” but seldom are given much more than a few minutes to try and respond. Yet too often, pain robs us of our ability to communicate clearly, both with ourselves and with those trying to provide healing.

Pain is one of the biggest obstacles to effective healing. You can’t “just relax” if you’re in such severe pain. You can’t “just take some deep breaths”. Pain clouds our ability to process information, take suggestions, or sort through the emotions that get kicked up when we’re hurting.

Drugs often only add to this cloudiness, and many people either use too much of them to sink into oblivion, or avoid using them altogether in order to maintain mental clarity.

It might not make any difference at the general level whether the pain being experienced is psychological or physical. But how we, as healers or caregivers, approach our calling with respect to pain management has to flow from compassion and understanding, not simply a practical desire to “make it stop” or “get rid of it”.

The first step on this road is to acknowledge that, as healers, we are not going to be able to alleviate all pain. To think that we have this kind of power is arrogant and can be deeply harmful to us and our clients.

Second, we must go beyond simply having people rate their pain on a 1-to-10 scale, or describe it as “hot,” “cold,” “aching,” or “stabbing”. We can, and should, ask all these questions, but don’t just stop when you’ve gotten the answers you want.

Pain is a companion. Long after the appointment has ended and the prescription has been filled, people will still be living with it.

The approaches to managing it are as varied as the kinds of people we encounter as healers. What brings relief to one person with a particular condition may have no effect on a second person with the same condition. Pharmaceutical companies produce drugs that work on a broad range. If we are providing truly compassionate healing, we must target the specific ways that each of our clients can find and experience pain relief.

Sometimes, when there is no way to change the actual situation, simply being heard and acknowledged is enough to bring tremendous relief.

Pain manifests itself in innumerable outward responses. People lash out or withdraw. They cry. They stop speaking. They scream. They pass out. Pain increases the severity and duration of asthma attacks. It raises heart and breathing rates, heightens muscle tension, exacerbates inflammation, causes insomnia and anxiety, depression. It has such a capacity to stir up every realm of life—physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual—that it is no wonder that so much “treatment” is aimed at eliminating it.

I have talked with many, many people, both as a healer and just as another human being, and heard many stories about the pain of loss, disease, disappointment, grief, loneliness, separation, disability, depression, injury, aging. Some conversations have been less than five minutes long, while others have been dialogs that span years, decades.

I don’t stand above these encounters, looking down on them and thinking, “Oh, here’s what you should do”. I try to see the circumstances from the perspective of the one I’m listening to. How would I feel, for instance, if my daughter dropped out of school, or my brother got angry and refused to speak to me for the rest of my life, or my employer let me go with lame excuses after I’d worked for ten years? What is it like to feel powerless to control myself when presented with a particular chemical? What must it be like to lose a husband after thirty years of marriage, or learn that I have a disease that will gradually rob me of my ability to think coherently? How would I respond if, on an ordinary drive, my car was hit head-on and I woke up three days later unable to walk?

The answer I have is, “I don’t know”. But I can ask questions, listen to the responses, and learn. By learning, perhaps I can pass something along to someone else in a future conversation that will help them.

And, if there is no “concrete” suggestions to be made, just the asking and the listening are a gift that goes too often overlooked.

We can find “concrete” aids to pain management—medication, meditation, music, massage, just to name a few. But there is no substitute for compassion and no prescription or dosage instructions for understanding. These must spring from the heart, without regard to how the other person will receive them, repay them, or respond to them.

Mind Over Matters

October 25, 2008

I know, that title looks like a misprint. Should be “Mind over matter”, right?

Not really. As a healer, I am being reminded time and again that, while the physical aspects of what I do are important–pain relief, improvements in sleep, relaxation–there’s a huge component that is “behind the scenes”.

The mind-body connection is no news to anyone with even a mild interest in how we go through life. Whether you’re coming to it as a healer or as a recipient of healing (and we all fit in both categories at some point in our lives), that connection, and the interactions between the mental and physical spheres, can’t be ignored.

Symptoms that manifest in the physical realm can certainly be treated with varying degrees of effectiveness purely on the basis of their physical traits. For example, how many times have you taken aspirin for a headache, or antacids for heartburn, or cold medicine to get rid of congestion? We do a lot of those things without even thinking about it, content to just get rid of whatever physical problem is bothering us.

But because the mind and body are so closely bound up together, it’s prudent to consider what it is that underlies those physical symptoms on a psychological/emotional level. Is the headache caused by tension related to a hostile work environment? Are problems in the family so severe that they are literally making your stomach churn?

I’m not suggesting that every physical ailment springs from our minds. After all, viruses and bacteria are abroad in the land, and you can’t think or feel your way into or out of infections by them.

But the mind, and its potential to both help and harm, is a powerful force. We have plenty of new technology to take stunning pictures of the brain at work, and vast strides are being made in understanding what parts are active at various different times. We have developed a huge array of chemicals to alter how the brain works, and we continue to progress in our grasp of how people learn, acquire behaviors based on cultural influences, and process information.

But we have no way of knowing if we have reached a figurative wall in our understanding. We don’t know, for instance, what the limit is to how much information a mind can recall. We can’t quantify most of what goes on in people’s heads.

The mind is deeply mysterious, and its role in healing can be tremendous. For instance, painkillers for the most part don’t actually do anything to the nerves that are transmitting that scream of “I hurt! I hurt! I hurt!” They suppress the area of the brain that handles those transmissions. Talk to anyone who has had to rely on painkillers for a long period of time and you’ll often hear that, while they do help, they often cause mental fogginess that’s an unwelcome side effect.

