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Day 30: Connecting with people

November 13, 2023

Today I did something WAY outside my comfort zone and, if I’m honest, I’m terrified that it’ll come to something.

I have applied to become a trained volunteer of a “befriending service”. From what I understand, this involves visiting and spending time with a person over 70 in their home as they may not have many opportunities to see other people and may be feeling lonely and isolated.

I can’t even describe to you how uncomfortable I feel about doing something like this. Nor am I sure I can explain why.

I think it’s got something to do with shying away from other people’s vulnerability. In my capacity as a coach, people come to me with specific issues they’re seeking to address. I usually know what to do and can be of use. But facing vulnerability outside this setting is hard for me. I feel useless and afraid. I want to fix things but it’s neither my place nor the right thing to do.

I think a lot of us feel this way – we see people struggling and we want to help, but only in a way that ‘fixes’, not in a way that simply acknowledges the person and sits with them. We give money to a homeless person long before we engage in conversation and get curious about how their story led them to this point. We buy poppies from veterans without talking to them about their experiences of service and loss.

I say ‘we’. I mean ‘I’. I do those those things.

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine pulled me up on my need to “fix” things. She was going through a hard time and I was certain there were many different things she could do that would help her feel better. She needed a friend and I was coaching her.

I’ve since learned not to do this – or at least to do it less often – but what I haven’t fully learned is how to simply be present with someone and really see them, really be with them. I think I even miss opportunities to do this with my family.

How this relates to Joy

I think my desire to ‘fix’ things is part of my desire to control everything within and around me. I’ve written about this multiple times over the last 30 days and it’s clear to me that joyful living has, at its heart, a greater sense of ease and flexibility.

For me, joyful living is about accepting what IS and being able to stay in the present moment. This is hard for me. When I get bored, my mind jumps around and I get agitated. I want to escape, be by myself, do something else. I take my focus off the other person, my mind wanders – or worse, I judge them for one thing or another.

My work has taught me that the judgements we levy on others are usually mirrors of the things we can’t tolerate in ourselves – or things we were taught by our care givers were intolerable and unacceptable.

My jumpy, judgemental mind is a barrier to a joyful life. The only way I know to begin taming it is to put myself in situations where it jumps and judges – and then learn to compassionately and kindly relax, stay open, be present and give my attention generously to the other person.

If I can succeed at doing this, I think I’ll make a very good companion for a person who is feeling lonely and isolated. If not, it’s likely I’ll end up being someone who does little more than running errands for them, making meals and trying to be “useful”.

I genuinely hope I can find in myself the ability to soften, let go, make space and relinquish the need to control, so that I can simply be there for someone else. This is a great privilege and I’ve always treated it like a chore.

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