Compassion in Action

A Special Event for May: Tricycle honors the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care

Koshin and Chodo

Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Campbell

Aging, sickness, and death are unavoidable, yet we seem to arrange our lives so that we don't have to see them. If we could embrace the reality of death, our lives would lighten and become more genuine and joyful.

The New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care is doing exactly this work. The center was founded in 2006 in New York City's Greenwich Village by Zen Buddhist priests and chaplains Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Campbell. The first and only Buddhist organization to offer a fully-accredited ACPE CPE Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program in America, NYZCCC brings together Buddhist contemplative practices into its chaplaincy training. The result is a dynamic program that is interfaith and experience-based, geared toward developing professionals and those seeking to deepen their spiritual, caregiving practice.

The New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care provides compassionate care to the sick and the terminally ill and creates a supportive, nurturing environment for people to consciously face their illness and/or end-of-life journey.

This work is done through direct care partnerships with leading healthcare providers in the New York area, caregiver and pastoral training programs, and by actively advocating for contemplative care at the national level.

The New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care does this work not only to relieve individual suffering, but also to create a more courageous, and harmonious world that provides compassionate care for all.

Read about NYZCCC at pbs.org.

 

Discussion Leaders:

ROBERT CHODO CAMPBELL, HHC
ChodoRobert Chodo Campbell co-founded the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, the first Buddhist organization to offer fully accredited chaplaincy training in America and the organization delivers contemplative approaches to care through education, direct service and meditation practice. In order to bring the work to a broader audience, he co-developed the Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care Training Program. Chodo is an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He is Co-Director of Contemplative Care Services for the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center. Chodo is a dynamic, earthy, and visionary leader and teacher. His public programs have introduced thousands to the practices of mindful and compassionate care of the living and dying. 30,000 people listen to his podcasts each year. His groundbreaking work has been widely featured in the media, including the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and in numerous print publications such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He is a Senior Zen Buddhist monk and senior chaplain.

KOSHIN PALEY ELLISON, MFA, LMSW, ACPE
KoshinKoshin Paley Ellison co-founded the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, the first Buddhist organization to offer fully accredited chaplaincy training in America and the organization delivers contemplative approaches to care through education, direct service and meditation practice. In order to bring the work to a broader audience, he co-developed the Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care Training Program. Koshin is an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He is the Co-Director of Contemplative Care Services for the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, where he also serves on the Medical Ethic Committee. Koshin is a dynamic, original, and visionary leader and teacher. His public programs have introduced thousands to the practices of mindful and compassionate care of the living and dying. 30,000 people listen to his podcasts each year. His groundbreaking work has been widely featured in the media, including the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and in numerous print publications such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He is a Senior Zen Buddhist Priest, chaplaincy supervisor and psychotherapist.

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Video

Monty McKeever's picture

I would like to offer my deep gratitude to Chodo, Koshin, The New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, and to all the Tricycle Community Members that have taken part in this special event and discussion. The work of NYZCCC is a profound inspiration, true Compassion in Action, and I am proud to announce that Tricycle has received over 350 donations to the Karuna Fund throughout the month of May, 100% of which will go to NYZCCC. Thank you all so much!

regards,
Monty McKeever
Tricycle

"Putting down all barriers, let your mind be full of love. Let it pervade all the quarters of the world so that the whole wide world, above, below, and around, is pervaded with love. Let it be sublime and beyond measure so that it abounds everywhere."
-The Buddha, Digha Nikaya

karnup's picture

I wanted to thank you both for sharing your time with us this month. I really miss the sense of community in hospice work - and your wisdom and openness (and the wonderful videos) have helped me a lot.
All the best - and I look forward to hearing more about your work.
Katherine

Philip Ryan's picture

If we ask ourselves questions like “What is my death?” and “Where do I go after I die?” we may be able to come up with some interesting ideas. But in the shadow of death, we shall need more than fascinating explanations to sustain us. Our salvation lies in sustaining holy ignorance, the open, receptive mind of bare awareness. This requires faith, courage, and determination, because when we penetrate beyond ideas about dying, we uncover what we really fear, and with good reason—our feelings about dying.

