Monday, November 21, 2016

The Trance of Thought

To follow up on my last post, my peer said she would indeed like to talk. We did that and easily worked everything out. I have also been thinking about what I wrote, in rather harsh (to myself) terms, about often feeling angry with or judgmental of others. Clinical pastoral education affords much opportunity to examine personal and interpersonal dynamics, and one thing that is coming nicely into focus is the automaticity of my negative first response to many things. It’s not unusual for me to dislike people in the first three seconds of knowing them (though this actually does seem to have shifted quite a bit; maybe this is more a historical observation), and many sensory inputs initially strike me as unfavorable. I think this tendency is probably hard-wired and I have probably spent way too much energy trying to change it.

However, there is a huge opportunity in all the seconds that come after the first three seconds. It’s in those seconds that I reiterate and re-reiterate to myself my first opinion and think of the things I’ll say / write / post in sharing that opinion, but also in those ensuing seconds that I have the opportunity to notice the initial, automatic thought as just a thought and not spin endless yarns about the matter to myself and perhaps others. Buddhist teacher Yvonne Ginsberg, subbing for Howie one night, said “The ‘awakening’ that the Buddha referred to is the awakening from the trance of thought.”

Over and over I see it these days: Ah, there’s my knee-jerk reaction. And there’s the story I’d like to indulge about it, but I’m not going to. Accordingly, I am feeling noticeably more tranquil.

My group at work lately presented our final self-evaluations for unit one, which seems to have gone extremely fast and is now over. We spent five and a half hours in a small conference room together going over our finals, one after the other, and it was rather grueling. What one peer shared aroused resentment in me, which quickly expanded to flow over the whole group, reawakening my sense of estrangement from the others.

By the following day, I was having my first and only real meltdown of this unit of CPE, though I didn’t get as far as deciding to quit. Come to think of it, it was very similar to what has often happened for me toward the end of a meditation retreat. Fortunately, Jodie had some time in her schedule, and I spent 20 minutes with her sharing all my gripes, which she gently pointed out weren’t necessarily objectively true: “Ah, is that how you see that?”

I spoke about a peer who is extremely energetic, presenting to groups of staff and initiating new forms of care. I told Jodie that I don’t so much feel competitive with this peer as defeated by her. I’m sure that if there is one chaplain job in all of San Francisco next fall, she’ll get it. But Jodie pointed out how this peer’s hospital units are fundamentally different from mine, and said, “She has a lot to learn,” which did make me feel better. I was also grumbling about the particular assessment model we’re supposed to follow, and of this, Jodie flatly said, “I don’t do that.”

After talking to her, I could clearly see my choice between persisting with negative views and taking constructive action, as well as the different results likely to be obtained, and I decided to do the latter. I don’t want to feel apart from my colleagues. I need them, and they need me. Jodie and Anita took us out for a nice lunch that day, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and in the afternoon, all 14 of us students and two of our supervisors had a party to celebrate the end of the unit.

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