Reflections on the Nature of Helping

Consider the nature of the helping role that many of us take in our professional or personal lives.

When we try to help someone else, we generally think in terms of skills, advice, input or practical guidance. So whether you are a plumber or a doctor, this is most likely what you have been trained to do – sort something out. And we are taught to sort things out from a young age. Whatever your background or training, techniques matter. So, in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) we have loads of techniques, in EFT (Tapping), we have foundational techniques, there are lots of massage techniques and myriad meditation techniques. The trick with techniques is to apply them effectively and artfully. And the downside? The implication is that there is a quick fix ‘out there’, if only I knew what technique to use. If only I knew how to …

I still find myself occasionally wondering: what is the next workshop I can attend that will surely give me the holy grail, the mother of all techniques that means I will be successful with every client. After all, the training blurb promises powerful, often failsafe ways of achieving total health, success or some other otherwise unattainable goal. And of course, that latest technique is definitely ‘the’ ultimate one, either because it is very ancient and we are rediscovering it, or because science is joining esotericism in showing how it really works. Of course, once I have learnt this technique, followed this protocol, learnt these strategies or consulted that specialist, I will be ‘sorted’!

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful and powerful strategies out there, I teach some of them with great results. And depending on your definition of ‘sorted’, it may well be that the latest technique you have learnt or set of instructions you have followed is allowing to reach your goal. This is generally so for the discoverer of the latest technique. They know at first hand how good it is. And they want to share it with everyone. How marvellous. And it is, until the techniques become a disembodied mechanical set of instructions that one does or applies to another. We all know people who work exclusively by the script, or have ourselves, at times, fallen into this trap.

But here’s the thing:  no technique, however effective, will spare anyone their own journey. What do I mean by that?

No matter how powerful they are, ultimately techniques alone are not going to fix it. Because at a fundamental level, we don’t need fixing, and secondly because techniques are of short-lived benefit if there is no love surrounding them. And whilst learning to love might require skill, more than anything requires practice.

Whatever we learn, we need to learn ways of being with another. When I am present to a client, I fundamentally trust that they have the answers they need, and I encourage and support them in becoming present to themselves so they can find their own best answers. Some things can be fixed.  There are some how-to’s. How to fill in a tax return, how to use a computer efficiently (yep, that’s one of mine) and there are people to show you (quick pause to thank all who have over the years supported me in my techie challenges, you know who you are). And then there are the deep challenges: the health crises, BIG changes in lifestyle, career or circumstances, the peak experience that rocks the foundations of our certainties, chaos of any type . . .

How are we in the face of suffering – ours or another’s? Some offer spiritual explanations which may or may not be useful. Some say we created our suffering as we all create our reality. Some work hard at helping us ‘make it go away’. It is harder to acknowledge that we sometimes just don’t know, that we don’t understand and that tools and techniques may not be the complete answer. Sometimes, we just need to know that we are experiencing Life, that good or bad are judgements, that we really don’t know and that all we need is the benevolent, compassionate, calm and open-hearted presence of another who doesn’t necessarily purport to know why things are as they are. That is a challenge.

Before tools or techniques . . . presence.

No ready-made answers that may ride roughshod over the autonomy and creativity of the individual soul. Let’s soften the hard edges of our certainties that often fly in the face of connection and compassion, for an open mind and an open heart. This is when we open the gateway to Love. And I’m not writing here of sentimental love, I am talking about the love that comes from our own felt connection to the wonder and energy of life that allows us to ‘get out of our own way’ to truly be present to another, in their struggles as well as in their joys.

As Rumi so simply put it: “Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”.

Sometimes we need tools to help open the gateway, for sure. But it is by grounding them in love that we quit striving to fix the other and instead invite grace to enable healing to occur.