Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What's Up....?

Here are a few bits of information for your interest:

1. Anyone travelling to New York City before March 14th might be interested in getting tickets for the new Donald Marguilies play, Time Stands Still. This critically acclaimed production plays at the Manhattan Theatre Project on Broadway and stars Laura Linney as a photojournalist returning from war with both physical and psychological injuries. The play looks at the lasting traumatic stress effects of war reporting on individual reporters and on their relationships.

The good news about this new play, aside from its skilled production, is that it brings the consequences of primary and secondary traumatic stress to the public eye, hopefully for the betterment of both our understanding and our compassion. To learn more, you can read the article and linked reviews on the Dart Center website.

2. The Beginners Enneagram Workshop at St Oswalds Church Hall in Surrey, BC is almost full. If anyone is interested in attending a similar workshop in Vancouver in mid-June, (always a dicey time what with end-of-the-school-year activities and the beginning of vacations), please email me at If there is sufficient interest I will arrange a venue, otherwise I will wait until late fall 2010.

3. A little advance notice: I will be out of town on vacation from Friday April 23 until Monday May 3.

That's all for now. Have a great evening! Jan

Walking Meditation...

The past week has felt like spring here in Vancouver even though it is still February - the sun is shining, the crocuses and daffodils are blooming and hundreds of people are out walking in the parks and pathways.

Walking meditation is a wonderful way to bring moment-to- moment awareness to our daily lives and thus reduce the autonomic arousal (fight or flight response) that comes with compassion fatigue. It is simple to practice, though it does take practice, and it is especially helpful for people who find it difficult to sit still for other forms of meditation.

Walking meditation, according to stress reduction expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn, means "simply walking and knowing that you are walking. It does not mean looking at your feet! ... Walking meditation involves intentionally attending to the experience of walking itself. It involves focusing on the sensations in your feet or your legs or, alternatively, feeling your whole body moving. You can also integrate awareness of your breathing with the experience of walking."

Buddhist monk, Thicht Nhat Hanh, writes that walking meditation is "going without arriving":

In our daily lives, we usually feel pressured to move ahead. We have to hurry. We seldom ask ourselves where it is that we must hurry to.

When you practice walking meditation, you go for a stroll. You have no purpose or direction in space or time. The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving. Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end. Each step is life; each step is peace and joy. That is why we don't have to hurry. That is why we slow down. We seem to move forward, but we don't go anywhere; we are not drawn by a goal. Thus we smile while we are walking...

Take short steps in complete relaxation; go slowly with a smile on your lips, with your heart open to an experience of peace. You can feel truly at ease with yourself. Your steps can be those of the healthiest, most secure person on earth. All sorrows and worries can drop away while you are walking. To have peace of mind, to attain self-liberation, learn to walk in this way. It is not difficult. You can do it. Anyone can do it who has some degree of mindfulness and a true intention to be happy.

So, how, exactly, do we begin a practice of walking meditation?

Where and when. Choose a safe spot to walk - preferably outside, perhaps in a park, on a quiet even pathway, or along the shore of a stream though walking the perimeter of your living room or bedroom is also quite adequate. (People have even practiced in small prison cells and concentration camps.) Begin with a specific length of time in mind - at least 10 minutes a day - and gradually increase that time. Early morning may be best if you tend to lose available time as the day goes on but any time will work.

How to start. Begin by standing still for a little while, allowing yourself to become aware of your body. Take a few deep, mindful breaths then let your breathing return to normal. Become completely aware of the sensations of your breathing and stay with that awareness for a little while. Then bring your awareness to your body, noticing all the sensations of standing still with your feet on the ground.

Begin walking. Walk at a slow, relaxed pace, in silence internally and externally. Soften your vision, allowing your eyes to relax and to focus upon nothing yet remaining aware of everything. Keep returning your attention to what is going on internally. The idea is to have your attention on the physical experience of walking - the alternation from right foot to left foot and back, the swinging of your arms and legs, the feeling of your feet against your shoes and your shoes upon the ground. To begin with, keep your mindfulness strong by focusing on only one aspect of your walking. Later, you can adjust your awareness to take in more. Wherever you encounter tension let it go. If you are distracted by thoughts of the past or the future, let them go as well and return to your inner experience of walking.

We can practice walking meditation any time we walk, be it in the early hours as we comfort a wakeful baby or in the evening as we walk home from work, but it is also a good thing to practice more formally, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "... back and forth, step by step, moment by moment, walking gently on the earth, in step with your life, being exactly where you are."

If you would like to read more about walking meditation, you might try Jon Kabat-Zinn's, Full Catastrophe Living or Thicht Nacht Hanh's, Being Peace.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Giving and Receiving ...

This week I discovered the Kairos Network Blog, a nicely written new blog and networking site for Death & Dying and Eldercare professionals. Here, Jeanne Denney writes a description of the route to burnout, often a precursor to compassion fatigue:

"Many of us become caregivers because we did not ourselves receive adequate care in early development. We become especially sensitized to the problem of needs in others and take a deep vow very young to meet them at all costs, to be a really "good giver". At the same time, we are equipped with a relatively weak experience of receiving deeply ourselves and often have a damaged self-care "alarm system" that never registers
"empty" until our resentment makes us ready to kill.

It is likely that we learned to defend against the voice of our own needs as if it was an inner enemy. Later we present as needless, appropriate and efficient. "What me need? I don't need anything. I am a good giver." (Not a bad, vulnerable, needy receiver.) In most cases, this split ... was also shared by our primary caregiver. The imbalance of our young responses to needing sets us up for caregiver burnout.