- Ken Jones, http://www.tricycle.com/insights/aging-dying-and-death

junebug's picture

Im a nurse who just started working in the ER. It is so fast paced in my ER, I feel lost and overwhelmed in my daily job. How can I bring peace or Buddhist practice to my daily work routine and also help others suffering/pain at the same time? I became a nurse to heal the sick, but am finding a serious neglect in the compassionate care side of nursing. We all get caught up in the busy-ness of the ER, that we nurses do not stop and just talk to the patient, it is trying to keep up with the demand from the patient population that allows for quality nurse/patient time. I love that time I get to spend with them, but rarely have time for it.

Thanks for your advice.
Tasha

Robert Jusei Chodo Campbell's picture

Dear Tasha
You raise an important question indeed. How do we bring our practice to our daily work? firstly I think we are better equipped for the chaos when we truly see that our work is our practice and vise-versa . often times when I think my head is going to explode with all the busy- ness I have to remind my self " this is it, perfect and complete just as it is"
Take a deep breath and then the next step. We can offer so much to a patient in a split second even if it's just a smile or a slight touch that says " I see you" And then of course there is the larger question
" how do we get all the nurses and healthcare providers to see the importance of taking a deep breath"
Very simple incredibly difficult !

Lauren T's picture

Lily, thank you for sharing this experience. I have had a glimpse of the sense you describe that personal details of a life don't matter, than I am s/he and s/he is me. This was in caring for a friend of mine who died a few years ago. The compassion that arose for you at that time ... I'm left without further words. In gratitude for your post -- Lauren T

echolily11's picture

First of all, thank you for the work you do. I am deeply moved by the amount of love you bring to this work.

I volunteer for an organization called "No One Dies Alone" in the Portland, OR area. I have had the most sacred experiences while sitting with people in their final moments. I would like to share a window of an experience I had the honor of having with a man named Charley.

I had signed up to volunteer for NODA a year previous to my call to sit with Charley. I was in the middle of a very samsaric existence in a relationship I was involved in. I was literally living breath to breath. I learned so much about who I am on a very intrinsic level during this time of my life and I am so grateful for the lessons I learned.

I had hit a very low point one day, and I had spent quite some time speaking with a friend about where I was at emotionally. I had been living so much in the grips of expectation and had lost considerable gratitude for the present. WIthin these realms, I had decided that life was no longer worth it, and with that, I was completely engulfed in fear and grief. I hung up the phone after talking for a couple of hours with my friend, and literally two minutes later, I received a call from the NODA coordinator, Jim, asking for volunteers to sit with a young man named Charley, who had no one, and was fading fast. I knew this was my call. The only other time I have felt such a pull and forces beyond me was when I gave birth. The thought occurred to me that I was to sit with Charley and hold sacred space for him, acting as a mother of sorts.

