Embodiment is the content of what we teach. We cannot teach without being what we teach.
Brita L. Gill-Austern in Feminist & Womanist Pastoral Theology
Sometimes I listen to what people say in the elevators at the hospital where I work. Sometimes I secretly write these things down. Sometimes I just remember.
I didn’t write this down but I remember the other day when I was in the elevator with a group of three physicians, a resident (the one with the most authority in the circle) and two interns (two student physicians, if you will).
The resident was asking the interns questions. From what I could tell, they were heading to see a patient whose procedure they were discussing. The resident listened to the intern’s answer to his first question, which was something like, “What are you going to do?”
The intern was answering, and the resident asked again, “What are you going to do?” It was light-hearted; they were comfortable with each other. Still, the resident asked the same question in a different way the third time. “How are you going to do it?”
The intern improvised, gestured like he was pushing a tube up his own noise. And to the how are you going to do it question, he added a description until his mentor was satisfied.
He grasped something about his imagination, his hands, and his intent and how they communicated to his teacher that he’d both get the procedure accomplished but in a way that was not harmful.
Knowing what you’ll do gets you part of the way. Sometimes it helps to use your own noise to imagine a push from a press from a shove.
I learned something again about myself that I knew, but the learning came across in a way that I was ready for. It was feedback.
The basis of it was in my leaving a person feeling like there was, for that person, more to do, more to accomplish.
As I heard it, I settled in and I started to like that. I have learned this but the way it came felt like a gift.
I’m unwrapping it and it fits.
When I was in a committee meeting a little more than a year ago in Atlanta, a colleague challenged me to sit with my feelings. The meeting was an hour and a half appointment, and we were twelve minutes in. That wasn’t a great sign, his kind challenge.
It was a terrible meeting in select ways which would take months of posts to unfurl. The committee’s evaluation of me would either keep me in what ACPE calls supervisory education or the result would change my status so that I could offer clinical pastoral supervision as an independent educator. I’d be done with the learning process officially.
I was less concerned about the result for that reason actually. My job was supportive, my manager understanding. Of course, I had conceptualized a dozen directions after having thought through a list of if/then possibilities. That’s the kind of planner I am.
There was something beyond the result about that meeting. Opening to me was, in my work and in the rest of my life, something significant. I knew in my soul that what they said mattered. I had grown to trust the people I met in my process to that point.
I knew that their critique of me, their feedback for me, and their way of being with me were all represented by every previous encounter I had with supervisors and mentors through my process.
I knew that the kind challenge to sit with their feedback and to what it was doing to me was an invitation to some kind of good. I was angry about things in that meeting. I was uplifted by things in that meeting. I was exhilarated when I passed. Surprised too at first.
I celebrated and having finished the process completely one year later, the next November in the same city, Atlanta is still a second home in good ways.
So his challenge was an opening. I didn’t know then that sitting with things and then responding would be a new way for me to step forward as a pastoral educator and person. I have practiced parts of that my nature of my personality, and the committee’s work enriched that part of me. It’s really re-making me and how re-making how I’m trying to be.