A Mindful Halloween and Day of the Dead

A Mindful Halloween and Day of the Dead

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

For death,
Now I know, is that first breath
Which our souls draw when we enter
Life, which is of all life center.

~Edwin Arnold

 

The beginning of the month of November is marked by a variety of celebrations throughout the world including the Day of the Dead and Halloween, the night before All Souls Day. Halloween was actually a pagan holiday called Samhain that was coopted by the Christians. But, they are all celebrations of those who have passed away, a celebration of our ancestors, a celebration of the dead. This might seem a bit macabre to be celebrating death. And, indeed, the macabre is an integral part of the celebration.

 

It does seem to be strange, however, that death is celebrated when it is in fact the second most frequent fear. So why do we celebrate? Perhaps Mark Twain put his finger on it “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. The celebration is not really about death. It’s actually a celebration of life. Death reminds us that our lives are limited. We celebrate to help us experience life while we still have it. As pointed out by Angelina JolieThere’s something about death that is comforting. The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.

 

These ideas are well stated in the Zen Evening Gatha that is recited every evening in Buddhist monasteries.

Let me respectfully remind you,
life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Awaken.  Take heed.
Do not squander your life.

 

Rather than not squandering our lives, many of us live in a state of unaware numbness, going through the motions of life, but not really living. Focusing on an anticipated happiness in the future or ruminating about past issues. We seem to not comprehend that the essence of life is the present moment. That is all life is, a long-lasting present moment. It is the only time that we can actually live. So, if we do not relish what is in the present moment, we might as well already be dead. This is where contemplative practice and mindfulness comes in. These practices help us to learn to live fully in the present, experiencing what life has to offer.

 

Somehow, in our everyday lives we see the present as unsatisfactory or boring. But, nothing could be further from the truth. If we truly do focus on the present we are often surprised by its richness. Even focusing on something simple like our breathing, really paying attention to it in all its exquisite detail, we can see that this simple experience is replete with beauty and nuance. We can feel the delicious sensations of our body in action. We can see how remarkable this simple process really is. We can see how essential it is to our very existence, yet we take it for granted. And that is only breathing. There is so much in the present moment that when we carefully look at it we’re amazed as to how we could ever have missed it. Life is a miracle. Life is special. Only by being mindful can we deeply immerse in the wonder of life.

 

Halloween and the Day of the Dead is also an opportunity to recognize our ancestors without whom we would not exist. It’s a time to view how interconnected we are to all of humanity. All one has to do is follow the family tree back a few generations to see how widespread our connections are throughout time, culture, religion, race, etc. If we go very far back, we can see that everyone is connected to everyone else somewhere in our ancestry. Also, by looking at our ancestors and understanding what they have contributed to our existence, we can see how important it is for us to commit to future generations to promote understanding, peace, and prosperity for the future.

 

But what about death itself, should we be as afraid of it as we are? It is helpful to remember that life is bounded by birth and death. Do we fear the state we were in prior to birth? In fact, many psychologists think of birth, the entry into life, as a traumatic event. It involves leaving a very peaceful state for the chaos of life, what William James called the “blooming, buzzing confusion”. So, maybe we should fear birth and not fear death which may simply return us to the peaceful prenatal state. Perhaps we should look forward to it.

 

The important thing and the message of Halloween and the Day of the Dead is to experience this precious time of life that we’ve been given. Indeed, many have suggested that the entire purpose of life is simply to experience it. So celebrate life and don’t worry about death. Enjoy Halloween and the Day of the Dead in the present moment. Stay in the present moment and be truly alive, celebrate every experience, and when death comes welcome it having experienced life to its fullest.