Is there a way, then, continuing with pain as an example, to harness that potential in the mind to produce a painkilling effect or enhance what can be achieved using narcotics?

In a word, yes.

Not everyone’s mind is exactly alike, and while there are some general guidelines that can be useful when trying to work from a psychological starting point, the best thing one can do is listen to each client and discover what will be most effective to him or her. Someone with a highly active mind may struggle to do meditations independently, yet they may have a high degree of success with guided meditation in which the healer reads aloud. Why is this so? Because for a person whose mind is always in motion, filtering all those inner distractions–not following every train of thought–can be supremely difficult. Consequently, they feel that, if they can’t do it on the first or second try, or if they can’t do it for even three minutes, they can’t do it at all. Hearing someone else’s voice and having images described so that the mind has something to fix on can actually be very freeing for this type of client.

You won’t figure these things out by having clients fill out forms. You also won’t see this on the “front lines” of Western medicine–in emergency rooms, operating rooms, or in the ICU during serious illness.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the illusion that, as a healer, if you aren’t actually changing bandages, stopping the bleeding, or doing hands-on medicine, you’re not effective or important. Personally, I struggled with this, and still often do.

But recently, I have been reminded that there are many types of healing and, consequently, there must be many kinds of healer. To heal the body is a priceless gift. But a body without a healthy mind, spirit, or heart is no more than a complex biological machine.

I am discovering that, while I have some skill in the physical aspects of healing, my true calling seems to be more along the mental/emotional/spiritual lines. This kind of healing work doesn’t get noticed much–fine with me. It can get lost in the hustle and bustle that is modern medicine.

It’s not a one-off job, either. If you want to help someone understand their own mind and see them realize their own potential to capitalize on the vast power that is latent within them, you can’t do it in one session. Often, it can feel as if you’re going in circles, reworking the same lesson for the six hundredth time.

Yet with each pass, something is getting in, going deeper, being absorbed and incorporated, until change occurs and the person is living in a new way because they wanted to change and grow.

Listening to people, accepting their decisions without judgment, and, when you’re granted the privilege, witnessing this growth are the rich rewards we can look forward to as healers. I don’t force people to come looking for me so I can “fix” them or demand that they change. They find me, begin a conversation, and, sometimes, get something out of our interactions.

This is what matters–that we treat everyone with compassion, whether we heal with our hands or listen to another’s heart. We must all “take matters into our own hands,” think for ourselves, choose for ourselves, act for ourselves. Giver or receiver, we can only control our own self.

But, as I am discovering over and over, in ways large and small, when we embrace our true calling with joy instead of trying to be all things to all people, our effectiveness in healing skyrockets.

“Hope” is a Four-Letter Word

October 19, 2008

Having spent several days writing this “four-letter word” series, it struck me that there were a lot of negative emotions that got touched on.

How fitting, then, to end with hope.

Hope is what we search for when we feel like our own life circumstances, whether physical or emotional, are going to overwhelm us. Whether it’s the prospect of dying, loss of a job, the end of a relationship, serious illness, disability, or natural disaster, outside events can and do stir up our deepest yearnings for security. We want to feel safe in our own skin, even if the outside world is filled with uncertainty.

There have been plenty of depictions of hope as the light coming into the darkness of a current situation. But if we can’t even turn our head that tiniest fraction of an inch to see that light, then we have no way of seeing the source of hope.

How do we, as healers, help anyone when they become paralyzed by their own circumstances and the emotional responses that prevent action, decision, or motion of any kind?

Usually, it’s simply by standing still. We can want to help someone with all our heart. But until they’re ready to move, there is nothing anyone can do to change that.

We can also throw a lot of words at people when they’re hurting because silence feels inadequate and like a failure. Sometimes, even speaking is too much, demands too much effort. Pain is a profound thing, and if it’s deep enough or pervasive enough or severe enough, often it just makes people shut down. They can’t say anything, let alone listen to anything that’s said to them.

In these situations, despite what we might want to do to make ourselves feel as if we’re having some effect at all, the best thing we can do is be quiet and wait. Even in silence, the fact that you have not left will register, even if it’s not acknowledged. Pain is a lonely place, and even if there is no escaping it (and there usually isn’t, even with drugs), it is comforting beyond words to know that someone has chosen to stand beside you, not expecting or demanding anything at all, just being there.

No matter how long this slience and stillness lasts, if we set aside our own agenda and time frame, we will often witness the re-emergence of hope. We may never understand the causes of pain or be privy to the emotional depths that another human being descended to. But seeing them begin the process of finding their bearings again, seeing their situation through more than the single point that was directly in front of their eyes, that is a gift that will bear lasting fruit and deepen your ability as a healer.

Hope is “HOLDING ON TO THE PROMISE OF THE ETERNAL”. It says that, no matter what our current state, we are not ultimately confined to our physical bodies and existence. We are not bound by the capacity of our mind. We are beings of spirit, an individual for the brief moment in time that constitutes this earthly life, yet an integral part of the limitless universe. We carry it within us always, even though we may temporarily lose sight of it.

At those times, when we can’t seem to find it on our own, we have the gift of one another. Even if we are unable to reach out to someone in our need, there is always someone who will reach out to us, stand by us, carry us when we have no strength to lift ourselves above our emotions, help us stand when we are ready, and encourage us as we take the first steps that will move us further along our path.

These are the people that reassure us by saying, “Just wait … the dawn is coming”. These are the people who, when hope returns, bear witness with us to the sunrise.