Don't Look, But See
Originally written as a reflection of a course coinciding with National Osteopathic Medicine Week in 2017 - even through many evolutions of practice, the core principles and these sentiments still ring true.
In a fitting conclusion to National Osteopathic Medicine week, I spent this past weekend at Anatomy 102 in lovely Lebanon, Oregon. Courses provide opportunity to learn more about anatomy and osteopathy, to practice treatment techniques and discuss concepts. In recent years, however, I have discovered that they are also teaching me about myself, and offer unique opportunity to be treated. Through time spent connecting with others and better understanding my role as an osteopath, I often return home with more questions than answers, but am encouraged to explore. And while the expansion of the osteopathic concept certainly benefits my patients, it also shifts my perspective and behavior at home.
The directive throughout the weekend was to listen rather than look when engaging with the patient. To make space and let the pertinent information come through. There were practical sessions designed to transition us from our typical interrogative state to one of observation and, ideally, even further to one simply of love – of the health, of the experience, of the patient. There were profoundly therapeutic moments for me throughout the course and, interestingly, the healing effect was equally powerful both as the person providing and as the person receiving treatment. It was a moving experience to witness mutually beneficial, reciprocated healing and acknowledge that the movement of the patient toward health was not depleting of, but rather enriching for the physician.
During a post-practical discussion, Dr. Jealous commented, “Sometimes you just need someone to recognize your health.” While I agree that seeing the health, the whole, the good in a person has merit, it did not quite fit my experience. As I sat with my green pen, doodling a border to those nine words, grappling with a sense of incompleteness, a simple yet profound inquiry from a colleague helped put it all into perspective.
In my time as a patient on the course, I experienced the powerful sense of being seen. Without inquiry, without expectation and certainly without willfulness for change to occur, I could be me – with random thoughts, odd aches and pains, questions and insecurities. There was no labeling, no agenda and no requirement to fix any of these “lesions,” as areas of restriction or dysfunction are called in osteopathy. There was simply a sense of acknowledgement and acceptance with a willingness to sit with me through any changes that might occur, including none at all. The end result was that I felt more at ease, not because I saw the health, but because the health saw me.
I realized that the statement from Dr. Jealous, for me, needed a different tone and an added ending, “Sometimes you just need someone to recognize your lesion…and love you anyway.” Perhaps we are not meant to look into our patients, but people need to be seen. I fully respect the healing capacity within the patient, but also recognize that disease is real and have long considered the role of the osteopath to shine the light on the health. Through the astute observation of my treatment partner, who postulated that perhaps the role of the osteopath is to bridge the gap between health and disease, which can at times mean simply sitting with the suffering, my perspective shifted. I felt invigorated to seepatients – even love them – through, with, in spite of and even becauseof their lesions. Moved to honor their perfection as completeness, inclusive of flaws; to serve as a reflection, validation, and appreciation of their experience. Certainly no physician wishes ill for their patient and we all want for them to get better, but there can be power in not needinga particular outcome but rather meeting the patient where he or she might be along the way and seeing them just as they are.
In recent weeks, we have struggled in our family with emotional outbursts (mostly the children) challenges in transition and escalating levels of frustration all around. Through a beautiful conversation at her school conference, littlest’s teacher offered insight regarding the need to make space for her to emote. Contemplating ways to employ this advice, I considered designating a cry-moment or inquiring about emotions when they arose to allow them to evolve, but over the weekend I was struck by a comment – that making spaceis synonymous with grace– and it became more clear. Space was needed, but not in the sense of emptiness or a buffer zone for diffusion but rather in the tone of gentle welcome. My job was not to look for the reason behind the emotion, but to see that it was there and bridge the gap by holding firm, physically or figuratively around the rushing current of emotions without trying to change them. To bear witness, honor and acknowledge them as part of the perfection and be willing to sit as long as might be needed, through any change that might occur.
It is most interesting to feel profoundly changed, but not any different – simply at ease with all that has been part of me all along. If I can facilitate such an experience for my family and my patients, I will have been more a part of the wellness journey than I ever imagined possible.
May we see without looking and honor the wholeness in each other, flaws and all.