"Embrace the vulnerability of being human as a source of strength." -- Pema Chodron
No, it wasn't this past week. It was actually the week before. One of our members took a serious health turn on the third hole and his playing partners brought him back to the clubhouse. It was one of those emergency events that you prepare for, hope never happens, and one that both my staff and I wont soon forget. We promptly called 911 and went into action responding to the situation, all the while keeping the area clear of patrons.
It turned out that the gentleman was suffering from cardiac arrest. We witnessed the paramedics work on him for a half an hour before taking him to the hospital in what was still a very unstable condition. During traumatic incidents such as this, your perception of time bends a bit. It seemed at once to take both forever and be over in an instant.
It wasn't until I got home that the weight of the event began to settle in. When you are caught up in a crisis, you don't have much time to process the full extent of what you are witnessing. It was in speaking with my wise teacher (wife Jill) that I realized that I was going into automatic "stiff upper lip" mode. She took one look at me upon my arrival home from work and knew that something had happened. She gently asked me about what had occurred and how I was doing. I brushed it off and replied, "It's all good". She looked at me with knowing eyes and told me that it evidently wasn't that good at all, and that I didn't have to pretend that it was.
It was in speaking with my wise teacher (wife Jill) that I realized that I was going into automatic "stiff upper lip" mode...
Wham... she got me. My default masculine, cultured response was to push the pain of the event away. Pretend that it didn't really affect me that much and simply carry on. Maybe have a couple of beers and check out for the evening. But you know what? That wasn't going to work this time. I had to acknowledge that I was deeply affected by witnessing firsthand the poor gentleman's very serious health emergency.
So thanks to my wife's gentle reminder, I chose a more mindful approach to deal with my own aftermath. Instead of running away from the reality of suffering, I leaned into it. By opening myself to the trauma of the event, I allowed myself to fully feel the pain and fear of all involved. By bringing an openness and curiosity to my own experience, I noticed that my feelings were both raw and tender; and my own awareness of this left me feeling quite vulnerable. Sitting with the truth of your own experience can be a powerfully alive feeling -- yet it can also be extremely uncomfortable for those who are not used to sitting mindfully very often. This is where having your own mindfulness meditation practice can be very helpful.
Instead of running away from the reality of suffering, I leaned into it...
By allowing myself to be closer to my own feelings of vulnerability, I was better able to compassionately navigate the aftershocks of the event with my staff. We spent the next few days meeting in person, sharing our experiences, and hoping for the best. The intimacy of those meetings was only possible through being honest about how shook up we actually felt.
At the end of the day, my staff and I recognized that while you can never be fully prepared for such an incident, being as present and responsive as you can manage to be is very helpful. And while you don't ever want such events to happen, it did give us a chance to come together not just as a team, but as a collective group of caring human beings hoping for the best possible outcome for another person.
(PS: The best part is the gentleman appears to be on his way to a full recovery despite a very precarious couple of days at the outset.)