emotional burnout among healers: a shift in perception.
for the lovely lady Marian (Nielsen Joos) who is organizing a theme day on compassion at the international congress of Chinese Medicine in Rothenburg
A labor of love
“Che fortunata Lei di essere medica. La medicina e’ un lavoro di amore”, I was once told by a very nice old lady in Italy.
Some phrases get stuck and this one certainly did. So according to this very old and nice lady medicine was a labor of love.
Then why do we charge for it?
Do we actually sell love? And what should be the price for such a commodity?
Shamans are not supposed to charge for their service. But then, they are part of a community that functions not by the logic of capitalist exchange but by the logic of common sustainance. A tribal logic as far removed from our daily reality as possible.
So how do we justify that we who live in a capitalist system have to charge for loving.
My personal solution has for long been overgiving, overextension and undercharging. Not a very happy solution.
Others try gliding scales or treating part-time for free. Others rationalize and argue and talk about money being an equivalent of their time and energy spent. A bad taste remains.
I am still not at peace. Still thinking, this profession is flawed, distorted.
I am still having a terribly hard time writing bills.
Clients on the other hand seem to love to pay for my service and it is understandable, because paying liberates them from any entanglement which might result from me sharing my love with them. Do we not, under normal circumstances, exchange love for love or, love not being an option, for marriage or a free lunch.
Or maybe my clients are just happy because I am so cheap…
But the real problem goes farther and deeper. It is not me not wanting money. I want it as much as anybody and as a matter of fact I get it. I am just not happy about it. I do not feel I deserve it while at the same time I feel like I deserve much more. Do I not save lifes? Cure the incurable. Welcome the depressed and make them laugh? Do I not cure even love sickness and broken hearts? Do I not remove pimples and frowns alike? But at the end of the day everybody goes home to their family and I am left alone. On bad days I feel betrayed. Isolated. Sucked dry. I feel like something is amiss. Sometimes I get quite miserable and my wise children roll their eyes at my desolation.
Something is decidedly off. Or was.
I know of collegues who feel a different kind of “offness”. They feel clients are contaminating them with their “bad energy”. They feel, every sad story they hear, and we do hear a lot of sad stories, sticks to their aura like a vicious bacterium might stick to their skin. They pass around all kinds of magickal charms like band aid solutions against angry ghosts. They smudge themselves and wear copper bracelets. They even go to classes to learn how to protect themselves from their clients sadness.
Demons and possessions, although I write about them a lot, I do not believe in. At least not as something outside ourselves. Everybody has their own demons. No contamination there.
I am too Chinese for that and for me everything is Qi. So a demon is nothing more than our own Qi creation and quite harmless once taken out of it’s context.
Think of what might be a destructive storm in a narrow valley. Once freed from all constrictions and distorsions it will be just air.
So there are two kinds of mental creations that create miserable practicioners:
- Giving away “my” good stuff= love for free (or in exchange for some minor commodity like cold hard cash).
- Getting too much of the bad stuff (demons and negative energy). In which I do not believe because demons are entirely personal. Once out of the body they dissolve into Qi again. Just like people. Once the creating spirit leaves the body, there is nothing left but Qi. The feed of worms.
But whether we believe in holding on to our dear love and or feeding it only by the spoonful or warding off evil demons or maybe even believe in both: we will become exceedingly unwell in our chosen profession.
Therapeutic burnout is a widely known fact.
It has been estimated, that the average remain time in the job is ten years.
In other words, when we finally get a clue, we leave the profession. No old wise doctors here.
While I could see through the fear of contamination quite early on, it took me lots of figuring out, my “love for sale” fixation. (For some it might be the other way round- and it would be fascinating to discuss, how this comes about.)
But whatever took me so long. I figured it out and here is the deal:
Illnesses are not stuff that is passed along. (Which I knew all along.)
Neither is love. (Which I did not know.)
I cannot actually sell love, because love does not function that way.
Happiness does not function that way.
But how does it function? This happiness love thing?
Pure Yang, our ultimate opening is not something, that is fed by the spoon.
We create it. Or rather, we are the vessels through which it creates itself. It then burns by itself. Like the sun.
Do we have to burn out in the process?
Burn: yes. Out: no.
Some time ago I was standing at my beautiful Italian stove stirring my spaghetti sauce, frowning and thinking (in a very whiny inner voice): “I am feeding everybody and nobody is feeding me. This earth is really treating me poorly.”
Sometimes the answers come quick. Absent mindedly I stuck the spoon in my mouth. The herbs and spices of the sauce exploded in my mouth into a rainbow of flavours.
I smiled as I understood:
The earth is treating me like a queen and if I insist on not perceiving this, I am nought more than a spoiled brat.
My smile then got broader. More like a laugh at my own blindness. Or a laughter of relief.
I could have, of course, known it all along. The essence of my spaghetti sauce epiphany boils down to simple things we learn in our first classes of Chinese medicine:
We come as an image from above. Former heaven. We materialize on earth. Later heaven.
We carry on breathing inspiration from above and then we eat and transform our inspiration a part of the material world. We have a cooking fire in our belly: the dragon fire.
Some other fire in our heart then, again, turns this into something immaterial again. Love. We create it or rather, through us it is created.
The more it is created, the happier we are.
All we have to do is eat. And to enjoy earth’s gifts with gratitude and respect, which is the quality of the liver. Gratitude stirs our magick cauldron, to prevent worry and stagnation. When we open our heart the flavor is set free and explodes like a rainbow.
It is harder and excruciatingly painful to hold love back and quite easy to let it go and share because the heart is a yang organ and it’s natural extension reaches the end of the universe. Love. It is not ours to give. It is ours to enjoy.
Meanwhile I stir my spaghetti sauce and every time I hear the bubbles explode in a wave of fragrance, the smile comes back.
The key to love is gratitude.