Mindfulness Meditation at OVC

My life decisions over the last five years are taking me places I never expected to go.  Introducing mindfulness meditation to the students at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) is definitely one of those.

It was part of a lecture series run by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA).  Six times a year, students enjoy a free pizza lunch and are introduced to topics like veterinary economics, life in large animal practice or others that are not part of the curriculum.  When the organizer asked me to participate, I took the opportunity.  Why not start with developing tools for skillful living while they are developing their skills for veterinary practice?

About 80 students stayed (they were kindly threatened by the student leaders to not just take their pizza lunch and run!), ranging from 1st to 4th years and even one resident DVM. I had about 40 minutes to catch and hold their attention.  I told them about Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) work.  I showed them how it was a mind-body practice, by leading them through several simple, seated, breath-based meditations.  I gave them tips on how to incorporate mindfulness meditation into their daily lives.  They didn’t run away with their pizza or leave screaming from the room.  In fact, there were moments when we could all feel our collective energy had settled, just by participating in a sitting practice together.  It was surreal to be back at my alma mater and, at the same time a privilege, sharing what I felt was an experience that had and continues to make me a better veterinarian and person.

I was advised by one of the students that there is a weekly mindfulness meditation group on main campus, led by one of the University Counsellors.  I was happy to hear this but joked that I knew veterinary students seldom crossed the road to get to the “other side”.  I encouraged them to start their own group and to find me on my Downward Dog DVM Facebook page if they wanted to continue the conversation.

Planting the seeds.  Hoping for the future.

2014 Mindfulness Meditation Retreat

Before I knew it, the weekend I’d been anticipating for so long had finally arrived.  I was on a plane to Chicago for the 2014 Mindfulness Meditation Retreat, organized by Michele Gaspar, to see old friends and meet some new ones.

We were a group of 23, who had gathered via our connection through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN).  We came out from all across the USA and Canada.  Although this retreat was not a VIN-sponsored event, I’m grateful to VIN for supporting the development of mindfulness meditation through their on-line courses and virtual meeting space.

The backbone of the weekend was to develop our mindfulness meditation practice.  Several times each day, we sat together in silence, with a focus on the breath and an awareness of our thoughts.  Each session was about 30 minutes and people could choose to be seated in a chair, on a bench or to lie down on the floor.  The physical act of sitting was challenging for those with hip or back issues.  Many would agree the thoughts were always finding a way to pop up and distract us from our breath.  But by cultivating this awareness, we were developing a skill to help us weather the times when difficulties arose during our work in veterinary medicine.

Meeting like-minded veterinary colleagues and developing a network would be important for the benefits of the weekend to continue on in our separate lives back home.  We had some frank and heartfelt discussions about our professional lives.  There were opportunities to talk and feel heard by our peers, without being judged or shamed.

Each morning of the retreat, I had the opportunity to teach yoga to the group.  I forgot to reset my iPhone to Central Time so I lost a little sleep the night before the first yoga class.  Not to mention that I had a bit of anticipatory butterflies!  Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing as that was the experience for that moment.  Several people had little to no experience with yoga but all were ready to try something new.  As a whole, veterinarians are quite able-bodied but we’ll often power through any aches and pains.  Because I firmly believe that yoga is for everyone, I offered modifications and options throughout the practice.

We had the most beautiful fall weather for our walking meditation on the grounds of Techny Towers.  Paying attention to the physical act of walking, not rushing to get anywhere, noticing the surroundings.  It was nature on steroids!  I noticed the vivid colours, the shadows and sunlight, the feel of the breeze, the texture of the road, the rustle of the leaves.  Time seemed to stand still.

I recall the sitting meditations on Saturday.  There were two sessions where I could feel soft tears rolling down my cheeks.  I tried to just be with it but I couldn’t and had to wipe the tears away (mindfully of course!).  I tried to sit with the thought of where those tears were coming from.  Sadness?  Pain?  It took me several days of subconscious reflection before I realized…they were tears of relief.  I was with colleagues who understood the joy and pain of what it means to be a veterinarian.  I could let down my guard.  I could simply be.

 

Thanksgiving 2014

Thankful for two turkey dinners, shared with family.

Grateful for being strong and vulnerable, curious and capable.

Privileged that I have the right to complain, to vote, to be a woman.

Honoured to share my stories with you.

May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you simply be.

A note to my veterinary colleagues

I thought of you today.

Whether you are still in veterinary college, out in private practice, working in academia or industry, I offer the following to you.

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Yoga for veterinarians

It finally happened.

I had dreamed but never thought I’d be able to teach yoga on VIN (Veterinary Information Network).  I just finished presenting an on-line course to 80+ veterinarians (with more that will view the recording later).  My motto is I’m just a small animal vet, living her yoga and still very much a work in progress.  I wanted to show others how they could do it too.

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Doggy Dharma Quotes

“Do what you love.  Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw at it still.” Henry David Thoreau

“Be the person your dog thinks you are.”  J.W. Stephens

“The way the dog trots out the front door…never fails to fill the saucer of my heart with milky admiration.”  Billy Collins

I’m a dharma junkie.

Dharma is considered to be the “something special within you” that you offer up to the world.  Your calling in life.  The reason why you were put on this Earth.

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Mindfulness and maple syrup

Call me a modern day pioneer woman.

For my birthday, I received a book called “Modern Pioneering“. The author, Georgia Pellegrini, is a cook, gardener, outdoor adventurer and do-it-yourself kind of gal.  As someone who just got her own Leatherman multi-tool (the Charge AL model, just in case you were wondering), I can identify with her.

In the spirit of self-sufficiency, I’m making my own maple syrup.  This is the third year that my husband and I have done it.  So Canadian, eh?

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VIN 2013 Mindfulness Retreat

I’d forgotten my iPhone in the front seat of the truck, which meant my husband had to turn around and drop it off to me at the train station.  As he passed me the phone, he said “You’re going to work on your mindfulness this weekend, right?”.  Yeah.

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Thanksgiving 2013

My school teacher friend was excited to show me a book from the “We Day” event she’d attended with her students in Toronto.  The book gave page upon page of problems that North American kids might complain about.  Like no Wifi in the bathroom stall.  Or having your latte order butchered.  Stuff that might bring down the day for a kid.  Craig and Marc Kielburger tell kids they need to put this all in perpsective, while not talking down to them.  Just watch the video about “My Grandma follows me on Twitter” and it’ll have you laughing and thinking all at the same time.

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