Lessons of self-care, while caring for others

first_img Related While directing the inpatient program, Giles had also started to teach courses on counseling at HDS as an adjunct. When a full-time teaching position opened up, she was invited to apply. Worn down by the constant stress of running the facility, she decided to try for the job.She was awarded the position of professor of the Practice in Pastoral Care and Counseling in 1997. Though it was difficult to leave the program she had helped get off the ground and the patients with whom she had built such strong bonds, she found new people to care for at HDS.“Since coming here full time, the most exciting thing for me has been the students,” Giles said. “We get some of the best students in the world. They are open, sensitive, really bright, and they want to be change agents in different ways. As they’ve grown, I’ve grown, too.”Since she became an official member of the faculty, Giles has taught “Spiritual Care and Counseling” (formerly “Pastoral Care and Counseling”) to students interested in various forms of ministry and caregiving.“As the field has taken on important issues like oppression-sensitive pastoral care, end-of-life concerns, questions about intimate-partner violence, and so on, I’ve woven these into my teaching. And, of course, two big areas for me are self-care and ethics,” she said.Knowing firsthand the dangers of burning out in the high-stress world of caregiving, Giles emphasizes self-care skills for her students and mentees.“Many of us at a divinity school want to be of service and to care for others,” she said. “But when you start asking people about self-care or self-compassion, they don’t really get that piece.”Because Giles considers these topics important for sustained service, she is writing about them for a textbook on ethics in ministry, a joint effort with Emily Click, HDS assistant dean for ministry studies.For Giles, one of the benefits of being at HDS is the chance to engage in these conversations from a variety of spiritual perspectives.“For some people,” she said, “ministry and self-care is going to be closely tied to their own religious or spiritual tradition and what they think their responsibility is to that tradition. For some Christian and Jewish students, it’s going to be more Biblically based, and for others less so. For Hindu and Buddhist students, the theology, if you will, that emerges from their traditions is a different kind of call. But providing a space for people to begin talking about that in a small class gives them the opportunity to think about it from outside of their own tradition, and it also gives them the experience of articulating their tradition to people outside it.”Giles has also moved further along her own spiritual path at HDS.“Since I’ve been here, I’ve continued to meditate and moved from vipassanā, or insight meditation, to Tibetan Buddhism. I met a community of people I really like here and a spiritual director who really models what the Buddhist path means to me. So it’s been a place of real growth.”Long an important faculty member in HDS’s Buddhist Ministry Initiative, in February Giles attended the first-ever gathering of American programs that offer master’s of divinity degrees with a concentration in Buddhism, held at Naropa University in Colorado.Another project with which Giles has been closely involved is the HDS Racial Justice and Healing Initiative, which aims to transform dialogue around race at HDS and beyond.“I’ve seen this initiative building and building, and I’m excited about what we’re doing here in terms of getting the community invested, learning what’s going on, and challenging people to be thoughtful and active,” Giles said. “Another thing we’re looking at here at HDS is how the pedagogy can embrace diversity and inclusion. I think about that a lot in terms of teaching ‘Spiritual Care and Counseling.’ I do a unit on oppression-sensitive pastoral care that addresses white privilege, structural systems, and so on.”HDS student Sitraka St. Michael, M.Div. ’17, took a course with Giles that grew out of these concerns, called “Talk About It: How Race Matters.”“I join many, many generations of HDS citizens in giving thanks for the hospitality that her pedagogy extends to a multiplicity of longings, possibilities, and disagreements,” he said. “The felicity of Cheryl’s teaching resides in its touch. She has affirmed my gifts, encouraged me in my pursuits, and called me ‘my brother.’ We have quite a teacher, a friend, a mother, and a sister in her.”Giles’s care for students at HDS extends beyond the classroom to her mentoring relationships with students such as Karlene Griffiths Sekou, M.Div. ’17, who has never taken a class with Giles but still considers her an important influence on her time at HDS.“Professor Giles embodies a rare depth of insight and a keen intellectual curiosity that is both healing and expansive,” she said. “I am certain that many would echo me in saying it is always a joy — a feeling of strength and inspiration — to sit at her feet.”Touched, Giles considers mentorship a two-way street.