NEW YORK — In the days after Hurricane Sandy, Buddhists and meditation practitioners are joining a host of faith-based and spiritual caregivers responding to the ongoing crisis. Yet in addition to the fundraising, helping hands and prayers offered by many faith-based groups, Buddhists are making use of meditation and “mindfulness,” a spiritual practice with origins in Buddhism that’s focused on centering and grounding people as a method of reducing stress, while acknowledging pain and difficulties.
Koshin Paley Ellison, a co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, has deployed his best men and women to help rebuild after the storm’s widespread destruction. He’s dispatched a team of Buddhist chaplains, which includes doctors and social workers, to hospitals that are just coming back online and to isolated apartments where the elderly and sick continue to struggle. With a total of 32 volunteers spread throughout the New York region, Ellison’s team offers a unique breed of disaster responder.
“Our chaplains provide contemplative care. It’s the kind of care given by someone who has their own meditation practice and uses that to bring to the patient an openness and reliability that the meditation practice is supposed to do,” said Ellison. “We’ve been doing meditations in medical center hallways,” he said, at places such as Beth Israel and Bellevue hospitals in New York. “They’re open and can be useful to anybody. Oftentimes, it’s not Buddhists [whom] we are serving.”