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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 10 86 something totally different? Ellison says the patient who’s talking about food may be saying that he doesn’t know how to nourish himself in hospital, whereas the patient who’s talking about her favorite baseball player getting up to bat is perhaps talking about her spirituality and how she relates to events in her life. Really listen- ing, says Ellison, makes everything come alive and makes you more fully yourself. “To me,” he says, “that’s the beauty of Buddhist practice as well.” Through both listening and meditation, he notes, you realize that you’re not separate from any- one else, and that the person in the sick bed will be you someday. Another key is self-care for the care- giver, but that’s not emphasized in trad- itional caregiving. Meditation practice helps people to slow down, and stu- dents in the program are encouraged to sit regularly. Ellison thinks back to his grandmother’s chaplain. “That per- son had too many jobs,” he says, “so he would come into the hospice and make his rounds as quickly as he could. That’s a teaching in itself—if you find yourself racing, stop. This reminds me of the story of Angulimala and the Bud- dha. Angulimala is trying to chase the Buddha and says, ‘Why won’t you stop?’ The Buddha says, ‘I stopped a long time ago. How about you, Angulimala?’ That stopped Angulimala in his tracks. It was the moment when he finally asked, ‘Why am I racing around?’” Students gain clinical experience through ten-month placements with the center’s clinical partners in New York, including the Visiting Nurse Service of New York’s Hospice and the Beth Israel Medical Center, one of the city’s pre- mier hospitals. “Not a week goes by that everyone, including the teachers, isn’t actually in a hospital room or at a bedside,” O’Hara says. Ellison points out that each hospital unit is like a different world. “Patients on the cardiac floor are completely different from patients in surgical intensive care,” he says. “The crisis is different. The family dynamics are different. The culture of the nurses and doctors is different.” For that reason, each student’s training includes work in three units. “In the hospital,” he says, “that could be palliative care, neonatal intensive care, maternity, rehab, detox—it could be anywhere.” Different units are assigned depending on the stu- dent’s needs. “If we realize that the stu- dent may benefit from slowing down, they don’t need to be in intensive care,” Ellison says. “We talk with students about what would be helpful to them.” In chaplaincy training, the classes generally have six or seven students. The foundation program, on the other hand, has about thirty at a time, and Hirsch says every one of the participants is trans- formed. “They become a community of people who work together beautifully. They come in and they don’t know each other at all, but by the end of the thirty- eight-week process, it’s amazing the intimacies that develop and the heart opening that goes on.” The students share with each other many aspects of their lives and losses. “All of our students,” Ellison adds, “have been touched by death intimately.” Some have had cancer or another illness; others have experienced the death of a loved one. Sometimes the death was long ago, but through meditation practice the person realized how much the loss had affected their life and decided to inves- tigate more through the center’s train- ing. Learning contemplative caregiving is a way of healing, Ellison says, helping people to channel their painful experi- ences into being of service to others. To date, NYZCCC has trained 125 students, which has developed into a sangha that stays connected and prac- tices together, holding weekly meetings and annual retreats. The center also leads retreats and workshops for doctors, nurses, and social workers. O’Hara says she hopes that someday the center will be able to bring the skills of contempla- tive caregiving into the mainstream so they can be used by people of any faith tradition. “Contemplative caregiving is really about learning to trust that you are enough,” Ellison says. “You’re perfect and complete just as you are. You don’t need to go into a patient’s room and per- form tricks, or juggle, or anything else. You just need to show up with your whole body and mind.” busaRaNaTHaNsoN (Front row, beginning second from the left) Robert Chodo Campbell, Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, Koshin Paley Ellison, and Trudi Jinpu Hirsch with the 2009–2010 graduates of the Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care Training course.