Neither the poem nor mindfulness practice is suggesting that you have to go about getting anything.Rather, the work is to be still long enough to touch the actuality of your inheritance.But isn’t a boundary also a place of meeting and coming together?When walking barefoot along the shoreline, are we only on the land?What about the water under our feet?Where does the land begin and end?Where exactly is the water’s edge?The actuality of the shoreline reveals these seemingly solid and distinct edges as constantly in motion.Enfolded in one another.These intertwining movements are similar for us as patients and practitioners.Unconsciously, this process winds up shaping the entire interaction.I am not suggesting that these roles are the same.And behind these roles lies a much larger field, our shared humanness.This is all too easily and often forgotten.Yet it is the common ground of the entire relationship.Can you feel this place?How much of what we refer to as me is invested and confirmed into existence by maintaining these role distinctions?Do you notice how you are feeling right now, as you read these words?Can we look at this a little more closely?I’m angry that nobody really helps me very much.I’m angry that I don’t get treated very well. His rage was fierce.He shook his fists, pounded the seat of his chair, and visibly frightened some of the people sitting near him.Before I said a single word, he looked directly at me, announcing for all to hear, I wonder if there is room for my anger in this room. In response, I simply replied that there was room here for his anger, if we were both willing to work with it over time.He nodded, sat back in his chair, and decided to stay.At that moment I didn’t know what the statement if we were both willing to work with it really meant.I was soon to find out.Each week Jack created a special space for himself.He would turn his chair sideways, lean his back against a wall, and stretch out his legs on two more chairs.Then he would place a clipboard and pad of paper on his lap, lift a pencil from behind his ear, and take notes, sometimes feverishly.We discussed his questions, talked by phone about his life, and sometimes met.Jack was struggling to understand himself.Over time I began to develop a genuine feeling of warmth for Jack.Yet undeniably, when I was around him, I also felt a recurring sense of threat and accompanying contraction, whose origins I neither understood nor was able to rationalize away.One morning at about 7:15 I took out my keys to open the door to our classroom.The door was unlocked, and Jack was already sitting in his customary place, writing.I felt instantly threatened.Meanwhile, Jack was effervescent.I hope you don’t mind that I’m here, but I got someone to open up the room for me because I’ve got some things to talk with you about. He got up, stepped into the wide open space created by the circle of chairs, and walked toward me with his pad in his hand.We were face to face.Only he was on one side of the chairs, and I deliberately remained on the other side.I had drawn the boundary.He began to talk about his meditation practice.I was scrambling, backpedaling inside.My mind was wild with Why is he in my space?What does he want from me now?Contracting, tightening, and I felt sure that Jack saw and sensed all of this.But even more powerfully, I became painfully aware how, in that moment, I was actually abandoning Jack.I feeling squeezed and impotent, he feeling isolated and unheard, each caught, at that moment, in a personally constructed reality that bound both of us in hell.Jack’s voice broke and went flat.He looked at me with eyes of bewilderment and despair.And, in that stammering moment of our shared predicament, something fell away.As I stood on my side of the chairs, I connected with Jack’s eyes and then stepped into the open circle.We just stood there for a while, okay with each other.There was not a lot of talk, but when we spoke, we spoke like brothers.I was afraid that Jack wanted something from me that I couldn’t possibly give him, so I had recoiled.Jack feared that I would reject and abandon him like everyone else had, so he had pressed hard and pursued.For a while we had each fulfilled our unspoken expectations of the other.Soon after this Jack became homebound and then bedridden for progressively longer periods of time.Once when I called him, just to see how he was, he said, Thanks for calling, Saki.No one treats me with this much decency. After our conversation ended, I remember thinking, It wasjust a phone call.Maybe it lasted one or two minutes.So simple. I was astonished, once again, by the power and fulfillment of connection.This longing is universal.We wanted what you gave them. Our initial reaction was defensive.We agreed with them.We had given more to the patients. This had been our intention from the beginning, and we had decided in advance that, as professionals, their job was to take care of themselves.Upon deeper reflection we heard the truth of their feelings.Many of these caregivers wept over the isolation they feel and the cultural barriers of profession that make it nearly impossible to acknowledge these needs without feeling or appearing incompetent or weak.Then they began to speak openly about the pain associated with academic training that all too often insists on the development of a clinical distance or objectivity that had slowly seeped into the very fabric of their lives, leaving them feeling cut off and numb.For many of them now in practice, this felt like a straitjacket and caused them to wonder why they had ever endured graduate education.Each of them, in his or her own way, was experiencing the constricting and isolating nature of artificial boundaries.Whether patient or practitioner, we are always in relationship.I believe that such deliberate and careful attention is the foundation for the entire healing relationship.This begins with our individual commitment to a disciplined way of understanding the nature of mind and its effect in human interactions.Without this kind of attention, how are we ever going to create more collaborative, mutually responsive health care?Right now, as I write, I’m struck with just how present Jack is in each word of this text.How could I have written it without him?There are no boundaries.Each of us comes as a unique package of qualities and conditions shaped by myriad factors.The same constituents that make up the sun, the stars in the night sky, and the salty seas are a part of our common, embodied heritage.As the preceding story makes clear, it is easy to forget all of this in the heat of the moment.As a means of reducing the intensity of this habit of separation, I have found it useful to be deliberate about two things.If I am awake in these moments, I attend to the feeling of the breath without attempting to suppress the impulsive desire for distinction.When I am able to work with myself in this way, I am usually in a better position to begin consciously looking for what we have in common.Perhaps at first it is that we are wearing blue or are about the same height.Pretty soon, the shared commonality of being human, beyond any theories or ideas about similarities, comes most tangibly into play.In the final analysis, it is this recognition of our shared humanness operating behind our endlessly different packages that draws us back into connection.In this way it is a homecoming, a growing larger rather than a diminishment of what I think of as me. The intention is not to wipe out the distinctions and the variety, or to compress all of us into a colorless mass.Rather, it is to discover, behind the distinctions, that we are connected and not so limited by the notion of individuality that often functions as an impenetrable barrier to belonging.The next time the feeling of separation or distinction arises in you, try moving beyond the verbal dimension of your encounter with another.Spontaneous clusters of conversation are scattered about the space.Agnes and John are settled in their wheelchairs.The vast expanse of sky beyond the windows is cloudless and deep blue.Sitting here in this room, we have a view of Route 9, the wide boulevard of Plantation Street, and the surrounding hills and cityscape.The transition is brief as silence replaces the sound of shifting chairs and bodies.People are still, receiving, not turning so much in my direction for guidance.We sit with our eyes open for ten or twelve minutes, and in the lingering silence I introduce people to formal sitting meditation practice.I encourage them to stay with the silence, and after I demonstrate, both in a chair and on a cushion on the floor, the postural options for sitting meditation, we gently close our eyes, ride the waves of the breath, and simply sit.During the past seven days, practicing the body scan meditation, people have begun to cultivate awareness while lying on their backs and systematically bringing attention to each part of their bodies.Rather than trying to be relaxed or enter a meditative state, the body scan encourages the development of a more refined awareness of and intimacy with the body, which allows us to be more in touch with ourselves and our environment.Now we bring the momentum of this week of sustained practice to sitting meditation.We sit for fifteen minutes, directing our attention to the physical sensations of the breath as it enters and leaves the body.When we finish, I ask people to continue this practice for five to ten minutes a day over the next seven days.Then I ask if there are any questions or comments.Comments are sparse.
A most illuminating point of view put across by someone who clearly knows their stuff. You have to decide for yourself how much you're going to go for it this time today or next week or any time soon.