It would seem that the flow of care always moves from caregiver to patient. We have skills, they have needs, and assistance flows from us to them. We hover over them at the bedside like water coolers while they lay in the bed and drink from the tap. Seen this way, caregiving is an exhaustible commodity because there’s only so much in the tap and when our patients have drunk their fill, we retreat depleted. But must it be seen this way? Are there deeper truths that contemplative practice can reveal?
Jonathan Prescott offered this talk on gratitude to the Guemes Island Community Church on 10/9/2016.
This gentle video by Megan Mylan follows Masami Hayata as he cares for both his son and his aging mother. I was inspired by his tenderness and patience and find myself wondering how we might all learn to offer such loving, attentive care.
I began working as a healthcare chaplain in 2005, the same year I was ordained by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh into the Order of Interbeing (OI.) For those unfamiliar with the role, healthcare chaplains help patients cope with their changing lives using the patient’s own language of meaning, whether that language is religious, scientific, philosophical or based upon their life experiences. This requires the chaplain to listen with compassion and respond appropriately, without proselytizing the chaplain’s own beliefs. My chaplaincy and OI practices have grown and supported each other over the years and I’d like to share some insights into how they work together to help me serve the ill and dying.
I recently saw a Trident submarine sailing through Puget Sound, surrounded by a fleet of support ships on it’s way to the open Pacific. The Captain of my ferry announced the sub’s presence off our port bow and many of the passengers looked up from their books, puzzles, and conversations to line the windows and marvel at this black nuclear-powered machine sliding silently by.
I brought out my smart phone and looked up the facts. This submarine was equipped with 24 Trident Missiles, each carrying 8-12 independently targetable nuclear warheads able to strike targets more than 7000 miles away. The submarine fleet carries about 50% of the US arsenal of thermonuclear weapons and can hide undetected anywhere in the world for months.
We’re taught from a young age to dream big, go after what we want, plan our work, work our plan. This culture-wide forward-thinking mindset has blossomed into achievements as diverse as iPhones, space flight, ultra-marathons and gene splicing. But it’s also helped create anxiety, depression, unrest and a feeling for many that, since our achievements aren’t as grand as our dreams, we’re living a meaningless life.
I quit my job yesterday.
Walking away from that final meeting with my supervisor, I realized that I left more than a job – I left an identity. I’ve been training for, reading about, studying, practicing and teaching health care chaplaincy for 11 years, and as I exited my supervisor’s door I stepped into a world that no longer included daily contact with those skills and with the people I served. I was suddenly full of questions: Without meeting my patient’s suffering, who am I? Without the moment to moment practice of allowing uncertainty, will I lose touch? Without the Hospice structure of patient visits, charting, phone calls, team meetings and supportive colleagues, will I drift aimlessly?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.