 

 “On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. Instead of the sympathy, the friendly union, of life and death so apparent in Nature, we are taught that death is an accident, a deplorable punishment for the oldest sin, the arch-enemy of life, etc…. But let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory for, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.” ~John Muir

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Reduce Depression and PTSD Symptoms in Caregivers for Dying Children with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness Self-Compassion turns the usual self-critical paradigm around and asks the care partner, in the midst of a difficult caregiving moment; become aware of the emotions that arise in the moment and where they reside in your body (Mindfulness), recognize that there are others who suffer in this way (Common Humanity), and then offer yourself what you need in the moment (Self-Kindness). Again, this is not to change the moment of suffering for the person you are caring for or for yourself, but because you are suffering too! In the end this supports both of you in a softer way and provides the circumstances, not necessarily for ‘cure’ but for healing.” – Sarel Rowe

 

Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations burnout is all too prevalent. This is the fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. Burnout is associated with depression-like symptoms and often post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-like symptoms. Healthcare is a high stress occupation. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout.

 

Providing care for the dying can be can be a very satisfying, rewarding, and even joyful experience. But, over time, caregiving can wear the caregiver out and can lead to burnout. Indeed, 62% of physicians involved with end of life care report symptoms of burnout. This is magnified many times when the patient is a child. This is supposed to be the beginning of life, not its end. It is often the case that caregivers for the dying become personally attached to their patient. With a child, that attachment becomes deep and profoundly emotional. This level of emotional stress is difficult to repeatedly endure. So, there is a need to find ways to help the healthcare professionals who provide care in general, but particularly for those working with children to cope with the stress and emotional drain.

 

It has recently been demonstrated that mindfulness training can help caregivers cope with the stress. It has also been shown to help to prevent burnout in multiple occupations and particularly in healthcare workers. So, it would make sense to investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness training in preventing burnout in healthcare workers providing end of life care to children. In today’s Research News article “Multimodal Mindfulness Training to Address Mental Health Symptoms in Providers Who Care for and Interact with Children in Relation to End-of-Life Care.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1308949565795633/?type=3&theater

or see summary below. O’Mahoney and colleagues recruited palliative care and other health-care professionals who were involved in caring for terminally ill children. They received a 9-week mindfulness training program meeting once a week for 2 hours in the evening. They were measured before and after training for experiential avoidance, cognitive fusion (taking thoughts as true and upsetting), depression, burnout, and PTSD symptoms.

 

They found that the mindfulness training resulted in significant decreases in depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. These are interesting preliminary results. But, there is a need to follow this up with a randomized controlled trial to determine unequivocally if the training was responsible for the improvements. The effects do seem reasonable as mindfulness training has been shown in different contexts to reduce depression and improve PTSD symptoms. These findings simply extend these general understandings of the effects of mindfulness training to end of life care for children. But, again demonstrate the usefulness of mindfulness training to relieve the psychological effects of caregiving.

 

So, reduce depression and PTSD symptoms in caregivers for dying children with mindfulness.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

We are set up for short-term stress, but caregiving is long-term stress. Mindfulness works to inhibit the stress response. Most of us run around listening to our thoughts, and this is particularly true of caregivers, who are driven by the To-Do list. They are never at rest.” – Griffiths Vega

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

O’Mahony S, Gerhart J, Abrams I, Greene M, McFadden R, Tamizuddin S, Levy MM. A Multimodal Mindfulness Training to Address Mental Health Symptoms in Providers Who Care for and Interact With Children in Relation to End-of-Life Care. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2016 Jul 21. pii: 1049909116660688. [Epub ahead of print]

 

Abstract

AIM: Medical providers may face unique emotional challenges when confronted with the suffering of chronically ill, dying, and bereaved children. This study assessed the preliminary outcomes of participation in a group-based multimodal mindfulness training pilot designed to reduce symptoms of burnout and mental health symptoms in providers who interact with children in the context of end-of-life care.

METHODS: A total of 13 medical providers who care for children facing life-threatening illness or bereaved children participated in a 9-session multimodal mindfulness session. Mental health symptoms and burnout were assessed prior to the program, at the program midpoint, and at the conclusion of the program.

RESULTS: Participation in the pilot was associated with significant reductions in depressive and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among providers (P < .05).

