Our culture conspires against us being fully present. We struggle to be present to others, present to ourselves, and, for the spiritual among us, present to God. We are electronically linked-in, but we’re spiritually cut-off. We are offered access to 1,000 people in 1,000 places at every moment, so we are fractured into bits and are not truly with any one person in any one place at any one moment.
Also, we are taught to network. All the time. We are trained to connect with people in a transactional way. We go in with an agenda and expect to come out with an achievement. In this, we have lost the art of “being with” those around us, especially when they are going through times of trial.
Since the art of “being with” is foundational to forming a loving community, in this column I want to offer a bit of practical assistance. I sometimes get calls from people who are franctic, not because they are experiencing crisis, but because their loved one is. They have been asked to come and provide counsel or support… and this terrifies them. They call me asking for what to say and how to be, since this is, after all, part of my job.
While simply showing up is the most important thing by far, there are times that call for actual responses — more than just a touch, a hug, a compassionate shoulder to cry on.
In these times, our knee-jerk response is to offer advice. I contend that advice is one of the least needed responses. Instead let me offer five alternatives:
◾ Hearing back in your own words.
◾ Noticing patterns and pointing them out.
◾ Asking probing questions.
◾ Naming alternatives and options
More important than what you say however, is that you take on your own anxiety. You simply cannot be authentically with someone else if you are constantly imagining what you are supposed to do or say next.
One way to calm your anxiety is to rid yourself of the false notion that your task is to “fix” or “save” someone else. There are no magic words to dispel grief, to resolve heartache, or to generate a delightful solution out of a situation that only offers crappy options on how to move forward. The mystic theologian and existential philosopher, SØren Kierkegaard, wrote, “The true knight of faith is always the witness, never the teacher.”
We often falsely believe that we are meant to solve others problems, when what they need most is someone to witness their pain, which indeed miraculously lightens their load.
Rev. John Helmiere is the Convener of Valley and Mountain.
Read the full Jan. 9 - 15 issue.
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