MIAMI, FLORIDA—Back home in Manila the rains pound incessantly. Outside my hotel room window, the sun’s warmth radiates its heat on everything below, and the skies over the sunshine state are at their bluest.
I’m here for the international conference on death, dying and bereavement sponsored by the Association for Death Education and Counseling. The last couple of days, I’ve been able to load up on a lot of happy hormones by strolling and dining on South Beach, taking a dip in the Atlantic, and watching my first-ever professional baseball game.
Yesterday, I began to immerse myself in studies and classes, soaking myself in grief theories and learning the newest methods on how to help people cope and move on after a loss.
On Saturday, I present a paper here on the Filipino mother’s experience of grief, telling the world what makes us unique and how we do things back home.
The irony of the experience was not lost on me. Rain and sunshine can and do co-exist.
I suppose we all come to a point in our lives when we realize and understand how joy and sadness can reside in one place. How it’s never really one or the other, but rather, knowing that we have both that keeps us grounded and inspired.
Growing up, I used to hear friends say, “I don’t want to be too happy because I know sadness will follow.” I never really bought into that idea. In my life, I’ve always tried to be fully in the moment, fully embracing whatever joy or sadness was there, knowing it would not be there forever.
So I tell everyone I meet, never be afraid to be too happy, or too sad for fear of one state taking over the other. They both exist in one’s heart and mind, side by side, constantly.
Yesterday I had the blessing and privilege of listening to an inspiring teacher who affirmed for many in that room why it was that we chose to do the work that we do. Dr. Roshi Joan Halifax, a Buddhist teacher, anthropologist and social activist is Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress.
Dr. Halifax spoke to us about the importance of mindfulness, compassion and self-care in the work that we do, and in the ways that we relate to one another on a daily basis.
She began by quoting Jon Kabat-Zinn, who defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
In caring for others in whatever situation, but more so for the sick and the dying, she spoke about the art and discipline of Contemplative/Mindful/Compassionate Care (CMC Care) that draws upon many traditional practices which have been found to be beneficial not only for the one on the receiving end of the caring, but for the caregiver, as well.
There are five keys that one must master to be able to apply CMC.
Self-awareness—Paying attention to what is truly going on inside of you, respecting the full spectrum of your emotions, not negating it but truly listening to what your heart is telling you, and also listening to your body.
Resiliency and pliancy—The ability to be flexible and shift from one mental state to the other, not remaining stuck or obsessed with what is taking place in the moment. This is particularly useful in moments where one’s patience is tried.
Attention and metacognition—May things around us can disrupt us from the moment, so we need to learn to focus to develop a quality of being fully present for the other.
Compassion and self-compassion—Burnout, the overextension of oneself and one’s boundaries, is a reality we all live with. Thus, it is important to practice compassion, not only towards others, but also toward oneself.
Meaning—Understanding the value and finding meaning in one’s work is important in order to keep on serving.
Dr. Halifax was a very affirming presence that morning in a room filled with people from all over the world who have chosen the less-travelled path. She said, “The privilege of serving those who go through deep sadness cannot be underestimated… The experience we go through has to do with our whole experience of maturation. It is a path we are all on, a path of maturation laden with wisdom and compassion.”
Coming to Miami and presenting a paper in the same year that the wonderful woman who mentored me on this path, Dr. Kathleen Gilbert, is this year’s president, is coming full circle. It’s been a long road. And yet, I know, the journey goes on.
This time, I’m confident in the knowledge that laughter and tears can comfortably co-exist, and learning how to be fully present in every moment, enjoying what is there, not stressing over the outcome by not being attached to it.
Looking back, the words of another healer, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, come to mind: “Perhaps wisdom is simply a matter of waiting, and healing a question of time. And anything good you’ve ever been given is yours forever.”
God, time, and circumstance always show us the way, and courageously, trusting that we are guided, we go forth in the direction of where we are meant to serve and be.