CONCLUSION: Mindfulness-based programs may help providers recognize and address symptoms of depression and PTSD. Additional research is needed to enhance access and uptake of programming among larger groups of participan

A Mindful Halloween and Day of the Dead

For death,
Now I know, is that first breath
Which our souls draw when we enter
Life, which is of all life center.

~Edwin Arnold

 

The beginning of the month of November is marked by a variety of celebrations throughout the world including the Day of the Dead and Halloween, the night before All Souls Day. Halloween was actually a pagan holiday called Samhain that was coopted by the Christians. But, they are all celebrations of those who have passed away, a celebration of our ancestors, a celebration of the dead. This might seem a bit macabre to be celebrating death. And, indeed, the macabre is an integral part of the celebration.

 

It does seem to be strange, however, that death is celebrated when it is in fact the second most frequent fear. So why do we celebrate? Perhaps Mark Twain put his finger on it “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. The celebration is not really about death. It’s actually a celebration of life. Death reminds us that our lives are limited. We celebrate to help us experience life while we still have it. As pointed out by Angelina Jolie “There’s something about death that is comforting. The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.

 

These ideas are well stated in the Zen Evening Gatha that is recited every evening in Buddhist monasteries.

Let me respectfully remind you,
life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Awaken.  Take heed.
Do not squander your life.

 

Rather than not squandering our lives, many of us live in a state of unaware numbness, going through the motions of life, but not really living. Focusing on an anticipated happiness in the future or ruminating about past issues. We seem to not comprehend that the essence of life is the present moment. That is all life is, a long-lasting present moment. It is the only time that we can actually live. So, if we do not relish what is in the present moment, we might as well already be dead. This is where contemplative practice and mindfulness comes in. These practices help us to learn to live fully in the present, experiencing what life has to offer.

 

Somehow, in our everyday lives we see the present as unsatisfactory or boring. But, nothing could be further from the truth. If we truly do focus on the present we are often surprised by its richness. Even focusing on something simple like our breathing, really paying attention to it in all its exquisite detail, we can see that this simple experience is replete with beauty and nuance. We can feel the delicious sensations of our body in action. We can see how remarkable this simple process really is. We can see how essential it is to our very existence, yet we take it for granted. And that is only breathing. There is so much in the present moment that when we carefully look at it we’re amazed as to how we could ever have missed it. Life is a miracle. Life is special. Only by being mindful can we deeply immerse in the wonder of life.

 

But what about death itself, should we be as afraid of it as we are? It is helpful to remember that life is bounded by birth and death. Do we fear the state we were in prior to birth? In fact, many psychologists think of birth, the entry into life, as a traumatic event. It involves leaving a very peaceful state for the chaos of life, what William James called the “blooming, buzzing confusion”. So, maybe we should fear birth and not fear death which may simply return us to the peaceful prebirth state. Perhaps we should look forward to it.

 

The important thing and the message of Halloween and the Day of the Dead is to experience this precious time of life that we’ve been given. Indeed, many have suggested that the entire purpose of life is simply to experience it. So celebrate life and don’t worry about death. Enjoy Halloween and the Day of the Dead in the present moment. Stay in the present moment and be truly alive, celebrate every experience, and when death comes welcome it having experienced life to its fullest.

 

 “On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. Instead of the sympathy, the friendly union, of life and death so apparent in Nature, we are taught that death is an accident, a deplorable punishment for the oldest sin, the arch-enemy of life, etc…. But let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory for, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.” ~John Muir

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Develop Your Eulogy Virtues

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” – David Brooks

 

The renowned columnist David Brooks likes to contrast two differing sets of virtues that we aspire to. One he terms the resume virtues, the other the eulogy virtues.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html?_r=0

For the most part the resume virtues predominate for the majority of our lives. We strive for success and achievement. We work for years to attain an academic degree that we can place on our resume and use as the basis for the next entries on our resume revolving around our career. We measure our success by our titles and the wealth we accumulate.

 

The resume virtues are important and striving to do well in life and make a comfortable living are good things. They can, of course, become a problem when they are overemphasized and become the predominant focus in our lives. Too great of a stress on the resume virtues can result in the exclusion of the other aspects of life that are the true source of happiness and satisfaction. These are the eulogy virtues.

