Midwife Beth Coyote addresses the audience as part of the "Birth, Death, and In Between" panel at the 2010 NWDA Annual Gathering. Other panelists, from left, are Jeff Schoening, Tom Kelley, and Alan Marlatt.
On Saturday, February 20, over 75 people participated in the Northwest Dharma Association’s 2010 Annual Gathering, held this year at Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle.
This event, formerly called the Annual Meeting, has been held every February for the last eight years. It was originally designed to report on and conduct the business of the Association. It has evolved, however, into an occasion for Buddhists and friends from throughout the region and across traditions to explore themes of common interest. This year’s theme was “Buddhism and the Body.”
Jeff Schoening, a hospice chaplain, pauses before answering the question, "What does it mean to be ready for death?"
The morning was devoted to a panel presentation entitled “Birth, Death, and In Between”, followed by questions and answers. The presenters were Beth Coyote LM, CPM, a midwife, mother, and poet, and recent recipient of the Midwives Assoc. of WA “Women of Wisdom” award; Alan Marlatt, PhD, director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington; Tom Kelly, MA, an HIV/Aids educator, prison volunteer, and graduate of Metta Institute’s End of Life practitioner program; and Jeff Schoening, PhD, Hospice and Palliative Care chaplain for Swedish Visiting Nurse Services who holds a doctorate in Buddhist studies. The discussion was moderated by Julie Welch, NWDA Board President.
Though the presenters’ specific focus areas are different, common themes emerged from the morning’s discussions including learning and teaching others to be present to immediate experience and offering a compassionate witness to help alleviate suffering.
Beth Coyote spoke of the role that her practice has played in developing her ability to be present with the pain, and joy, of women in childbirth. She spoke about her own Dharma practice having started years ago at a time of personal suffering and what has transpired since. “Here I am all these years later blending my practice of the Dharma with my midwifery practice…being able to hold the experience that women have with great love and kindness and being able to witness for them their experience instead of trying to fix it or interfere with it.”
Audience members chat with Alan Marlatt and Beth Coyote at the conclusion of the panel discussion.
Alan Marlatt described the approach of Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention that he uses in his work with those suffering from addiction. He contrasted this work with other forms of treatment that try to suppress craving. “A lot of treatments are trying to get people to inhibit cravings… In the mindfulness perspective, it’s much more about recognizing that the cravings are there…that they can pass…you don’t have to give into them.”
Tom Kelly talked about the importance of mindfulness in being with those dying and their loved ones and what he sees as his role in the process. “Sometimes dying is messy in terms of the energy in the room, and so what seemingly would be a natural fit for a (Buddhist) practitioner is to be the calm presence that’s there, bearing witness and being available with intention.”
Jeff Schoening talked about his own growth and development as the result of his chaplaincy training. He spoke as well about preparing effectively for one’s own death and the balance between faith and doubt. “It’s important for us to explore our doubts now…retain some baseline faith…but with that, ask ourselves now, ‘What scares us about death?’ and look at that…that helps.”
It was an engaging and informative morning. Many of the participants headed for lunch at the Sakya Monastery’s Losar Celebration that was taking place a couple of blocks from the monastery.
The afternoon session offered an open round-robin discussion facilitated by George Draffan of Natural Awareness. The theme was “Integrating the Mind and Body in Practice.” It was a lively conversation about the relationship between physical activity, mindfulness, especially of the body, and other aspects of practice such as meditation. It also revived an old NWDA tradition, the “Dessert Potluck”.
Northwest Dharma is grateful to Sakya Monastery for its generosity in providing space for the event and to Sakya member, Tim Tapping, for his very helpful, hard work on NWDA’s behalf.
Next year’s NWDA Annual Gathering will be held in Portland. Suggestions for a theme (and volunteers) are welcome!
To listen to a complete audio transcript of the morning’s program and to see video excerpts, go to http://www.northwestdharma.org/announcements3.html
Contributor: Timothy O'Brien.
Photos: Caterina De Re.