When you work in healthcare, whether it’s in a fitness center, in customer service, in management, in coaching, as a physician, a nurse or administrative assistant, you are reminded, on a regular basis, that life is hard for people. People are stressed out, people are managing chronic conditions, people have financial issues, people are grieving, people are angry, people are unsure. People are also happy, satisfied, healthy, and thriving, but folks tend to their struggles before they share their joys. Interacting with humanity, especially when it comes to something as intimate as one’s health and wellbeing, is messy and unpredictable no matter how hard we try to make it into a program or round out the edges or meet our outcomes goals. So often we have the urge to swoop in to offer a solution, to look at the numbers and provide a suggestion, or to give advice based on what we see or hear. There is nothing wrong with doing these things, and often times, doing these things is good and necessary. But we miss something when we don’t allow space for witnessing what needs to be witnessed and providing support in a way that can’t be measured.
Parker Palmer writes,
Here’s the deal. The human [soul] doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.
One of our best offerings to other humans is the gift of presence, of listening, and of showing up for people in a way that is authentic. When we can get past our own fear of being uncomfortable with hard situations and can give someone a period of real connection, we offer those with whom we interact something that is more valuable than any piece of advice could ever be. Poet Mary Oliver writes, “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
We can offer this gift to our clients, our family members, our friends, and employees, and we can offer this gift to ourselves. We can bear witness to what is going on, even on the toughest of days, and in doing so acknowledge and honor the deep parts of what being human on this earth is all about.
And we can remember the words of Katrina Kenison, in this poetic offering:
When the going gets tough may I resist my first impulse to wade in, fix, explain, resolve, and restore. May I sit down instead.
When the going gets tough may I be quiet. May I steep for a while in stillness.
When the going gets tough may I have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. May I remember that my life is what it is, not what I ask for. May I find the strength to bear it, the grace to accept it, the faith to embrace it.
When the going gets tough may I practice with what I’m given, rather than wish for something else.
When the going gets tough may I assume nothing. May I not take it personally. May I opt for trust over doubt, compassion over suspicion, vulnerability over vengeance.
When the going gets tough may I open my heart before I open my mouth.
When the going gets tough may I be the first to apologize. May I leave it at that. May I bend with all my being toward forgiveness.
When the going gets tough may I look for a door to step through rather than a wall to hide behind.
When the going gets tough may I turn my gaze up to the sky above my head, rather than down to the mess at my feet. May I count my blessings.
When the going gets tough may I pause, reach out a hand, and make the way easier for someone else.
When the going gets tough may I remember that I’m not alone. May I be kind.
When the going gets tough may I choose love over fear. Every time.