Improving Our Connection to Others Around Us by Practicing Spirituality

June 3, 2016

Whether patients, visitors or our fellow employees, being mindful of empathy and compassion goes a long way to the happiness of others.

Providing healthcare is a deeply personal work and therefore, I believe, a deeply spiritual work.  This is why I believe it can be one of the most rewarding and challenging of vocations.

At one time, Chaplaincy Services offered staff retreats called Renewal Days.  One of the features was a video by National Geographic award-winning photographer Dewitt Jones entitled For the Love of It.  Jones concludes the video by encouraging viewers to “chase the light.”  He knows from experience how a good photo becomes a great one when the light is right.

My wife snapped this photo of me this past April 2nd.  That’s the Sea of Galilee at mid-morning looking northwest toward the country of Lebanon.  The Kingdoms of Jordan and Syria are to my back.  What you don’t see in the picture is that there was a chill wind and I was fighting a head cold.  My pocket was stuffed with tissues at the ready.  Why did I leave my jacket back in my room!

Galilee was where Jesus engaged in much of his early ministry.  His good friend John records him once saying, “It is the Spirit that gives life.”  Light has been a symbol of positive spirituality through generations and across cultures.  Hence the phrase “their eyes lit up.”  My eyes lit up over and over during those ten days in Israel because I was constantly in the presence of what mattered to me.  Whenever a vacation or wedding or a patient encounter lights us up, it is a spiritual experience.

Dr. Frederic C. Craigie is a clinical psychologist and medical educator at Dartmouth Medical School.  He identifies three ways which we can “chase the light” and practice a positive spirituality in our work.  First, you practice personal spirituality when you stay connected to what matters to you.  This has to do with purpose, character, and commitment.  The more intentional we are about this the better.  You can tell something meaningful is happening whenever there is passion and enthusiasm (i.e. inspired by a god).  How can you connect with what matters to you?  I suggest that you pick up a pen and do two things:

  1. Write a paragraph or two about what or who got you into healthcare or how you came to work at Hancock.
  2. Write your epitaph (and then live up to it.)

Secondly, practice clinical spirituality by connecting with what matters to those you serve.  In healthcare, our central task is to understand and support the concerns of our patients and families.  It’s one thing to fix a broken arm in a gentle and effective manner.  It’s another thing to empathize with why that arm is important (a job that needs doing, a child who needs guidance, a spouse who needs hugging).  What matters to them may or may not involve religious beliefs.  You don’t have to become everyone’s best friend or personally affirm everything they value, but something healing happens when I know the person who is with me gets me.  Rather than giving advice, she helps me own my heart in a fresh way.

Thirdly, practice corporate spirituality by connecting with the shared energy of the people who work around you.  An organization is an intentional grouping of people and thereby has a soul just as people do.  We normally call it culture, atmosphere, tone or environment.  Research shows that healthcare organizations that pay attention to organizational soul do better than those that do not with respect to employee retention, patient satisfaction, performance improvement and process measures, and health care outcomes.  From the longest tenured among us to the newest hire, we can tend the tribal fire by recommitting to a sense of mission, respecting and empowering each other, and cultivating a spirit of community and caring.  Sooner or later, others who share our heart will find us!

Shabbat shalom.

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