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The Sacred Art of Nursing

A Mindful Approach to Nursing Care


In The Service of Life

By Rachel Naomi Remen

In recent years the question “How can I help?” has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not “How can I help?” But “How can I serve?”

Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. If I’m attentive to what is going on inside of me when I’m helping, I find that I’m always helping someone who is not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness. When I help I am very aware of my own strength. But we don’t serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person that I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction.  When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokeness requires me to act. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. This is Mother Teresa’s basic message. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe. A fixer has the illusion of being casual. A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown. Fixing and helping are very personal; they are very particular, concrete and specific. We fix and help many different things in our lifetimes, but when we serve we are always serving the same thing. Everyone who has ever served through the history of time serves the same thing. We are servers of the wholeness and mystery in life.

The bottom line, of course, is that we can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without fixing or helping. I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of
the ego and service is the work of the soul. They may look similar if you’re watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different too.

Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will sustain us.

Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery, which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing, and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. From the perspective of service, we are all connected. All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.

Lastly, fixing and helping is the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.

Source: http://www.ic.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/dailylife/helpserve.html

42 Ways to Say “No” (or Buy Time Until You Can)

by Margot Silk Forrest author of A Short Course in Kindness

A lot of us have difficulty saying “No.” This list, offered with compassion and a little humor, will help you get comfortable with turning people down, refusing to answer nosy or offensive questions, asking people to stop doing something you don’t like, and telling others you disagree them.

As you develop your “No” muscles, see if you can shift from saying “I can’t” to forthrightly saying “I won’t.” Also try exchanging “I don’t want you to…” for “Don’t.” You will feel vastly more empowered — and have more time for self-kindness and kindness to others when you do.

When Someone Asks You To Do Something For Them or With Them

  1. The enthusiastic (polite/helpful/etc.) part of me would like to say yes, but the rest of me is overcommitted (more realistic/unwilling/etc.).
  2. I don’t know. I’ll have to think that over.
  3. I wish I could help you out, but I’m overextended/ overcommitted right now.
  4. I’m going to pass. I’m really trying to slow down my pace these days.
  5. That’s something I’ll have to think about.
  6. I don’t have my calendar with me, but I can call and let you know tomorrow.
  7. Sorry, I’m already booked.
  8. No, I can’t make it after all. But it was nice of you to ask.
  9. I’ll think it over.
  10. Thanks, but I’m way too tired.
  11. No, that’s not really my thing.
  12. Don’t hold your breath!
  13. I have an appointment that day/night. (And you don’t have to say what it is!)
  14. That’s not for me, thanks.
  15. Oh, that sounds interesting. Let me think about it and get back to you.
  16. I’m not sure if I’m free that day/night. Let me check and call you tomorrow.
  17. Sorry, but my schedule is too full right now.
  18. The part that wants to make you happy wants to say yes, but the rest of me won the vote. I’ll pass.
  19. Thanks, but I don’t think I will.
  20. That’s not really something I enjoy.
  21. That doesn’t work for me.
  22. That doesn’t fit for me.
  23. When you want to have some fun saying no, try one of these:
    Not in this lifetime!     Forget it!     Dream on!     No way, Jose!
    You must be kidding!     Not in a million years!    Are you out of your mind?

When Someone Does, Asks, or Says or Asks Something Invasive

  1. I’m not comfortable with that.
  2. I’d like to ask you not to _________________________________.
  3. I’d like you to stop __________________________________.
  4. Please stop doing that. I don’t like it.
  5. I’m uncomfortable right now with what you’re saying/doing.
  6. That’s not something I talk about except with family.
  7. Let’s talk about something else.
  8. I want to keep that to myself.
  9. That’s my business.
  10. I’m surprised you think you have a right to that information.
  11. I don’t feel like talking about it.
  12. And you are asking me this because… ?? (Try saying this with a look of utter disbelief.)
  13. Sorry, that’s not something I talk about.
  14. I never answer questions like that.

When Someone Says Something You Disagree With

  1. I see it differently than you do.
  2. We certainly don’t agree about that.
  3. I have a different point of view.
  4. My experience of _______________________ is somewhat different.
  5. I hear what you are saying, but I don’t agree with it.

 Copyright © 2003 by Margot Silk Forrest


What in your life is calling you


What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned…
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
By itself
In the dark forest…
What still pulls on your soul?

Just For Now

(Danna Faulds)

Just for now,
without asking how,
let yourself sink into stillness.

Just for now, lay down the
weight you so patiently
bear upon your shoulders.
Feel the earth receive
you, and the infinite
expanse of sky grow even
wider as your awareness
reaches up to meet it.

Just for now,
allow a wave of breath
to enliven your experience.

Breathe out
whatever blocks you from
the truth. Just for now, be
boundless, free, awakened
energy tingling in your
hands and feet. Drink in
the possibility of being
who and what you really are
so fully alive that when you
open your eyes the world
looks different, newly born
and vibrant, just for now.

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters

(Portia Nelson)

Chapter I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

If You Knew

(Ellen Bass)

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm
brush your fingertips
along the lifeline’s crease..

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die. .

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk. .

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

From Out of the Cave

(Joyce Sutphen)

When you have been
at war with yourself
for so many years that
you have forgotten why,
when you have been driving
for hours and only
gradually begin to realize
that you have lost the way,
when you have cut
hastily into the fabric,
when you have signed
papers in distraction,
when it has been centuries
since you watched the sun set
or the rain fall, and the clouds,
drifting overhead, pass as flat
as anything on a postcard;
when, in the midst of these
everyday nightmares, you
understand that you could
wake up,
you could turn
and go back
to the last thing you
remember doing
with your whole heart:
that passionate kiss,
the brilliant drop of love
rolling along the tongue of a green leaf,
then you wake,
you stumble from your cave,
blinking in the sun,
naming every shadow
as it slips.

The Journey

(Mary Oliver)

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!” each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations—
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Keeping Watch


In the morning
When I begin to wake,
It happened again–
That feeling
That You, Beloved,
Had stood over me all night
Keeping Watch,
That feeling
That as soon as I began to stir
You put Your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp
Inside my heart.

Caregiver Meditation

(Sharon Saltzberg)

May I offer my care and presence
unconditionally, knowing it may be
met by gratitude, anger, or anguish.

May I find the inner resources
to be truly able to give.

May I offer love, knowing that
I cannot control the course of life,
suffering or death.

May I remain in peace and
let go of expectations.

I care about your pain,
but cannot control it.

I wish you happiness and peace,
but cannot make your choices for you.

May this experience
help me to open to
the true nature of life.

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