Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Topics of the heart

Last August, I was very privileged to be given an opportunity to participate in my first palliative care workshop organized by Hospis Malaysia. It was held at Wijaya International Medical Centre and was facilitated by Dr. Susan Marsden, a Palliative Care Specialist from New Zealand and Ms. Liese Groot-Alberts, a professional Grief Therapist also from New Zealand. Participants comprising mainly of doctors and nurses came from various parts of the country.

I was a little anxious when Eleanor, another volunteer who was supposed to attend this workshop with me couldn’t make it. I would be the only volunteer there. Later, I was relieved to meet some familiar faces: Harbans Kaur from Kasih Hospice, Mei Queen from Breast Cancer Women’s Association and all the nurses I knew from Hospis Malaysia.

Understanding Grief and Suffering
This workshop dealt with understanding the process of grief and suffering, the risk factors, managing anticipatory grief, dealing with patients as well as our own response to loss. Grief Therapist Liese shared with us her experience on grief when she lost her 3 year old daughter just 3 days after the arrival of her baby boy. Do friends congratulate and send you condolences at the same time? How does one actually cope with such a complex situation?
“If you want to help people who are grieving, you must first deal with your own grief.”
The morning was spent on understanding the human personality (ourselves). Dr Susan Marsden divides the human personality into 4 quadrants:
Physical – as how we know or interact with the world with our 5 senses.
Emotional – as how we know or interact with the world with the self and how relationships are developed.
Intellectual – as how we know or interact with the world with reason.
Spiritual – as how we know or interact with the world with our intuition and how we know our purpose.

Burn out and Compassion fatigue
Many times, we get too involved or engrossed with patient’s problems that we tend to forget about our own self. Compassion fatigue comes when we became burn out and too tired of being compassionate.
Sometimes, too much pain gets in the way and we can’t stay in the truth anymore.
We can also get burn out by the administration or structure with patients.
We went on to discuss the symptoms of compassion fatigue from the 4 quadrants:
Physical – bodily aches, allergies, migraines, tired, itchy eyes, sleep disturbance, low energy etc.
Emotional – temperamental, angry, aloof, stressed, anxious, frustrated etc.
Spiritual – negative, hopelessness, despair, confused, curious, lack faith, spiritual war, lack inner peace etc.
Intellectual – forgetful, lost focus, lack passion, under perform, procrastination etc.

The caregiver’s journey
More than an hour was spent reflecting on the journey of the caregiver. Doctors and nurses shared their experiences on their journey as care-givers. Their hopes and dreams. Their encounter with their first patient, remembering an important lesson and the impact or difference it made in their career. Later, they were asked to picture that patient writing to them reflecting on the care-giver they have become today.

On the second day of the workshop, we stormed our brains on understanding and exploring suffering. Suffering of families and others. The practical aspects of working with patients and families, and at the same time learning some communication skills.

Towards the end of this session we were required to discuss and ponder over the following questions:
1. What if the suffering is related to treatment decisions?
2. Does treatment increase suffering?
3. Does cure and increased survival reduce suffering?
4. Does over treatment and investigation cause more suffering?

It is absolutely apparent that although many healthcare workers are trying their best to deal with illness, they do not receive sufficient exposure in dealing with the aspect of grief and loss. Like me, I’m sure the rest of the participants have benefited from this module. Personally, I find this workshop extremely enriching and stimulating as it has opened my eyes to see the world at a different perspective. It has also taught me that the heart never lies – I have to learn to listen to my heart more. With this, I hope to be able to serve and help those terminally ill at Hospis in a more professional manner.

“What is as important as knowledge?” asked the mind.
“Caring and seeing with the heart.” answered the soul.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The power of non-violence

Dr Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K.Gandhi Institute for Non-violence, in his June 9 lecture at the University of Puerto Rico , shared the following story:

I was 16 years old and living with my parents at the institute my grandfather had founded 18 miles outside of Durban, South Africa, in the middle of the sugar plantations. We were deep in the country and had no neighbors, so my two sisters and I would always look forward to going to town to visit friends or go to the movies.

One day, my father asked me to drive him to town for an all-day conference, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father asked me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced.

When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, "I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m., and we will go home together."

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theatre. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30pm before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got the car and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00pm.

He anxiously asked me, "Why were you late?" I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said, "The car wasn't ready, so I had to wait," not realizing that he had already called the garage.

When he caught me in the lie, he said: "There's something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn't give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I'm going to walk home 18 miles and think about it." So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on mostly unpaved, unlit roads. I couldn't leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.

I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don't think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday.

That is the power of non-violence.

Things are to be used, People are to be loved.

While a man was polishing his new car, his 4 yr old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In anger, the man took the child's hand and hit it many times not realizing he was using a wrench. At the hospital, the child lost all his fingers due to multiple fractures.

When the child saw his father.....with painful eyes he asked, 'Dad when will my fingers grow back?' The man was so hurt and speechless; he went back to his car and kicked it a lot of times. Devastated by his own actions....sitting in front of that car he looked at the scratches; the child had written 'LOVE YOU DAD'.
The next day that man committed suicide. . .

