VIN Mindfulness Meditation Retreat 2017

“You can only do what time and resources allow.” M. Gaspar

“You are not having a bad life. You are just having a bad day.” M. Beard

Happily overtired because I opted to skip sleep to stay up late and chat. Few things will tempt me to delay my regular bedtime hour. But I had only four days and I wanted to make every moment count.

Dr. Michele Gaspar (DVM, LPC) organized our annual Mindfulness Meditation Retreat at Techny Towers, in the Chicago area. Through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), a virtual community of veterinarians had connected on-line. It was at the Retreat where we got to see each other in person, perhaps for the first time. Another first, thanks to the support of VIN, was the approval of RACE credits, making this program recognized as information worthy of being included as an option for veterinary continuing education.

From tentative newcomers to returning regulars, our group of 23 veterinarians developed the camraderie and openness required for deep conversation. Dr. David Thoele, MD introduced us to a quick and simple writing exercise (3 Minute Mental Makeover) that could help us process our work. Ann Raney, LCSW explained how being available to our animal patients & their owners allowed us to be present and to consider our work as sacred rather than purely technical.

We also had opportunities for meditation (sitting and walking), yoga to enhance our mind-body awareness, watercolor painting as way to play and process our thoughts, & a book swap with a mindfulness theme. Gelato with a movie (“American Beauty”) got us all thinking about reality vs appearances.

I’d prepared some yoga classes to teach but knew it would change from what I had planned. We needed to be together for me to get a sense of the group energy. I knew I wanted to introduce my colleagues to the possibilities that yoga could offer for developing their mindfulness practice. It ended up being a potpourri of yoga! The first class showed how a chair and props could help people settle into their bodies as they experimented with mindful movement. The second class was a hatha yoga flow, based on one from the Palouse Mindfulness on-Line course, so people could use it to continue their practice at home. We did restorative yoga, for one evening practice and on the last morning, to help the body rest and relax. We did simple yoga breathing practices, to help focus and calm.

I was so grateful to be part of this group of dedicated veterinarians. We knew that, in order to care for our animal patients and families, we needed to find tools to take care of ourselves. We came back to this theme many times, in different ways, and provided ideas, compassion and support for each other. Within a few days, we developed a mutual trust that allowed us to “hold the space” and permit ourselves to be vulnerable with others.

I hope this retreat continues to lead the trend towards wellness in veterinary medicine. Our profession needs to be nurtured carefully, as many of us have been struggling alone and silently for too long. By bringing together colleagues in a safe and guided environment, we can develop the skills to practice mindfully.