When I walked in the room, Charley was almost nude, twisted in blankets on a mattress on the floor. Since he had no insurance and was found in a homeless shelter, this is where the state gave him a bed. He had advanced Huntington's Chorea, and with this, had involuntary bodily movements that not only looked frustrating, but extremely painful. I have to admit that fear engulfed me for a moment. When I looked at him, I had an extreme sense of helplessness and felt so utterly powerless to help him. Then, I remembered something I had read that Pema Chodron had said in regards to meditation, which was simply, “STAY.” As I approached the bed, I was overcome with humility and sorrow for this beautiful being. His back was facing me, so I decided to go to the other side of the mattress and sit on the floor next to him. When I looked into his eyes I was stunned at their clarity and presence. The nurses had advised me not to make physical contact with him, because they said that he “doesn’t like it,” although he was unable to speak. I decided to try anyway. I felt very strongly that what he needed was to be comforted, like I would comfort my own child if he were ill. I put a bedsheet over his skin and gently touched his back. He flailed his body around, and I told him that I would watch and listen to him the best I knew how, and that I would use my intuition to guide me, and to please forgive me if I did anything or said anything that caused him pain in any way. That night, I was able to sit with Charley for 9 hours. As I kissed his forehead and slipped out the door, I knew that there was more to this experience than what I was seeing or perceiving with my emotional mind.
A day passed and the next day came. Other volunteers had been sitting beside Charley. I received a call that someone was needed, so I went back to see him. This time, he was completely still and was in the advanced stages of dying. His eyes were still crystal blue and had a subtle lucidity about them. This time, I crawled up onto his bed and held him in my arms. I held his hand against my heart so he could feel it beat. He went in and out of sleep. When he awoke he sometimes had fear in his eyes. I sang to him and talked to him softly. I stroked his back, and his head. It was during this time that I looked down and noticed a long scar that extended the length of his left inner forearm. I felt so much compassion for him in this moment. Here was a man who literally had no one in his personal life. All the care home knew was that he was found convulsing in a homeless shelter and that his brother had also died of the disease Charley had. My heart was flooded with horrible images of the pain this man must have endured. I wished beyond anything that I could have been there for him and known him during his life. My mind spun through possibilities of why he was left alone to endure this sort of death. Was he a criminal? Had he once had a family and left abandoned them? Did he ever have a career? What did he love about life? What caused him to smile? To cry? To dream? And at this point of my pondering it occurred to me….. none of this mattered. Charley was me, and I was him. We had met up at this exact point to help each other. I had been contemplating suicide two days earlier, and Charley’s dying was saving my life. I felt so much compassion and love for this man, words cannot describe. It was very apparent to me that we are all connected in a way that I had previously been unable to accept or understand.
I was able to hold Charley, a “stranger”, the last night of his life. I was given the gift of being with him and feeling his breath slowing down as his body relearned true rest. I will forever be grateful to him for this.

thank you for letting me share....... <3 Lily

Twiningvines1's picture

[from Susan Thames]

Lily, I've been reading How Can I Help?, one of the books assigned for summer reading in advance of the Foundations course at NYZCCC, and it speaks so directly to your experience and moves me deeply. Ram Dass and Paul Gorman have given us a text so direct, so clear that I recognize it's truthfulness the way you do when you rediscover something you once knew and forgot.

The words you spoke to Charley that first night are a teaching of and from the heart. Thank you.

Years ago, when my friend Dennis was dying of AIDS, I visited him in the hospital. Once he asked me to get in bed with him because he needed my body heat. Another time, he asked me to bathe him; the nurses wanted him to have a bath but had to time to attend to him that way. Both times, I felt Dennis's openness, his trust--we were not the closest of friends, but in those times, "close" and "friend" were just words. Beyond words were the way we sang softly to each other with my mouth to his ear and my arm around his waist, and the way we laughed in the bathroom, me with my pants rolled up standing in the tub and giving his head a good shampooing. Darlene Cohen: "Choose connection."

In this reading of your post and writing mine, I feel connected to you too, Lily. May you be happy and safe.

My thanks to you, Koshin and Chodo, for this place of sharing and learning, and for all the others you provide to a growing community.

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dear Lily,

Thank you for sharing Charley with us. When we function this compassionately, there are no strangers.

Bows,
Koshin

1BiblioTech's picture

I was fortunate when I was in my twenties to help home hospice my grandmother at the end of her life. It was a family affair so to speak. My mother who is a trained nurse did most of the care, and I would come up periodically on weekends to relieve her. I remember struggling to overcome both my fear, and at times disgust, but always love helped me though. And the skillfulness I began to cultivate more than 20 years ago guide me today

Seven years ago my mother became a quadriplegic, and I was just beginning to explore mindfulness. But what little practice I had helped me be calm and focused on the needs of both my parents at the time. Fortunately they refused to look back with regret, but have taken each day as it had come and treasured it.
Now my father who has been her primary caregiver has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My practice helps me to be present and mindful, both when I am with them, and when I am hundreds of miles away and and still trying to care and support them in the journey. It has given me the ability to breathe when things are difficult and then be present for their needs and truly hear them when they talk.

Perhaps when they have passed and my children have left home I will be able to be there for others too. I think that I might like that, but for now the here is here and the now is now and each voice and need must be heard in its own time. I am thankful that my meager practice has allowed me that

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Your practice sounds deep and intimate. What a joy to hear your struggle and fearlessness in meeting them in their last years. May you continue to find the comfort and support to sustain you on the journey.

