Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Walk and a Dog

F. and I had a pleasant, peaceful weekend—the third such weekend out of the last five, I think. Friday night we went to the soup kitchen’s quarterly open mic. One performer lectured people with unnecessary possessions: “You people who push around those shopping carts loaded with stuff, you need to look at that. Do you really have to have all that stuff?” That was daring, considering the audience, but no one seemed to take offense. On Saturday, F. went with friends who have a small child to Golden Gate Park and I took a long walk with my walking friend, stopping for lunch at Ananda Fuara. He’s also the director of the soup kitchen, and so we always run into a million people he knows. On Saturday, we saw a man with a darling little dog that I petted for some time while my friend and the dog’s owner chatted. The latter said that if people come up to the dog while he’s sitting on his father’s lap or on their backpack, the dog bites them, but if you wait for the dog to come to you, he’s as gentle as can be. He was a very cute dog and seemed entirely placid.

On Sunday, I shopped for groceries at Rainbow and did my weekly kitchen tasks while F. worked on art projects in my living room. We often spend Sunday this way. At Rainbow, I told my friend who works there as a cashier that I was obsessing about whether to work as a chaplain or not, though I know that thinking and more thinking is not the best way to make a decision. I know I’d do better just to remain in the unfolding present, as Howie advised the Tuesday night group not too long ago. I know that things are unfolding organically and lawfully and that whatever is going to happen is going to happen. My friend agreed that thinking is sorely limited as a decision-making tool. I put in a plug for gathering information, but she said that gathering information is just a way to pass the time while we wait to see what’s going to happen. I think she’s probably right.

I did speak to a third chaplain over the weekend. This one works one day a week! I’m starting to wonder if there actually is such a thing as a full-time chaplain. This chaplain said something about training in grief counseling, so I said that one of my biggest questions about providing care is what you say to a parent whose baby has just died. What are the very first words you would say in that situation? The chaplain, who worked for several months in the neonatal intensive care unit and so must have encountered this more than once, said one can always gain more skills, but that “Stepping forward with your own heart is the most important thing.”

I do know there is such a thing as a full-time chaplain; several visited our class at the Sati Center. I think at this moment that I’d rather work in a hospital than for a hospice, which would mean getting the full certification, so if I do the yearlong CPE program starting in the fall, I might take the year after that off and focus on completing the education and then look for a hospital job. The third chaplain said she ended up taking an entire year off after completing CPE. She didn’t intend to, but that’s what ended up happening, and she said it ended up being an important opportunity to integrate that experience. She did some volunteering and went on retreats during that time.

First we’ll see if I survive the ten weeks of CPE that starts in June. As for education, two of the chaplains I’ve lately spoken with completed and spoke very highly of a low-residency program at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. This program would afford 48 of the necessary 72 units. My own meditation background would count for a few more, and I could do the rest at the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley during that same year. The latter will also provide ordination as an interfaith minister upon completion of its program. Ordination and/or endorsement is required for certification, though I heard lately that one of those may no longer be required, maybe in recognition of the growing numbers of non-theistic aspiring chaplains, including Buddhists.
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