I don’t pretend to be enlightened in any shape or form. The fact that I am a yoga teacher doesn’t mean I am immune to frailties and suffering. In fact, I may be more sensitive to them. I end up paying attention to things somebody else might sweep under the carpet. Perhaps exposing my stumbling blocks is better than tripping over them.
I’m 72 years old and still doing personal development. To that end, a few years ago I did a course that had me journaling, reading and pondering. The course is called Midwifing Death, and it’s a training in being a friend to people who are dying. This role is sometimes called a ‘death doula’ or an ‘amicus’.
Part of my studies involved understanding and learning what it means to be a healing presence. This is something to which yoga teachers aspire. It is an elusive quality. It requires examining prejudices, conditioning and reactivity. Doing the course work still has me thinking about what it is to be a healing presence.
Since completing the course, I’ve become a palliative volunteer. I’ve been paying social visits to patients in the Manning Valley where I’ve lived for a couple of years now. I’ve come to appreciate how much attentive listening is vital to any healing support I can offer.
Sometimes you hear it said that those who are dying are great teachers. I’m not sure that is completely accurate. But I will say that I’ve been in a big learning curve. A major part of it is practising the art of listening. Listening between the lines. Listening for what’s not said. And, probably most importantly, listening to my own notions of what dying is.
Acuity in listening is a never a foregone conclusion. It’s not some skill learned and then simply applied to each new interaction. When I ‘listen’ to my body in yoga practice, I am learning from the experience only when I’m fully in the moment.
I want to share some inspiring writing from the Midwifing Death course material. It’s from a book by James E. Miller (with Susan C. Cutshall) and is called The Art of Being A Healing Presence – A Guide for Those in Caring Relationships.
The author’s “Steps for Being a Healing Presence” are beautifully laid out and resonate with me. I’ve taken the liberty to ‘bend’ these suggestions just a little to reflect the way I teach yoga.
Here’s some suggestions on how you we might develop your own healing presence:
1. Be vulnerable
Open yourself. Become present to yourself in a way that is honest, insightful and accepting. Open to your uniqueness, humanness, prejudices, brokenness and whole-ness. Do this by owning your life story, continually fathoming who you are in a holistic way, and having a support system to which you hold yourself accountable. This might be your spiritual group, a yoga community or your extended family, for example.
2. Intend to be a healing presence
The quality of being present needs to be cultivated and happens by choosing to do so. The tools of yoga and meditation are two ways that allow presence to emerge. In fostering presence, be compassionate and patient with yourself in letting the process unfold.
3. Create a space
Design a calm and safe space, a refuge from the storms of life for you and for others. As well, develop a peaceful internal space through practices such as mindfulness mediation and yoga. These activities let you get yourself out of the way. Drop your personal expectations of what others should be or do, i.e., your kids or spouse or boss.
4. Practice honouring
Offer those in your life and in your care dignity and respect. Demonstrate your regard for them by honouring their individuality, equality, humanness, separateness and sacredness. We’re not here to fix anyone, so respect others’ natural and unique healing capacities.
5. Offer your gifts
Freely and simply make available what you have to give. Remember that it’s up to the other to accept or not. Your presence is the greatest gift. Offer others tolerance, empathy, dependability, your belief in them, your willingness to follow their lead, and, as much as anything, hope.
6. Receive the gifts that come
Accept with a grateful heart what is yours to receive. It may be that you live your life more fully as a result of this practice. Other gifts may include uncovering your genuine self and enjoying wonderful relationships. You may enjoy more personal satisfaction and realise you have made a difference. You may find your own healing. And, you’re likely to explore some of life’s most valuable lessons.
7. Live a life of balance
There is more to life than being a healing presence. Live your days fully, caring for your own needs, setting appropriate boundaries, encouraging your own growth and nurturing a loving attitude to life, including the sacred dimension. Affirm and live out the truth of the transforming potential of healing presence. Be grateful.