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.

 

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.

I just finished teaching my part in a VIN on-line course called “Healthy Clinicians 1“. Unfortunately, only those that paid for it can view the info but there is a part 2 coming up. I’ll be attending the sessions, as I believe it’s important for me to find a way to deal with the stresses of everyday practice.  The courses are a worthwhile investment as I’m learning tools to take with me into the real world.

I’ve been invited to speak to the vet students at Ontario Veterinary College, on Nov 5th. I’m going to introduce mindfulness meditation to them, as a tool for how to focus on the breath and remain aware even though the thoughts keep coming into our consciousness. I’m doing this through the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, which is recognizing that health and wellness are as much a part of veterinary practice as is healing animals and monitoring the economics of practice. I have lots of thoughts in my head but I’ve learned that not all of them are worth following. You might want to read (I know you don’t have time!) the book by Dan Harris, called “10% Happier”. He is an American TV journalist that is using meditation as a tool to keep him in one of the toughest professions out there.

I remember my last year in vet school as being tough.  I don’t do overnight shifts well so I found Large Animal on-call and Critical Care night shift to be very challenging. I remember having an hour long cry in the Dean of Students office, after I got back from my January externship because I was exhausted, worried about the future and just not sure about how I was doing. I strongly suggest that finding someone to talk to in person is a great help. I don’t remember what he said to me, as I was crying in his office. I was a mess. But he listened and that was good in itself.

I still struggle with wanting to please clients and save all the animals. I’ve definitely not been able to do that with 100% success and don’t expect to ever be able to achieve even close to that. One quote I’ve heard, from Dr. Michele Gaspar, that helps me is “We can only do what time and resources allow”.

There are lots of resources to go to on VIN.

1. Check the VIN Rounds tab/page for the following.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 9:30 PM (Eastern Daylight Time) – Venting over a Venti
(Tuesday, October 14, 9:30 pm ET)
Need to vent? Michele Gaspar, DVM, DABVP, MA, and other colleagues are here to lend an ear.

2. Mindfulness Meditation sessions are held on-line and at no-charge. You can contact Dr. Michele Gaspar on VIN, as she helps run these sessions. I met a vet student from Australia/New Zealand (?) just last week at the Tues 7 am meditation.
Michele has also done some great Rounds on VIN. Here’s a recent one that she did on perfectionism. I found it helpful!

I have had my share of failures in private practice and in teaching/consulting too. I’d never wish it on anyone. But somehow, I made it to the other side, have tried to develop ways to prevent it from recurring and try not to focus all my energies on worrying about it. It’s strange how our profession remembers all the “failures” rather than all the successes. As I write this to you, I’m looking at a thank you card from a client who sent it after I treated her budgie. And I had stressed about the diagnosis/plan/homecare, called to follow-up on weekend. Seems all went ok.

One last thing I’ve learned is from Stephen Cope, who wrote the book “The Great Work of Your Life”.  His interpretation of following your dharma (what you were meant to do in this world; your Gift; your calling), is this:
Find your dharma.
Do it full out.
Let go of the outcome.
Give it up to a higher power.

Please forgive my long-windedness. I just think it is so important to share with you.

Know that we’re all in in this together,
Gwen

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

I’m hooked on the Firepole Marketing Scavenger Hunt

If you’re following me on Facebook or Twitter this past week, you’re probably wondering if someone hacked my account.  All’s good.  It happens that I’m participating in the first ever Firepole Marketing On-line Scavenger Hunt.

What’s that, you say?

Continue reading

I’m published!

Today’s the official launch date of the book “Animal Companions, Animal Doctors, Animal People“.  It’s to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Ontario Veterinary College, my alma mater.  And I’m proud to say that I wrote one of the essays in the book!  My contribution is called “Yoga Lessons from My Dog”.

The anthology is available for order on Amazon and at independent bookstores like the “Bookshelf“, where they’re holding the book reading tonight.

Hope that you get a chance to read the book!  (Would make a great Father’s Day gift for your animal-loving Dad…I know that’s what I’m gonna do.)