Friday, March 17, 2017
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.
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.
- Sit in a comfortable place outside.
- Breathe intentionally with nature.
- Recall a time you felt especially calm in nature.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.)
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.