Meditation retreat brings balance

Annelie H. Pelaez, a nurse in Plainview, NY, writes about going on a meditation retreat in order to cope with the stresses of her work.

…At the end of my shift, I was exhausted. With blood spots on my uniform and waste stains on my shoes, I went home. That night I signed up for six-day meditation retreat for healthcare providers with Susan Taylor, PhD, which promised stress reduction through focused awareness.

I had seen the ad in Nursing Spectrum more than once. Although tempting, I thought six days was a bit long to be away from the “madding crowd.” But now I was feeling empty, worn out and longed for personal equanimity. I realized that I am my most important patient, and certainly deserving. I knew this retreat would not only make me a better healthcare provider, it also would serve as an intervention for self-preservation.

What attracted me was the promise of stress reduction, clarity of mind and learning to become more aware of my internal, emotional states. That sounded like a prescription for restoring balance when I am bombarded with sensory overload at work and think, “This is it! I cannot spend another day working as a nurse.”

Breathing and attention are the key principles to focused awareness. I learned that, when the breathing is calm and peaceful, the mind and body become calm and peaceful, too. Delivering more oxygen to the cells has a profound effect on the autonomic nervous system. Besides the therapeutic feeling of serenity, it also infuses vital energy. As nurses, we know that, but remembering and putting it into practice when we feel the pressure mounting is another story.

Now, when I have an intense, stressful moment at work caused by unstable patients, busy assignments or demanding family members, I can take two minutes out, establish calm diaphragmatic breathing, focus on my breath, and bring my awareness into the here and now. This reminds me that I am not the chaos around me, and I am not the demanding thoughts that bombard me. I am me, fine enough doing the best that I can, one thing at a time. This brings a sense of peace and stability most of the time.

Common Goals
Another great pleasure of the retreat was having the opportunity to spend time in a group, learning, exploring and seeking common goals. Everyone was there to learn techniques to improve their practice and patients’ conditions, but it also became a road to self-healing and empowerment. “Be true to yourself, know who you are, then commit to a lifestyle that supports your inner balance and well-being.” That was the message I received.

We cannot experience peace and joy trying to make the world what we think it should be, but rather by experiencing life as it already is. Remembering this at work and in daily life provides me with yet another great tool to relieve stress. Although the daily demands of nursing have not changed, my response to them has.

Sometimes we get so involved with mundane daily activities that we forget who we really are. This retreat was a chance to reconnect to my true being. We strive to serve our patients at an optimal level. Yet, since we cannot give what we don’t have, serving ourselves must come first.

Annelie H. Pelaez, RN, works in the ICU at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in Plainview, N.Y.

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