This is the third article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. For the first, see Meditation helps me be a better social worker and vice versa and for the second, see Where is a problem?
Throughout my three years of training to become a social worker I have undertaken three long-term work placements. The first was in a baby’s hospice caring for children with life-limiting illnesses. They offer palliative and respite care for babies/infants from birth to five years old. I loved this job! To be honest I have never felt so much unconditional love for others in one organisation, especially towards the ill children. I have lived and visited many Kadampa Buddhist Centres in my time who show a brilliant example of tolerance and acceptance to people from all backgrounds without wanting anything in return, and the experience at the baby’s hospice was similar.
Exchanging self with others
At times it was quite a busy environment and twelve hour shifts too. I try and always make time to do my meditation though, even if very tired I do my daily offerings and pujas (chanted prayers) to keep the blessings going (and me). One of the main meditations to focus on when in a busy care environment is exchanging self with others (from the Lojong or mind-training tradition).
Before actual meditation I dissolve Buddha into my heart and imagine that I already have the spiritual realisation of exchanging self with others, imagining what it would be like to have this mind.
Then I contemplate Buddha’s teaching on exchanging self with others, feeling it is possible to change the object of my cherishing from myself to all others, and develop a heartfelt determination to develop this mind. I find that this meditation is meditation on love — cherishing love, perceiving others as precious and important.
A playful social worker
If it is a good meditation then I can carry this feeling of love for a while at work– even when extremely busy, having staff, visitors and children wanting my attention. At busy times like this I try and mentally repeat in my heart, that others matter and are more important than me, repeating this like a mantra. It helps me become more self-aware and less stressed, actively listening to what others are saying and trying to fulfil their expressed needs.
It is perhaps easier with children. In the children’s hospice it was never a large group and most activities were therapeutic and playful. In a way you are becoming just like them (although still aware of your duties and health and safety). You join in with all the activities they are doing such as messing about in a soft play area, arts and crafts, playing with toys, laughing and joking, and trying to get out onto the swings in the park.
This playfulness reminded me of how I should be with my meditation practice to overcome laziness, being playful and light with meditation.
The hospice is on the grounds of a Catholic nunnery and although it is not a religious organisation there seems to be a Catholic religious background and culture to the premises and nearby organisations. I think people found it quite cool me being a Buddhist and I was accepted into the work life (as a professional and at times as a volunteer) and also, the social life of the organisation and community. I found that there was harmony and mutual respect between myself and those in the hospice that were religious.
In Understanding the Mind Geshe Kelsang explains how mixing religions causes sectarianism but that if you practice your own tradition and respect all other traditions at the same time, this leads to harmony and tolerance. (Gyatso, 1997, p162). I showed this example here well, as did the Christians I worked with. At times I was asked to attend church services with the children and often with colleagues we shared spiritual or religious beliefs and respected the similarities and differences.
Not so long ago I attended their Christmas party, hoping to be asked to be Santa, having been a Buddhist Santa in other care settings in the past. I missed out, but happily engaged in the fancy dress party (Cowboys and Indians), handing out Christmas presents to the children and making sure that they and their family had a good time – all part and parcel of trying to exchange self with others.