Today, I head into my Chaplaincy internship at the local mental health hospital. It’s a place I’ve managed to avoid for a couple of decades – personally and professionally. But I know some good people there and the Spiritual Care folks have given me a chance to dig deep into my practice. I think this might be the edge where, as roles and realities collide, koans can be actualized. But first, I have to get past the robes I wear.
No, I’m not talking about the Buddhist robes. Psychologists get to wrap themselves in robes too. Big, heavy, layered masses of psychic authority and kevlar-heart. At least that’s how I was trained and, while I value the necessity of boundaries and authority, I like to strive for lapsing skillfully when required. So I think this layer of doctrinal authority will be the first to set aside in the cultivation of the relational.
No, I’m not talking about working with the patients. They have fewer delusions and more keys to doors than I do and are skilled at moving snow with pine needles.
The professional hierarchy in institutions is obvious. But the power structure is not. See? I really was paying attention during the brief years I spent interning in a community general hospital and learned quickly that you always bring cookies for the folks on the front lines. Appreciation and empathy being a rarity, it wasn’t the cookies as much as the opportunity to share a laugh over them that nourished the relationship. On such ground, I can be open again to the question: which koans will surface, expand, and collapse?
Unmon said, “Look! This world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your priest’s robes at the sound of the bell?”
Why, indeed? Why?