Bows,

Koshin

Robert Jusei Chodo Campbell's picture

Thank you Sharon for your comments. I think it's really important that we are able to connect with all the feelings/emotions that are present when we are with another. Fear can be a powerful teaching tool as you point out, it showed you your resistance how wonderful. Something juicy to work with in your daily practice.

karnup's picture

Chodo,
Thank you so much for the most recent video. It speaks so immediately to the work that I do as a hospice volunteer - and to the experience I had with my sister when she was dying. That was when I first learned that, despite all my fears, I could be present with someone when they were dying. My sister and I were very very close and she said many times that she wanted to die with me. Despite my fears, I told her that I would be there. In those final hours, she taught me that I could stay, that I could speak to her, sing to her, fully be with her, even though she made no responses, except for a change in her breathing when I came into the room. Her death was very peaceful - and, as you have spoken about, I felt a change in her, and in the room. I have experienced that sense many times in my hospice work - and it reminds me of how sacred our work is.

It is sometimes difficult for me, being the only Buddhist in the hospice where I volunteer. I don't need to tell anyone - or have it recognized - but it does mean that some of what I experience I simply cannot share with anyone else. I would love to be able to work in a place where there were others involved in contemplative care in the manner you speak of.

All the best, and thank you for all that you do,
Katherine

sjtaub's picture

Hi Koshin and Chodo,
I am deeply touched and inspired by Rose....by both the joy and the sorrow of her death. What a gift she left behind. Thank you, Rose. Through your experience I am experiencing a deeper understanding of "no separation" between joy and sorrow. It's an understanding that comes from my heart and therefore, wordless.
In regard to fear and love, I am reminded of the experience of how my mother-in-law, in her dying hours, grabbed me and held on with a strength belied by her frail body. There it was.....Fear and Love. At the time I remember connecting to the fear mainly because of my own fear and resistance. Today, thanks to your teachings, I know I would connect much more to the love.
Thanks you both for all your work and teachings. You are the joy in the sorrow.
Sharon

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dear Ed,

Nice to hear from you. What a wonderful idea to have a retirement/practice home for those in the last years. I have heard people talking about this, and I think it is a needed and great offering.

Our work center's on the whole span of life, not just the last days. We partner with NewYork Presbyterian Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, Visiting Nurse Service Hospice, and Joseph's House. We offer contemplative care to staff, families and patients from maternity, general medicine to end-of-life.

I am inspired by your vision and feel it would benefit many. May your vision come to fruition!

Bows,

Koshin

ebland's picture

Thank you both so much for taking the leap and putting NYZ-CCC into practice. It seems like a great program for all concerened. Thanks too for creating the video for Tricycle and offering it to us; it's wonderful and so inspiring for my personal practice.

I am out in Seattle and part of a wonderful Theravadin Sangha (the Seattle Insight Meditation Society - in fact our guiding teacher, Rodney Smith, is currently giving a Tricycle series on "selflessness.")

My question has to do with an idea I've been working with for quite a while, which is for a Dharma-inspired and infused retirement home out here in the Northwest. It would be one part retreat center, one part co-housing community, one part reitement home, and one part hospice care. The goal would be to provide compassionate support and community for those in the last 5 or so years of life. You mentioned that your approach was to provide compassionate care in the final few weeks of live. How about the final few years? Anyway, do you know of such an offering? I was inspired by some traditions in Asia where the elderly give away their assets and commit the last years of their life to spiritual practice (with an element of support around them). I would certainly love that for myself and maybe to help creat it if it doesn't already exist. It would reduce so much fear in our culture, be much more cost-effective than our current medical establishment - and provide much more lving care. Anyway, I would welcome any of your thoughts on this topic.

