I was trying to do it all on my own: I know how to meditate. I know how to do my job. I am an addictions counselor.
I arrived at the UVA mindfulness meditation meeting because something inside me told me that I wasn’t OK. I was in a lot of internal pain — otherwise known as being extremely stressed.
I take my life experiences very seriously. I try not to let them get by without noticing.
I don’t always know how to ask for help, or know if I even need help at times. I didn’t consciously know what I was asking for that night, I just showed up, along with a few others, both meditation teachers showed up… and Help showed up.
Lessons learned while sitting…
Letting go. I listened as the lady across from me explained her work as walking in deep water wearing cloak upon cloak, in heavy boots with rocks; drowning.
I KNOW!!! I am drowning too!
“Bring your meditation practice to work,” Mr. Meditation Teacher suggested. The simplest things we don’t think of ourselves.
Practice letting go of each patient with a conscious breath. Letting go of one cloak, before the next arrives. Experiencing the emotional weight of one patient, and allowing it to go…providing space for the next patient. One patient in, one patient out. One breath in, one breath out.
Allow a moment to process. I had no process time in between patients. Too busy to process what I just witnessed: their pain, their frustration, and their fear. Witnessing pain all day…and I wondered why I was a wreck in the evenings.
Breathe. Too many moments without a pause: too busy to breathe. Suffocating my own body…and I wondered where my fatigue came from.
Acknowledgment for self. Accepting the stress of my job – not trying to ignore the intensity of it. Not entering with an attitude of complaint. Not looking for a reward, as if I am doing the world a great service.
Trying to have some understanding for myself: I might not complete my paperwork today, I might not be as prepared as I’d like.
And mostly…learning how to care for myself, to become my own patient, so that it doesn’t become ‘stress’ all day- it just becomes what I ‘do’ all day.
Show up. I shared my feeling of helplessness: I can’t help them! I can’t give him an apartment! I can’t get him a job! I can’t give him money! I can’t get her kids back! I can’t make his marriage work! I can’t erase the abuse! I can’t take their pain away!
Mr. Meditation Teacher spoke…and as he spoke, his insight became my insight.
The patient hasn’t asked me for money, or to find him a job. He didn’t ask me to get his wife back. She didn’t ask me to get her kids back. He didn’t ask me to erase the abuse from his mind. They only asked me to show up for work that day.
They only ever ask me to show up with my heart for encouragement and understanding. To show up with my eyes to see what they don’t see, and with my ears to hear what they aren’t saying. They ask me to have had some experience touching my own pain. They ask that I show up with my education (both formal and informal, i.e. life education), and to share my knowledge (because most of their fear is in what they don’t know). They ask me to not always agree…because what they see as a problem, I see as an opportunity for growth. Mostly, they ask me to take care of myself. They ask me to keep learning, to keep growing, and to know what courage is for myself…because I cannot give what I do not have.
This, I can do.
Just do it: don’t think it. Mr. Meditation Teacher told me that the major cause of my stress was in my thinking. This made sense, but I didn’t quite know what to do with these words of wisdom.
I don’t feel like it…it’s too much to file…I don’t have time….I hate this…STOP! …Bring your meditation practice to work…breathe…just file…just papers….just papers going in a chart…a black chart…just touching papers…touching charts…JUST FILING.
Not needing to add anything more to filing than just filing.
Accept gratitude. Do I really help? Mr. Meditation Teacher asked me if my patients have ever expressed their gratitude. My first response was “sure” as I kind of blew off the question. Not letting what he asked sink in.
He was really asking: do I receive and accept the gratitude when they give it?
I was too busy to notice gratitude from my patients. And if I did hear it, I blew it off…brushed it over…as if I didn’t hear it…I had a million other things to do.
The answer is no. I do not acknowledge that I just helped a patient even when they are standing in front of me saying, “Thank you.”
He told me to accept it, that it was mine, and that I earned it. The gratitude!
So now I practice receiving gratitude. Learning to allow the experience, learning what it feels like to receive a “Thank you.”
Live the lessons. This moment I am sad with her because her kids have been taken away. This moment I tell her goodbye and to do the best she can today. I breathe. I stop and acknowledge what I have just experienced with this patient: sadness, frustration, fear of the future. This moment I am typing – documenting the session…tap tap tap. I stop for a moment as I recall what she said about her husband. This moment I send a quiet blessing to them both. This moment I pay attention to my breathing. I’m not breathing. I tell myself to wait one more minute…relax…allow the breath to come…”hello” breath. This moment, I feel the heaviness of my feet as I walk to get the next patient. I am now in the presence of this patient’s pain: I see it, I hear it, I feel it.
The patient begins to leave and says, “Thank you.” I stop. I realize what has just been spoken. I look in the patient’s eyes. I take a moment to receive the words. I breathe, maintaining eye contact and say with a presence of compassion, “You are so welcome.” I turn to go back to my desk and notice a small grin on my face…I feel a smile…a smile has surfaced after being in the presence of pain.