July 15, 2002
Being a Support
When people are going through a time of crisis and confusion, it is always an opportunity for healing and transformation - if the environment around them allows for that. Such an environment is supportive and safe.
A safe environment allows you to be yourself. It neither attacks nor neglects. It does not judge - that is, infer that you are not good enough as you are or that you should be different. It supports what you experience and feel as valid.
To be a part of a supportive environment is to see the universe in a different way than the present cultural norm. The common view, originating in Western science and Western religion, is that things get worse if they are left as they are. In this view, we try to improve on Nature, because if left to its own devices, Nature is savage, backward - even evil.
This is not only unfortunate, but extremely naïve. The essential purpose of each species - its genetic imperative - is to stay alive and maintain itself. Species attempt to maintain a balance with the environment that feeds and supports them. If living things become out of balance internally - out of touch with their genetic imperative - they act in ways that throw them out of balance with their environment. Unless the imbalance corrects itself, the species is in danger of ruining the environment that supports it. When that support is lost, it dies.
This is what the human species, in its civilized state, is doing now. This disaster-in-the-making is connected to the present cultural concept that nature is inadequate and must be improved. This concept acts through science and industry to poison our life support - water, air, soil, and food. Every single substance and invention, from internal combustion engines and air conditioners to pesticides and CFCs were invented to improve our lives, and all drives for improvement imply the same simple message - we aren't good enough the way we are.
Lao Tzu, seeing the problems of civilization 2500 years ago, wrote in Chapter 80 of the Tao Te Ching:
Let there be a small country with few people.
Let's look at the root of the problem. Much modern childrearing is based on the same delusion of forced improvement. In fact, not too many years ago, the purpose of violently punishing children was to literally "beat the devil out of them." It was believed that they were born in sin (bad) and had to be "made good." In short, it's the same message that nature is inadequate - "You are not good enough as you are."
This assault on our intrinsic value damages our connection with ourselves - with our genetic imperative. It is only people who were "improved" as children that become adults who neglect and abuse themselves, others, and the world at large. This delusional assault upon a world that is "not good enough" is destroying the very environment we live upon. It is not a pretty picture.
Human nature grows, with innate intelligence, from the inside out. It does the same as trillions of other living things that do not require teaching, discipline, and improvement to reach their genetic peak. Our nature needs certain things to complete that growth, and to meet those needs it requires support - that is, an environment that allows it to be itself. An environment that says, "Yes, you are good enough."
The primal perspective, which is a natural perspective, is to acknowledge that the organism itself has the power and wisdom to grow and/or heal. It is not bad, evil, or inadequate. The primal perspective is in keeping with our genetic imperative.
Therefore, the essential element in supporting someone is to realize that their system has power and value - even in the midst of crisis. They are in the center of their healing adventure - and you are in yours. They are at the center of their feeling experience, and you are in yours.
To be a safe support for others:
• assess whether you actually have the interest and energy to be supportive. If you are unsure, do them a favour and decline. A shaky, inconsistent support is no support at all. Let them find someone or something else.
• be there for them in ways that do not drain you, and let them know that.
• do not meet your needs through the person you are supporting. Get your needs met elsewhere. People in crisis cannot feel safe and complete their process if you are feeding off them like a parasite.
• do not dive in to solve their problems. This will make them dependent on you and keep them weak. If you solve their problems, you will have to be responsible for them. If you tire or turn away, the abandonment will be damaging.
• do not criticize, scold, or judge them. They will feel unsafe and they will shut down. Their healing opportunity will stall.
• actively let them know that you don't judge them negatively and that you accept them as they are. Let them know you do not feel bad about them for anything they express. Be sure this is true for you.
• let them feel their neediness, loneliness, sadness, grief, anger, fear, or joy. Let them express any emotions in safe ways that don't injure themselves or others.
• take special note if they get into attacking or blaming. Let them know that you accept this as their feeling expression but do not support it as an action against others.
• be wary of soothing, comforting, or distracting them from their suffering. If they can fully feel the problem (with support) they are more likely to solve it.
• listen to what they are saying. Accept that their experience has validity even if it's confused and even if you don't agree or understand. Just listen, and if necessary, mirror their feelings back so that they feel heard. Be quiet and genuinely attentive. This is their time, not yours.
• do not give unsolicited advice. No matter how well-intentioned, advice implies one thing - "What you are doing is not good enough, so you should do this instead." If someone asks for some guidance, only offer your perspective for them to consider - to take or discard at their discretion - not as the "right way" or the "truth."
• touch or hold them in a safe, non-sexual way (if the relationship warrants it). Always ask for permission first, and be sure that the answer is genuine. Sometimes holding says more than a million words.
Remember that a crisis needs to "blow" like a storm in order to get clear. If people are supported in this, and don't shut down in order to "be good," their innate wisdom is likely to arise and assert itself. The solutions that come from this wisdom will be longer lasting.
Nature regulates itself if we do not interfere. To honour that power in Nature is to honour that power in others.
Support is "being there" like the ground under our feet. The ground does not push us. It stands solid and allows us to find our own way.