Spirituality & Wholeness Workshop 2015

On September 11, 2015, I attended a Good Samaritan Society Workshop with keynote speaker Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., titled: “The Good Samaritan and the Giver’s Glow: The Paradox of the Simple Act of Giving.”

Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D. is the best-selling author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, in addition to Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and his work with Alzheimer’s outlined in The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer’s Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying. Dr. Post has worked at the University of Chicago Medical School, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and is currently at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he is the Founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. Dr. Post has received the Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Leadership in HealthCare from the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network and the Kama Book Award in Medical Humanities from the World Literacy Canada.

In 2001 he founded the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, a free-standing non-profit whose goal is to research and distribute knowledge on selfless love. You can visit his website at: http://www.stephengpost.com and http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org

Dr. Post gave four talks, with the following titles and outlines: “Rx: It’s Good to be Good” Dr. Post introduces his philosophy of intentional giving. Discussing the positive effects it has on happiness, health, creativity and longevity.

“The Ten Ways of Love, Giving and Flourishing” Learn a simple way to apply the philosophy of intentional giving in your everyday life, using the ten ways to love.

“Who Benefits From Compassionate Care?” Dr. Post shows how resident care as well as their health improves with compassionate care and how living with the philosophy can prevent depression and burnout in healthcare professionals.

“Hope, Love and Caring for the Deeply Forgetful” Discover how applying compassionate care can help caregivers to recognize enduring self-identity within those with dementia. Discuss the ethical issues involved in caring for individuals with various forms of dementia, through the stages from diagnosis to dying.

One of the opening bits of information that Dr. Post shared with us was artist Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule.” He pointed out that it consisted of people from various racial and religious backgrounds and ages. Observing their faces, one is given the impression of a sense of peace and well-being. Such outward reflection of peace can also influence the well-being of others.

Dr. Post pointed out that the words medicine and meditation come from the same root medi, which means balance. Life and health is about balance.

The biblical concept and practice of love is now being confirmed by scientific research. According to Michael McCullough in Beyond Revenge, 2008, “When we help others we cannot maintain a vengeful attitude.” According to P. Wink & M. Dillon, In the Course of a Lifetime, 2007: “300 pre-teens in the Bay area followed every ten years since the 1920s. The one third who identified contributing to humanity as important were healthier and happier 50 years later, protected from depression & some physical illnesses.” In AA: The Big Book, p. 20: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help their needs.”

Dr. Post said that research has been done on the cause of Schizophrenia, and it is now being viewed as connected with experiences of separation anxiety. He mentioned that environmental changes can cause separation anxiety—for example, when a person graduates from school and moves into a workplace.

President Abraham Lincoln suffered from melancholy and depression, and once said: “When I do good I feel good: When I do bad I feel bad.” Dr. Post pointed out that, from his own experiences, it does not necessarily follow that when you do good or love others or propose projects for others to do good and love others that it will go easy for you. People will resist you and crosses still find you.

One of Dr. Post’s favourite definitions of care/love comes from Harry Stack-Sullivan: “When the happiness, security and well-being of another person matters to you, you care for that person. When these things are as real or more real to you than your own, you love that person.” According to Stack-Sullivan: “Love cures mental illness.”

In study by Howard Brody & Franklin G. Miller, “Lessons from recent research about the placebo effect,” in The Lancet, Vol. 375, 2010, pp. 686-695: “a warm interpersonal relationship independently” adds “substantial therapeutic benefit” in the placebo effect. According to WB Malarkey, DK Pearl, JK Kiecolt-Glaser, R Glaser, “Influence of academic stress and season on 24-hour concentration of ACTH, Cortisol and Beta-endorphin,” Psychoneuroimmunology, Vol. 20, 1995, pp. 499-508: “Abrupt dismissive interactions elevate stress and slow wound healing.”

According to JW Mack, et al. “End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life,” J of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 28 (no. 7), 2010, pp. 12-3-8: “Compassionate communication with family members whose loved ones are dying decreases anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and decreases use of the ICU at the end of life.”

