Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Suffering
Dr. Ann Allegre, award-winning professor and physician in the field of Palliative Medicine writes:
“When I first encountered the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I had already been working for several years as a hospice physician. Although I loved the work and felt grateful to be able to help patients and families in such a meaningful way, the work was taking its toll on me. I was becoming emotionally drained, on the verge of burnout.
In order to “save my life”, as I thought of it, or at least to save my career, I found my way to a course called Contemplative End-of-Life Care Certificate Course, offered by the Spiritual Care Program of Rigpa in collaboration with Naropa University. This course was built on the teachings and practices presented in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Although Sogyal Rinpoche did not take part in the course in person, his teachings were the inspiration and guidance, through the book, his teachings on video, and through his long-time student Christine Longaker who led the course.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has much practical advice for caring for the dying, which I was able to apply immediately. I also learned much more about meditation, compassion, and guided practices for compassion and healing. I felt that these tools gave me a way to offer help to those who were suffering in ways that I could not address medically. Sometimes, the profound suffering of a family in conflict or the fears of someone dying tore at my heart. With the help of the teachings, I could be more present with them, less afraid of being with their pain. Even when my medical expertise and my presence could not relieve them, I could offer them spiritual support and remember them in my daily practice, asking that they find peace and happiness.
I have made it a practice to buy copies of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying to make available at our inpatient hospice facility. Several patients and families who found the copies on the shelves have told me that they found the wisdom in the book to be very helpful as they or their loved ones are facing the end of life. Those who make a connection with the book are free to take a copy home with them; I replace them as needed.
As I learn more about the Buddhist teachings, I understand more that there is great depth and a wealth of information in this book. I continue to explore it, understanding more and more the wisdom that it contains. Anyone who will face death or loss (and that is all of us) can find much in it that applies directly to his or her own life. For those of us who work with the dying, the invaluable wisdom in this book is especially inspirational and healing.”
Dr Ann Allegre MD, FACP is Director of Medical Programmes for Kansas City Hospice, USA. She also serves as Medical Director of the palliative Care Consult Service for Providence Health. She is Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine for the University of Kansas School of Medicine. In 2007, she was awarded the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine “Project on Death in America Community Leadership in Palliative Care Award” in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the advancement of the field of palliative medicine through the education and training of future leaders. In 2011, she was honored with the Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Award. Many colleagues praise her remarkable communication skills, her holistic and spiritual approach to her patients and their families, and her finely honed clinical expertise. She attended the Spiritual Care Conference in Killarney, Ireland in 2009, together with Sogyal Rinpoche and many other prominent individuals in the field of care for the dying. She is currently faculty at the Contemplative End-of-Life Certificate Program offered by the Spiritual Care Program.
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