Today we had a beautiful early Spring morning, and it was a lovely background for the second session of the MBSR Programme where the majority of participants are volunteers for the new Hospice soon to open in Geneva. I was reflecting on the type of presence we have with others, and how to create a space to tune into them, especially when they are weak. And later one I was reflecting in my own life how the fundamental lesson is learning to accept our own weakness and what a freedom it is when we see that we are accepted and loved. Sadly, we often pick up the opposite message when we are little, that our worth comes from our competence and what we can do for others. It is great to let go of that and realize that we are accepted even when we are at our worst, when we make mistakes, even when we let others down. That is the greatest joy, a letting go and an end to striving.
Our lives are a mystery of growth from weakness to weakness, from the weakness of the little baby to the weakness of the aged. Throughout our lives we are prone to fatigue, sickness and accidents. Weakness is at the heart of each one of us. Weakness becomes a place of chaos and confusion, if in our weakness we are not wanted; it becomes a place of peace and joy, if we are accepted, listened to, appreciated and loved.
If we deny our weakness and the reality of death, if we want to be powerful and strong always, we deny part of our being, we live an illusion.
Jean Vanier Becoming Human
La Maison de Tara was set up in Geneva in 2007 with the goal of establishing a Hospice to provide patients and their family with care and support during the last days of life. It is currently in the process of fundraising and training volunteers with the intention of opening in the later part of this year. I am delighted that Mindfulness is part of their extensive one year training and that I will be doing that with them. You can click on the logo on the side of the page to find out more details about and support this very worthwhile project.
When we are visiting someone who is seriously ill we can find that words fail us. Simple gestures, like hugs, often work better. It spreads to the rest of our life too. We see more clearly what is essential and authentic. We move away from the masks we normally hide behind, the silly ways we relate. We reach out.
Now is the time of dark invitation beyond a frontier that you did not expect.
Abruptly your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened a path through fields never questioned
yet expected deep down to hold treasure.
When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
may grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
to embrace this illness as a teacher
who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality
towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.
May you use this illness as a lantern
to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you.
May your fragile harvesting of this slow light help you
release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
until you feel a rising within you,
a tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness.
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness,
ask it why it came,
why it chose your friendship,
where it wants to take you,
what it wants you to know,
what quality of space it wants to create in you,
what you need to learn to become more fully yourself,
that your presence may shine in the world.
May you keep faith with your body,
learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
which can bring this night wound
gradually towards the healing and freedom of dawn.
John O’Donohue, A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
The word “compassion” literally means “to suffer with”. It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty. . . such experience can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.
It would be nice to think that everyone would find themselves less stressed as a result of their Summer Holidays. However, a recent study, conducted by the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), found that 40% of managers reported coming back from their holidays as stressed or more stressed than they were beforehand.
Part of this seems to stem from the increased connectivity which marks the modern age. The rise in use of Blackberries and iPhones, and the updating of social network sites such as Facebook, means that many people keep in touch with aspects of their working life, even when on holidays. For example, 80% of respondents in the study stated that they checked and responded to emails, while 66% said that they checked their smartphones at least once a day. Even those who did not check their mails found that they were unable to completely escape: Over 90% of managers reported being worried at some stage during the holidays about returning to hundreds of e-mails, while 10% said that it took up to a week before they finally managed to unwind.
As Penny de Valk, from the ILM, states: Gone are the days when people cut off contact for a fortnight over the summer and made a complete break. While technology means that it is easier than ever to work remotely, it also makes it extremely hard to switch off. Uncertain economic times also mean that many UK employees are keeping one eye on their job at all times, when what they really need is time away from the office to rest and re-energise.
Loss and anguish, bereavement and grief, anxiety and despair, as well as all the joy available to us, lie at the very core of our humanity and beckon us to meet them face-on when they arise, and know them and accept them as they are.
It is precisely a turning toward and an embracing, rather than a turning away or a denying or suppressing of feeling that is most called for and that awareness embodies. Awareness may not diminish the enormity of our pain in all circumstances. It does provide a greater basket for tenderly holding and intimately knowing our suffering in any and all circumstances, and that, it turns out, is transformative and can make all the difference between endless imprisonment in pain and suffering and freedom from suffering, even though we have no immunity to the various forms of pain that, as human beings, we are invariably subject to.
Jon Kabat Zinn