The Potency of Presence

The Potency of Presence – The Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper

My name is Dee Cooper. When I think of the Hendricks Foundation, and what they are accomplishing, I am thrilled. As I so believe in the power of these tools and their transformation, even in moments of intense crisis or despair. A lesson I learned early on in my journey was when I was working as a chaplain intern at Massachusetts General Hospital.

I was on call for ER. We received an emergency call that a UPS driver had been hit by another vehicle and they were bringing him by ambulance and his wife was also being brought to the hospital. I went to the ER and found that as they were working on him. His aorta ruptured in the room, which created an intensely gruesome sight with blood everywhere.

His wife arrived at the hospital, and the doctor informed her that indeed her husband had died. She and the social worker and I were taken to the room with him. She immediately had a lot of feelings come up and I noticed I was excited because I was with a professional, that this social worker would know what to say and do. I noticed the social worker had a big response to her having feelings and immediately went into: who can I call? Who can I get to come and be here with you with these feelings. The social worker then excused herself from the room.

The woman was Catholic and a priest came in, and again I had that feeling that of relief of, yes, the professional is here. I really felt that I don’t know what to say in such an environment. The priest came in. Without making any connection with this woman, he did his role. He performed the last rites and then left the room.

And so I was now with this woman, and a lot of emotions coming up. The doctor came in and proceeded to want to prescribe her some medication that would help take the edge off, that would make the expression of these emotions actually subdued or repress them even more. The woman explained that she really didn’t want that and the doctor left.

And so again, it was just her and me in the room. In that moment, I had one of those ah-ha learnings: All of these people came in with an agenda of things to do to her or for her. And the truth is, in this moment of tragedy, of crisis, of unbelievable grief and emotions coming up, she really didn’t need someone to do something for her. She simply needed someone to be with her.

I didn’t have the language then to understand, but I do now. The key is simply presencing the other person. I was placing my attention on her and then paying attention to myself, and then back to her. This is called looping our attention. And looping my attention back to her with a loving presence, actually was more transformative for her in that moment than any of the other things that all of these professionals offered. I have kept that lesson with me in all the ways of ministry I do in my work, and I’m profoundly grateful for the Foundation for Conscious Living.  I feel these the practices can transform any response to crisis or loss and grief.