Native Languages and Communication – The Spiritual Need to Belong

During my very first unit of clinical training, we were taught about the spiritual needs that are part of being human. One of them is the need to belong – Of belonging to something, to someone, to a community, to a nation, to the Universe. And of course, the sense of belonging and what it looks or feels like is different for each individual.

As the clinical training is geared towards exposing oneself to one’s own self, I went through (at times voluntarily, most times involuntarily) the journey to explore my sense of belonging. What makes me feel that I belong?

I began to walk this path and began to pay attention to what made me feel comfortable. To do this, I had to think of what made me feel uncomfortable. How did I express myself? This led me to really realize for myself that I enjoy talking. A lot. Even though I talk to a lot of people on an everyday basis, I felt something amiss. 

When I brought this to the attention of my supervisor, he insisted that I explore this more. While this is in no way a comprehensive list of my feelings, here’s what I discovered for myself: 

The last two years have highlighted major personal losses for me. It’s been very hard to realize that two people I was very close will no longer be a part of my everyday life. It’s been very hard to realize that I can no longer pick up the phone and talk and share my love for the latest Hindi song or a beautiful piece of writing in Hindi or Gujarati or the most random thing that happened at work today. Of course, I continue to miss their presence in my life but, thanks to CPE (sigh!), I’ve had to explore this further.

I miss talking in my native languages (Gujarati and Hindi). I miss having friends my age with whom I could converse any time of the day about anything in my language. I miss sharing my emotions through Hindi songs and knowing that the person will understand. I still do this with my family but I do not have anyone outside my home that I can share my time with.

I realized how much I love my native languages. Someone shared this video by Patricia Ryan (a long time English teacher) titled ‘Don’t insist on English’ on Facebook. I was in tears as I watched this video because I realize the importance of being able to communicate in my own language. I also realize that everything that Patricia Ryan states in this video is very true. A quick example was when I talked about puya in my theological reflection paper. I realized that there is no English word for it. Puṇya is a concept that does not really have an exact word in English. The explanation turned into a paragraph. 

This is just one word. The thought about how many world languages currently exist and how many concepts cannot be translated in to English really boggles my mind.

Yes, I am very aware that I live in North America. Yes, I have friends who are not Indian and do not speak Indian languages and I do love them. But, as my supervisor insisted me to explore, I am finding out that this is a huge piece of my sense of being that I miss in my daily life. At times, I think it feels like limited living. How can I even translate the Hindi lyrics of a Gulzar song or a poem in Gujarati by Narsinh Mehta to English and still expect that its soul remains intact?

This realization helped me see that there are so many instances in my daily life that innately feel as if I do not belong. A reason why I just cannot relate to certain type of music or writing or conversation.

So, how does this translate to caregiving as a chaplain? 

  • A person’s native language is important. The language brings with it a sense of our-ness, a familiarity, and yes, a sense of belonging. This helps me understand the limited conversations with a patient whose first language is not English and the unlimited talks with a patient who speaks a mutual language.
  • It makes me aware that I need to find more language appropriate resources as I am able to ensure that my caregiving can be as rounded as possible.
  • It brings me to realization that I may not always come close to helping a person feel that they belong but at least I can relate to the person in knowing how it feels to not belong. 
  • It shows how much a language impacts perception. For example – the anger and rude behavior from some English speakers towards people conversing in their native language amongst themselves. The angry response is probably due to a heightened sense of not belonging, not knowing. And we know, not knowing is scary. Right?
  • It reminds me how important and vast the need is for native languages speakers, especially as it relates to the larger South Asian community who predominantly speak Hindu/Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali and other major languages as spoken in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Another reminder that grieving is complex. Grief is complex.

Losing someone (in any way or form) has many layers of feelings and emotions attached to it. It is very painful. It is very hard. And most of all, it is very lonely. Being able to truly communicate all of those things is definitely the first step towards accepting this loss. 

My question to you : What does belonging look like for you? Let me know.

Until next time,

Namaste

One can translate an editorial but not a poem. For one can go across the border naked but not without one’s skin; for, unlike clothes, one cannot get a new skin. ~Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn

Clinical Pastoral Education and Self-Awareness

As part of the training to become a professional chaplain, one of the most important aspect is Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Honestly, in my opinion, CPE is THE most important training necessary for people who wish to serve as a chaplain.

The website for Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center writes the following description for Clinical Pastoral Education :

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is graduate-level theological and professional education for ministry that takes place in a clinical setting. 

