Mindfulness in Medicine

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We entered the stillness in a conference room just off the busy corridor of a bustling hospital again this week. Every week there is a different collection of medical personnel seeking to find their center in the middle of their busy day. This week we happened to have several nurses, chaplains, and a therapist. We often include physicians, social workers, and medical professionals from across the hospital system. We have a common intention: to spend a few minutes practicing mindfulness and heartfulness.

In practicing mindfulness we are training the mind to be awake and aware, and assuming the position of a silent witness of whatever emerges in the mind/body/spirit. We are learning to notice what’s happening, without judgment, as best we can. In practicing heartfulness, we are also opening to the presence of the divine: the Source of our beings, of compassion, and of our best wisdom. Opening ourselves to that Source is both great self-care and a great way to prepare to serve others, after the meditation.

On any given week there might be 6 or 46 of us who break away from our usual routines and spend twenty minutes in silence together. We have offered many different approaches to the meditation, including mindfulness, centering prayer, and lovingkindness meditation. We have suggested releasing thoughts and returning to a focus of attention such as the breath, a sound, a song, an image – whatever helps each person best return to their quiet center.

If you look closely at the photo above you might see some papers dropped on the floor. This symbolizes how participants “drop everything” for a few minutes of meditation. Pagers are turned off. Responsibilities are dropped for these few minutes, in hopes that a wiser and more present person will leave the room after practicing being.

You also might notice people using various hand postures and sitting postures. This represents the attitude of “do-it-your-way” instead of implying there is one right way to sit or place the hands. (One of the nurses actually spent the meditation on the floor to ease a sore back, and that was right for her).

After the meditation, everyone was offered a few minutes to share without judgment how their practice affected them: what happened, what was that like, how was it for you today? We noticed things like these: there was a visceral sense of silent presence, sounds from outside of the room eventually fell away, thoughts went to some painful scenes from the past, as though the mind was cleansing itself, we were simply practicing and not expected to be experts, it felt natural to send lovingkindness to the people affected by a bombing in Brussels, and there was a collective sense of we–an interconnection.

After our meditation and the sharing of the experience we each headed back toward our responsibilities. Transformation is slow, a moment at a time. So we did not leave that room as fully enlightened beings who could now somehow walk on air. We simply got back to work. But we got back to work as people who had spent twenty minutes in the center of being, and so we brought different selves back to work. I bet our patients benefitted. I know we did.

This is one little glimpse into what can happen when we practice mindfulness in medicine. Can you imagine the time when we will gather every day, when hundreds of hospital staff will pause to come to their centers, and can you see how much better the medical care will be?

And then what will happen if we start including medical patients in the training? How might their health be changed for the better, by learning a daily healing practice they can use at home? It is happening in other medical centers around the country. I see the day coming, just on the horizon. May that day come to New Orleans soon!

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About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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