How Can I Help?:
Offering Warmth in a Cold World
These may be the first words spoken when a client enters a counselor’s room. It’s a variation of the words spoken to the king in the Parzival legend: “What ails thee?” We all hope to hear these words when we are in distress or confused or in pain, the words of one human being caring for another.
When we are suffering, what are we seeking? Understanding, kindness, warmth. As a teenager, in the immediate aftermath of a car accident, I was terrified. Decades later, what I remember most clearly of the incident was the warmth and kindness of the ER physician who, while stitching up my facial wounds, reassured me that I would come through the ordeal without a scratch. “You’ll be Miss America,” he said, the kindest words a sixteen-year-old girl could hope to hear. It cost him nothing to say this; it meant the world to me.
How do you help another in distress? How do we offer genuine care? Sometimes, that may simply be to offer a kind word, to be genuinely concerned, maybe just to be there: in short, to provide warmth.
Warmth. What is this quality between human beings that is so easy to recognize, both when it’s there and when it is not? We know what physical warmth feels like: The stove is hot! Don’t touch! The pond ice is finally cold enough to skate upon – let’s go! In winter, my bare feet touch the bathroom tile floor, and I retrace my steps to the bedroom to get my slippers. As we interact with the things of the world, we constantly experience gradations of warmth.
From a different angle regarding warmth, we humans have a relatively narrow range of comfort regarding warmth compared to animals. We heat our houses; we install air conditioners. Is it too hot, too cold, or just right? We bundle up in winter; we wear shorts in summer. We also have our own individual “thermostat” --- what feels warm enough to me might feel chilly to you. Related to this is our individual temperature regulation that provides fevers to fight infections and produces hot flashes when the balance of hormones changes.
Then, there’s soul warmth: that which we can immediately experience between ourselves and others. Did someone just give me the “cold shoulder”? Did they approach me with civility or, better yet, even warm interest? The warmth of the soul can also be experienced as our own “temperature” between ourselves and the world: how does life feel to us today? Do we awaken with warm enthusiasm for life or feel that life is cold and we’d prefer to pull the covers over our heads? We humans are sensitive to warmth – and lack of warmth.
Right now, the world can feel particularly scary, even cold & dangerous. We’ve just come through a pandemic, we get constant warnings from media about this or that danger that might befall, we are watching wars that engage our country, if not our personal selves, and we live in a culture of “us vs. them” which pervades so much of the communication that comes our way. Bullying has become a huge problem, not only in schools but in politics. What happened to civility? Or even giving another the benefit of the doubt?
Right now, what can we do that can make a difference? Perhaps the very best thing we can do is to declare inwardly that we will not be overtaken by fear and to offer our warmth to one another. But how? Likely, we all already know how – we might just need to be reminded how incredibly important it is, especially right now when it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by what’s wrong in the world. Can I reach out to another who might very much appreciate a kindly check-in? Can I offer to be of service to my neighbor, slow down long enough to say a kind word to whomever I meet, or take a genuine interest in another? Can I openly listen - without the need to fix the situation for another? Quite simply, can we notice that people around us are human beings of the same species as ourselves, and for that reason alone, deserving of kindness, of warmth – just as we, too, deserve it? The miracle is that when we extend warmth, we are warmed.
The miracle of warmth. When given or received, it makes us feel less alone, less at the mercy of forces we may feel unable to change or even withstand. Let’s think about the tremendous power contained in the warmth of heart – and share it with others. We have nothing to lose by recognizing the warmth in our shared humanity and radiating it out into the world. It will certainly make a difference. Who knows? - it might even have a global effect.
BIO: Christine Huston provides anthroposophic soul care to individuals and couples in their quests for healing, wholeness, and enthusiasm for life. Along with trainings in Gestalt Therapy, life coaching, and trauma pedagogy, she carries a teaching degree and earned three different certifications in Anthroposophic Psychology conferred by the Association for Anthroposophic Psychology, for which she serves as adjunct faculty, board member, and COO. She resides and gardens in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.