The willingness to be changed by another

By Emma Pearson

October 21, 2021

Image by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

18 September 2021

(my mum’s 82nd birthday. And what would have been her twin, Janet’s, my aunt’s, 82nd birthday too)

Many years ago, my brilliant childhood bestie, Nathalie, said of Influencing (in organisations), “To influence you must be willing to be influenced by the other”.

I don’t remember what got us on to the topic of influence at the time, but the comment has stayed with me. I believe it to be true. Influencing has to be a two-way, not a one-way, process. 

I am not sure if Nathalie remembers saying it, if it was her own invented saying, if she’d picked it up from someone else, or indeed if she even believes it to be true, still, today. I suspect that a good 1 ½ decades have come and gone since she said those words to me, but they still come into my mind often. And not just in the context of organisational influence.

I have just finished a 2-day workshop on “Being with spiritual suffering at the end of life”. Yes, this is the sort of thing I get up to on sunny Saturdays in September. Facilitated by Tanguy Châtel, and courtesy of the generous founder, Anne-Marie Struijk, of La Maison de Tara, for the ten or so anglophone and francophone people who facilitate the year-long training programme for new volunteers.

La Maison de Tara, where dear Edward and sweet Mike died.

Where Edward spent his last Christmas.
Where I spent my 50th birthday.
Where Julia had her 13th birthday.
So many memories for me. And so many other people too. Innumerable last birthdays and final Christmases. An amazingly nurturing place that emphasises living (not dying).

The questions we discussed in the two-Saturdays programme were not just “What is Spiritual Suffering?” and “How to be with a resident’s spiritual distress at end of life?”, but also “Who are we, and how are we transformed by being with someone’s spiritual distress/questioning/suffering?”

And of course, not surprisingly, we come back to the vital skill of Witnessing.

Being with.

Not judging.
Not knowing.
Not having answers.
Not fixing.

Just being with.

Simple.
And not simple.
Easy.
And so very hard.

Some of the beautiful language and metaphors used in the workshop were along the lines of “going down into the depths of the well of despair with someone”.  Sitting, staying, down in the hole together, in the dark.

Without answers.
Without even questions.
Just being together.

Neither one the guide or the leader.
Neither one the follower.
Together-alone, on a quest. An exploration.

Which will probably result in both of us feeling powerless.
Possibly for long periods.
But through which something new, something different might emerge.

Perhaps.
Maybe.

Answers?
Clarity?
Probably not.

But connection, yes.
Connection in the Void.
“Le vide”.

And yet, Nothing can fill this particular void.
For there are no answers.
No knowledge.
No wisdom.
No solutions.

Nothing makes a difference.

Except for Relationship.
Connection.
Seeing.
Being Seen.

Witnessed.

Which might – perhaps, maybe – change something.

Which might change me.
Which might change you.
Which might change the nature, texture, feel, of the spiritual suffering.

And perhaps not.

Sharing in the experience of being down in the pit, in the depths of despair, is the medicine.
Is what might nourish, change, transform, both the person experiencing spiritual distress, and the person down there with them.

In my notes today I wrote:

We don’t have, we cannot have, the requisite skills to truly accompany someone’s spiritual crisis because it inevitably provokes our own spiritual crisis.

We don’t have the tools. We cannot have the tools.

But if we allow it, if we dare, if we permit it to happen… then the relationship that develops in this vast emptiness can be what nourishes the spiritual crisis that we are all having.

Nourishment of one another. Not one the guide and another the follower, but both together.
Both willing to be changed, both able to be somehow nourished, by the experience.

Nothing solved.
Nothing fixed.

And yet somehow changed.

And for this to happen, we have to be willing to be changed. To be touched. To be influenced.
By the other.

Thank you, wise Nathalie. I don’t know if you realise the Truth of your insight all those years ago.

I would now like to add to your wise words:

To influence/transform/love… we have to be willing to be influenced/transformed/loved.

Thank you Nathalie – for not just your wisdom and friendship and love, but your accompanying of me for all these decades, and particularly these past few years.

Me and Nathalie. 18 September 2018. GR 20 in Corsica.

About Emma Pearson

1 thought on “The willingness to be changed by another

  1. My darlingest Emma. You have influenced me so much with your love and wisdom and friendship. I am so proud and happy to be your bestie and I love this photo of us entrelacée et heureuse after a tough climb to the col where the picture was taken.
    I do not remember talking about that idea of being influenced to influence but I think it must have been in the context of my branding research. I do believe it though, both at an organizational and individual level. I also believe as you say, that “nothing makes a difference except relationship, connection, seeing and being seen”.
    I love you so much

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