This week Suzanne Smith and I taught one of our Professional Caregiver’s Retreats for nurses, doctors and others who work at the bedside of critically ill and dying children and adults. They are compassionate, wildly overworked professionals doing intense, intimate, and demanding care.
Offering mindfulness and compassion training to them is an honor. Carrying the traumatic burden of repeated losses and bereavements, they share heart-breaking stories of tragedy and courage. They long for the healing support of these wisdom practices, instead of feeling driven to habitual numbing, distancing, overeating, one-too-many cocktails, or other distractions offered by the culture.
As one nurse put it, “We are taught to wash our hands before we touch a patient and afterwards. You understand that you’re carrying germs from person to person; do you also know that you’re carrying emotional stuff? And when was the last time you did something about that? We don’t do anything to release the accumulation of emotions!” Fortunately mindfulness and self-compassion practices provide tools to release difficulties and settle the heart.
When we explain that mindfulness and compassion include inner and outer attention, stories of difficult working conditions pour out. A hospice nurse tells us: “We’re being run into the ground on 12 hour shifts, our load of people who are dying has tripled. We need mindfulness because these are hard jobs. But when managers are throwing mindfulness at us like a band-aid after asking way too much of us, it’s difficult. We see a clear need to change the way we’re required to work.”
Wherever you are, use your mindfulness and compassion to see clearly, and respond wisely. Otherwise mindfulness trainings can end up being offered without compassion in corporate settings to reduce the stress of people stressed out by unfair work conditions!
As another clinician said, “There has to be a better way, and I want to be part of that.” Mindfulness and compassion extend a limitless invitation to tend both yourself and the world around you — to create a saner, kinder way to work, to live, to BE.
Image Credit: T. Goodman