Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Compassionate Companion

A colleague loaned me three CD's of concepts used at Zen Hospice in San Francisco, called "Being a Compassionate Companion:Teachings, stories and practical wisdom for those accompanying someone who is dying - An intimate conversation with Frank Ostaseski".

The series, dedicated to compassionate companionship, comes into play, for me, particularly during death events. The practices, reminders, and stories originate from ZHP's founder's Frank Ostaseski's 20 years of experience being with death and dying. The topics offer support in preparing for death, serving the dying, and grieving.

I love that their stated core activity is "bearing witness," as expressed in their slogan, "Stay close, do nothing."

The approach at ZHP is a process that Ostaseki describes as, "a mutually beneficial relationship between caregivers and people who are dying." Both parties listen to death, and learn together. A notion that has deeply impacted my pastoral care is the mutuality aspect of service, which differs from usual notions of charity and help.

I quote Ostaseki here:

"Service-a very different experience than charity-recognizes wholeness: there is no 'helper' and no 'helped.' Something bigger is happening in service than the two individuals involved. Mindfulness practice helps to transform generosity from a charitable 'I and other' expression to one of service, where we recognize that we're both in the soup together. I understand that in order to work with someone else who is dying, I have to do a kind of individual exploration. I have to look at my own relationship to sickness, old age and death. While I'm working with someone, I'm also investigating my own fear, my own grief. In Buddhism, we recognize that someone else's suffering is also my suffering. So when I take care of myself, I care for others; and when I care for others, I am taking care of myself."

The 18-minute meditation at the end of the first CD ("Preparation") allows a contemplative reflection of the five precepts of a compassionate companion. I have found it so meaningful that I carry around the short list of precepts to which I refer during my visits.

1. Welcome everything; push away nothing. No clinging, no aversion.
2. Bring your whole self to the experience. Moments of sensation: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, thinking.
3. Don't wait. Be present for this moment, letting go of any expectation.
4. Find a place of rest in the middle of things, cultivating kindness and ease. No need to interfere with what's arising.
5. Cultivate a "don't know" mind, opening moment to moment, without preconception or resistance, letting the mind and the body be open and receptive.

At four minutes remaining, he whispers very intimately, "just rest."

That's all. Just rest.

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

For whom are you a compassionate companion in this moment?

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