Archive for the ‘psychology’ category

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.

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Teaching Moments

October 30, 2008

“Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man.”—Swami Vivekananda

What do our words and actions teach others? What do we learn by observing the words and actions of others?

You don’t have to be a “teacher” in order to educate someone. You do it by being who you are, indelibly shaped by your experiences and guided by your beliefs.

There are plenty of obvious examples of this. Parents show their children how to tie shoes, make sandwiches, drive cars and balance checkbooks. They sign kids up for piano lessons, dance or martial arts classes, religious instruction, sports clinics or art camp, and tutoring in preparation for college.

But what are you teaching others simply by going through life? When you have a brief conversation with a fellow passenger on a train, or stand in front of someone in the grocery store checkout line, the opportunities for being observed are countless. Whether it’s to notice the book you’re carrying on that train, or the different vegetables you’ve got in your cart, these can spark curiosity and encourage exploration, expansion of another person’s horizons.

We each hold unique knowledge that only we can pass on. Stories, songs, images, ideas—these are the vehicles for learning that humanity has relied upon for millennia. They will change as our society changes, to fit the needs and desires each generation has with regard to how they communicate and understand. (If you need an illustration of this, just consider the difference between sending messages with pigeons and sending them via e-mail, or hearing a village monk play a flute after a three-day pilgrimage as opposed to choosing from among ten thousand songs by pressing a button on your MP3 player.)

Each time we are presented with new information, we are also presented with a choice. Do we wish to further our knowledge and incorporate new material into our reality, or do we want to remain where we are?

To deny anyone this choice by restricting their exposure to education or limiting their access to it is one of the gravest disservices imaginable. For someone to say, for instance, that you can’t learn to read because you’re a girl or because you’re black or because you’re blind and can’t use print books like everyone else or because you can’t pay to attend a fancy school or because no one else in your family has ever done it before or because your parents work in a particular profession or worship in a certain way … These ideas may seem to make perfect sense to those who hold them, but from the outside looking in, they don’t.

Perhaps I’m thinking about this a lot since today, I will take sixteen boxes of Braille books to the post office and send them to a pastor in a very rural part of Malawi, a country in central Africa that is arguably one of the poorest places on earth. I’ve been sending books to this pastor since 2001. Where he lives, there’s no running water, no electricity. There are no services for people with disabilities, including the blind. In many cases, rather than going to school, they are sent out to beg by their families.

Not content with this outcome and knowing that, like every other human being, the blind and disabled have dignity, are respectable, and, most importantly, can learn and want to learn. So, he has gone from village to village and organized true grassroots groups of these people, teaching them to garden, to cook. Women who are blind have learned to cook. The Braille books have been passed from one person to another to another. Now, instead of one person reading them and discarding them, they may get read by twenty people, maybe more. Each person who touches the pages gains knowledge they didn’t have before and sees into a part of the world they never could have imagined before.

Once that’s done, I’ll go back to my “regular” job of teaching piano. It doesn’t matter to me whether you are five or seventy-five. All I need in order to teach you is your desire to learn. It is a great privilege to watch students of all ages, from all kinds of backgrounds, discovering an expressive art form. Teaching, for me, is about passing on the things I think are precious–art, knowledge, belief in the innate power of the human spirit to rise above challenging circumstances–that inspires me to teach. These gifts shouldn’t die with me. I have a responsibility to pass them to others, whether they are in generations younger than me or those who began life before I did.

Even writing is a form of teaching, and I’ve learned more, I think, from the various blogs I’ve visited than I have from any other aspect of the Internet. Perhaps this hasn’t been “pure” knowledge, as in verifiable facts. But the sheer volume of possibilities to catch a glimpse of the world through someone else’s eyes is unparalleled anywhere on earth.

You can only give people the chance to choose. You can’t force them to follow your logic. For every person who chooses to change, there is one who refuses and remains in their current situation. To judge one as “better” than the other is easy, especially if we believe strongly in the advantages of one way over the other.

Today, I’ll be helped by many people. The woman who drives me to the post office has grandchildren of her own. What will I learn from her as we talk, laugh, carry boxes, maybe share a cup of tea? What will I absorb during my piano lessons, and who am I to say the “wisdom” of a 7-year-old is more or less valuable than that of a 12-year-old or an adult? That’s a judgment I refuse to make.

Judgment is, in its own way, a lack of education. If we can’t accept the endless array of humanity around us without a basic level of universal respect regardless of differing viewpoints, then what does that teach others about us? More importantly, what does that teach us about ourselves?

“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.

Courage Comes in Many Guises

October 26, 2008

Yesterday, I went bowling with a group from my church. Now, I make absolutely no claims to greatness. In fact, when asked if I was interested, I think I only said that I did bowl, not that I bowled well.

