Wednesday, March 5, 2014

on innocence and vulnerability

I'm sorry that I've been away for a while longer that I wish.

I work in mental health and addictions. What I find when I work with the clients is that they live in a world where there is a tremendous sense of innocence. I'm not sure how to connect in logical terms what I see in clients with the concept of innocence, the connection comes more from feel than from thought.  Concerning the clients, maybe it's just simply that their vulnerability shows through so clearly, a life of vulnerability to a wide array of influences, a vulnerability from which they have far less ability to remove themselves than is the case for most of us. Whatever the case, it causes me to see them in such human terms.

I was thinking about an interaction at work with some staff, a meeting where we discuss various clients and their issues. A recurring thought came to mind, one that the Buddha articulated centuries ago, the realization that we are all deluded. We all experience and perceive reality through veils or lenses that misstate that reality, that our sense of reality is at best a half truth, an interpretation, and we hold dearly to the belief that these misstatements are in fact reality.

Ride a bus someday. Look around you. It's perhaps not too difficult to imagine that every person on that bus is experiencing and participating in the same reality differently. One person maybe be worried missing their next stop, another annoyed by the jostling of the bus, another quite contentedly looking out the window or reading or listening to music or texting, one angry, one sleepy, one distracted, one appreciative, one thoughtful... well you get the idea. All in the same world but, due to different veils or lenses of colouring, experiencing that world differently. With clients, the nature and extent of their delusion becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly. But with those of us who like to believe we are on the other side of the demarcating line of “sanity” and “mental health” the delusion which we suffer is so more skillfully hidden, especially from ourselves. The same is true for our capacity for and experience of vulnerability.

What I realized, as I continued to contemplate the interaction with staff members, is that I can so much more easily bring compassion and forgiveness to the delusional behaviours of our clients than I can to the delusional qualities in my fellow staff members. I was thinking about how, within the context of work in mental health, I suspect that there is an fairly common participation on the part of some staff, myself included, to become to varying degrees cold and analytical assessment makers, not quite condescending, perhaps not judgmental, but perhaps, again to varying degrees, jaded or hardened, cut off from our own vulnerability, our own humanity.  (Pretty understandable really.) We can fail to see our clients' vulnerability, their humanity, their innocence because we are not in touch with or are losing touch with our own. And with trying to understand and hold true to this understanding that we are all deluded and that there isn't really all that much difference between those of us who are clients and the rest of humanity, I still found it convenient while in this meeting with staff to be pretty judgmental of those staff whereas I'm much more accepting of the clients. And subsequently, I become judgmental of myself. Through failing to see not only the vulnerability, humanity, and innocence of my coworkers but also that of my own, my own inclinations toward delusion, toward inhumanity come rising to the surface.

The was a wonderful man by the name of Sidney Banks who, if I remember correctly, held that all the painful things we do to ourselves and each other, all of our acts of inhumanity, even the most heinous crimes, are due to a sense of innocence. Again, I find it difficult to connect the dots intellectually between how Sidney Banks sees innocence and my “logical” understanding of the world, but when I go a bit deeper I hear a voice inside say, “I hear ya, Sidney.” I think he's saying something about how we are all doing the best with what we have, that we are all so vulnerable, so impressionable.