Peace Through Meditation

A path to self-awareness for those with disabilities

It is hard to write about, let alone make time for, peace and meditation while constantly hearing news of war, violence, hate, and sectarian killing done in the name of God? Not to mention the social, medical and moral debates over practices like the “Ashley Treatment.” Recently, however, I had the opportunity to attend a meditation session led by Cal Appleby, a teacher of Buddhist meditation. Appleby facilitates programs that bring peace to the soul through spiritual connectedness. Along with volunteers, he leads such sessions at prisons, high rises and skilled-care facilities.

The session, for residents of a skilled-care facility, was held in a large meeting room. Some folks arrived by themselves and some came with the help of staff. The 20 people who participate in these monthly, one-hour sessions start by forming a circle.

To begin, the participants shared something about themselves: why they came and/or what they hoped to gain from this experience. The process was continued with a deep breathing exercise followed by a time of meditation. The participants shared more about themselves as they practiced more of the intermittent healing through deep breathing and meditation.

I was allowed to bring both of my dogs along with me to this session. Frisco, my retired guide, found a place next to and at time under the wheelchair of one of the participants of this group; and that is where he stayed for the entire time. That person didn’t want him to go, she petted him and he soaked it up.

(Dogs bring a sense of healing to people, regardless of ability. Would people with disabilities who live in high rises, veteran hospitals, treatment centers, nursing homes, among others, also benefit from the effects of meditation and touch?)

Following the session, Appleby responded to some of my questions about the meditation process.

How do the meditation sessions you lead help residents of a skilled-care facility move to a higher level of consciousness?

A number of participants report enjoying the quiet and the peace which they feel from the meditation we offer.

How do you evaluate each resident’s level of preparedness for the meditation sessions you lead?

Residents self-select whether they wish to attend the sessions; we have a number of participants who have come to the first Sunday meeting for several years–some who come decide for one reason or another not to return. Some participants [have intellectual disabilities], and some are mute. It is difficult to determine what brings them to the group, and what causes them to stick with it.

All of the folks in the group you led at the skilled-care facility have a disability. How do your meditation exercises help these people better deal with pain.

We encourage residents to be present with any discomfort, physical or mental, that they might experience. Hopefully, this practice will help them be present with awareness with daily pain and challenges which they encounter.

Do you lead these sessions merely to help people with disabilities? Or do you have a plan to educate the staff as well?

We see our group contributing to everyone…to see the value in everyone they meet, and especially to raise each participant’s recognizing his or her inherent wisdom, beauty and incalculable value.

How do you bridge the distance between people with different spiritual beliefs and world views?

We (myself and volunteers) offer a simple generic nonsectarian practice that is universal in all spiritual traditions. It is a self-awareness practice using the breath–it is training in attention and mindfulness.

Cal Appleby has been a student and practitioner of Yoga and Zen since 1972. He teaches in the chemical dependency field. Two major emphases in his groups, classes and community workshops are: how to learn to see difficult people and situations, including illness, as precious spiritual teachers; and how to choose to be happy no matter what. Appleby is the founder and co-coordinator of the Beverly White Outreach Project, which offers meditation and yoga in prisons and other places where residents are facing difficult life challenges. He is a recipient of the 2003 Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Services. Contact Cal Appleby for answers to your questions on the subject of meditation and group development in institutions. LAFSCAL@aol.com, 612-929-0901.