Posts Tagged ‘End-of-life care’

Upaya Institute and Zen Center

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.”
~~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

For me, the hardest thing to do is to practice the “not is”.

What the heck does that mean?

It means, for me, it is hard to be compassionate when I don’t see or feel compassion going on around me.

It means it’s hard for me to feel motivated, inspired, and creative when I feel like creativity is discouraged and hampered.

I don’t feel like I am odd with this.  I bet you are even shaking your head to a certain extent.

But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have to practice if this came as second nature.

If someone said, Hey, be loving when there’s no love around, and poof, we could do it, well, would we need metta mediation?

For me, it’s being lazy… spiritually and existentially lazy.

When I had migraines daily for 3 years, when I moved somewhere I felt exiled to for 5 years, when I did work that I found uninspiring, I took the “easy way out”.  I say that tongue in cheek because it didn’t feel like the easy way out.  It didn’t feel sloppy or lazy or anything like it.  It felt like some sort of surrender because some days, I didn’t “give a care” (exchange care for expletive).

I gave into the path of least resistance, sometimes for survival, other times because I just didn’t give a damn.

But when I practice the path of least resistance… hold on, that sounds to active… when I live the path of least resistance, my world falls apart and it is a world that I don’t want to be truly alive in.

It is only when I face what scares me, start where I am with what I have, and practice staying that I find that I am inhabiting a world where I am connected with all and care about all.

Three years ago, I found myself in a situation that felt hopeless and I adopted some hopelessness and then added a layer of learned helplessness on top of it.

I gave up my practice of mindfulness because I didn’t feel supported by those around me.  No one would understand.  No one would also practice or remind me of my shenpa or my lack of mindful awareness.

I closed off my heart to hide from the pain that I felt when I looked out.

I allowed myself to stop seeking creative solutions for the problems I saw around me.

But you know what it got me?

I was more isolated.  I had a heart that was walled off but was still aching.  I was still hip deep in problems and ear deep in feeling like there was no way out.

Now, to be honest. . . I haven’t just come off of 10+ days of horrific pain.  I haven’t come out of a whole day of staffings that made me want to poke my eyes out.  And I have been quite blessed recently with good news and supportive, faithful friends letting me know how loved I am.  So, if any of those things were going on, I might not be able to say all this.  That’s part of chronic pain — whether it is mental, physical, or existential.

Isn’t this the very point though?

I’m in the same crappy apartment with a fridge that freezes everything.  I’m in the same crappy job that’s only purpose is insurance and to pay the bills (or to give me money to do what I love).  And I haven’t gotten a new team of friends who are pouring love all over me.  But it’s different.

What’s changed?

I started this blog in December that brought me back in touch with my passion of end-of-life care.

I went out to Upaya Zen Center and was brought back into community and to the Dharma.

I just got hired to teach part-time which has given me another project to devote my heart and soul.

So all journeys, all paths, all lessons start from within; I truly believe that today.  It’s making a choice, even between two lousy choices.

It’s taking a step even if it’s followed by 6 back.

It’s about not giving up.

And it’s about having faith in something.  Not the blind faith that was suggested I have when I was little and in parochial school, but a deep lived bodily experience of knowing that some things are just Right and in some ways Eternal.

For instance, the Eight-Fold Path, to me, is right and eternal in that the buddha shared that with us and beings for generations have practiced it or attempted to practice it and have known that it helped create less suffering in their lives.

I don’t need to follow it blindly.

I have to experience it, live it, try it and that’s it.  Then I am reminded of its validity and its vital place in my life.

The best part?  I get to choose. . .

I can choose to let it all go, to suffer in the silence of my own faulty thinking, the loneliness of pain, and the despair of believing that there is no way out.

I can also choose

For me, the Three Gems, the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma, are both right and eternal in that despite the ever-changing nature of the universe, the Three Gems are always there for me as a touchstone. And it is me that moves away from them, not vice versa.

It is me who decides to hang on tight, to hunker down, to close off, to not believe, not experience, not try, and hold on to all the garbage.

And it is me who decides to practice compassion, to let go, to be at ease with how things are, and to know when to take an active role in making changes.

The whole point in having a spiritual practice is to have a foundation for when things work and when things don’t work

— To learn from the blessings and the curses and to have the all-encompassing vastness of equanimity that comes from being present and not pushing away.

