Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life experience

A large part of CPE is understanding and being open to how our personal life experience informs our interactions with patients. My supervisor asks us to think about Who Am I? Who is the Patient? Who are we together?

When I walk into a room, I bring not just my role, but my life with me, whether I share it or not. The patient's interaction with me is based on their experience with religion, spirituality, authority, illness, prayer, etc. And those two people create a whole new experience that will inform future interactions.

This is true outside of CPE too, of course. My interactions with people in my life which have included abuse, violence, alcoholism, love, support, etc. all play into my day to day life. CPE has pointed this out to me in a variety of ways. I have had stories from other chaplains move me to tears because they touched my own story in some way. I have met with patients and family, and have felt protective and even angry on their behalf - or at  them due to my own past.

An awareness of how our experiences moves inside of us at all times is vital. It doesn't have to define us any longer, but it certainly informs us. Recently, I had a family member that I spent about an hour with, and they drove me crazy. They were misinformed about a number of things that I am familiar with, they were sexist, uncouth, and immature. For some time, I warred inside myself with my desire to find some way to gracefully exit the room, but knew that the people in the room needed me. At one point, I was feeling pretty useless, but still holding the energy, holding as much love and peace as I could, and the person turned to me (they weren't sure they wanted me there initially), and said with great warmth, "It really does help to have you here."

Well, that's why I am doing this work. Because despite my own history and reactions to people, my intention is to be pastoral and loving - it felt like a real win to have been able to acknowledge my feelings in the moment, face head on my desire to leave, and to stick it out with intention and love, and to have it validated! How powerful.

In non-CPE life, I am having a lot of these same reactions to a variety of people, and I'm trying to hold that same intention. i keep reminding myself, that just as I don't get paid to put up with stuff in real life, I don't get paid for my internship either ;) (that's a joke!) Intentionality in life is a daily practice - it's easier sometimes in the specific atmosphere of chaplaincy work, but it's good training for the rest of life.

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