Into a soul absolutely free
From thoughts and emotion,
Even the tiger finds no room
To insert its fierce claws
Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
I spent two days this week on the King’s Fund Compassionate Leadership through Mindfulness Course in Macclesfield.
During that time, I had the opportunity to meet some great people who, like me, are adrift in the complexities of delivering, organising and managing healthcare.
Each of us work in different fields – provision, commissioning, nursing, medicine, voluntary sector; we are all united in a common desire to improve care, through gaining a better understanding of compassion and, Mindfulness.
I have written before about compassion – its roots in the Latin, the significance of the word for those of us exploring the meaning, the significance of this term that is sometimes over-used in healthcare, to the point that its very meaning can be lost.
Moving yourself to a position of challenge, of suffering, distress, and pain that is on par with those we want to help, amplifies the urgency of the situation, brings the need to act, decisively and effectively into focus.
I need to care about my patients as much as I care about myself; they cannot be something outside of my consciousness, something that I can switch on and off as the hours of the day pass; to understand my patients I need to be inside their suffering, such that, I will attend as closely to their experience as my own.
On our course, we discussed the essence of compassion, the potential for this to be a strengthening force, rather than one that drains us. There is much discussion in the healthcare literature of ‘compassion fatigue1’ – the concept that compassion is finite and a form of labour which if not appropriately supported and potentially recompensed can become exhausted.
It is very true that compassion in an environment that is hostile to change and improvement to support, one that does not sense the value in patients and staff alike can be consuming – destructive; it is through the learning of the course, that we, those people leading the NHS into its next 10, 20 and 30 years ahead need to step forward and support our peers, our colleagues, through the challenges, support them to support others through our own compassion, in a spirit of creativity, sensitivity, passion and compassion.
The poem at the start of this entry is taken from Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, the philosophical book he wrote in the 1960’s explaining the philosophy behind the martial art he developed.
Through Mindfulness, we seek to attain a state that is devoid of the corrupting thoughts and anxieties that hold us back, that distract us from achieving our goal. Through Mindfulness, we seek to be present sufficiently to provide support and succor to those in need, we stop being consumed by the worries, concerns and anxieties that peck-away at our resolve, so that we are free to be supportive, present for others, and, for ourselves.
1 Ledoux, Kathleen. “Understanding compassion fatigue.” Journal of advanced nursing (2015).