With much Metta,

Ed --

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dearest Angie, Thank you for your words and your moving stories of the residents of Joseph's House. Leaning in. Leaning out. Staying in your seat. Your awareness of the waves you have been through is important. My sense that this happens when we see ourselves merged with another (leaning in); when we need to remember ourselves (leaning out); and being in ourselves (staying in our seat). I am thinking of these as stages of caregiving. At first we want to help and care and forget ourselves. Then we remember ourselves and lean out. With meditation practice, we learn to keep our seat. This is the beauty of meditation practice. We learn to be intimate with ourselves, and from there we can be intimate with another. We can only be as intimate with another as we are with ourselves. So, we can rely on our practice to come back to the breath and our seat in the moment. We cultivate awareness so that we can function freely. It is a pleasure to hear your thoughts and insights. We are on the path together.

angelacmeyer's picture

I've been reflecting lately on the art of caregiving and the dance between leaning in, leaning out, and staying in the the seat. I was a part of Joseph's House AIDS hospice in Washington DC as a full-time volunteer, live-in volunteer and then staff for several years. I remember the first years at Joseph's House I was SO hugely in love with the residents, with sitting at the bedside, with the precious moments caught in liminal space with another human being. Life lived in the shadow of death felt so sacred and I didn't want to miss a moment. I have so many memories, like taking a walk around the block...such a mundane activity that I'd done many times, but pushing my dying, wasting, sister in a wheelchair, made the whole world look different. Stopping so many times along the way, because my dying friends needed to rest. I had never stopped on this particualr stoop before...I had never gone into payless shoes and noticed all the bright colors...I had never stopped to get icecream and really savored the experience. I remember, Andre, an artist. In his final days, he tried to teach me how to paint, we would take long journeys across town to the art supply store, it would take us hours, because Andre and his independence insisted on walking, so every couple of hundred yards we would stop, sit, watch, listen, Andre would smoke, we were content to just be in eachother's presence, time stopped and it was just him and I, on a journey to get art supplies. When Andre was actively dying the process took over a week. I stayed with him, alot of the time lying next to him, my heart was so full of love for this man, I wanted to keep walking with him until the end. I had so many other experiences like this....Hugely loving until the end, getting my heart broken. I was a "Leaner In'er" for sure. To a fault. And then, I remember about three years into working at Joseph's House...things started to shift. I didn't want to always be there in this way. I didn't want to run over in the middle of the night to sit with someone who was dying. I was young, had a boyfriend, wanted to be wild and free, and why was everyone expecting me to always be there, and why did I expect myself to always be there? Was I really that important? I started to get angry and resistant to demands that were put on me by others and especially myself. The pendulum swung...and I began to "lean out", to create strong boundaries, to protect myself. The leaning out didn't "feel good" like leaning in did. My heart felt closed and protected. The last 4 to 5 years I've been practicing the dance of leaning in and leaning out, like a heart beat, but I still find this art challenging. I'm still hard on myself when I don't give everything, when I'm not productive, or doing something to move forward in the world. I understand self care as a concept, but I don't know that I've fully digested this as a practice. So, I would love to hear other people's stories about how it is to "lean in, lean out, and stay in the seat." I could use some help.

Robert Jusei Chodo Campbell's picture

Today I went to the gym twice, I need an extra dose of self- care, I am on my way to visit with a mother who is bearing witness to the dying process of her 3 year old daughter. Ironically as I leave the gym I notice the kids playing in the playroom while their moms work out upstairs. One breath in one breath out . Mothers & children life and death.

Jonathan Sherwood's picture

Thank you for that teaching.

sdewitt's picture

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank both of you for the work you do.

Last fall one of my oldest and dearest friends, of close to 30 years, died from cancer and Chodo paid him a visit the day before he passed (at Beth Israel in NYC).

It meant a lot to me that he was able to take time to do this, and I think it also meant a lot to my friends who were there when he came to visit.

I am the only practicing Buddhist amongst my circle of friends, and I do not proselytize Buddhism to them in any way, but several of them thanked me for arranging the visit from Chodo. I like to think that with his calm presence, and even bearing, that he gave a bit of solace and contemplation to all who were there that day.

I was lucky enough to then hear both Chodo and Koshin Paley Ellison speak the next day at the "NYC mediates" event held near Washington Square park (that is where the photo of them is from at the beginning of this post). Their words and presence had an extra resonance for me as I knew that my friend lay dying just a few blocks away. He passed away later that evening and the work that these two are doing has a real effect, I can say from experience, in helping people come to terms with what comes for all of us eventually.