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“You cannot go into the room where someone is dying

and not pay attention.  Everything is

pulling you into the moment.”  ~~ Frank Ostaseki

In 1987, Frank Ostaseski helped form the Zen Hospice Project, the first Buddhist hospice in America. In 2004, he created Metta Institute to broaden this work and seed the culture with innovative approaches to end-of-life care that reaffirm the spiritual dimensions of dying.

I love listening to his 3 tape series entitled, Being a Compassionate Companion.  It has so much heart and he conveys the teachings of the Buddhist Path and the hospice experience in such a natural, gentle way.

In these three tapes, Frank gives guidance and explains these important teachings for cultivating a compassionate presence at the bedside:

Over the next few days, I will be sharing more about each of these precepts (teachings).

I hope that I can share what I learned from Frank and from working at hospice.  Most importantly, I hope that when you encounter another person, you learn to take a deep breath and settle in and truly open yourself to the experience.

More to come.

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Is this what you want?


Sorry for the really large letters for the website…wanted to make sure that you had the info to check out this website and this video…

We can’t hide from dying.

Most of us want to be at home, most of us want some semblance of control ..

Some want to feel no pain, at the expense of extra time with family.

Others want to be lucid and wide awake despite more pain.

The common denominator?

Doing it our way!

Yet, like other taboos, like sex, we don’t talk about this with our loved ones.

Think about it, sex is everywhere but we can’t talk to our kids about healthy sexual self-concepts or taking care of their sexual health.

Is it any different with dying?

We tune in to Anderson Cooper and he and Sanjay are all over the world, in war-torn areas.  We watch people killed in Saving Private Ryan, any Bruce Willis movie, the 5 o’clock news, NCIS, zombie movies, etc.  Even Easter is coming up, a celebration of dying and renewal and we focus on the renewal, the eggs, the candy, the hats…

But we can’t talk about the reality.  Really?

I wanna talk about it before it’s too late.

Have you had the conversation?

Do you know what your aging parents want at the end of life?  Do you know what your adult children want?

Heck, do you know what you want?

What about this?

This is a great video!  It features some of the greatest names in the field… Ira Byock, MD, Doug Smith, MDiv, James Clearly, MD.  What they tell us is not that different that the stories and the teachings of people like Frank Ostaeski, Joan Halifax, Ram Dass, Stephen and Ondrea Levine.

The video emphases the reality of what our dying can be like, that we have choices, that the medical profession doesn’t always start this conversation, what is hospice care, and so much more.

Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode

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Roshi Joan Halifax

Image by Mari Smith via Flickr

I love working on this blog.  I find that it feeds a part of me that has been missing doing end-of-life care and grief work day in and day out… I love teaching, helping people to see that illness, dying, and grieving are natural parts of human life.  And I feel so honored when people share their stories and share their love stories.  I love letting people know about mindfulness, metta, tonglen, etc can be great ways of being with all of these life events.

It was very hectic during my “daytime” life and I have hours of school work and some meditation time to go before I can lay my head down.  So I won’t be posting a full blog but share an excerpt from a book I love, written by a teacher that moves me and inspires me, Roshi Joan Halifax.

This is taken from her book, “Being with Dying“.  It is from an early chapter is from a meditation exercise entitled “How do you want to die?”  I think that it’s a great passage and I have not written for some time on end-of-life or being-with-dying so I thought it was a good choice.  I hope you feel so too.

Roshi shares a short dharma story, a Hindu epic.  The son of the lord of death asks, “What is the most wonderous thing in the world?” and a king answers, “The most wondrous thing in the world is that all around us people can be dying and we don’t believe that it can happen to us.”

Roshi goes on to say that she uses this as a teaching story.  She asks participants, “what is your worst-case scenario for how you will die?”  Then she asks, “How do you really want to do?”  And then she says this:

“Finally, after exploring how you want to die, ask yourself a third question:  “What are you willing to do to die the way you want to die?”  We go through a lot to educate and train ourselves for a vocation; most of us invest a great deal of time in taking care of our bodies, and we usually devote energy to caring for our relationships.  So, now please ask yourself what you are doing to prepare for the possibility of a sane and gentle death.  And how can you open up the possibility for the experience of deathless enlightenment both at this moment and when you die?” pg 8

Is that not a lovely passage?  What a generous invitation from Roshi to sit with this as the object of our meditation.  This is what I will sit with tonight, after my school work and dishes are done.

May the merit of your practice

bring compassionate to the world.

May the merit of your being present

bring comfort to those you are with.

May the merit of all our deeds

bring an end to suffering.

Metta  ~~ Jennifer

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