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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 60 The mindful caregiver might choose to immediately take the woman for a short drive or simply say, “Yes, let’s go for a ride today, but first let’s give you a bath.” Whatever the approach, staying in the present moment allows the caregiver to connect—to hear what’s being asked and to consider the options. “Unless there is connection,” says Cason, “the elder will probably feel the caregiver is being aggressive. She’ll feel like some kind of little machine the caregiver is there to wash and dress.” “The feedback I get from people being cared for by someone practicing mindfulness is that they feel seen as people, apart from the medical or mental problem,” says Lief. “Mindful caregivers are able to listen more, talk less, and utilize a more sophisticated understanding of non-verbal communication. It also helps them to not rush to judgment, and being less judgmental really helps when you’re dealing with someone who so frequently has to be judged and advised, poked, and prodded.” It can also be safer to delay judgment. Imagine, says Cason, “you see an old woman sitting in a chair and her hands are shaking. You think she’s upset but then you find out she has Parkinson’s. Don’t just jump to conclusions. Let each situation you’re working with touch you.” In the field of caregiving, mindfulness has perhaps most profoundly touched hospice work. According to Frank Ostaseski, founder of both the Metta Institute and the Zen Hospice Project, when a caregiver is mindfully serving a hospice patient, the relationship is always mutually beneficial. “The eyes of a dying patient are the clearest mirrors I have ever looked into,” he says. “They show me myself in a way that nothing else can. They show me my deepest clinging, my aversions, and something else—an undying love.” Mindfully staying in the moment also helps counselors, therapists, and caseworkers. As program director of the Women’s Wellness Project at the Garrison Institute, DaRa Williams teaches mindfulness to women who work with survivors of abuse. “If you’re working with people who have experienced trauma, you can experience vicarious trauma,” Williams explains. “As a result of empathetically connecting to clients, you are in a position to actually be traumatized yourself.” Mindfully staying in the present moment helps develop the ability to let go of pain—to let it flow in and out rather than be blocked by it. This doesn’t just benefit the caregiver or the therapist; it benefits the clients, too. Education Much of what’s wrong with our schools is simply what’s wrong with the world. It’s fast-paced and uncertain, and the violence we’ve tried to keep outside our borders is erupting within them—in our neighborhoods, homes, and schools. This puts stress on children, which can affect their ability to learn. And stressed-out kids can develop into anxious adults with poten- tially long-term physical and emotional issues. Can contemplative education help? Most of the research on the effects of mindfulness has been done on adults, but some recent studies indicate that children benefit from mindfulness in ways similar to grown-ups. One such study is currently being conduct- ed by the Inner Resilience Program, which was established to help K-12 public school students in New York City deal with post-9/11 stress. Its director, Linda Lantieri, says that preliminary results sug- gest that “students who engage in mindfulness practices seem to experience reduced stress and acting-out behaviors and increased coping skills, as well as enhanced concentration and an increased sense that the classroom is a community.” At this early stage, though, Lantieri’s most compelling evi- dence doesn’t come from a study but rather from her own ex- tensive experience. Since 2001, she has been instrumental in sharing mindfulness with thousands of children, and they have become more skillful in quieting their minds, calming their bodies, and identifying and managing their emotions. Likewise, David Forbes’ most compelling evidence comes from his own experiences. Forbes, the author of Boyz 2 Bud- dhas, specializes in working with youth at risk, a group he pre- fers to call “youth with problems.” “I worked with an urban high school football team, which in- cluded some young men who tended to get in trouble both in and out of school,” he says. “We practiced mindfulness in group discussions and in brief, formal sessions of vipassana meditation. The mindfulness appeared to pay off. In one session, the group was able to face and work through racial tension between mem- GARRISONINSTITUTE/JEANNEJOHNSON SEPT 56-63.indd 60 SEPT 56-63.indd 60 7/3/08 1:32:04 PM 7/3/08 1:32:04 PM