Thanks so much, really and truly, for what you do.

Sam DeWitt

megahlita's picture

How do you work with the possibility that by cloaking yourself in the compassionate robes of caretaker, you are not distancing yourself from your own fears about dying? For myself, I keep asking the question, treating it as an active player in my motivation to serve. This way, I figure I've got a fighting chance to see through the deception while under its spell. Any other tips for cultivating that awareness?

Robert Jusei Chodo Campbell's picture

There is a saying "One can only be as intimate with another as one is with oneself" So for me being "cloaked" in the compassionate robes of the caretaker does not fully serve myself or other. We need to look constantly
at how we "cloak" ourselves, whether in robes or behind a name tag or a clerical collar. I was recently in Zimbabwe working in hospice wearing my
"civilian clothes" and without the title of Senior priest. It was a profound experience for me, not only to look in the mirror and see myself in khaki pants and a shirt but, on a deeper level I found myself working with the Koan "Who arrived here in Africa?" Am I still a priest/chaplain without my shaved head and robes. And now back in the U.S. I'm still working with the visual identifiers but I'm sure about my role and my commitment to continue on the journey of finding authentic intimacy.

megahlita's picture

So I may not be sure about how and if I'm deceiving myself, but I can take refuge in the commitment to the journey itself. Maybe that's all there is anyway. Thank you for the insight Chodo.

Lauren T's picture

First, just want to mention that there was no link to the PBS segment on this page -- I had to go to the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly site to watch it. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/november-12-2010/zen-...

I think the work that you are doing is so essential, and I hope to join you in it eventually. Right now I don't have time to do the training -- busy raising a son! But contemplative hospice care has already been an important part of my life. A few years ago, a young woman in my sangha got sick with brain cancer. During the last six months of her life, I got to know her in a very special way; the word "friend" can't convey the connection we had. At first I wasn't sure what I should do or say, but in using my Buddhist practice, it became clear that the best gift I could give was my full presence, being with her where she was, through the pain, irritation, confusion, and also playfulness and joy in being alive and being together.

I wonder if you have experience in providing contemplative support for children who are very sick, and/or their parents? I imagine that children's needs are quite different from adults'.

Lauren T

Robert Jusei Chodo Campbell's picture

During my chaplaincy training years, I interned on the pediatrics floor of a NYC hospital. It was one the most difficult and the most profound periods of my life. Children can teach us so much about resiliency and the mystery of life. I often encountered what "seemed" to be a very clear idea of what was happening from the child's perspective as they were facing death. A different kind of calmness occurs even in the midst of all the anguish and
heartbreak of the parents and family members. And of course that's just my experience and......... it didn't make it any easier to walk into the hospital, or to leave it.

Philip Ryan's picture

Dear Lauren,

We're very sorry, the link was temporarily down. It's restored now.

Philip Ryan
Web Editor
tricycle.com

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dear Katherine, Nice to hear from you. I agree, caring for dying people and their families is a manifestation of Buddhist practice. As the historical Buddha encountered old age, sickness and death and began is own quest for understanding from there, we can use our practice to be with those who are suffering. While many are afraid of death, we can turn towards what frightens us. I am happy you have found your path in this integral work.

We will be coming to Toronto next March to offer a week-long Contemplative Care Intensive at our friend Michael Stone's Centre of Gravity. You can find out more about that training here: http://www.centreofgravity.org/course_care_training/

We'd love to see you there.

