Transformative change… depends so much on having a clear view of the desired end. (Richard Rohr － “From Mysticism to Politics”, 13/7/2018)
How we conceptualize a problem is more important than our “technique” in helping people attain their desired change. This is what I often remind my supervisees and beginning therapists.
The very fact that people seek help from therapists is because the way that they have been thinking about their situation kept them stuck. Yes, active listening is good. Timely empathy is important. But we need to have a different way of thinking about the problem, in order to overcome the problem.
Having said that, after years of practicing therapy, I have learned an irony.
Many people want help. But they may not want change. Only very few people want true changes. And true changes are hard to come by, because it involves a revolution of the heart!
Now it gets really really tricky…
What and where is the heart? Do you have access to it? Or have you misplaced the keys to your very own heart?
The prophet Jeremiah called people to examine their hearts, as “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17: 9)
Living in the 600 BC, Jeremiah was known as the Weeping Prophet. How not to cry, I imagine, if you kept saying things that people don’t like to hear?!
But suppose if Jeremiah was right in his observation about the human heart’s condition, then we too cannot be naïve about the heart, especially our own! We have to guard our heart like a sacred palace, where only the true and noble can stay. We have to practice honesty with ourselves, and sift through our conscious and unconscious intentions.
To remain true and honest with ourselves – that’s probably one of the hardest forms of exercise or discipline to master. It can even be scary to look inside our hearts, lest we see the disparity between our true motives and our displayed actions. Clearly, the two do not always align. Most time we can resonate with St Paul’s lament, that we don’t do the good we want to do, and the bad that we don’t want, we do.
How good it is, then, if we can acknowledge the continuous tension and battle inside our hearts? We are neither all bad, nor all good! We are constantly living in the in-between, whereby every moment can be lived either consciously, or unconsciously.
What do you want? What are you looking for?
That’s the question I often pose to myself, my clients and my students.
Setting our heart’s intention right is half the problem solved.
If you don’t know what you want, or if you want what other people want, you may still get no where. Even if you do get somewhere, you would soon discover that it is probably not what you really want.
But that’s a good start anyway – to know what you don’t want, what doesn’t align or fit with who you are and the life you want to create.
The more we spend time listening, and getting to know our hearts, the more we get in touch with what’s truly important for our core being. What’s truly important is usually nothing material or glamorous.
When I was a trainee psychologist in Chicago, I was assigned to a dying Vietnamese man. I can’t speak his language, and he can’t speak mine. I just held his hand and stayed with him for a while. The next time I returned to the ward, I was told he had passed on.
On our deathbed, rarely people still care about how much you own and what else you want to possess or achieve. In our final moments on Earth, what matters to people may vary, but I imagine we might ask questions like these:
= Have I lived well?
= Have I loved well?
= Who is here with me now?
= What is awaiting me in the next (life, space, mystery)?
When we know how we want to die, that’s when we know how we want to live.
Article by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng