First published in early Spring 2024.

As I wrote this I could finally feel the bubbling energies of spring. It had been a long cold winter in the British Isles and it was lovely to feel a warmth on the breeze.


But even as the weather becomes warmer people are catching flus and colds.
This is typical of life though, isn’t it? The sun comes out and we catch a cold. Spring is sprung but we may be laid low in bed. The contradictions and paradoxes of the human condition!
Ageing is similar. There we are, tootling along through life, working on our personal and spiritual development. Through study, practice and grace we acquire a tad of wisdom, soften our edges, become more conscious and compassionate. We begin to understand what life is all about and we reach a point of truly valuing the full beauty and potential of what it is to be human.
And then what happens? We all get old!
The irony is that spirituality renews and continuously freshens our minds, emotions and consciousness. We open to the energies and flow of the cosmos, and our psyches become more vibrant, awake and alive. But – and here comes physical reality – our vehicles, our flesh and blood bodies have a life span and start to wear out. Our souls are eternal but our biological bodies age and return to earth, dust to dust.
Except for the most fabled of yogis we are never fully in control of our bodies.
This was tragically brought home to me recently as I accompanied a young friend through his last days of terminal lung cancer due to asbestos. Michael was in his early forties. He was not at all frightened of death because he had been having powerful psychic and spiritual experiences since childhood. In fact he was looking forward to passing over, meeting old friends and exploring new dimensions.
His cancer though was particularly painful and his palliative care team worked carefully with his medication so as to ameliorate the pain without impairing his mind.
The high dosages of morphine however occasionally overwhelmed his brain and nervous system and he would slip sometimes into states of paranoid delusion.
At one stage the hospital contacted me to come and help manage him. When I arrived he was in an anxious and delusional state, trying to escape. His normal rational mind was not present. It took three hours to calm him down.
I soothed him through being a grounded and reassuring presence. The words I spoke to him were hardly relevant except that I was careful not to say anything that might provoke or trigger him.
More than anything, he needed the reassuring, relaxed and healing vibration of my body.
My own calm body could communicate directly to his nervous system and soothe him.
This form of healing – sometimes called co-presence – requires that every cell of your body be relaxed and in an ambience of wellbeing.
I like to imagine that there is a tiny elemental creature in every cell and all these wee creatures relax as if stretched out and sunbathing in deck chairs.
Then all the elementals in my companion’s body will also relax and sunbathe.
This for me is the essence of good ‘bedside manner’: body elementals on sun loungers! (Could we put that in the trainings for medical schools?)
I saw again the way in which our physical bodies have their own dynamic in the hours shortly before Michael’s death. He was now mainly unconscious occasionally surfacing with a few mumbled words, but at several points his body tried to break free of his bed. As a companion and observer it was difficult now for me to fully understand the relationship between his soul and his body.
It is similar in old age when people for example may endure Alzheimers or dementia. The brain and nervous system seem to be pursuing one process, whilst consciousness and the soul appear to be dancing to another tune. There is a process happening here that is difficult to understand.
To help us develop an appropriate attitude I often quote the American professor of nursing Margaret Newman. She is spiritually very down-to-earth.
People, she taught her nurses, are always moving between wellness and illness. It is the human cycle. We are ill and then we are well. The job of a nurse, she suggested, is to recognise the true nature of this process. She suggested to her colleagues that their true vocation is not to nurse wellness but to birth consciousness.
This new consciousness transcends our physical state and is the essence of true health.
In the Spiritual Companions project, which I direct, we help train people in pastoral care and we often discuss this tension that exists in our work. On one side we want to relieve suffering. On the other side we want to help people wake up and be conscious.
In guiding how we might behave in these difficult situations, I propose four simple guidelines:
Have a relaxed and kind body vibration, so that it reassures and soothes your companion.
Intuitively, prayerfully and compassionately tune into and greet your companion’s soul.
Speak only words that are carefully chosen and appropriate to your companion’s state.
And if you physically touch your companion do so with great tenderness, sensitivity and care.
These might be good guidelines too for all of us when we are with someone who is vulnerable or in distress.
And I would like my own children, friends and carers to abide by them if ever they have to care for me.