A Year of Learning – and aging

img_0639Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi

At the end of this year of a CPE residency (Clinical Pastoral Education), evaluations, contemplation and the celebration of completion are upon me. I am grateful and tired.

For those who don’t know, CPE residency is formal training for chaplains. It is a yearlong educational and clinical program providing spiritual care in a medical setting. Working as a chaplain in a hospital is more than just sitting and listening, or saying a few prayers. Those are certainly part of the work. But within those parts and other parts are complex and dynamic elements that in CPE are explored, learned, integrated and practiced. Like other clinical professions (nurses, doctors, techs), one year of residency is just the beginning.

Questions that I explored in CPE and I will continue to explore, because the door has been opened, again, even wider:

  • Who am I bringing into an encounter with a patient/client, family, staff (or anyone, really)?
    • What do I know and believe about myself because of my own stories?
    • What are my expectations? Why? Where do they come from?
    • What do I need, emotionally, physically, spiritually? Why? Where do those needs come from?
    • What gifts do I offer in connecting with another? How do I hold those gifts lightly?
    • What may limit me in connecting with another? How do I hold those limitations lightly?
    • How can I listen to the other, really hearing them?
    • What are they feeling? What might they need from me?
    • How and why do I resonate with another?
    • How can I use empathy?
    • What do I believe, theologically? How were those beliefs formed? How are they changing?
    • How am I privileged? What am I blind to because of that privilege?
    • How can I behold the other, regardless of circumstance, past or present?
  • Professionally:
    • What are the tools – theories, concepts, interventions, assessments – that I learned and continue to refine that will serve this unique encounter?
    • What are my responsibilities to others and to myself?
    • What protocols, policies and laws govern my work?
    • What ethical standards guide my work?

A pretty intense experience, to say the least.

One thing that has been curious is seeing how participating in this kind of program at an older age has some advantages and disadvantages.

#1

Disadvantage: I’m more tired and my stamina is not as robust as it used to be. The overnight shifts as well as the 12+ hour days took a bigger toll than had I been even just 10 years younger. The body does in fact age.

Advantage: However, as I have aged, even before this year, I have put a great deal of value and effort into self-care, and taking breaks when needed. I can’t push myself like I used to, so I don’t, and I’m ok with that.

#2

Disadvantage: I have done a great deal of inner work over the years, in and out of therapy. I thought I had dealt with a lot of my “past” and healed much of the events, losses and relationships that have contributed to, as Rumi puts it, “all the barriers” I have built against Love (in all forms and definitions). But, well there is always more work to do.

Advantage: I have done a great deal of inner work over the years, in and out of therapy. Even though “stuff” (a lot of stuff) was unearthed this year in CPE, I already had tools and practices to help, while being open to adding more.

#3

Disadvantage: Doing all this very deep work with others, who are also doing deep work adds more stress to the whole process (on top of all the personal, non-CPE related events in ones life). See #1.

Advantage: With aging, self-care becomes more critical. Part of self-care includes evaluating how much energy I put into any given moment. Being discerning about which issues to challenge. Which situations and encounters energize me and which drain me. What battles to fight and which ones to let go. I have learned that as I age what mattered so much before doesn’t matter as much now. Being right is one of those things. Saying, I’m sorry, or I don’t know is self-care. Connection and peace are more important now. Not false peace of “I won’t say anything because it will rock the boat.” But authentic peace of “I’ll express my needs and thoughts and do my best not to be attached to the outcome.” Or the peace of “I can’t change (him, her, them, that). All I can change is my reaction.

Finally, my last few months of the CPE program I had the privilege to again work in hospice chaplaincy. I learned when working with people facing the end of life, four elements are critical for their spiritual and emotional care: Hope, Peace, Purpose and Connection. I will talk more about these in a later post. But this last one, Connection, becomes more and more important as we age.

  • connection to others who love us;
  • connection to our compassionate selves;
  • connection to care and support in our journey, and
  • connection to that which gives us Joy.

In every moment and in every encounter, may you be inspired to seek, find and dismantle all the barriers to what connects you to Joy and Love.

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Aging into Our Elderhood – What have you learned from your elders?

“When we resist aging, we resist life itself, since aging is inherent in living. To resist the reality of aging creates needless suffering. But, if we can see the aging process as an unfolding opportunity, as a way to gain deeper wisdom by discriminating external phenomena from internal reality, then we can open to the fullness of life and the experience of Conscious Aging.”

This quote was offered from an elder messenger at a workshop exploring ageism.  I believe it sums up what I hope to offer on this blog.

As we age, especially in America, elders become invisible at best, and oppressed and abused at worst.  One reason is because as we age we have grasped onto the fears in the messages that aging exclusively means decline, lack of independence and worthlessness. Because of these fears we have pushed away any hope that there is something more, something worthy about aging.  We have allowed ourselves to miss the many opportunities for continued learning and growth that is always available. Elderhood and the way in which we can claim it will be different for each person.  Claiming our Elderhood must happen if we are to change aging from something to be avoided and feared into a time of learning, hope, connection and strength even with the realities of the physical changes and unavoidable death.