In addition to learning skills and expanding knowledge related to ministry in a healthcare setting, students are invited to learn about themselves and how their personal histories, faith perspectives and individual gifts influence their pastoral and professional functioning. 

The clinical method of learning used is a dynamic and creative process that combines action (the actual practice of ministry to persons) and reflection (using resources such as written reports of visits, discussion and feedback from peers and the CPE Supervisor, and application and integration of didactic material). An ongoing learning cycle develops that enables students to develop and expand their ministry skills and knowledge while also deepening their self-awareness and self-knowledge. Out of this expanded self-awareness and ministry experience, new ministry and relational choices and responses are available to the student.

Each “unit” of CPE, whether Level I or Level II, consists of a minimum of 400 hours combining no less than 100 hours of structured group and individual education with supervised clinical practice in ministry. 

– See more at: http://wexnermedical.osu.edu/patient-care/patient-and-visitor-guide/clinical-pastoral-education#sthash.OMS79jPP.dpuf

I successfully completed 4 units of this training in roughly 2 years time. Being mindful of one’s unintentional prejudices, one’s emotional response to situations and people, being aware of one’s self is critical when it comes to spiritual caregiving.

Now, about that self-awareness and self-knowledge piece : Where have we, those of the dharmic faith traditions, heard this before?

When I started my first unit of CPE and began to really understand what it all meant, the first set of teachings that I turned to write my papers were those of Ramana Maharshi. His teachings on self-enquiry especially as highlighted in Who am I? was a huge help as I began to put words to my feelings and personal experiences. It tackles big questions such as the nature of the mind, path of inquiry to understand the nature of the mind etc.

Self-awareness and self-knowledge are not ‘new-age’ concepts as many believe. They are very ancient teachings encapsulated in the teachings of the Upanishads. The constant inquiry – Who I Really Am. Through Nachiketa from Katha Upanishad, we learn about who/what dies, what is the nature of death and what happens to one after death. Through the Brihadarayanka Upanishad, we learn about the nature of Self and also how to go from being ‘self’ to realizing the Self.

Undergoing the Clinical Pastoral Education training has helped really define this self-inquiry process for me as it has thrust me in to the direct study of the Vedas, the Upanishads and help look at how my study and practice of Vedanta helps me in my work as a chaplain.

I highly recommend this training process to all who are interested in becoming a chaplain – employed or volunteer; especially to practicing Hindus. It’s a win-win situation.

Until next time,

Namaste

Those who depart from this world without knowing who they are or what they truly desire have no freedom here or hereafter. But those who leave here knowing who they are and what they truly desire have freedom everywhere, both in this world and in the next. Chandogaya Upanishad VIII.1.6

Being Hindu – The Journey To Finding A Place To Study Hinduism

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I work as a chaplain in a healthcare setting. Just as many other professions that fall under the healthcare category, there is a process of becoming Board Certified for a Chaplain.

Depending on your faith, there are a few professional organizations through which one can become certified. If you’re Catholic, then you may be choose to go through National Association of Catholic Chaplains. If you’re Jewish, you may go through National Association of Jewish Chaplains. Most other Christian denominations and other faiths may choose to go through the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Here’s the thing : There is probably only one Board Certified Chaplain (that we know of) who identifies as a Hindu in all of the United States of America! Think about it!

So, my goal is to become Board Certified through APC.

There are 4 major requirements to be eligible to write papers and qualify to even appear in front a certifying committee for APC:

  1. Successfully complete 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education with an accredited program. – I have successfully finished my 4 units of CPE
  2. Be endorsed and provide an endorsement letter from the faith to which one belongs.– I received a letter of endorsement letter from Hindu Religious Endorsing Body (HREB) as part of the Hindu American Chaplaincy initiative by Hindu Mandirs’ Executive Conference and Hindu American Foundation.
  3. To complete 2000 hours of actual chaplaincy work after finishing 4 units of CPE. – In progress
  4. To have a Master’s of Divinity or a Doctorate in Ministry. – This degree has to be within your own faith tradition.  <– This is the biggest obstacle I’ve been facing.

I mean, ever since I started my CPE training, I have been looking for a place to study Hinduism at a Master’s level. I have not been able to find a particular place where I could just sign up and finish my master’s level education in Hindu studies. I have been stunned about the lack of postgraduate level of Hindu Studies in the USA.