Anger and Love have no limits; choose the latter to have a beautiful, lovely life & remember this: Things are to be used and people are to be loved. The problem in today's world is that people are used while things are loved. Let's try always to keep this thought in mind: Things are to be used, People are to be loved.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

When in doubt...

When I am in doubt
I talk to surgeons.
I know they will know what to do.

They seem so sure.

Once I talked to a surgeon.
He said when he is in doubt
He talks to priests.
Priests will know what to do.

Priests seem so sure.

Once I talked to a priest.
He said when he is in doubt
He talks to God.
God will know what to do.

God seem so sure.

Once I talked to God.
He said when He is in doubt
He thinks of me.
He said I will know what to do.

I seem so sure.

Taken from Playing God by Glenn Colquhoun

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Silence is the language of God

Having missed the Winter Soulstice in December last year, I was privileged to join Dehyana for the 2009 Summer Soulstice Retreat at Lucky Valley this June. I had no idea what the Summer Soulstice Retreat is all about but I was told that Lucky Valley is a place with excellent qi and a perfect retreat for the body, mind and soul.

I managed to hitch a ride from Chee Wah at the eleventh hour and we arrived at Lucky Valley in the afternoon. After a hearty organic vegetarian dinner, we assembled at the Pyramid where we were greeted and hugged by Dehyana. She was like a goddess, ever so radiant and warm. After the introduction and a brief 'getting-to-know-you', the session was opened for us to share our purpose of being there. For me, my heart is open to learn.

The session ended at 12 midnight and we were each given this note:

Dear Retreat Participants,
The purpose of your visit to Lucky Valley Retreat is to learn and grow and listen with ears. Talking inside the Temple(pyramid) is okay because it is where we meet each day to learn and to grow through group participation. However, before a session begins if you wish to be in Temple, please maintain Sacred Silence and only speak when necessary. We're here to learn to communicate with our divine Self through the act of Sacred Silence.
When on retreat, we want to listen, with not only our natural hearing, but also with the "ears of our heart." We need to listen to the interior sounds and words of God within. To do this, we need to be quiet and silent. Therefore, there are times and places when it is good to talk and sing and laugh. There are other places and times when we need to respect the gift of quiet and silence.
The lunch room, our bedrooms, corridors, outside near any of the buildings; these ought to be places for quiet and silence. Sound travels easily through walls and windows, so we ask you to be sensitive to others who may be trying to rest or meditate or pray. If you have a cell phone, please turn off the ringer and set your phone to silence or vibrate. As an added courtesy to your fellow retreatants, please use earphones if listening to a CD or MP3 player.

Thank you kindly,

Oh my God, this is a Silent Retreat!! No talking for 3 days.

Why Silent Retreat?
When we are silent, we can listen to the silence of our soul. Our inner being speak to us and we can discover ourselves. Listening is a skill and it takes time to develop such a skill. We rarely take time to listen. How can we hear if we do not listen?
Only when we practise being quiet, going within, taking time to listen and creating the space to listen, will we hear.

What is a Summer Solstice?
A Summer Solstice is when the sun’s path across the sky, the length of the daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on earth although our clocks say different times. So it resulted in early dawn, late sunset, longest day, shortest night.
It is an astronomical event, caused by the Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun. Because the Earth doesn’t orbit upright (tilted on its axis by 23.5 degrees), Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth almost directly.

Lucky Valley
Lucky Valley is situated in this God forsaken land in a small town of Pahang called Muazzam Shah.
The retreat is nestled admist 500 acres of fruit orchards, vegetable plots and herb gardens, cultivated on a previously virgin jungle (which still lines the perimeter of the land) lies a remote haven called Lucky Valley. It is also known for its abundant natural healing qi and alkaline water. Surprisingly, the retreat frequented by foreigners and local groups who normally come on organized energy-enriching retreats. As the qi is suitable for meditation, it also attracted many Tai Chi, Qigong or Yoga enthusiasts.
(pix:see these energy balls?)
The magnetic field in Lucky Valley is extremely strong. The centre piece of Lucky Valley retreat is the pyramid or temple. It is specifically built to harness the powerful orgone energy into the pyramid. Those who are sensitive to energies will be very aware of these energies, as well as other spiritual energies that are available there. Believe it or not, I could actually feel myself ‘floating’ while standing on the centre piece.

Food grown here are organic and free of pesticides. Our meals were vegetarian and wholesome. Oh, I love every meals here! Everyone is required to wash their utensils after every meal.

Lodging is as simple as can be. It is back to basics with no television, no hair dryer, no hot shower, no air-condition. We have an option of twin sharing or dormitory. I chose the latter and was glad to share space with Lynette (KL), Kam Lye (Ipoh) and Janet (Malacca). We each had a bed with a small pillow and blanket and yes, that’s about it.

Briefly, the Summer Soulstice Silent Retreat is about getting to know oneself. How well do I actually know myself? It is to stop looking at my neighbour's life and look at what is in front of me. Then I began to discover that everything is a mirror image of my mind and I carry with me along my life.
In the words of Thomas Dreier, he said "The world is a great mirror. It reflects back to you what you are. If you are loving, if you are friendly, if you are helpful, the world will prove loving and friendly to you. The world is what you are."

to be continued