What is Contemplative Care?

By Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison and Sensei Robert Chodo Campbell

This November 8th-11th, 2018, the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, in partnership with The Garrison Institute, will host the fourth biennial Contemplative Care Symposium. Since 2012, this Symposium has brought together leading voices in contemplative, end-of-life, and palliative care for four days of experiential learning and collaboration around a partnership model of care.

Contemplative Care is a multi-faith, partnership approach to care that draws on the contemplative practice of the caregiver as the primary source of loving action.

For over a decade, the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care has provided contemplative care to over 100,000 individuals and trained more than 6,000 healthcare professionals and volunteer caregivers. We’ve provided direct care to the sick, dying, and their families and loved ones. In this work, we have become intimate with our own suffering in service of alleviating the suffering of others. We bear witness to the present moment in relationship, in the midst of the difficulty and chaos of our surroundings in the face of illness and loss. Our work as care partners is an expression of our contemplative practice.

Often caregivers come to us and express that they don’t know how to take care of themselves. They are suffering from isolation or they aren’t sure how to integrate their spiritual practice into their work caring for others. They feel burnt out and are thirsty for new models and approaches to care.

The Contemplative Care Symposium was designed address this need. We wanted to create an experiential model that allows participants to encounter, first-hand, the potential of this type of care in partnership. Over the course of weekend, we come together in relationship and learn how to take care of each other in a new way. When people leave, they are ready to more effectively take care of others and themselves.  This symposium is a potent model for what is possible in our clinical teams and day-to-day relationships. The experiential piece is crucial because contemplative care is taught through the art of partnership.

The theme for this year’s symposium is “Building a Community of Care.” We are emphasizing and providing a space for people to remember the importance of intimacy and connection.

For participants, it is a rare opportunity to meet others dedicated to transforming care in this country and beyond. This is the most enriching part of the symposium. You can expect to meet professionals and innovators in the field, such as doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual care providers and chaplains, volunteer caregivers, healthcare advocates, students, and community leaders. Throughout the course of the weekend, attendees will hear inspiring keynote and workshop addresses. We have chosen speakers who are leaders in their respective fields with strong expertise, but who are also deeply committed to this work. By the end of the symposium, we hope to create a shared vision of what is possible with a partnership approach to care.

In line with the theme, the content this year will focus on diversity, community-building, and practical skill enhancement. Since our first symposium in 2012, we have seen the energy around contemplative care increase. Yet, to move this work forward it is necessary to bring in new voices and perspectives. No one person will have the right answer! Collaboration and conversation across ethnic, economic, social, and gender lines is crucial. Change doesn’t happen in isolation, and we need to ensure these values are being advocated in patient and caregiver populations.

Lastly, this symposium is unlike any other conference as it is modeled on a retreat experience. It is a nourishing weekend held at the Garrison Institute, a beautiful site immersed in nature, overlooking the banks of the Hudson River. We start each day with meditation and a silent breakfast, then move into a full-day of learning. Keynote speeches and skill-building workshops are interspersed with delicious meals. There is time for conversation and connection, yoga and movement, and performances.

Overall, we set a container for participants to learn experientially, to form relationships, and to walk away with a sense of what this model of care really means. It is a truly beautiful process!

We hope you will join us this year!

To register for the Contemplative Care Symposium (November 8-11, 2018), please click here

Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison and Sensei Robert Chodo Campbell are co-founders of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care

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