The challenge is not to learn about one’s faith intelligently, but to really study and apply to the field of chaplaincy and of course to one’s own life. In the Hindu tradition, throughout the ages, we have been taught in ashrams and gurukulams. The down side of this – It is not considered ‘accredited’ in the academic world. It has been so frustrating at times that I’ve literally broken down in tears.

Being Hindu all your life does not count academically. As my search continued, I knew I could not just sit around and not study the Hindu Dharma.I have been taking Hindu education wherever I can find it. I started to ensure I studied deliberately from organizations such as the Chinmaya Mission and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam. While I was not able to physically be at these organizations, I was able to do a lot of Vedanta study through recorded lectures and of course, YouTube. I did reach out to the teachers to ensure they are aware of my path and I found them to be extremely helpful and supportive. I also took all the online courses in Hinduism offered at Oxford Center for Hindu Studies – University of Oxford.

I had not worked for pay in the last 3 years. It was not that I was not applying for chaplaincy positions in the area but the lack of a Master’s degree and in most cases just the sheer lack of knowledge about someone of a Hindu faith has been a major hurdle in getting employed.

Currently, I am in talks with a local seminary where I can transfer all these credits and wrap up a Master’s degree through them.

To me, it’s extremely unfortunate and sad that there are not many academic organizations that one could study Hindu Scriptures in a way that teaches you to apply these dharmic principles to daily life.Most recently, I’ve been told that starting Fall 2015 the Graduate Theological Union will be offering an MA in Hindu Studies. That’s a step forward.  Even then, there is SO much that needs to be done to make the study of Hindu Dharma a solid presence in the world of theological education.

As for me, the journey continues.

Until next time,

Namaste.

The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. – Rabindranath Tagore

What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain? — II

What does it mean to be a Chaplain? Read the first part here. My goal in writing these posts is to expose the field of chaplaincy to communities that have little or no idea about this profession. This is especially true for the larger Hindu community where the concept of chaplaincy has not really existed until now.

What more to expect from a professional chaplain:

  • Help find your own answers: In my opinion, one of the most important things that we do, as chaplains, is to help someone find their own answers instead of telling someone what their answer should be. It is part of listening where a chaplain rephrases what is being said by the patient. This helps the patient/client understand their own emotions better.
  • Being Present : This literally just means being present with someone. It is the act of being a physical presence where no words may be exchanged, only silent presence. Another layer of this presence is also mental presence. This means that one is present with another mentally where there are no thoughts that are not related to the current situation at hand. For example, when a chaplain is paged to be with someone who has been given a new or tough diagnosis, there is not much to be said. This is where presence comes in. Just really truly being with someone as they share their tears, stories or just being part of their silence.
  • Help find strength within one’s own religious and/or spiritual center : When a person is going through a rough time, it is possible that one questions his or her own faith and look for God’s hand in their situation. This is conditional to one’s own religious or spiritual preference. There are people for whom this is not true. Even people who do not identify with a particular religion tend to question the meaning and purpose in their personal situation. A chaplain’s role here is to assess and help identify what helps a particular person deal with obstacles and tough times. There is no space for proselytizing or converting others in the realm of chaplaincy. To me, this is of utmost importance.
  • Education and Continuing Professional Training : To become a Board Certified Chaplain, a candidate is required to have a minimum of a Master’s degree. A lot of chaplains have a Master’s in Divinity, most likely from a seminary. There are also a lot of chaplains who have a doctorate, a D.Min (Doctor of Ministry) and some also have a PhD. Also, as required in any professional licensure/certification, there is a requirement of getting Continued Education credits.

I still remember the day in my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education where I was being given a tour of the hospital by my supervisor and as we waited for the elevator, one of the doctors asked my supervisor whether there was a particular training needed to become a professional chaplain. When my supervisor explained, the doctor was so surprised to know of all the work that went into becoming a trained chaplain and he said : Oh and here I am thinking, chaplains just prayed with people.

While praying is a part of chaplaincy, being a chaplain is far more than that. Far far more than that. A good chaplain is committed to constantly growing in his or her own faith and professionalism to continue to serve better. 

There are also roles that some chaplains tend to take up with respect to being a public advocate in interfaith and professional settings as well as networking and outreach within the chaplaincy community and outside of it.

With this concludes a (really) brief overview about the work of a chaplain. If there is anything I may have missed, do let me know in the comments below and I will add that to this overview.

Until next time,

Namaste.

Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world – Sri Ramana Maharishi