Even though the following post is written with the nursing profession and healthcare professional in mind, its content may be valuable for anyone who reads it. Give it a read and see. Let me know whether it works for you, regardless of what profession you’re in. Enjoy!
You’ve probably read it before, either on this site or somewhere else, that meditation can foster compassion (there’s even scientific evidence proving this!). The two, knowing one’s mind and knowing one’s heart, go hand-in-hand. When you come to know your mind, your heart follows and vice versa.
Okay, so assuming that’s the truth, how can you learn to take better care of yourself through the art of meditation? How can you learn to be more compassionate with yourself?
There’s a lot of talk in the meditation world, and particularly in Buddhism, about being compassionate to others. In fact, there are even exercises, some of which I’ve shared on this site, on how to “take on” the suffering of another. That’s great, but still – what about you??
I think that it can be reasonably stated that we as nurses are particularly notorious for not taking care of ourselves. Perhaps due to our long professional history of “selfless service” we’ve learned to accept burdensome caseloads, unreasonable work-hours (Ongoing research is proving that night-shift work is seriously dangerous to your health), and abysmal wages (When I first came out of nursing school, my hourly wage was $.83/hour less than what the checkers at Safeway were making?!?!)
So, with the new recognition of nurses as being the key to good healthcare, and with more professional and public recognition of how vital we are to the delivery of healthcare, why is it that we still don’t take care of ourselves? And, how can we use meditation to learn compassion for ourselves?
Sometimes we have to wake up to the fact that we’re suffering and that there are ways to alleviate that suffering. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and face the fact that you could be taking better care of yourself. Okay, so assuming that you’ve done both of these things, that you’ve faced the fact that you suffer and that some of that suffering is due to your own lack of self-care, now what?
Meditative and contemplative practices are ways that we can gain access to our mind in its less-distracted, we might say, “pure” form. In that purity is the recognition of two very important things.
First, we recognize the mind that is at the root of our suffering, a mind that gets distracted from the present and that gets caught up in many of the stories that we make up about our job, our life, our family…the list goes on.
The second thing that we realize as we gain an understanding and recognition of our mind is that there’s a clarity of mind that remains free from the stories and worries that we create. And, this clear-mind is always with us and is accessible through the use of meditative and contemplative practices.
Why do we have to access this “free” mind through meditation? Mostly because it’s through the practice of meditation that we even get to recognize this mind in the first place. Meditation is a way of slowing down the speedy nature of our mind and bringing the distracted mind home. Once we bring our mind home, we find that we’re able to access compassion not only for others but for ourselves as well.
For me the greatest struggle isn’t about wondering whether this clear aspect of my mind is available, I’ve practiced meditation enough to have enjoyed glimpses of its presence and clarity. For me it’s remembering to take care of myself by taking care of my mind through the practice of meditation. Sometimes it seems so much “easier” to get caught up in the soap-opera of the mind, forgetting that there’s another way to engage my life.
Once I can pull my head out of my…distractions (what did you think that I was going to say?), then I can remember that by not practicing meditation, forgetting about the clarity of my mind, I’ve been the cause for my own suffering. That’s the magic!! Once we begin to recognize that much of our suffering comes from within our mind and not from our external circumstances, we can begin to change how we work with our mind. And from that comes compassion, for ourselves as well as for others, when we realize how much of others’ suffering also comes from not knowing “who” they are without the stories and the distractions.
Can you imagine what it would feel like to show up at the bedside or in whatever environment you’re caring for another, with a mind that is free from most of its distraction? Can you imagine how your patients/family/friends would experience you if you were taking care of yourself? In fact, far from being selfish, maybe taking care of yourself, really taking care of yourself by taking care of your mind, is one of the best things that you can do for others!
It’s time, it’s really time for nurses to start to take care of themselves! If we don’t take care of the care-giver, how can we possibly manage to show up at the bedside? How can we possibly mind the bedside?
I encourage everyone reading this post to take seriously the art of working with your mind or, if you’ve already taken up the practice of meditation, to commit to really taking care of yourself by practicing on a regular basis, no matter what is going on in your life. It’s a gift to yourself and to those you care for.
For more information on how to meditate, please see the Related Posts below. Also, don’t forget to download the free ebook, Can Meditation Change the Way that You View Your World?, for help with getting started in you meditation practice, and download the ebook, How to Work with the Four Distractions to Meditation to learn how to deal with some of the obstacles to meditation.
As always, please feel free to share your comments. And, as always, please feel free to contact me if you’d like to see additional content or other discussions on this site.
 The term “bringing the mind home” is often used in Buddhist meditation. The author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche, devotes an entire chapter of his book to this very subject.