Summary: Four Skills for Holistic Engagement
Holistic engagement requires four key skills: presence with the whole self, whole self-inquiry, empathic connection, and compassionate attention. Through this beginning discussion of the four skills, we establish the interdependent relationships between presence with the whole self and the continual learning vital to it. We note the challenges and opportunities of empathic connection, along with the growing awareness of the limits to our connection and to our presence, both impacted by various types of attention. As we continue to explore the model, these four skills empower holistic engagement, which combines with more traditional aspects of social work education, including competencies, theoretical knowledge, and research, to represent the broadest and deepest foundation for ways ofknowing in social work. The sources of data in these robust ways ofknow- ing invite social workers to expand access to a fuller, deeper, and more expansive repertoire for knowing, experiencing, and utilizing complex information and experiences to enrich the reach and impact of social work.
It is also important to remember that there are indeed limits to our ability to tune in and be present and integrate. Of course, there is so much happening in any given moment that it is impossible to be fully aware; we are not omniscient beings. There are always limits to the data points that we can become aware of. As well, we are very conditioned in our culture to distract ourselves and dissociate, especially when we are confronted with unpleasant experiences to which we find ourselves aversive (Hick, 2009). Thus, one finds that in a culture of distracted people, mindfulness is tiring work and, in fact, not something that we can force, as it is impossible, if not counterproductive. Sometimes, it is more skillful to focus out rather than focus in; we may actually find that it is more skillful and compassionate to ourselves to intentionally take a step back and check out. Such skills can be taught in relation to self-care practices as students discover and perhaps rediscover ways to self-soothe, including the activities that help them to feel comforted when they are overwhelmed by sensory input (McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011).