In 2009 I was at the end of my proverbial rope in my career as a trauma therapist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, counseling traumatized veterans in a rural, community-based outpatient clinic. My professional life at the Bend VA Clinic with little to no support for the work I was doing, through management or peers, was a stark contrast to the wealth of resources and professional support surrounding me in my three previous years at the Portland VA Medical Center. I was distressed, depleted, and did not realize that I was actually being traumatized by my work, and by the institution of the VA itself. Several times I found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen in the evening crying uncontrollably, not knowing what was happening or what to do.
After a Christmas trip to Arizona to visit my brother, a seasoned Army helicopter pilot with several deployments in Iraq, I had some time to clear my head and let what was most vital to my life surface. I realized that what was paramount, despite my outer circumstances, was a commitment to my spiritual life, followed by a commitment to service. I became curious about the possibility of becoming a chaplain instead of a trauma therapist. Upon my return home to Bend, I reached out to a chaplain intern I had worked with at the Portland VA and inquired about chaplaincy programs. “Oh, you’re in Bend, you have Richard Groves right there!” Laura had completed several programs with SALC and spoke incredibly highly of Richard and their programs. God had given me my next step.
My discovery of SALC, introduction to Richard, and entry into the Sacred Art of Living and Dying Series was an answered prayer and a turning point in my life. It is not an overstatement to say that SALC saved my life, or “saved my soul” as I sometimes think. I found grounding through connecting all of my previous efforts as a seeker to what I was learning and experiencing through SALC, and I became part of a community where I was seen, understood, and validated (I am a 4!) My vocation of serving veterans only deepened, and I learned that I did not need to leave my career as a trauma therapist to become a chaplain. In fact, my experience through SALC informed and helped develop a vision I’d had to create a place of healing for veterans – a “PTSD Ranch” that would serve veterans across the lifespan, including specialized end of life care. Today, as a result of being saved by SALC, I am the proud Founder of a nonprofit called Central Oregon Veterans Ranch, that is saving and serving veteran lives in Central Oregon and beyond. I believe that I am a living testament to how the work of SALC can not only impact and change one person’s life, but foster the growth of spirit and service that goes on to change our communities through that one person. I am so grateful for this gift, for myself and for our veterans.
Having been asked to describe the experience I have had with Sacred Art of Living Center I am wondering if I can possibly adequately express the profound effect this organization has had in my life, in my work as a Hospice nurse, and the lasting imprint it has had on the Hospice I have worked for these last 18 years.
The introduction to this work was initially a required orientation component for my agency, Partners in Care. This was required for all employees – clinicians, office staff and even board members. This alone has resulted in an ingrained philosophy that encompasses and guides the agency’s priorities – those we serve are the reason we exist. This is not an easy task in the current Medicare world where the demands have been to focus on documentation rather than the patients and families who so need and desire care and support.
SALC has consistently evolved to provide updated, ongoing useful applications which speak to the changing medical world in the area of end of life care as well as making those applications accessible in both individual and group settings.
On a personal level, I do not believe I would have been able to experience my own personal growth or be able to tend to patients and families with the skills, acceptance, and compassion in the way I’ve learned to do had it not been for the ongoing guidance and influence of the Sacred Art of Living Center. While I do not participate in an organized religious practice, I believe the work of the Center has given me the tools, insight, and support needed to grow spiritually and to be a part of a larger community of people desiring and focusing on spiritual growth and how this work impacts all those around us. The effect is creating bridges where chasms existed; it helps dissolve differences that separate and allows openness where it did not previously exist. Our world is in dire need of this benefit.
The Sacred Art of Living Center has been and continues to be a blessing and gift to myself, the agency I work for and this community. I believe it has also had this effect as it has grown and become known around the globe.
Poet Robert Stafford, in his poem “The Way It Is”, writes about a thread that we follow. The Sacred Art of Living Center has become that thread for me. Richard and Mary Groves inspiration to “rediscover and teach” created a series ofprograms that have impacted many thousands across the globe. I am so very grateful that serendipity allowed me to stumble upon their website years ago. From that first virtual encounter with the Sacred Art of Living Center, the reality of its guidance in my life has been steadfast and powerful. As a hospice physician for 29 years, getting to know Richard and the staff personally has confirmed the wisdom of Dame Cicely Sanders and has encouraged me to be more than a physician…to be a healer. Thanks to the impact of the Sacred Art of Living Center on my life, I spend much of my time sitting at the bedside of the sick and dying, learning and teaching others. I am a much better version of myself for having had this thread to follow. Thank you.
I had been curious about the SALC for years, but never had time to do the workshops. Until I burned out. My crisis of purpose opened the door to do the work with SALC. I quit my practice of 16 years with a Mary Oliver poem, “The Journey.”
It was SALC that also helped me return to practice. After I did some healing and deep reflection, I was able to discern what mattered to me and how to serve others from a sense of connection.
Medical training teaches you how to diagnose, treat, and fix things but has been ill-equipped to teach healing practices. SALC provided the spirituality aspect that I craved even though I couldn’t put my finger on what I was missing. Having a contemplative practice has been vital – and something I wasn’t attuned to before. It also showed me the importance of doing this contemplative work with support from others. Being in a community at SALC, and my Anamcara Circles of Trust Group has inspired me and holds me in my meaningful search.
Now, when I go to work at Mosaic Medical in Prineville I always go to a small park before work. I do an Anamcara meditation practice. When I arrive, I tell myself to listen to patients – really listen to what it is they are worried about. I try to access each of the three worlds – body, soul, and divine, even if only for a moment. I try to access my highest self – the self that wanted to go to medical school to help people.
My career began as a surgeon and hospital administrator. I also taught programs on dying, learned the enneagram, and taught personal growth and teamwork seminars at my hospital. I found that the missing piece in my earlier teaching was spirituality—a topic that the hospital was unwilling to bring up lest we discuss religion. I was always frustrated that the depth was inadequate for the compassion fatigue that I observed in the caregivers at the hospital. In 2008, after taking SALC courses, I began to teach the seminars with Richard Groves. I have taught this material at hospices, acute care hospitals (chaplains, social workers, nurses, aides, medical students, physicians, volunteers, energy workers, massage therapists and others), at faith communities, and to other non-medical community members. I have witnessed the transformation of spiritual pain in these people and thus a greater ability for them to go forth and offer the same to their patients, friends and families.