“Testing” as a wellness strategy or practice? Yes indeed! There are three different aspects of testing that may be useful to discover, establish, or maintain wellness during every stage of life, including at the end of life. Because I have many thoughts about Testing, there are three areas for reflection. The first comes from the old adage, “This is testing my patience.” The next is “Testing 1, 2, 3!” And finally, “Time to test the water!” Whether you are exploring the A,B,C’s for Living Well for your own well-being, or you are caring for others, testing can be useful in many different ways.
Because this would be a super long blog post, I am posting it in three sections so as not overwhelm readers. Watch for sections 2 and 3 in coming days. Enjoy!
Part 1 – What’s Testing My Patience?
When our daily life and personal equilibrium is upset in some way, we may experience being tested or challenged. Reaction to these tests will vary widely in accordance with the situation itself and the coping strategies we have developed over time. One approach I have found helpful comes from stoicism. The stoics recommend that we hold hope for the best but prepare for the worst, a concept known as premeditation malorum. Buddhists also embrace the idea of accepting all events, the good and the bad. There’s a wonderful little story about the Zen Farmer and his runaway horse that illustrates the idea of being open and neutral to all happenings. The farmer in the story observes an event and reflects, “good luck, bad luck, who knows?”.
Living as the Zen farmer is certainly admirable, but it requires practice. This is especially true when it comes to our health, quality of life, agency, ability, or well-being. There will likely come a time in every life that something will test our patience (resilience, confidence, resolve, fortitude, courage, happiness, etc.). That something could be an accident, illness, trauma, or pain. It might be the loss of a loved one, a job, a dream, or a relationship. Rain might spoil the outdoor birthday party. A tornado might destroy homes or entire towns. Treatments for a serious illness may begin to fail. These challenges and others are part of living life.
When patience is tested for any reason, asking the question, “What is useful in this situation?” instead of “Why is this happening to me?” is a powerful way to start exploring possible remedies. Asking the “why” question can lead to imagining, and possibly even affirming various reasons for the unsavory situation. For example, when it rains on the outdoor birthday party, asking “why?” may provide these answers: Things like this ALWAYS happen to me. I just have bad luck. This is my fault for trying to plan something outside. On the other hand, asking “what is useful?” may net this type of answer: We could move the party to the local tavern, (my covered porch, Uncle Barry’s cabin, the hotel patio, etc.). Just for today, we’ll do a short get together on Zoom to honor the moment, then reschedule. This method of inquiry has reframed the way I process everything in life, and especially the way I work with people facing transitions, challenges, grief, or trauma.
When the ability to live well is tested, attempting to meet those tests with a happy smile is admirable and staying positive can help us to move forward. But ignoring unpleasant feelings like overwhelm, worry, grief, or frustration does not necessarily make them go away. The unmet needs that lie beneath those feelings can fester and result in a constant state of despair or depression. Acknowledging those feelings as valid and real can become the inspiration to take action and make beneficial changes. If depression is a continual state, sharing with a trusted friend and seeking support from medical or mental health professionals can bring relief and may be lifesaving.
The ultimate tests we face can be those that come at the end of life’s journey. In final days a thousand little things can test both patients and caregivers. Our culture is so deeply death-denying that planning for death is an unpopular (if not totally taboo) topic. That is changing with guidance from people like funeral director, Caitlin Doughty, who recommends working toward “a good death.” Navigating the learning curve to achieve a good death can test our courage and fortitude. Just simply exploring Caitlin’s recommendations for achieving a good death might feel like a frightening test. I appreciate her frank, compassionate delivery of information about various facets of the dying process and after-death care. Her material is in keeping with premeditation malorum as it provides useful education and preparation for end-of-life tests to make them feel less daunting.
Knowledge of these things can be empowering, healing, and confidence-building. For caregivers, seeking support from palliative care and hospice professionals can turn end-of-life challenges into grace-filled moments. Hospice service at its best offers pain and anxiety management via comfort measures of all kinds for the patient, and practical support for caregivers.
For patients, being willing to ask for and receive supportive care from those who remain alongside us in final days may bring up feelings of vulnerability, or loss of control. These are formidable tests, but one of the keys in achieving a good death is to find the sweet spot between allowing and controlling the process. Both Holding Space and Letting Go can be very useful practices for patients and caregivers alike.
To conclude this section, consider the concept of being tested in relation to your own life and well-being right now. Is something happening to spark a physical, emotional, or situational test or challenge? If so, try to identify the feelings that come along with the test. How might unpleasant feelings help to identify unmet needs? What might be useful toward meeting those needs? Would professional counsel or support be useful? When caregiving for someone at the end of life’s journey, what tests are arising? What kind of support might make for a gentler process? What would it mean to have a good death? What would be useful to establish an attitude of hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst (meditation malorum)?