Sunday, February 24, 2013

tethered perspective

One of the key advantages of being a member of the helping profession is the opportunity afforded to observe closely, the breadth and depth of all sorts of human experience. Like peering at the whale of humanity from the bottom of the ocean, the underbelly swimming above, far off floating silhouette of your long lost boat, the murky dark edges do appear to go on forever.

I think I get why this perspective could make you feel anxious and sad all at once.

Or hanging upside down in the cave of bats while the blood rushes to your head, I think I get why it feels especially difficult to think and your throbbing head feels as if it might explode. In the sacred context of the doctor patient relationship, I often find myself on a journey outside of my own perspective, led around vicariously through dark experiences, by my patients.

Most of the time, I can’t help but come away from this sacred space a little bit transformed. Sitting with wounded people, my own perspective often has to expand to hold the space for things percolating beneath the surface of polite conversation, the place where you’re frightened of the dark, or scared of bears, and the monsters under the bed try to grab your feet when you dive under the covers as the lights go off. I feel privileged every time I step softly into this psychic space with my patients.

The oft cited words of my mentor echo, Your patients will teach you much if you allow the space for it.  I remember thinking before graduating that Obi Wan Kenobi was just trying to make me feel more ready for the shift to being a physician. He’s just trying to make me feel better as I’m lambasted with graduation and that overwhelming sense that levels most of us new doctors in a sea of feeling as if we really know absolutely nothing.

He’s trying to make me feel better about cutting the educational, umbilical cord.

The truth is my patients do teach me much. Every day. They teach with their individual perspectives on their collectively similar tragedies. Everybody bleeds this way, just the same.

Sometimes I think doing this helping work is a bit like living a bunch of different lives simultaneously. I walk around with a rolodex of others' experiences in my head. I hear the talk of people sitting around the table, walled in by their own narrow perspective, trapped by assumptions or stories they've told themselves for years. It can't be otherwise. He must not even care.

I realize I'm no different in telling myself stories. But, I get the gift of sitting regularly with the heavyhearted. I get the opportunity of gaining insight by being absent from my own perspective for a while, then returning. I get to be an astronaut drifting in space, looking freshly at the blue and green earth swirls. The Overview Effect its been called. My own story smacks me in the face in a new way. Gifts I didn’t see before stare back at me. Things taken for granted assault me.

I didn’t really have it all that bad. In fact, things were mostly, good in my childhood. My life is rich.

And sometimes the perspective transformation, the blinding re-entry burns a bit more radically and I’m left tumbling my way back into the atmosphere to some sort of spirituality that makes sense of experiences so far from my own. I have to rely on the bells that have stopped jingling from my ankles, praying that the tether to Big Oak Tree on the edge of the forest somehow holds well enough for someone to pull me back and help me land.

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