The Case for Contemplative Care: We are all in this together – Niall Weir

Categories: Care and Education.

I’m eternally grateful to all who took part in that conference, for prompting me to think about the kind of person I’d welcome at my bedside, when my own life eventually ebbs out its little day.

Many moons ago, I was part of a team of Hospice Chaplains that was tasked with attending to the spiritual needs of patients, carers and staff of the hospice community, of which we were a part.

We worked together with a small but wonderful team of chaplaincy volunteers – each of whom felt called to that role and had been through a rightly rigorous selection process.

That process involved those on the selection panel asking candidates of a series of questions, designed to allow those candidates to demonstrate their understanding of the role and to enable the panel members to gauge the candidates’ suitability for the task in hand.

The questions we asked the candidates need not concern us now. Suffice to say that once the interviews concluded, those of us on the panel used to ask a question of ourselves – and the question was this.

‘Is this candidate the kind of person I would welcome at my bedside if I were nearing the end of my life?’

Not an everyday question, I grant you, but a question worth asking nonetheless, not only of potential chaplaincy volunteers, but of anyone who a part of a hospice community – from the lowest palliative care consultant to the loftiest member of the domestic team.  As Sensei Chodo reminded us during the recent conference on The Case for Contemplative Care, ‘We’re all in this together.’

Sensei Chodo & Sensei Koshin, co-founders of the NYZenCenter

I’m eternally grateful to all who took part in that conference, for prompting me to think about the kind of person I’d welcome at my bedside, when my own life eventually ebbs out its little day.

  • Like Mandy, I’d welcome someone who would be attentive to my needs – be they spiritual, existential, medical or just about having my pillows fluffed up.
  • I’d welcome someone who would be, as the Senseis Chodo and Kosin put it, awake at my bedside – awake to me as the person I am, and not just that tricky so-and-so from side room six who hates ice in his gin.
  • I’d welcome someone like Sensei Koshin’s grandmother,  who, when she was with you, was nowhere else – the sort of person to whom you’d want to tell your story.
  • I’d welcome someone who was confident enough to enter the reality of my dwindling days and not dodge that reality with the kind of breezy optimism that is designed to dodge elephants in rooms.
  • I’d welcome someone who, as another of the contributors so memorably put it, had, ‘done their work’, by which I took them to mean someone who had looked into their own hearts before looking into mine.
  • I’d welcome someone who’d approach me with a beginner’s mind – someone who, although they’d read my notes, had parked their perceptions and hadn’t made their mind up about me.
  • I’d welcome someone like Rachel, who would be better at asking questions than answering them.
  • I’d welcome someone who was mature enough in their own spiritual tradition to know that even if they were not a person of the book themselves, there was sufficient congruence between us, to mean that we were fundamentally on the same page.
  • I’d welcome someone who, like Molly’s lovely friend George the Roofer, would be in awe of the ordinary and at home with the birds. ‘Consider the lilies.’ as someone once said.
  • I’d welcome someone whose ethic was such that they’d be quiet, curious and brave enough to bear witness to the lasting profundity of the brief encounter.

I’ve met many people who embody those welcome qualities in my time – many of them in and around hospices such as St Christopher’s, where Dame Cicely first made the Case for Contemplative Care all those years ago. Indeed, I met many people like that in the course of the conference of the same name, who led us all in unpacking that case in such a profound way.

And I’d like to be like them – the kind of people who’d  be awake and welcome at the bedside.

Lots of people in a room, facing each other, smiling in conversations.
The Case for Contemplative Care conference, 2024

And, with that in mind, I’m also eternally grateful to those who led the conference, for inviting me to think about how I – and indeed, anyone who so wanted – might go about becoming that kind of person.

Those of us who were at the conference will recall how it began with an invitation to do what most spiritual traditions at the mature level invite people to do, which is :–

  • To be still and to be silent.
  • To be in the present moment by attending to our breathing.
  • To be in our bodies.
  • To be watchful
  • To have a few tricks up our sleeves to enable us to serve eviction orders on the many monkeys who, without so much as a ‘by your leave,’ will take up squatters rights in our hearts and minds, in an attempt to distract us from the task in hand – the task of realising that we each have it in us to be an awake and welcome presence at the bedside . We already are that kind of person – we simply need to be still and kiss that sleeping beauty into life.

We were wisely invited to adopt this as our committed contemplative practice – preferably imbedded in a sane and accountable spiritual community and tradition that has stood the test of time.

It didn’t bother me that the conference didn’t quite land on its intention to explore the setting up of Communities of Practice around Contemplative Care – quite the opposite, in fact. The conference made me all the more aware of and grateful for the communities of practice to which I already belong.:-

  • My church.
  • Those with whom I meditate on a Thursday evening.
  • Those in HMP Pentonville, with whom I sit still for half and hour every Tuesday afternoon.
  • Those Communities of Practice such as St Christopher’s Hospice, where Contemplative Care has flourished for over 50 years and continues to do so in the course of wonderful conferences such as this.

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This article was first published on the St Christopher’s website and is republished here with permission.

 

 

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