I experienced another person’s energy when I first started my medical career. As a trauma team lead during my medical training, a motorcycle wreck victim was brought in. It was a female police officer who was riding with her husband. Looking at her neck x-ray, I knew she was dead upon arrival. However, I couldn’t face announcing this fact to her husband who was in the trauma room. So I told my team to initiate resuscitation efforts. I did this for an hour on a dead woman hoping to avoid or delay the inevitable emotions. My team was staring at me, silently pleading with me to stop; I finally said out loud the time of death and ceased resuscitation. Immediately, her husband jumped in front of me screaming, “Don’t you stop! Don’t do this! Bring her back.” It felt like forever before he quieted down. The energy that came from him was overwhelming. I might have muttered, “I am sorry” and then ran for my private space in the hospital and crumbled. Holding my chest in a fetal position, I sobbed.
Almost daily over the next 20 years, I would re-experience a scenario like this. “It,” the energy from another, seeped into my body over and over. “It” would often come out as anger, as unexplained sadness or hopelessness. I had no explanation for “it;” I wasn’t really aware that “it” existed. I just knew that I felt bad and avoided any emotions from my patients as much as I could. I would distract myself after work to avoid feeling anything. I stuffed “it” away. “It” wreaked havoc in my life and everyone around me.
Centering prayer and the practice of maintaining a detached inner witness while moving through life are my saving grace. The release of “it” is still ongoing through these two practices.
Then I learned the Welcoming Prayer. The Welcoming Prayer invited me to feel “it” in my body. Within a short time of beginning this prayer practice, I can feel another person’s energy/force and recognize that “it” was not me or mine. “It” did not arise in me; rather “it” often comes from another’s emotion directed at me. I feel the energy as heaviness in my chest. “It” feels very familiar because this is what I experience daily when a patient or a family member is upset. Now that I am conscious of this energy, I can now turn to “it” and feel it, knowing the Spirit of God is with me. The basics of the Welcoming Prayer are to focus on and feel the sensation in the body, welcome the Indwelling Spirit in the experience and then let go using two sentences: “I let go of the desire for security, affection, control. I let go of the desire to change what I am experiencing.” Over time, this prayer can become wordless, an inner gesture of welcoming God’s presence with me in the moment, as simple as an inhale and exhale.
With this new awareness, I faced a very angry husband of a patient recently. My patient was ill with a spine infection and in critical condition. I had just met her husband. She had asked me to explain to him the illness and what was happening to her. He turned to face me and said, “You are not the neurosurgeon! You are just an internist! What do you know about what is happening to my wife?! I want to see the neurosurgeon now!” He went on for a few minutes with personal attacks. The pressure in my chest suddenly appeared and grew. I recognized “it” immediately. It came from this person in front of me. I felt myself internally turning towards it, welcoming the Spirit in the experience. Something very different happened this time. “It” went right through me. What I experienced next was how much love this man had for his wife. His fear of loss was so significant that I felt tenderness for him. The pressure in my chest faded and in its place, unconditional love for this man who was verbally attacking me. “It” didn’t stay in me. I stayed in that room that day until this man started to sob when his anger subsided. I stayed until he felt cared for and until he believed that his wife would recover.
I feel that this moment is one of the greatest moments of my life. Since that time, I look for opportunities to welcome the Holy Spirit into what I experience with open arms, an open heart, knowing God’s presence is always with me. I felt that something that was shut tightly is now completely open. I do believe it is my heart.
Anna Vu-Wallace, M.D.