During Dr. Post’s discussion on healthy aging and Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention, he suggested that the following factors may be significant for some: Diet (fruits, vegetables), exercise, social and intellectual engagement, avoid protracted stress (possible role of spirituality), walk peacefully with friends to a Greek restaurant (i.e. the Mediterranean diet) and then hit the library to read and meditate.

In Dr. Post’s “Alzheimer’s & Grace,” First Things 2004, he offers the following wisdom: “As caregivers, we should talk even to the most cognitively disabled, calling them by name (which, sometimes surprisingly, may come). We should speak with a warm and calm voice, with a joyful facial expression, bending down to make eye contact, communicating with them rather than around them. We can use pictures, music, hymns, Scripture, poetry, meaningful symbols, and short simple prayers.”

I agree with Dr. Post 100% on these practices. It has been my experience as a chaplain working with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents that they respond the best with music. Often music calms them, reduces fear and anxiety, gives them peace and contentment, and even helps them to express themselves verbally in a more lucid way. As Martin Luther once said: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”

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Book Review: The Life Worth Living

The Life Worth Living: Faith in Action

Author: Byron L. Sherwin

bsherwinPublisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009

165 pages, including Bibliography, ISBN 978-0-8028-6293-8, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Rabbi Dr. Sherwin is a prolific author, internationally acclaimed theologian, ethicist, and Distinguished Service Professor at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and has made significant contributions to Jewish-Christian dialogues.

   This volume is addressed mainly to those interested in the realm of faith, open to further, deeper inquiry and growth in their faith and life journey; without being bogged down by technical, theological jargon.

   The work contains a preface, eleven chapters, and a bibliography. The chapter titles give readers some sense of the book’s direction, and are as follows: Where Are You? The Quest for Success; What Do You Mean? Life as Art Form; Where Is Wisdom to Be Found? The Gift of Love; Thank God; Ego Management; In Partnership with God; Ups and Downs; Exquisite Living. Each chapter begins with a story drawn from a wide variety of sources from both Jewish and Christian literature, which set the tone for the chapter’s theme. One of my favourites is chapter seven, Thank God: Once there were two little girls who were best friends. One was Christian, the other was Jewish. After Christmas, the grandfather of the Christian girl asked her: “What did your best friend get for Christmas?”

   “Oh, she’s not Christmas, Grandpa,” the little girl replied. “I am Christmas, and she is Hanukkah.” Then she paused for a moment, smiled and said, “But we’re both Thanksgiving.” (p. 94)

   The first chapter, Where Are You, is the question that God asks Adam and Eve after they have eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, (Genesis 3:9). Rather than viewing this as a question however, the rabbi suggests that we look at it as a problem instead. “God is asking, What is your situation? Where are you in your life, now that you have eaten the forbidden fruit?” (p. 2) Such an awareness of where one is in life helps one to realise their responsibilities for what they have done in one’s life.

   Echoing the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, Rabbi Dr. Sherwin believes that: “For the person who loves, life is never devoid of meaning. Other moral virtues may contribute to a life of meaning—like faith, integrity, or courage—but love does more than contribute to meaning; love underlies it.” (p. 78)

   Citing the Talmud, the rabbi emphasises the destructive nature of gossip, stating that a gossiper is like a murderer, and “in effect kills three people: the one who speaks gossip, the one who hears gossip, and the one about whom the gossip is said.” (p. 137)

   Speaking of the importance of gratitude, the rabbi observes that it lifts human beings out of the ruts of self-pity and depression and allows them to be content with life.

   Addressing the matter of repentance, which in Hebrew, literally means return-teshuvah; Rabbi Dr. Sherwin speaks of it as “spiritual rehabilitation.” He suggests that it “is grounded in optimism, in hope, because it assumes the possibility of improvement. As an old myth reminds us, hope has two daughters: anger and courage—anger at the way some things are, and courage to try to change the way those things are.” (pp. 140-141)

   Overall, even if one does not always agree with Rabbi Dr. Sherwin, this work is an engaging read, chock-full of creative, insightful life-and-faith observations helpful to both clergy and laity, and giving the reader a deeper appreciation for the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity.