Sunday, March 28, 2010

when someone changes your life with an article, its best to share

Helping, Fixing or Serving?

By Rachel Naomi Remen

"Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We canonly serve that to which we are profoundly connected."


Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.

Service rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.

Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.

Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others. Fixing and helping are draining, and over time we may burn out, but service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us. In helping we may find a sense of satisfaction; in serving we find a sense of gratitude.

Harry, an emergency physician, tells a story about discovering this. One evening on his shift in a busy emergency room, a woman was brought in about to give birth. When he examined her, Harry realized immediately that her obstetrician would not be able to get there in time and he was going to deliver this baby himself. Harry likes the technical challenge of delivering babies, and he was pleased. The team swung into action, one nurse hastily opening the instrument packs and two others standing at the foot of the table on either side of Harry, supporting the woman’s legs on their shoulders and murmuring reassurance. The baby was born almost immediately.

While the infant was still attached to her mother, Harry laid her along his left forearm. Holding the back of her head in his left hand, he took a suction bulb in his right and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucous. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him. In that instant, Harry stepped past all of his training and realized a very simple thing: that he was the first human being this baby girl had ever seen. He felt his heart go out to her in welcome from all people everywhere, and tears came to his eyes.

Harry has delivered hundreds of babies, and has always enjoyed the excitement of making rapid decisions and testing his own competency. But he says that he had never let himself experience the meaning of what he was doing before, or recognize what he was serving with his expertise. In that flash of recognition he felt years of cynicism and fatigue fall away and remembered why he had chosen this work in the first place. All his hard work and personal sacrifice suddenly seemed to him to be worth it.

He feels now that, in a certain sense, this was the first baby he ever delivered. In the past he had been preoccupied with his expertise, assessing and responding to needs and dangers. He had been there many times as an expert, but never before as a human being. He wonders how many other such moments of connection to life he has missed. He suspects there have been many.

As Harry discovered, serving is different from fixing. In fixing, we see others as broken, and respond to this perception with our expertise. Fixers trust their own expertise but may not see the wholeness in another person or trust the integrity of the life in them. When we serve we see and trust that wholeness. We respond to it and collaborate with it. And when we see the wholeness in another, we strengthen it. They may then be able to see it for themselves for the first time.

One woman who served me profoundly is probably unaware of the difference she made in my life. In fact, I do not even know her last name and I am sure she has long forgotten mine.

At twenty-nine, because of Crohn’s Disease, much of my intestine was removed surgically and I was left with an ileostomy. A loop of bowel opens on my abdomen and an ingeniously designed plastic appliance which I remove and replace every few days covers it. Not an easy thing for a young woman to live with, and I was not at all sure that I would be able to do this. While this surgery had given me back much of my vitality, the appliance and the profound change in my body made me feel hopelessly different, permanently shut out of the world of femininity and elegance.

At the beginning, before I could change my appliance myself, it was changed for me by nurse specialists called enterostomal therapists. These white-coated experts were women my own age. They would enter my hospital room, put on an apron, a mask and gloves, and then remove and replace my appliance. The task completed, they would strip off all their protective clothing. Then they would carefully wash their hands. This elaborate ritual made it harder for me. I felt shamed.

One day a woman I had never met before came to do this task. It was late in the day and she was dressed not in a white coat but in a silk dress, heels and stockings. She looked as if she was about to meet someone for dinner. In a friendly way she told me her first name and asked if I wished to have my ileostomy changed. When I nodded, she pulled back my covers, produced a new appliance, and in the most simple and natural way imaginable removed my old one and replaced it, without putting on gloves. I remember watching her hands. She had washed them carefully before she touched me. They were soft and gentle and beautifully cared for. She was wearing a pale pink nail polish and her delicate rings were gold.

At first, I was stunned by this break in professional procedure. But as she laughed and spoke with me in the most ordinary and easy way, I suddenly felt a great wave of unsuspected strength come up from someplace deep in me, and I knew without the slightest doubt that I could do this. I could find a way. It was going to be all right.

I doubt that she ever knew what her willingness to touch me in such a natural way meant to me. In ten minutes she not only tended my body, but healed my wounds. What is most professional is not always what best serves and strengthens the wholeness in others. Fixing and helping create a distance between people, an experience of difference. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. Fixing and helping are strategies to repair life. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

Serving requires us to know that our humanity is more powerful than our expertise. In forty-five years of chronic illness I have been helped by a great number of people, and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.

Service is not an experience of strength or expertise; service is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. Helpers and fixers feel causal. Servers may experience from time to time a sense of being used by larger unknown forces. Those who serve have traded a sense of mastery for an experience of mystery, and in doing so have transformed their work and their lives into practice.


Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. is Associate Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at U.C.S.F. Medical School and co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. She is author of the bestseller, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal.

Helping, Fixing or Serving?, Rachel Naomi Remen, Shambhala Sun, September 1999.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

hello alone...

or i'll make yet another music post.
because that is what i do.
i listen to vast amounts of music, constantly analyzing the lyrics, beat, chords and any other random tidbits that seem to draw me in like animals to a water hole. why this analogy?
because music is the water to my soul. when i go too long without it i begin to tire and wither...

my current obsessions :

artist: Yiruma
album: First Love

this is piano only, and i love this album. it is amazing. when i am having the worst day and my brain has become so cluttered that lyrics are too much i simply turn it on and i am instantly calmed by the smooth soft melodies that seem to be healing my soul. my particular favorite is A River Flows in You

artist: Anberlin
i'm not sure why i havent discovered this band before now.

"broken hearts like promises are left for lesser knowns"
"But thoughts they change and times they rearrange I don't know who you are anymore
Loves come and go and this I know I'm not who you recall anymore"
"Live, I wanna live inspired
Die, I wanna die for something higher than myself"

i think i'm going to finish writing a paper and then take Anberlin and Yiruma for a long ride

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

everything you want....

so, there is this low budget indie film, with terrible acting, horrible costuming and possibly a weak plot that my roommate and i love

it is called everything you want

SPOILER ALERT... i'm going to ruin the twist in the plot right about...

now: its a story about a girl who has a boyfriend... who turns out to be imaginary. which would be fine is this was a story about a little girl. however, its not. it is about someone in college... so its kind of twisted. i mean, who does that?! but then again who doesnt... there is a part in the movie where said girl and boyfriend are talking about relationships when they say:

people rarely love others for who they really are but for what they want them to be

and so in a sense each of us has that imaginary person. the person we build up to be more than they really are and so when they dont turn out to be exactly what we imagined we get disappointed. or we compare all others to that person and of course they do not measure up

and i suppose by we i mean i and by us i mean i...
and its stopped me from being able to really like anyone for quite some time. i start to get interested in someone and i just pick them apart flaw by flaw... because it's easier than taking a chance. shooting something down before it has started seems to hurt a lot less than previous heart breaks.

and i dont think i'm ready to start anything new... but i do think i'm ready to stop comparing...

one step at a time, right?

hey, at least i dont have an imaginary boyfriend...

but in all truth i think love is about finding that person with flaws, that drive you insane, and being able to just shake your head and laugh at them because they are so amazing you can look past all those things and see what they really are. and not try to change them, but just love them and know that they love you.
and of course that is over simplified... but, at the same time some of my favorite parts of life are the simply beautiful pieces.

some of the simple wonders:
music
longboarding
inside jokes
laughing
rocking chairs
park swings
green grass
letters
jeans, tshirt and flip flop weather
naps

wow, and there is some random.
next time maybe i'll write about something a little more complex. like chemistry, and how i discovered why diet dr pepper lifts my mood because of the amino acid in it...

maybe

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

a letter to one of the most annoying yet vital organs...

dear heart:
will you PLEASE move on to beating that fast when someone else comes along. and stop hurting when the same said person comes around. it would be much more simple.

thank you for bringing me tender moments like holding baby Davis for the first time. i know you melted today, dont worry i think the rest of me almost did too. there is something amazing about new born children and how close they are to heaven

you've broken a few too many times, but that doesnt mean you need to get harder. the number of people you have felt walk out of my life has been quite a few, but the ones who have stayed are the ones who made it worth it. where would we be if you didnt let them in ?

i know that this letter is pointless. no matter what you will always have conflict with that silly head of mine. if there is one thing you both agree on it would be the gospel of Jesus Christ. and if you ever agree on another man... well as imperfect as he might be, he will be the one who gets to stay

Sincerely,
this girl you've been holding up for 22 years now...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

i went to get a burrito and came back with a spanish tutor...

true story.
well... kind of :)
i ran into Andy on campus (seeing people i know and love on campus is pretty much what makes my days)and we ended up eating dinner at taco bell... which brought about a discussion about Spanish... and how i need to learn it. so he randomly started throwing all these phrases at me trying to get me to understand what in the world he was saying... and then remember it. it was a mess but after it was all said and done we decided that i will learn a phrase a day...

today's:
como te llamas?
translation (rough not literal): what is your name?

and there it is :)

another topic of conversation that came up was my latest crush... a longboard.
oh how i love them.
a lot.
i officially learned how to longboard in a parking garage last night. and it was fantastic.

my friends made me wear the "special" helmet because i tend to be accident prone but... guess who was the only person to not completely biff it at least once?!

yep thats right, me :)

i think i've found my calling in life.
if only there were professional longboarders... i would drop out of college and totally take it up

but instead i will continue my late night excursions of jumping into pools, fully clothed, because we lost a bet and following it up by drinking hot chocolate, wearing guys clothes and going longboarding...

the end.