Thursday, September 19, 2013

Whew! The non-anxious presence, an object lesson

Clergy types (which an old mentor used to distinguish from "the normals"...everyone else!) like to talk about being "a non-anxious presence."  It is a wonderful ideal and a calming notion, that in the midst of chaos the cleric presents a holy, life giving, present, calm countenance and energy. Most of us try to practice it, sometimes fail, but also understand and experience why it is useful. Taken to its furthest point, the non-anxious presence is what allows one person to walk into great hostility and by her or his individuation and demeanor and (hopefully) life formed by deep prayer, be a transforming agent for the situation. By the way, most "normals" I know try and practice the same thing, they just don't talk about it, they simply do it.

Recently this pastor had a lesson in WHY this is so important. The heating system at the church was being replaced -  for $18,000 of our people's hard-earned money: three furnaces and seeming miles of duct work - so I was wanting the project to go well, smoothly, and in accordance with the contact we had signed.

Work got started...banging, clanking, silence, for hours and hours, amen.  A workman appeared in my office door and the dreaded "Ma'am, there's a slight problem" echoed into my office. Long story short, what they had said they could do, they absolutely could not do. I tried to remain calm but inside my head the voice was saying "you have no idea what you are doing, Grossman! You are over your head!! Help!!"  We agreed on a Lunch Truce and brainstorming. I did the best thing I could think of: call my Brother the Civil Engineer. Peter calmed me down, helped me know what to say. I placed numerous anxious calls to the supervisor.

The supervisor called back chuckling. "My guy panicked, he is pretty new...but I have him straightened out. You are absolutely going to get what we agreed upon." Whew, a sigh of relief. The Supervisor is the expert, the one who knows. And by his reassurance, calm demeanor, I was made less anxious too.

The end of the story: after the phone call, the workman came to my office with his helper, knocked again, and told me that he had figured things out and everything was going to be just fine. I thanked him and told him that the Lunch Truce had been helpful to all of us. As the two men went out of the building, I heard an audible  "WHEW!" I leave it to the reader to interpret that final word.

My learnings (again!):

1) when you are designated as the expert, the professional, it is up to you to hold the calm center.

2) when the professional, the authority, becomes anxious, others easily become anxious. this makes sense because one's authority is powerful and influential.

3) better to take a time-out or find other ways to reduce the anxiety in the room rather than keep battling. Thanks to the workman for suggesting it.

We have a new heating system and I have a tried and true learning to learn, again!

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