Life-long learning – a professional and a monastic path

The last few workdays, I had a chance to be with people in a professional manner again. Yes, it is in many ways a different way of being, no matter what the personal intention behind it is. There is often a very clear mandate, a professional framework, and whole lot of professional culture that determines in various ways the interactions and relationships in such a setting. I have considerable experience in the field of nursing, which operates within the health care system. This most recent experience was in the field of education. I found many commonalities in how we as professionals relate to those in our care.

The most limiting factor I find is the schedule – the work hours. Although the job mandates to relate to people, work hours are a very foreign framework: They are governed by transactional considerations in collective agreements, agency funding, institutional culture, and individual rights and responsibilities. I find this internally inconsistent with the mandate of being with – of relating to people with multiple needs. How often are we forcing our professional expertise (“we know what to do, what is best for you”), our learning goals and plans, our labour benefits (such as break times) onto the individual lives of those who we care for during work hours? It is not possible to catch that learning window when it is open, we have to pry it open: It is time to do crafts, music therapy, spell and sign… because our schedule demands it at this point.

Many times I have been frustrated by these constraints. But I have also witnessed, that it is so much easier, successful, and satisfying to be with people and weave the learning goals and activities into daily living (instead of simulating a formal lesson): Why not sing and engage in musical activity when the person we are caring for is open to engage, even if it is while out on a walk? The squirrels and ravens don’t mind if I sing and if we clap the rhythm to the song together.

A creative result of applied math and social studies: Grittibänz baking for Dec. 6 celebration (Nicholas of Myra feast day)

I remember the days when we home schooled our children. We never did any formal math classes for three years: our children learned their additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions by working with and adjusting recipes to bake muffins or cup cakes. There are many opportunities in life to emphasize and apply diverse academic concepts and disciplines. I find it a lot less abstract, and in the end a lot more fun, to incorporate the learning subjects into everyday activities. This overcomes much compartmentalization and demonstrates that the things we need to learn are interconnected: Math is not a mean drill – it is base knowledge that makes navigating life in contemporary society easier.

A few days ago, I came across a blog that spoke to the topic of professionalism versus other possible approaches. Tracy Konane on the Life Monk blog elaborated on the complimentary concepts of life monk and life professional. She emphasizes external versus internal motivation. She writes that

life professionals are serious about life in a way that causes them to look towards personal scoreboards and statuses to deem themselves fulfilled and happy.  They are dependent on the external triggering the internal, and they fight hard and have set goals and priorities.  Their devotion is about focus and total determination.

In contrast, her proposed life monk is about passion and dedication, about fulfillment:

Professionals take their work and status and make it their life.  Monks take their life and make it their work and status.

Professionals make their life serious.  Monks are serious about their life.

Professionals are in life for all recognition and love being noticed.  Monks recognize that they love life, and they notice it all.

I found her wording “life monk” and comparison intriguing at first and looked further at the grounding of her thoughts. I have my own attraction to monastic lifestyles and am always curious what motivates and informs others to consider such a seemingly outdated concept. However, I was slightly disappointed to find that self is the only reference point in her life philosophy: It is all about happiness, about living fully. She dedicates a full page to the beliefs of life monks, which for me lacks the depth of a monastic “rule”; particularly since there are no external reference points and principles that could and need to serve as anchors for such a wide ranging philosophy. I think it is too easy to lose the connectedness with the universe if we strive to be so self-centred and seemingly just hedonistic. If you wish to compare Tracy’s approach to my own thoughts on the significance of self, here is a link to my post on that topic.

But I have to give credit to Tracy for her view on professionalism. It is indeed something that prevents from fully engaging with life because it locks itself into some artificially constructed constraints that can interfere with genuine service work. What is an essential dilemma for me in maintaining professional status is the point of boundaries: In nursing, there are clear expectations and standards that need to be observed. Overstepping those boundaries has serious professional consequences. The nurse, and I am sure there are similar professional standards in education, cannot be in a personal relationship with the client. The professional relationship establishes a gradient, the nurse (professional) is up, the client is down – the power is unequally assigned; the flow of knowledge often limited to a one-way direction; and the nurse is not to share personal information or get with the client, has to maintain a ‘neutral’ attitude. Too me, it always sounded like wearing an armour. I don’t deny the benefits of healthy boundaries, in personal or professional relationship; but exclusion is not a healthy boundary when relating to another human being. It creates separateness, one-sided vulnerability

In life, the best way to engage with another person is on an equal footing. Reciprocity is absolutely essential to establish mutual trust between individuals (or collectives). Human becoming, the unfolding of an individual’s unique potential to its fullest, is best possible when it is a shared and lived process. These ideals are somehow contradictory to current professional standards and can create real-life dilemmas when practiced.

Only a few nursing theories transcend the clear separation of nurse and client: Rosemarie Rizzo Parse

defines the human being through the ongoing mutual processes between the human being and the universe in the light of the meaning that is co-created from such multidimensional interactions. A human being is not defined by the existence of the physical body with its mental, social, and spiritual capacities.

In contrast to the dominant assumption in Western thought that life is affected by the predominance of doing, which is based on measurable activity, Parse’s theory emphasizes the being in becoming, the development of the self as an integrated whole.

Nursing science supports nursing art as its practice, which is a way of being for the nurse in relationship to the client. Nursing art is described as true presencing as the client uncovers meaning of the lived experience and makes choices about the flow of the process. Quality of live, from the client’s perspective, is the goal for the art of nursing.

Human becoming in nursing is transcending together with the client the emerging possibles.

(excerpts from a paper on nursing theory as a guide for nursing practice I wrote in nursing school).

These are some of the assumptions that guide me in my professional practice, my professional relationships. I really strive to eliminate the artificial separations  in my life that are results of professional standards that are meant to distinguish,to establish status and power gradients, and as such become incongruent with relational practice as found in the fields of nursing and education.

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