I’ve just finished a weekend in training to work as a pastoral support volunteer with the British Humanist Association https://humanism.org.uk/ BHA accredited volunteers go into work alongside the Chaplaincy services in hospitals and prisons to offer support to non-religious people. I chose to do this as it seemed to be a brilliant way of putting my philosophy and world view to some good use.
I learned so much from this weekend. The training was straightforward and I was fairly confident that I knew what I was doing because it is, obviously, based on humanist, person-centred support. I’m an enthusiastic student and, although I try hard not to take over discussions, I was soon offering my tuppence-worth. Most of the other prospective volunteers were retired from highly prestigious careers – surgery, psychiatry, teaching etc. and were well read, erudite and well able to offer their expertise and I guess I felt I needed to show what I know.
My learning wasn’t the training. What hit me in the eye was I was spending so much time trying to show what I ‘do’ (trainee counsellor, good at interpersonal stuff, reading loads) that I totally forgot to ‘be’. This struck me at the end of the first day when I met D, a lovely, quiet, unassuming man, retired lecturer who loves art, poetry and writing, but who openly confessed that he was concerned that these skills we were learning we beyond him somehow. I watched how he quietly listened to and observed others, carefully thanked me for my feedback, and sat silent but with a wonderful, gentle presence that made his partner open up confidently. His genuine humility and want to be with people shone out of him. All of a sudden, I realised how crap I was at this and how crap I might be making him feel by interjecting with all my ‘doings’.
What was clear was that D ‘is’ and that is absolutely enough. Necessary and sufficient. By just being D, he did more to create a space for another person than all of my clever questions, reflections, summaries and interventions. I was completely blown away by his honesty and genuine humanity with all of his flaws there, acknowledged and accepted and contributing totally to the human he is. I haven’t told him yet what I’ve learned from him and I’m wondering if I try to, it’s just another way of me ‘ doing’ human rather than just ‘being’. Possibly, the best tribute I can give to his lesson is to give it a go myself? I could stop the crappy attempts at competing and showing how brilliantly I can rehash theory and ideas and just quietly put my human out there with all its uncertainties, flaws and good stuff.
Thank you D.