Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Inspires Me

Last week an interviewer asked me, “Don’t you find it depressing to be counselling people who are often going through difficult times- times of pain, illness or loss- in their lives? How do you protect yourself, make sure your energy is not depleted?”

I was surprised by the question. Although my work with individuals includes celebrations of healing and new ways of seeing, it's true that it is often challenging times that bring people to counselling. Many of the stories that are shared are hard stories- are about childhood abuse, the limitations of illness, family violence, or heart-rending and involuntary loss of occupation, or home, or spouse, or child or the very beliefs they had been relying upon.

And every time I hear someone’s story I find my heart opening further to our humanness.

Oh, it's not that I'm blind to the many ways we go into denial and self-deception, how we sometimes reach for unhealthy ways to lower our anxiety or can even cause the very thing we most fear with self-sabotage.

But mostly what I hear is great tenderness and courage. Every human life includes challenges, loss, struggles and difficulties that often create real pain and suffering. And sometimes the suffering is so great, I wonder how people continue. But most often they do. And not only do they continue, they often use the challenge that has taken them to their knees and made them wonder if they can continue, to find a way to live more deeply with themselves and others.

What can you say about a woman whose only child has committed suicide who goes on to discover her own love of painting spectacular images of transformation and working with teens at risk? That she is magnificent in her courage and willingness and ability to walk through the fire of living and keep her heart open. That she is fully human, as you and I are, which means that you and I have within us the same capacity for courage and for loving life so deeply that life can, if we allow it, draw us back into living fully and joyfully even in the face of heart-rending sorrow.

And sometimes, the challenges in front of us are not large dramatic losses, but the small day to day wear and tear of making our way in the world, caring for those who are dependent upon us, doing what needs to be done to feed the children without losing ourselves to a culture that can too easily keep us running on the outside and out of touch with our inner life, the life of soul.

Whether those I work with are facing small daily struggles or large life losses- over and over, I am inspired by their humanness. Many days I finish a session and simply sit in awe of them- of us- and wonder how a creature so tender, so vulnerable that we can feel devastated by a thoughtless comment, can survive the changing and unpredictable conditions of a human life, let alone thrive. But they do- we do- leaning a little on each other at times, opening our hearts a little further, healing from wounds, daring to dream and saying “yes” to life.

How do I protect myself from being depleted or depressed by my work with others? No need for protection. Others open my heart and deepen my faith in the way we are made. They inspire hope and renewed tenderness for myself and the world. And I am grateful.


  1. Working with individuals as you do, I can only reiterate what you say about the gift that this work is for me. But I also remember a day, long ago, when I could never have imagined that I could hold space for another as they share their pain and their struggles, when my own pain and inner conflict kept me in fear of sitting with such hurting. To know that my old pain, my old painful story, has healed and has become an inner wisdom and light for me is a gift that allowed me to open to my inner strength. Thanks for so eloquently putting our humanity into words again this week.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful words, books, blog and facebook comments. You are doing wonderful work on this planet...

  3. Do you need to give up everything to find your way back to yourself?

    Love your writing, have shared The Invitation with many.

  4. AJ, now sure what the question is asking- ie. what has been given up. Please say more to put the question in context and I will be happy to address- just not clear what is being asked, particularly in context of this post (although your question may be referring to something else :-)

  5. Oriah and Laurel, you are really blessed persons that you can see your work this way. When thinking some time ago about a career change and about starting a counseling job, I realized that I would see it the way your interviewer saw it and refrained from the idea. I'm glad I did, I think people like you are much more capable to provide the help needed.

  6. I'm sorry Oriah, I wasn't very clear at all. I was thinking of it in the context of what might help someone who is feeling very lost and overwhelmed in their life... is it easier to start over from scratch, with nothing and possibly lose all of that stress you had by trying to keep it all up... or is it best to try to and keep what you have and just keep trying to push through it all feeling as though you may break at any time?

  7. AJ- no easy answer to that- but you do point to one of the things that really is a challenge. Loss when it is involuntary (you get fired, someone dies, a tornado hits your home) can be devastating, but it does not have the tension of being responsible for what happens, having to make the choice about whether or not to let go of something (although it can take awhile for us to really get that someone or something is gone.) The tension of trying to hang onto something (job, home, relationship etc.) that may or may not be good for us and may or may not ultimately be "holdable" is very difficult. And there really is not easy answer- each person in every unique situation has to make their own choice. Sometimes we need to persist, to hang on, to deepen our relationship with what is (or part of what is) and sometimes we need to let some of or all of it go. In our culture we lean toward wanting to make a choice, take action, so often when I work with folks I try to help them stay with the not-knowing if that is what is true- waiting for clarity without trying to push the river (ie- pretending to have and act on clarity they really do not feel.) Not easy!

  8. Thank you Oriah, I understand. Taoism comes to mind... be immersed in life but flow with it... sometimes difficult to remember or more so feel in trying times.

  9. Hi Oriah....beautiful post....thank-you. Kp

  10. Thank you for your post - but I'm wondering how one knows this type of work is for them? I am about to graduate from a graduate program with my M.S. in Counseling and now am not quite sure I want to be a counselor anymore. The work does not inspire me like I thought it would. I expected it to be the way you described, but after my internships, I am left feeling depleted and disconnected from the work and from myself. This is not how I want to be helpful.. any thoughts?

  11. Anonymous, it's a good question- and to be fair not all sessions (or weeks) are filled with inspiration :-) having said that, if the work leaves you both depleted and disconnected from yourself, it doesn't sound like a great fit. There are of course ways to ensure good self-care (honing in on what renews your energy and maintains an inner sense of connection to yourself) and you may want to be very conscious about cultivating these and see what happens. I often feel that the way I prepare to give my clients the best of what I can is by getting a good night's sleep and doing my practises of meditation and yoga to ensure I am centred and connected within.