Friday, March 17, 2017

Preparing to Show Up: Nature Practices that Serve

By Jennifer J. Wilhoit


We give so much of ourselves as hospice and palliative care service providers. And we grow accustomed to the moment-by-moment changes, depth of interaction, the poignant or blessed final goodbyes that characterize this work. Some of what we do feels very positive: the deep gratification of tending to the needs of people who are chronically ill or dying and to their families. But it can also be wearying for us; we do not offer our expertise in a vacuum, or as something-other-than-humans. We have personal lives, are subject to the vagaries of daily existence, embrace relationships with family and friends that need attention and care, engage chores to maintain our lives.

Where in all of that is the refreshment?

This article offers some very basic nature-based practices that we can use on a regular—if not frequent—basis with little preparation in moments in which we find ourselves: depleted, enervated, or in need of clarity. I have been a hospice volunteer for more than sixteen years, while also serving the deep needs of people in transition through my private professional practice. What I’ve learned from both of these endeavors is that showing up to “the other” in an engaged, dynamic manner is not only essential for them; I must show up to myself in such a way, too. We need to maintain a daily connection to fluidity in our lives.

The series of articles I offer to readers of the Pallimed blog addresses precisely this; the piece you’re reading now focuses on ways in which we can remain vibrant via the natural world. They are not intended as a panacea, but rather as touchstones of nature as balm. Each can be done quickly, at the center of our busy workday. These practices can also be used, with modifications, directly in our daily interactions with those we serve. They are totally malleable: adaptable to specific needs and desires, flexible per the conditions in which you work and live. I recommend opening up a pause in your schedule and routine. These practices don’t have to take a long time or detract from our responsibilities. I have done many of these within moments of my next client appointment, or around the corner from the next hospice family.

All of these small, simple acts can restore us, thus allowing us to really show up to ourselves as well as to those we serve. I offer them in three categories: practices that nurture, practices that inspire, and practices that offer insight.

Nature for Nurture

For you:
  • Sit in a comfortable place outside.
  • Breathe intentionally with nature.
  • Recall a time you felt especially calm in nature.
For those you serve:
  • Take with you to patient visits: rose petals, smooth rocks, or a few shells.
  • Offer an opportunity for touch or smell for those objects that are soft or fragrant.
  • Consider leaving a small nature item with a patient, family member, or facility staff.

Nature for Inspiration

For you:
  • Create something beautiful in nature, such as a circle made of stones or leaves.
  • Bring nature inside your home or into your workspace.
  • Photograph something inspiring in the natural world and carry it with you.
For those you serve:
  • Take some nature item representative of the season into your patient visits (i.e. colorful leaves, a bowl of snow, a vase of rainwater, spring wildflowers).
  • Share a beautiful nature photograph with your patients or family members.
  • Read a short stanza of nature writing or nature poetry aloud to someone (this also serves you).

Nature for Insight

For you:
  • Take a work issue on a walk or hike. Even a short, speedy walk around the block can lend a new perspective.
  • Focus your attention on a tree or favorite structure in/of nature as you contemplate a dilemma.
  • Consider the four seasons and notice which one you are experiencing on your inner landscape today (e.g., emotionally, spiritually). Imagine that: summer = flourishing, autumn = blaze of beauty, winter = rejuvenation or preserving energy, and spring = new growth.
For those you serve:
  • Take to a patient a small object from nature that they’ve spoken about. Maybe you bring inside something they can see out their window.
  • Offer a photograph of a landscape similar that in which a patient has lived.
  • Spend a few moments talking with a patient about some object/image of nature they have in their room.
    (The latter two can be very evocative, facilitating a person’s life review process.)
The work we do on behalf of others—even out of passion and clear calling—does demand a lot of us. Please try these easy practices. Their power is in repetition, hence the word “practice.” Test out one on a daily basis; or try several over the next week. Modify them to suit your work schedule; most of all, adapt them to best meet your individual, nuanced, fluctuating needs from moment to moment.

May you find yourself refreshed, inspired, clear-headed and clear-hearted as you go about your day.

Jennifer J. Wilhoit, PhD is a writer, spiritual ecologist, & longtime hospice volunteer. She founded TEALarbor stories through which she compassionately supports people's deep storying processes. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her on Twitter at @TEALarbor.


All photographs in this story are copyright @TEALarbor Stories.

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