“I feel so grateful for the relationships I’ve developed with students here,” she said. “I’ve learned just as much from them as I’ve given, so it’s been a really nourishing experience for me.”Giles rarely practices therapy formally now, though she occasionally takes referrals on a pro bono basis. However, at HDS she teaches new generations of caregivers, many of whom end up going into chaplaincy or social work, becoming clinical pastoral education supervisors, or entering doctoral programs in psychology. She also sometimes gives more specialized classes, for instance on “Adversity and Resilience in Adolescent Development,” and “Compassionate Care of the Dying,” which focuses on Buddhist practices.Giles tries to impart not only the impulse to care, but also practical techniques for cultivating compassion, toward oneself as well as others. She believes this is of vital importance for the meaningful social justice work in which many of her students are also involved, in movements such as Black Lives Matter that are gaining attention across the nation.“There’s a place for anger,” Giles said, “but we have to make sure that our anger is a call to action, not something that becomes self-destructive, either because of choices that we make or because we become so angry that we sabotage ourselves by becoming depressed. We have to work on our efforts to understand compassion and to use it skillfully.” This semester at Harvard Divinity School (HDS), Cheryl Giles, M.Div ’79, is teaching “Spiritual Care and Counseling” — a title that easily could be applied to her entire professional life.Care for others has always marked her work, from college chaplaincy to clinical psychology to her current role teaching ministry to students, along with increasing awareness of the need for caregivers to take care of themselves, too. It was her desire to minister to others that first brought Giles to HDS as an M.Div. candidate in the late 1970s, when she hoped to become a Catholic priest.“There were all sorts of things going on around women’s ordination in the Catholic Church at the time,” she explained.Giles considered entering a convent, but found that the vow of obedience required of nuns was an obstacle for her.“One time I had a long conversation with a mentor whom I loved, and I asked her how I would know that a mother superior’s decision for me was more the will of God than my own sense of what was emerging,” she said.Giles remained Catholic for another decade, returning to work as a chaplain at Boston College, where she had studied philosophy and theology as an undergraduate, thus finding a way to minister to a student population as a layperson.Eventually, her drive to provide care to people who most needed it led Giles to earn a Psy.D. in clinical psychology, a degree that mixed academic study with practical training. During this process, however, her professional objectives shifted unexpectedly because of her willingness to listen to herself.“When I applied to the doctoral program, I thought I was going to work with adults, but during my internships, I especially resonated with adolescents, which was a total surprise to me. And that’s where I ended up. You think such-and-such is your path, straight ahead, and then it gets interrupted. I didn’t resist it much because I realized that was the right place for me,” she said.At the same time, however, her faith was further shaken by a series of losses.“I lost five really important people in my life, including my mother and a couple of my mentors, in about four years. And then five years later my father died. So I was having a really rocky time. I felt like I was outside Catholicism. I think the Catholic Church is a wonderful place for social justice, and I’m really excited about this new pope, but a lot of things in the theology were not working for me anymore.”As Giles moved away from one faith, she began taking steps toward a new one in which she would eventually find a home.“I began to learn meditation, and that opened possibilities for the spiritual growth and depth I was seeking,” she said. “I was also feeling destabilized then, which fits with Buddhism. There isn’t anything to hold onto, you’re working with your own mind a lot, and it’s not like an exterior structure is going to provide safety for you.”Having finished her doctorate, Giles started to care for young people who were destabilized in their own ways. She worked first at an outpatient center in Roxbury, where gang violence was a growing problem. Soon after, she was named director of a new inpatient facility for adolescents with severe mental illnesses, where the demands were even more intense.“[The patients] all lived together in a 24-hour unit, having been stepped down from hospitalization. The unit wasn’t locked, so it was staff-intensive. Part of the challenge was to make sure the kids didn’t run away or get sexually involved with each other. There was a lot of drama in the unit at all times because these kids had various degrees of mental illness with an underlay of trauma.”Despite the numerous challenges Giles encountered in her job, there were also many joys.“There was a high level of creativity I had there,” she said. “For instance, I could play basketball with one kid a couple of times a week, which was a kind of intensive therapy because this was not a kid who was going to sit in an office in a chair and start talking. Luckily I liked basketball, though I wasn’t necessarily in the best shape! And he kept me running around the court because he was an excellent shooter. But when we both got tired, we’d sit and he’d start talking and opening up about things.”Moments like these were deeply rewarding for Giles, but directing the program was exhausting.“It was just starting up, so there weren’t even charts on the kids when I took the job,” she said. “I thought, why not, I have a lot of energy! It proved to be really challenging and interesting, but in a matter of three years I had burned myself out.” Tutoring program bolsters ties among Harvard students, workers, families Taking care of their ownlast_img read more