 

On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on developing their eulogy virtues. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

It is clear that to live a full life we have to develop our resumes but it is far more important in the long run that we develop the eulogy virtues. But, how do we do this when the rewards of society and the urgings of our egos all push us towards developing our resumes. The answer may well be contemplative practice. These practices, meditation, yoga, tai chi, contemplative prayer, etc. have been shown to help in developing the exact abilities and experiences longed for by the dying.

 

Contemplative practice focuses us more on experiencing the present moment and doing so without judging it. This provides a better perspective on our lives, seeing ourselves as we are without judgment. This can lead us to follow our hearts and be true to ourselves rather than being a slave to what we perceive others expect. By appreciating the present moment we can learn to enjoy where our lives actually play out, the present moment. This can lead us to even having greater appreciation and enjoyment throughout our lives, even during the time we spend working.

 

Contemplative practice helps us to accept our flaws and accept and appreciate others. As a result it improves relationships and social interactions. It helps us to become better listeners and more compassionate toward others. Increased understanding and compassion for others is a motivator to becoming involved in improving our world.

 

Contemplative practice helps to develop the ability to regulate emotions and improve emotional intelligence. So, we get in better touch with our true feelings and become better able to express them to others.  Importantly, contemplative practice has been shown to increase happiness. We enjoy life and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.

 

Finally, contemplative practice has been shown to help to develop acceptance of ourselves. Many people do not like themselves. Contemplative practice is an antidote for self-loathing, tending instead to improve self-love. It can help us accept and like ourselves more. It is difficult to truly love others if you don’t love yourself. So, the self-love developed in contemplative practice is a requirement for loving others. It leads inevitably to caring more for others and be willing to express that love.

 

So, engage in contemplative practice and develop your eulogy virtues.

 

“What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.” – David Rubenstein

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Die More Peacefully

At the end of life, our questions are very simple… Did I live fully? Did I love well? ―  Jack Kornfield

Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way.” – Native American Saying

Many people fear death, in part, because they do not know what if anything will follow. It has long been believed that spirituality/religiousness provides an explanation and thus can be very comforting to the dying. But, there has been very little systematic empirical research investigating the relationship of spirituality/religiousness to the experiences of the dying.

It is very common for dying individuals to have transcendent experiences. It has been estimated that over half of all conscious dying people have these kinds of experiences. Although there are a wide variety of transcendent experiences they all have in common that they are experiences that are beyond the self and/or beyond empirical physical reality. There have been only a small number of empirical research studies into these phenomena and their relationship to the dying process.

In today’s Research News article “A Thematic Literature Review: The Importance of Providing Spiritual Care for End-of-Life Patients Who Have Experienced Transcendence Phenomena”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1061620460528546/?type=1&theater

Broadhurst and Harrington summarize the research on the effect on the dying individual of having experienced transcendent phenomena.

They found that the literature suggested that transcendence experiences provided psychological strength, peace of mind, and spiritual well-being. This was opposed to hallucinations which produced anxiety, fear, and confusion. The comfort produced by the transcendence experiences also affected the family and the caregivers causing them to feel better about the situation.

They also found that people who have had transcendence experiences had more peaceful and calm deaths. They also found more spiritual meaning in their lives producing greater inner peace. Finally they were better able to deal with unfinished business in their lives, particularly to mend family conflicts. This also led to greater inner peace.

It is clear that spirituality and transcendence experiences are important at the endo of life and can have highly beneficial effects on the dying, the family, and even the caregivers. It is unfortunate that doctors, nurses, and other caregivers have little or no training or experience with end of life spirituality let alone transcendence experiences of the dying. Hence, it is important that this be include in the training of future professionals so that they can better understand and work with the spiritual needs and experiences of the dying.

So, welcome spiritual and transcendence experiences in the dying and help them to a more meaningful, peaceful, and calm passing.

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.
” – Native American Saying