Eleven years ago I joined a Mindfulness for Stress course at St Michael’s Hospice, where I work as a Staff Nurse. Becoming present, in an alive, kind and responsive way to all that life offers, was appealing, both in my personal life and within my work on the Hospice ward. So much of this work is being alongside people and their situations, experiencing distress and suffering on many levels. I realised I could not be unaffected by this, and that taking care of myself could in turn help me care for others in a more empathetic way, helping prevent burnout and sickness.

At first, my mind was so loud in telling me, “you don’t have time, you need to get on, step away from the chair, you are not doing this right.”  After two years, I noticed those moments were not so loud and I was connecting to a continuous, if cloudy at times, still, quiet place that brought a sense of perspective and clarity with whatever was going on. This brought a rhythm of checking in, pausing, and allowing feelings, thoughts and emotions a space and a chance to change, without acting upon them in an automatic way.

Regular meditating became part of my life and I wanted to share how helpful it can be with people at work. The Breathworks courses ticked all the boxes for how we envisaged mindfulness working within the Hospice, with its emphasis on being kind to yourself with whatever is arising, and that being compassionately present can ease and relieve suffering. A colleague and I completed the Breathworks teacher training and as our practice embedded and grew, so did our sense of knowing this mindful approach was the way forward for some of the patients, family and staff at the Hospice.

We set up courses and were inspired by the people who joined as they met the challenges of being with their pain and suffering. During a mindful movement session, a gentleman with advanced MS imagined his fixed clenched hand gently stretching out and in. At the end of the meditation, he showed us his hand moving, curling in and out, more than it had for years. In session four, one young woman with only months left to live, exclaimed, “I get it, we are only ever in the moment so I need to enjoy it now, and not worry too much about what will be happening in the future; NOW it is the best time.” She knew her time was short; she realised that being mindful in as many moments as possible was important, not a never-ending future goal of becoming mindful, and that she could discover the richness, the treasures of the moments, which balanced the valid moments of sadness and sorrow.

An inpatient, in for assessment of pain and fatigue, suggested I try him as he was a cynic and could not be swayed by "stuff like this." Following a body scan practice, he turned to me and said, "I can’t believe it, the pain has eased, and I feel so much calmer, more aware of everything, which feels amazing." I continue to see him as an outpatient, and he is happy to share his feelings about how mindful practices help him.

An MND patient, at present at home and gradually deteriorating, loves to share the body scan. It allows him to release into immovable tight and tense, painful muscles, and for his imagination to soar, to fly into his garden and still be present with the practice. His wife joins him and appreciates feeling the release into gravity, to be cushioned and held, and to allow the body and mind to become present in this moment and the next.

A volunteer at the Hospice recently told me, "I have never forgotten you saying at a drop-in, ‘when things feel so intense, that thoughts crowd out all helpful suggestions, see if you can remember your breath, and to let go with breathing out.’ It has been my guiding action with my mindfulness practice.” It is something I need to remember too!

I feel so fortunate to be a Breathworks teacher. I am grateful that I can be alongside so many who benefit from mindfulness; sharing their journey is a precious gift to me, enriching and developing my practice. I recently heard a palliative health care professional say, “we cannot change the destination, we can help change the journey,” and this is why I value and appreciate the help from The Breathworks Foundation. It enables me to make this care available to as many people in need as possible; to help them change their journey in a kind, helpful and responsive way. Breathworks and St Michael’s Hospice share the ethos and values of serving the community in its times of need, with affordable courses, supported patient and staff work, and delivery within a beautiful and caring setting.

Gail Calthrop

Donate Today