Snow in the South

first_imgToday skiers with southern accents and zip codes make up double digit percentages of the folks skiing the famous resorts everybody hears about. Would southerners show up if we didn’t have nearby slopes to give the sport a try? Kenny Hess, general manager at Massanutten, puts it succinctly: “How many people would ever fly to Vail to see if they like skiing?” Dedicated to living the ski life in a region known more for sun than snow, I researched the science behind the “why” and “how” of the snowy mountain climate and was amazed at how much snow fell on the highest peaks. A group of Boone area baby boomer friends formed High South Nordic Guides and launched a Nordic ski center on Roan Mountain. The southernmost cross-country ski resort in the East was as successful as it was unlikely, an official Tennessee state park concession, no less. An amazing 33 years later, the “classic” is back, in a new second edition from the University of North Carolina Press, and just in time for the 60th anniversary of skiing at Virginia’s Homestead—considered the first designed to operate exclusively on machine made snow. In 1959, that true “leap of faith” set the stage for the rest of the South’s slopes and the eventual success of snowmaking itself.  I’ve lived through the almost four decades since, seen the trends evolve, skied the slopes and trails, including many all over the United States and Europe, even South America. Snowboarding wasn’t mentioned in the first book. It hadn’t been invented. Neither were websites!   The new book still has separate chapters of insider advice on how to be a downhill skier, snowboarder, Nordic skier, winter hiker, and mountaineer in the South. The mountain climate chapter, called the “definitive study of Southern Appalachian weather” back in 1986 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, updates and expands those insights, including new research on the impact of climate change. We’re talking about the magic of winter—and the magical times afforded people who revel in it. A fireplace and a cozy cabin, and the people you share them with, are never more delicious than when you’ve spent a day together in the snowy outdoors. The story of how skiing first slid south on natural snow truly inspired me. Back in the day, I’m glad I searched out some of the ski pioneers from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The Homestead in western Virginia had opened just 27 years before the first book, and I met, interviewed, and photographed Sepp Kober, the Austrian ski instructor responsible for the resort’s slopes and so much that came after.  Winter enthusiasts want to spread the word, but whenever I tried to aim my early writing at southern skiing, the question from editors was always,  “you mean you can ski down there?” And that was from regional newspapers. National ski publications just laughed. Times have changed. High-tech grooming makes for velvety smooth skiing. Photo: Drew Stanley, Appalachian Ski Mountain I didn’t start out excited about Southern snow. I loved to hike as a kid, then my Boy Scout troop attended a January 1963 suffer-fest in the northern Virginia Blue Ridge called “Operation Icicle.” Sounds fun, eh? The boys slept in smelly, army surplus, duck down mummy bags under canvas “shelter halves.” Our leaders bunked in “officer’s quarters,” wall tents with stoves. We were reliving WW II; the Scouts were the grunts, and our aging Dads had finally grown Pattonesque. I really wrote this book to celebrate the sharpened senses of the winter lifestyle, the people who make it possible, and those of us who live it and bring loved ones along for the slide. There are so many rewards for those who seek out the starkest season on its own terms. Southern Snow is a paean to that experience, to winter, especially in the South, and the people who find in it a realm beyond location. Luckily, at some point, I remember emerging onto a snowy summit, stunned by wind-whipped hoarfrosted trees, looking out over my first-ever sea of clouds. I decided this was a nightmare I could love.  A 1986 Manifesto Then I remember smelling something funny (again). Before what was happening sunk into my hypothermic purple haze, someone in the shelter told my friend, “Hey, man, you better tell your buddy his foot’s on fire.” Yep, there it was, a blue flame flickered on my feeble boot. I stumbled out into the dark snowscape to, well, put out my foot. The new book has a slightly different title, Southern Snow: The New Guide to Winter Sports from Maryland to the Southern Appalachians, but the mission remains the same—celebrate the South’s winter sports lifestyle. Besides a career-capping chance to reprise my first book, the new Southern Snow provides an opportunity to announce the increasingly national quality of skiing in the South, an achievement that many southerners are remarkably unaware of. Along the way, I tell hundreds of inspiring and even insane tales. That’s when down gear and gas stoves replaced “record albums” on the wish list, and finding more and more snow in the South became job one, starting with a 1977 Subaru, the first of now nine “Subes” over four decades. My friends and I survived, became serious winter hikers and Nordic skiers, found snow all over the South, and made annual trips to climb Mount Washington in New Hampshire. I would. Here’s Why. We heard people approaching and suddenly a group of full-blown DC yuppies skied up—no doubt, diplomats, doctors, lawyers—with every down-stuffed garment and big-bucks gizmo you could imagine. They enjoyed wine and gourmet food while we stood out in front of the shelter in the dark trying to sustain a miserable fire.  The South is the Rodney Dangerfield of ski regions—it never seems to get any respect. At least that’s the way I saw it back in the mid-1970s, when Southern slopes were the “Banana Belt of skiing,” no doubt covered in grits. Who Would Write a Book About Snow in the South?  Here’s to Southern Snow center_img Here’s to winter, and flakes in the face, never more precious than when it’s southern snow. The original Southern Snow emerged as a 358-page chip on my shoulder, and the new book has grown to 446 pages—but not to counter an ongoing negative image for Southern skiing. We’ve simply come so far, I had to rewrite the book to catch up!  Remarkably, southern ski resorts are now the biggest “feeder market” for the national ski industry, ushering new skiers from the country’s most populous region into snow sports and on to the biggest resorts in the North and West.  The Heart of Southern Snow Besides guide entries to all of the region’s ski and snowboard resorts, cross-country ski centers, and tubing facilities, half the book is a six-state trail guide that covers the highest snowiest trails for winter hiking and Nordic skiing from Maryland south.   After moving to Boone in the late 70s to start Grandfather Mountain’s trail management program, I thought I’d found the best part of the Southern Apps. Actually living in the mountains, it registered how much like New England these highest southern summits really were. When I finally stumbled onto the area’s downhill ski resorts, my trail-only telemarks found a new home on the slopes. Combine great grooming and cutting edge snowmaking with innovations like shaped skis, and the Southern riding experience rivals resort offerings anywhere. Photo: Wintergreen Resort The real surprise is how nationally significant Southern slopes have become. Ski Industries America says the five southeastern states have as many active skiers as the nine New England states. Washington, D.C., the city whose residents flock south to ski, whose ski club helped launch Southern skiing in the 1930s, has more skiers per capita than Colorado. Florida is one of the nation’s top five states sending people to ski resorts.  That’s the sleeper story of Southern skiing. No wonder Sepp Kober finally got into the National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. The search went on, including the time my Dad dropped off a high school friend and me at the Old Rag trailhead in Shenandoah National Park. We stood there in 20 inches of snow watching the tail lights of a Buick Wildcat disappear when my friend said, “I left my coat in the trunk.” We were long on hair and short on experience. After an agonizing post-hole to Old Rag Shelter (where were our skis, or snowshoes?), we finally started a fire and inhaled some barely tepid food (and other things). We were lucky to have the shelter back when you could camp in it (you no longer can).  At first it was annoying. Then it made me angry. I was determined to set the record straight. The result: Southern Snow: The Winter Guide to Dixie, a 1986 book called “a cult classic” by late ski film pioneer Warren Miller.  Nothing succeeds like success. Almost 40 years after the first Southern Snow, the region’s best ski areas are as sophisticated as resorts anywhere in the country. Cutting-edge snowmaking continues refining the quality and quantity of snow on the slopes. State-of-the-art grooming puts the icing on the cake (or removes the “icy,” actually). And high-speed lifts make it easier than ever to get the most out of a day on the hill.  That tide of ridicule has finally receded. Southern ski coverage by myself and others eventually found its way into the region’s biggest newspapers and magazines, often annually. Even the national ski media began noticing the infectious enthusiasm of people skiing on grits. But the old ways died hard. One article of mine for SKI magazine included an oddly telling typo—“Beech” Mountain had somehow become  “Beach Mountain.” Not quite! All that’s “well and good,” as my Dad used to say, but there’s more to Southern winter sports than snow guns, slopeside condos, and the newest ski gear. Precious little is better for you than a vigorous day of skiing or hiking. And the setting couldn’t be more memorable. For many, the time we set aside for winter sports weaves an inspiring thread through our lives. As you read the history in Southern Snow, I think you’ll agree that we’re all part of a now generations long continuum worth continuing. Randy Johnson is also author of the award-winning Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to An Appalachian Icon and other books (randyjohnsonbooks.com). Take a ski tour with him by searching “cross-country ski Roan Mountain” on YouTube. Updating this book makes me more aware than ever that there’s nothing more worthy of life than skiing down our years, until we ski no more or our years run out. When they do, the appeal continues. Evergreens still shiver in the wind, stinging crystal snow still refreshes faces turned to inspiring vistas and smiling friends. The Search for Southern Snow I guess I liked “Operation Icicle” more than I thought.  Aiming at the future. No wonder they called them snow guns. Photo: Beech Mountain Historical Societylast_img read more