Here we see how helpers develop a sense of shame about our needs and, therefore, cast them out of our conscious awareness. We soldier on, unaware that the depth of our empathy for clients and loved ones sometimes reflects the depth of our own unmet needs.

How do we begin to meet our basic needs, to prevent burnout? Well, the first step is to take stock. Jennifer Louden offers a good "needs assessment" in her classic book, The Woman's Comfort Book:

Do you usually get 6-8 hours sleep?

Do you eat something fresh and unprocessed every day?

Do you allow time in your week to touch nature, no matter how briefly?

Do you get enough sunlight, especially in winter time?

Do you see a dentist every 6 months?

Do you see your gynecologist (or equivalent) at least once a year?

Do you know enough about your body and health needs?

Do you get regular sexual thrills?

Do you feel you get enough fun exercise?

Are you hugged and touched amply?

Do you make time for friendship? Do you nurture your friendships?

Do you have friends you can call when you are down, friends who really listen?

Can you honestly ask for help when you need it?

Do you regularly release your emotions?

Do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake?

Do you do things that give you a sense of fulfillment, joy and purpose?

Is there abundant beauty in your life? Do you allow yourself to see beauty and to bring beauty into your home and office?

Do you make time for solitude?

Are you getting daily or weekly spiritual nourishment?

Can you remember the last time you laughed until you cried?

Do you ever accept yourself for who you are?

Once we've clearly and compassionately identified our needs, we can choose one and begin to take baby steps toward meeting it. What small step could you take toward meeting your own needs this week?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Enneagram Workshop Invitation ...

I will be presenting a one day Beginners Enneagram Workshop at St Oswald Anglican Church Hall in Pt Kells, (Surrey), BC on Saturday March 13, 2010 and you and your adult friends and family are invited! The workshop still has a few spots open and, while the St Oswald website,, says that registration closes February 12, there has been so much interest shown that the time has been extended.

As you'll remember from a previous blog post, (October 5, 2008), and from the Compassion Fatigue and Chronic Sorrow workshops, the Enneagram is a dynamic system of 9 fundamentally different ways of perceiving, thinking, feeling and acting resulting in 9 different personality types. (Ennea is Greek for nine and gram means a picture or graph, therefore the Enneagram is represented by a nine-pointed star within a circle.)

Each personality type has a core motivation and presents both the strengths and "shadow" aspects of our personality. Knowing our type allows us to make sense of our reactions, behaviours and interactions with others and to modify them, if desired. Some people avoid personality typologies, thinking that they will "put them in a box". My experience with the Enneagram is that it does just the opposite - it lets us see the box we're in, already, and shows us a way out. (The Enneagram is designed for the use of people who are mentally well so if you are currently struggling with a mental illness, chemical addiction, or are under severe stress it would be better to wait for a later time to attend.)

The workshop, itself, will use the Stanford Enneagram Discovery Inventory & Guide (SEDIG), individual reflection, group discussion, film, and, if time allows, type panels, to help you to begin the process of discovering your personality type. Some of you will discover your type quickly and others will have to "try on" a type for a while until you can be sure that it fits. The atmosphere will be relaxed and informal so please join us for this fun and enlightening day.

(Because the faith community at St Oswald is sponsoring this workshop and because this will be the "test run" of what will be the core information in the first Compassion Fatigue: Going Deeper workshop, the registration fee is a low $75.00. It includes a copy of Stanford University psychiatry professor, Dr. David Daniels' book, The Essential Enneagram, and a St Oswald lunch and snacks. (Which are usually to die for!).

As is typical of high-ceilinged church halls, temperature can vary and the chairs are a little hard on the posterior so please dress in layers and bring a comfy cushion upon which to sit!)

For further information and to register, please go to the St Oswald website. Hope to see you on the 13th!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Olympic Impact on Family Care Partners....

For many, the Winter Olympics will bring all the excitement and anticipation of Christmas, birthdays and summer vacations wrapped into one. Even for family care partners, the thought of sharing the winning goal or the longest jump on TV or over the Internet can present a wonderful opportunity to connect with their care recipients and with the wider world - a different focus for a few weeks in an otherwise illness-centered life.

However, loss of money for support programs aside, there are many impacts for the families of those with permanent impairments and serious illnesses - impacts that probably wouldn't cross the radar of most of us who are able bodied.

I remember very clearly what an effort it took for my husband to store enough energy to withstand a trip to the doctor's office or to the lab or to the hospital. It meant curtailing most of the activities that gave his life meaning and pleasure for days prior and, sometimes, for a week after the appointment. No short walks in the fresh air, no TV viewing, no energetic concertos that made his heart beat too quickly, no creative writing, no visits with friends, no long chats on the phone, no intellectual sparring, no reading of evocative literature. Save all your energy for the trip there and the trip back and all that goes on in between.

When I saw the transit information for the Vancouver Olympics, with curb lane closures along major thoroughfares past hospitals and medical buildings, my first thought was, "But how will people ever get to appointments for which they may have been waiting months? How much more time and energy from already foreshortened lives will they have to expend just to get to the office itself. (Sometimes a few extra steps is enough to do one in.) And what about those who depend on services like Handi-dart or Meals on Wheels or Home Care, all services that depend on the mercy of the traffic in order to arrive on time or to arrive at all?

We are not going to be able to stop the Olympics for the needs of these folks and their care partners but those of us who know them might take a moment to call and see whether they will be having particular difficulty during the month of February and to offer a helping hand. Sometimes, as a care partner, it helps just to know that someone understands your predicament, whether you actually need help or not.