I lived up to my own reputation for ungreatness. I finished my first game with a 34. I thought, “Oh, next time will be better–maybe I’ve just got to get warmed up.”

Oh, it wasn’t, though. My second game earned me a whopping total of 7.

In jest, I said that I would tell people I got four strikes in a row–just wouldn’t tell them how long it took me to get them, or that they were “broken” strikes.

But really, what’s the point of my going bowling with a bunch of people? It was to have fun, and I definitely did that. I think it was more frustrating for the people who were so graciously (or mercifully?) giving me suggestions to try and make me better.

But really, it was a lot of fun. If I want to demonstrate publicly that I’m good at something, I’ll walk up to a piano. In that realm, I’m great, and I’m getting better.

This morning, I got a certificate for being “Bowler of the Day”. Everyone thought that was great. Me, I turned really red. Mention was made of my “courage”.

At first, I thought, “Oh, come on! How much courage does it take to go somewhere and pay money to eat really greasy pizza, wear hideous shoes, and throw a ball that weighs more than some newborn children?”

I was just about ready to dismiss the whole thing as sappy–hey, let’s give the blind lady an award!–and then I stopped myself.

To me, it’s not “courage” at all. I do all kinds of things every day. (I came home after church and vacuumed my house, and I’ll take out the trash later, plus write an article, practice a Beethoven concerto, feed my dogs … you know, typical Sunday or every day stuff.)

“Courage” is a sort of catch-all word. It’s what people call it when you do things they don’t think they could do if they were in your situation. So, for most people, doing lots of things without looking seems really scary and close to impossible.

It’s not, and I spend plenty of energy convincing people that it’s not. Many folks learn this, but many more don’t. Still, even if they come to accept that I, or anyone else with a disability, can do things they don’t think they’d be able to manage, “courage” is the word that gets used to describe what pushes us to do them anyway.

To a majority of people in my church, who only see me on Sunday mornings playing piano, the idea of my bowling, or flying cross-country with my guide dog, or cooking–all those things just seem too big, and they can’t get their minds around them.

But, little by little, they’re all learning. Whether I’m helping carry chairs from one room to another, bringing dishes to potluck suppers, or any number of other tasks, they’ll figure out that most of those things are no big deal to me. They’ll stop being a big deal to them, too, and there won’t be any more certificates for courageous bowling.

That’s fine with me. Mark Twain once said: “On the whole, it is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.” To me, there are plenty of other things more courageous than a blind person bowling. Save the accolades for the soldiers fighting overseas, the police who work on some of our most dangerous streets, the people facing daily struggles with the pain, loneliness and heartache caused by lifelong illness or family disintegration.

We all have to have courage at some point in our life. Courage doesn’t mean we lack fear. It simply means that, faced with a situation that induces fear either in us or in others, we find it within ourselves to keep moving forward. We refuse to let doubt or others’ misunderstandings limit what we choose to accomplish.

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.

“Envy” is a Four-Letter Word

October 18, 2008

Where did the expression “green with envy” come from?

I have no idea, but it’s a good one. Envy has a way of coloring our whole outlook on life. Instead of seeing clearly what we have and trusting that we have enough in every moment, we become fixated on the idea that someone else has it better. Not only that, but this fixation, this envy, is the justification we use to act in ways that are harmful to that person to try and get some of what they have for ourselves, or, at least, make it so they don’t have quite so much.

If you want to see envy in action, just watch a “reality” program like “The Bachelor”. Since everyone knows there’s only going to be one winner, all the nastiness comes out. Lies are spread. Judgments are made. Names are called. Characters are questioned.

Envy is the feeling that the only way you will ever have enough is if you actively prevent someone else from getting or keeping what you want. It can come up in small, deceitful ways (letting your dog dig up the flowerbeds in your neighbor’s yard so your garden looks better). Or it can be a life-altering thing (having an affair with your brother’s wife).

Too often, people see what they want to see. They think that since it looks better on the outside from where they’re standing, it must be better. It must be better to have a job that pays $100,000 a year rather than yours that only pays $35,000. But what you don’t see underneath is that that $100,000 job means traveling four days a week, having to wear suits all the time, and always having to carry your cellphone so the clients can reach you “in case of emergency” (their interpretation, not yourse). Meanwhile, you make a lot less, but you’re home with your kids every night and can go to their swim meets or piano recitals. Even if the boss sends an “urgent” e-mail on Friday afternoon, once five o’clock comes, everyone is done until the next Monday morning.

No matter how unsettled you might feel, in every situation, you have everything you need to deal with that situation. Hindsight often says that you could have done it better or had more complete equipment. But if you use each situation as an opportunity for growth and learning, without regret, then envy becomes more difficult to accept in yourself and less likely as a response to the good fortune of others.