Mindfulness and Selflessness in Care-Giving

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Every day we mustbench deal with situations that might make us feel anxious or uncomfortable, especially those who work in care-giving settings. For those providing care to patients who’ve elected to no longer receive medical treatment, the sense of anxiety and discomfort with mortality and morbidity can prevent providing the best quality care possible. Dr. Hilary Bradbury at Oregon Health and Science used the Buddhist’s practice of mindfulness to not only explore how caregivers might deal with their own feelings, but also how to provide the best care for their patients. Driven by her own experience as a volunteer and the use of action research, Dr. Bradbury published her fascinating findings in an article titled “Collaborative Selflessness: Toward an experiential understand of the emergent ‘responsive self’ in a Care-giving Context” with the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

I started to work as a volunteer with dying patients on the palliative care wards of the academic medical center where I teach in Portland. Doing so led me to see that the action research work that I practice and write about could be of value. As I have a meditation practice, I offered that as something to develop a co-inquiry about in the context of palliative care. So this paper is really the fruit of a marriage between various scholarly and practical loves which combined to be of value to dying patients and those who volunteer to sit with them. In essence by bringing my healthcare colleagues together for daily meditation over 12 weeks, there were many positive outcomes at individual and patient and healthcare provider team levels.

We focus a lot on the work volunteers did to notice and release anxiety in mindful meditation practice. We might think, well of course anxiety is common when working with the dying. But it is so common for all of us to feel low (or high!) levels of anxiety all the time, and too often this goes unnoticed and wreaks havoc on our sense of wellbeing. Mindfulness practice allows that anxiety (and lots of other experiences!) to be seen without making it too big a deal.

The biggest insight of the paper came when the volunteers began to examine their own experience of, rather than merely their thoughts about, working with dying people. 

I am therefore most pleased to have prompted for more of a conversation among action researchiJABS coverng scholar-practitioners on what really is the nature of the self that arises in collaboration. I bring the pragmatists and Buddhist psychology to bear on the findings. Moreover I am happy to bring the voice of contemporary action research back to JABS. Action researchers often get tired of mainstream journals we find too conservative in their embrace of post-conventional social science. I am happy to say that in this case, I experienced JABS as offering really excellent reviewers. Now I hope for new interlocutors on contemporary action research and mindfulness.


Read the entire article online in Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, and sign up for e-alerts here so you don’t miss out on JABS’ latest articles and issues.

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