Opening the Kimono

Today I'm going to venture a touch of self-disclosure. I'm not big on this. I don't do it well. But I feel the need to expel some emotional waste from my system. To provide a bit of background I'll say a few brief things. I have very strong emotions – I'm a Latino. Because of this, I believe, I've spent a good portion of my life trying to control them through a Vulcan-like suppression of them. Since entering the Order I've really tried to integrate my emotions into my personality in a healthy way instead of a Spock type way. The effect of this is that my emotions will often run ahead of me. Sometimes way ahead of me. Also, because I've spent such a long time suppressing my emotions I don't always recognize how I'm feeling until a day, week, month, year, or some longer time later. So, in trying to achieve emotional integration I've been trying to reduce this delayed emotional response. For those who can't relate to this problem consider the analogy of a reflex response test. The doctor hits the knee with a hammer hoping for an uncontrolled reflex response – a kick. There is something wrong when the patient doesn't kick or has a delayed response. This is how I often experience my emotions. Someone hits me with an emotional ton of bricks and I don't realize that I'm missing a few teeth until the next day or later.

This summer I'm in a CPE program. CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. The program is designed to help the student become a more pastoral person. It is a program required by one of the degrees I'm seeking. I'm fortunate because the program I'm in is considered one of the best in the nation. I can understand why. The method that is used in this program is built around experience. You are thrown into the work. Concurrently you have classes, evaluations, and direct supervisor feedback. It also involves a lot of group work among the chaplains to help each other become better pastoral care givers through honest critique.

In the last few days I've been present with a number of families at the death of one of their loved ones. While I'm generally comfortable with tragedy I didn't quite realize how exhausting the sustained encounter with tragedy would have on me. It turns out that its quite a bit. I realized yesterday that a large number of people have been asking me if I was doing okay. Along with this realization I also realized that I wasn't doing okay. I've pretty much reached the limits of my ability to cope. They could see my woundedness. I, however, didn't know I was bleeding to death.

It's fascinating to find myself at this point. But it is more fascinating that I didn't see myself walking into the brick wall. I've been here before. I should know this place well. But for some reason every time I'm in this place I never recognize the decor. I don't know why this is the case. Yet what's awesome about all this is that now that I'm here, at the limit, I can work to transcend it. But the only way to do this is to redouble my efforts at emotional integration. This is something I think the CPE program will be able to help me do, hopefully with great success.

In the past, when I'd reached this point of emotional distress I've been caught off guard. I didn't know that my shields were down with only basic life support functioning. Most often it has ended with me in some stupid situation that I would have otherwise avoided. Now, I'm finally facing the prospect of learning how to avoid this problem. I have a group of people walking to the edge with me to help fight off the dangers in that undiscovered country (yes, the StarTrek references are nauseating already, aren't they?). Anyway, I think that I'm finally learning to recognize my emotional responses more readily. This is very exciting for me. But it is hard and exhausting. So, pray for me.