Dear Urban Abbey Members & Friends:
Yesterday, I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast on “Listening Generously” with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. She spoke from her work as a patient (Chrome’s disease) and in treating cancer patients. Her main thesis was on the difference between curing and healing in the medical profession. Curing is working on the physical malady that is besetting a person and getting rid of it. Healing is much more holistic and involves treating the physical illness but also being present to help a person with the spiritual/emotional dimension of an illness.
Listening generously, paying attention to the entire person –physical, emotional, and spiritual -- enables the medical practitioner not only to give a more complete treatment to the person, but also can provide healing to the practitioner. The medical practitioner often feels loss as well as the patients the doctor treats. The doctors treat people who in a number of cases can’t be cured; they feel a loss in not being able to help all their patients. The patient certainly feels a loss in terms of their illness and how that constrains their life. Listening Generously allows the doctor to hear the patient’s “story” – their fears, concerns, worry. It allows the patient not only to tell their story, but, in telling their story, to give the doctor a way to truly help and be validated.
I believe Listening Generously is one of our callings as Abbey members. As a way to understand Listening Generously, Dr. Remen asks her medical students to describe a situation where they experienced a loss. Once they have had a chance to recapture that experience, she asks them to think of who it was that helped them and how that person helped them, and what people did that wasn’t helpful.
Here is my "story". I just lost my job due to company downsizing. That is not only a terrific shock to one’s ego, but also calls into question one’s self-worth and ability. One of the people who helped me the most was a colleague who came into my office and told me how sorry he was that I was being let go…and there was powerful emotion in his voice. A few days later, he and his wife took Penny and me out for dinner just to be with us and let us know we mattered. His quiet presence, not trying to offer solutions or platitudes but just listening to my “story”, was so comforting and healing that I find it hard to put into words.
That example of Listening Generously, I believe is what we are called to do both in our Community and in the larger community. I certainly feel a ‘calling’ now to Listen Generously to others. So, I invite you this day or this week to work with Dr. Remen’s two questions: recount a time where you experienced a loss; then, think of what people did that helped you and what they did that was not helpful. I believe this exercise will allow us to understand how to Listen Generously.
I invite you to participate in a discussion of Listening Generously. Please use our Abbey blog site to give the Community your thoughts and reactions so we can all be enriched.
Shalom and blessings, George