I’ve mentioned before my mind’s tendency to question my qualification to do what I do. It’s healthy to be critical of one’s actions and motivations, but on some days, when the Inner Critic gets the upper hand, it can be sheer torment. During those times the mind resists the view that we’re neither good nor bad, competent nor incompetent, suitable nor unsuitable … but a mysterious blend of ever-changing components making up what we call the “self.”
Yesterday’s six-hour shift at hospice comprised a succession of encounters, conversations, embraces, still moments, tears, and laughter … one after another in smooth succession.
As I sit at the bedside, a patient repeatedly tries to sit up, compelled, he tells me, to attend to just one more task “before it’s too late.” As I cradle his hand in mine, I suggest he let the bed hold him, to “lean into” the tiredness. He looks at me as if to say “really?” and then, gradually, closes his eyes, his frail body sinking into the pillows.
A family member asks to see me alone, away from her sister’s room. Sketching a quick picture of “our dysfunctional family,” she wishes that family members would make peace in the face of death, to let animosity fall away “since we could all die any day.” Sensing her agony over the impossibility of a bedside reunion, I suggest she “welcome what is right here,” to savour these rare moments with her sister. She bursts into laughter and tears … relief from guilt, she tells me, and gratefulness to be able to accompany her sister during her last days. On the way out, she decides to make “just one call” to her sister’s son, not to admonish him for not coming to visit, but “to make him feel included … and tell him that I love him.”
Two occasions when I found myself responding from the heart: no rehearsal, no technique, no clever thoughts. But if it’s not the thinking mind that determines my actions, what does? Or, more immediately, who or what is observing all this? Ken Wilber points to something beyond ordinary thinking, feeling, and sensing, to
“the state of the ever-present Witness or pure Self, the great mirror-mind that impartially witnesses the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states but is not itself a separate state.”