Care Circles: supporting the seriously unwell and dying in our community

At any time, people in our community are unwell or dying. This painful reality is rooted in both the Buddha’s first Noble Truth and our aspiration to manifest an enlightened society. As a community, we have choices about how we respond to such situations among our dharma friends.

We would like to begin a conversation in the Centre, about how we meet the challenge of sickness and dying. We welcome your thoughts and responses. Nothing happens unless you are inspired to act.

Over recent months Sangha members Kate G, Paul V, Kate P and Debbie C have been re-visiting the idea of Care Circles. Care Circles are informal structures that arise when a Sangha member is in need of support due to ill health or frailty.  A Care Circle is a group of people who know the person in need well and work together to offer help. We understand that this sort of support is already arising naturally within the Sangha and we do not want to interfere there. We simply want to extend the idea of Care Circles to all in the Shambhala community, so that more people might benefit from this form of support and practice.

It’s not possible to specify exactly what each Care Circle would do as each Care Circle is responsive to the person in need’s, wishes and situation.  However we anticipate that Care Circles might offer a mix of three activities:

Practical tasks, meditation practice support and companionship. Examples of practical help could be doing the washing up, or walking a dog.

Practice support could come in the form of meditating with the person in need.  

Companionship might simply mean a cup of tea and a chat.

In all cases, the people involved only ever offer that which they are comfortable to provide. And where this overlaps the needs and wishes of the person in need, caring and generous activities arise.

Care Circle principles:

The person in need is always in control and the centre of the activity

Care Circles are temporary, arising to meet a need, responding and then dissolving

The care circle is co-ordinated by a link friend.  The link friend is the friend who the person in need approaches for help (or has approached the person in need, suggesting help) and agrees to set up and co-ordinate the care circle

Care Circles can draw support and guidance from Shambhala London’s Health and Wellbeing Group (which is currently being formed)

Care Circles are not intended to replace, or perform the duties of professional carers, such as doctors, or social services

When practicing in Care Circles we:

work with openness, responsiveness, kindness and gentleness

respect that limits exist to what a Care Circle can do

agree to stick with decisions made by the Care Circle as a whole

respect the limits to what individual members of a Care Circle are able to do

support each other with dignity and respect

respect the confidentiality of the person in need

learn from each other

are not offering professional, medical, legal or financial aid.

 To bring this to life, here are few examples showing how a Care Circle might work.

Example 1: Alice and Bob both belong to a Shambhala practice group.  Alice is injured in a bike accident and can’t easily get out to buy groceries, she doesn’t feel comfortable ordering online. Alice asks her friend Bob if he can help, Bob is willing to help. Alice gives Bob money for the shopping, after dropping the food off, Bob stays for a chat. Bob offers to do the same again in a few days.  After a fortnight, Alice is able to manage on her own and the Circle (of two) dissolves.

Example 2: David is unwell and cannot get to the Shambhala centre. David and Christine have been away over the summer learning a new practice together, David asks Christine if she would organise a group of friends to practice at his home and afterwards have tea.  Christine asks David’s friends.  They agree to visit and practice together every Wednesday. John offers to do some vacuuming, arrange flowers and water the plants.  Sarah is asked to submit David’s name and illness for use during community Maitri Bhavana practice.  When David is ready, the Care Circle dissolves.

Example 3: Edward is terminally ill. He is at home and under the care of a palliative care team for his medical and care needs. He asks his friend Fiona to invite some friends to practice with him in his home. Fiona asks the people Edward has suggested, some are willing, others do not – no reason is needed. Fiona suggests they visit at times that suit Edward during the week. After visiting for some weeks, the Care Circle meet with a representative from the Health and Wellbeing Group. Together they think about their experiences and any challenges that might be arising. A summary of this conversation is shared back to Edward in an open and considerate way. The Care Circle continues evolving in response to Edward’s needs.  Edward decides he wants to plan aspects of his funeral and/or Shing Kam with consideration for his beliefs. Shing Kam is the Shambhala ceremony carried out after death. The link friend, Fiona, gets this advice from the Health and Wellbeing Group (see below). The Care Circle supports Edward through his move into a hospice.  Edward lives at the hospice until his death. The Care Circle is encouraged to support each other, talk with Shambhala Mentors (see below) and to use the resources of the Health and Wellbeing Group after Edward’s passing.

In the examples, Bob, Christine and Fiona were in the role of link friend.  They coordinate the Care Circle in concert with the person in need.

If you’re interested in, or have need of a care circle, or have experience of working with similar arrangements and have ideas to share, please email [email protected].  Or approach Elliott, Director of Societal Health and Wellbeing.

The Health and Wellbeing Group

The Health and Wellbeing Group is an emerging part of the London Shambhala Meditation Centre’s government structures.  It is a small group of volunteer practitioners interested in societal health and wellbeing.  It is not a professional care service but aims to support the Care Circles and Sangha generally. It has gathered information from the American Sangha and developed this proposed version for the UK. In the UK, care services are more closely integrated and provided by health and local authorities. The UK approach will be simpler, smaller and less formal. Care Circles are not intended to replace professional carers, or medical or social care input.

More immediately, if you think Care Circles could be of use to you now, please raise this with your Shambhala friends.

Maitri Bhavana is a meditation on loving kindness that is practiced for those who are seriously ill, either physically or mentally. It takes place during Sunday Morning Sitting Sessions. These are held each month on Centre Community weekends – see online calendar. If you want to have your name included please write to: [email protected].  Typically the name of the person suffering and a description of their illness are provided.

Elliott is the Director for Societal Health and Wellbeing at the London Shambhala Meditation Centre. He is currently sitting a Dathün, or month-long retreat, at Karme Chöling in Vermont.

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