Bows,

Koshin

Robert Jusei Chodo Campbell's picture

Yesterday I visited a young husband and his 3 children at their home,his wife is dying with cancer. The streets of Brooklyn were awash with blossoms and the smell of spring is in the air.
On the third floor of their home lies a wife and mother in her hospice bed. Oblivious to the laughter of her children who at the foot of the bed wonder where mommy has gone.

karnup's picture

I first heard about your work at the Zen Peacemakers Conference last August. I was very moved by your presence there and by the work you are doing. I've been volunteering at a residential hospice for the past ten years. Caring for dying people and their families has become more and more important in my life - and the work itself is a central element of my Buddhist practice. I wish that there were more opportunities to study and practice with others, as that is something that's really missing from the place where I volunteer. I'm wondering if you have thoughts about ways you can bring your teachings and training to places outside of New York City. Up here in Ottawa, Canada, it would be so wonderful to have this support and training and inspiration.
Thank you for the work that you do.
Katherine

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the film.

manatee's picture

Deep, deep gratitude to both of you, Koshin and Chodo ! Have just watched the film. Have been looking in on you and your work since it first hit the internet, and this film has given both you and your work a dimensionality that takes my breath.

I see my own life and calling in everything you say and realize it is necessary to ask for whatever counsel you may be able to give. For 25 years I pursued an academic path - German, Linguistics, Philosophy. In 2001, the delusion broke. I left academe and I fell into the contemplative 'bearing witness' that is your life, mostly in long-term care facilities, Hospice patient care and bereavement, and in the local jail. My savings having dwindled, though, and I need a living wage now, but not even the PhD in Philosophy and all the experience is getting me employed. At 61, I can hardly bear the thought of another masters degree; your words, Koshin, about 'not waiting and living life now' R I N G inside. All the jobs I see require another degree, though, This 'work' is "where I need to be," too, and where I am as much as energy will allow. For at least 3 years now, deep sadness has come at the thought I would have to walk away even slightly from this 'cushion' just because of a paycheck.
I left a monastery after only a short time in my twenties and now understand why I was there, why I left, why I am here, and also how suffering can open us to peace and joy that benefit all. Soooo . . . here I sit, gratefully and joyfully committed to this vastly needed work I watch happening in so many venues - AMAZED and indeed frustrated at how difficult it is to find a living wage offering what is craved by countless beings. Perhaps this is a form of GREED on my part - I hope a skillful form.

PLEASE, if there's anything you two could share on this question, I would burst with gratitude - then again, if you cannot help in this regard, I will burst with gratitude anyway. I do each time your newsletter comes or I just think of you. I am deeply, deeply happy to know you and many others are also sharing your path in this way.

May you and ALL of YOU be blessed with ALL you need along this way.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU ...

manatee

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dear Manatee,

Thank you for your passion and care. Yes, most work in the field of professional caregiving requires at least a few years of formal training. We know many people who bring this practice into the academy, into their corporate offices, into their local business. Sometimes we can get one sided about where care is needed: hospices, hospitals and prisons. While these are wonderful places to bring compassionate action, I think the whole world has space and need for care.

So, nurture yourself. Find a livelihood that will nurture you and allow you to bring your big heart where ever you go. There is not a single place that doesn't need care.

Bows,

Koshin

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dear Manatee,

Thank you for your passion and care. Yes, most work in the field of professional caregiving requires at least a few years of formal training. We know many people who bring this practice into the academy, into their corporate offices, into their local business. Sometimes we can get one sided about where care is needed: hospices, hospitals and prisons. While these are wonderful places to bring compassionate action, I think the whole world has space and need for care.

So, nurture yourself. Find a livelihood that will nurture you and allow you to bring your big heart where ever you go. There is not a single place that doesn't need care.

Bows,

Koshin

frankostaseski's picture

Hi Koshin

The film is very evocative and has a lovely poetic quality. Balanced among other things by Roshi's straight-forwardness. Lot's of wonderful teachings and sentiments in the film. A good service. Thank you.

I had a question/comment that may add to this discussion.

Our human (Buddha) nature appears to have a wide-range of essential qualities known through the heart and mind that guide our functioning. When unobstructed these qualities arise as an appropriate response to the conditions we meet.

I wondered about the statement in the early moments of the film, "....there are only two feelings/languages/actions/motives...only two procedures, two frameworks, two results ...love & fear". I understand and value speaking simply and poetically. However, I remember Jerry Jampolsky popularizing this notion back in 1975 with his statement, "love is letting go of fear". I think this belief about love and fear has its origins in "The Course in Miracles". The concept has certainly benefited many. Yet, it left others in confusion and distress. I encountered and worked with a number of sick & dying people who felt they were not able to "let go of fear" and so wound up feeling like failures.

The statement gives the impression that fear & love are opposites. That we may have one or the other but not both. I wonder? Fear and desire seem to be two ends of the same stick. Does love have an opposite?

Love seems intrinsic to existence, not a reaction, not even an activity. It's not limited to being a thought, or an emotion. Though it can be experienced in those forms. In actuality, we cannot have love. We are love. It is substantial, real, in the fabric of our deepest nature. Love and consciousness are inseparable. We might even say, everything is made out of love although there is variety and difference.

One of the most beautiful aspect of love, in my limited understanding, is its quality of complete receptivity. It isn't in opposition to anything. Love embraces everything...whatever it comes into contact with....even if at first that person or state of mind or heart (like our fear) seems utterly unloveable.

That seems important when we are facing the impossible....the unknown.....the terrifying.

Keep up the good work. Let me know how I can help.
Frank Ostaseski

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dearest Frank,

Nice to hear from you.

What wonderful thoughts. Yes, love and fear are a part of the whole thing.
The words are a poem by the Australian poet Michael Leunig, from his "Book on Common Prayer." Mostly, we used it to highlight two aspects that arise in caregiving. As you know from your years of experience, the rest of the aspects are also always present: hopelessness, joy, sorrow, anger, ease and ten thousand other feelings.

Love is a mood and fear is an emotion—part of the vast net of jewels that are always present. Maybe the other side of love is lack of feeling, and the other side of fear is the courage to turn towards what we are afraid of, which is the functioning aspect of fearlessness.

Words are not it, and yet we need to use them. We need to train to use all our feelings so we can be present for another.

I agree, limiting this work or life to just love and fear is missing the point. And yet. And yet . . .

Have a wonderful day. By sharing this work, we help each other and the world.

Blessings,

Koshin

angelacmeyer's picture

Hmmm...I've been reflecting this morning on Love and Fear. I have such a deep love for my fear or our fear, whatever you want to call it. I've been practicing the art of Budokon and as a part of the system we practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When you are rolling on the ground with your opponent..sweaty, often in survival mode, you have to turn into your attacker instead of away from. It seems counter intuitive to turn towards that which seemingly could annihilate you, but if you turn your back than your opponent has even more of an advantage. I find such beauty in this...turning into fear, even though it often is counter intuitive to the way I'm programed or even threatens my survival on a primal level. Without the grittiness and realness of my fear, I feel like love is one- sided, stand-off-ish, cool, instead of pulsing, rich, raw and real. I used to often feel like a bird in a cage. The cage being my fear. I was afraid to break out, be seen, and become who I was born to be, who I already was...as you Buddhist say, pure awareness, or maybe simply love. I wanted to get out of the cage because I desired freedom more than anything else, and a hunger to know the Truth. The way out was to get intimate with my fear, (the fear), but it was through that intimacy that I experienced the qualites of courage, resiliency and freedom. I think it was Allan Lew, who said "Without fear, there is no courage." Anyways, I love playing with these qualities and concepts of love and fear and asking them to teach me directly through experience. Thank you to my teachers! May the questioning and curiosity continue.

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Dearest Angie,

What a beautiful reflection! It is wonderful how alive and visceral your contemplations are.

Blessings,

Koshin

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Chodo and I are looking forward to a lively community discussion of contemplative care in the world.

g_hajjar's picture

I cannot thank you enough for this. I am a neophyte in the Way, just taking the first steps. I am also an RN who works in long-term care and find these two distinct things wedded. As I work toward the center personally, I find myself expanded in other areas, particularly the care that I give my patients. I find that I see myself in the people around me, and yet distant from the reality that I face. I admit to some confusion, but find that the journey as rewarding as my more traditional one toward my licence. I look forward to the journey and hope that you will be a part of it. Thank you again.

Koshin Paley Ellison's picture

Thank you for your words. We are all on the way together. Meditation, caregiving and practice in the world are not three separate things. Compassionate action flows through them all when we bring our awareness into intimacy with how we function in the world.

We are glad to walk together with you.