What I Learned From A Buddhist Monk

My first real, significant job out of grad school was as the executive director of Hospice of North Central Florida, now known as Haven Hospice. When I joined the team there were three staff members and double that number of volunteers. Yet, tiny as it was, our organization was part of a great social movement, one that we created with others across the country as we went along. It was the early 1980’s, and we’d heard the call, coming from across the Atlantic from Dame Cicely Saunders and from Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross here in the US; people facing death deserved their dignity, and their voices heard. Our mission must be to ease their suffering and to heed their wishes, whether that meant an end to medical intervention, or treatment for as long as possible.

We put together a team of like-minded people who wanted to make a difference in society, one person and one family at a time. One day, after looking for months for the right person, our first full-time social worker Ray Somera said he'd had a dream we should hire Anne Mendenhall as our bereavement coordinator. Done! Anne was a gift in so many ways, just like every other staff member we added in those early days.

It was Anne who introduced me to Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamise Buddhist monk who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by no less than Dr. Martin Luther King for his work for peace during the Vietnam war. Nhat Hanh’s work was about mindfulness and being present in each moment. One of my favorites among his books is Living Buddha, Living Christ in which he talks about the similarities between these spiritual leaders and the faiths they spawned - and the Love that binds them.

During those hectic days of growing our hospice, one of his mantras was my go-to way to find focus and relief:

Breathing In my body is relaxed

Breathing out I smile

Breathing in I am in the present moment

Breathing out, it is a beautiful moment.

Those words got me through difficult board meetings, through challenging financial struggles, and through stress of all types. I still use the mantra today.

I recently read that Nhat Hanh has returned to his homeland in Vietnam after 50 years in exile, to live out his final days in the place where he started. He would often use his calligraphy brush to draw a circle he said illustrated life; there is a point at which we start, then we travel around the circle to a middle, and finally close the circle when we return to where we came from.

His awareness of death is that, “One day we are all going to deteriorate and die — our neurons, our arms, our flesh and bones. But if our practice and our awareness is strong enough, we can see beyond the dying body and pay attention also to the spiritual body. We continue through the spirit of our speech, our thinking, and our actions. These three aspects of body, speech, and mind continue.”

Just like what we provide in hospice, care for the body, mind and spirit.

I returned to my founding place of hospice recently: I attended the 40th anniversary Gala of Haven Hospice and sat with Donna Hall, the first Executive Director who had hired me to take her place.

Patti Moore and Donna Hall 2019!

Our shared memories took us back through time together to that common starting point, and we both felt blessed that thanks to the love and thought we’d put into building its spiritual and practical foundations – our speech, our thinking, our actions – the work of Haven Hospice continues still 40 years later. While neither of us still tend to the physical bodies of patients any longer, our intentions and influence live on in the spirit of Haven Hospice.

It felt good to close that circle.

!!!!! EXCITING NEWS !!!!!

I am CELEBRATING my 20TH YEAR AS President and Founder of THE WATERSHED GROUP this year. To celebrate this occasion, I am holding my FIRST LIVE EVENT in OCTOBER 2019!!




Stress – for many of us, and not just in healthcare, it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For so many boomers, taking care of others – kids, grandkids, parents, spouse or aging siblings – is their daily reality. And as our aging population grows, that problem is only going to grow.

Here’s a good news story on one facility’s idea on how to use the hospice model to address the stresses on today’s super-squeezed caregivers:

“The whole idea behind creating a social model hospice facility is not to replace hospice, but supplement it by providing a comfortable home staffed by volunteer nurses and good-hearted individuals trained to assist patients with daily life functions like bathing, grooming, repositioning and helping with some medications.

“We just have to give them (patients) a place. Then I will bring volunteer nurses in to care for them,” said Carl, who has worked extensively with the nursing program at Santa Fe Community College. “I know it works with volunteers. I’ve done it over and over.”

The main purpose of the home, she says, is to help families who struggle to care for a loved one suffering from a debilitating disease, such as ALS, cancer, leukemia or Parkinson’s disease, with end-of-life care or, as in the case of people like Susan, provide some temporary relief from the burden of being a caretaker on duty 24/7. It’s a need that’s growing, especially in Santa Fe, where demographics reflect a high population of senior citizens that is only increasing as baby boomers get old.”

Among the skills I teach my hospice leadership clients are self-care and stress management, because when you’re a caregiver by nature, the last person you’ll make time for is you.

This thoughtful essay reminds me of my own encounter with the concepts of Buddhism, and how it can help us accept the naturalness of death as a part of life – and closing that circle. For this doctor, it was the beauty and impermanence of a sand painting that helped him accept, and heal…

“As a palliative care doctor, I spend much of my time face-to-face with pain and suffering, debilitating disease and death. When I began my training, I thought I was comfortable with the idea of mortality, and with the notion that fighting death at all costs wasn’t the sole purpose of medicine. But I hadn’t expected that the type of medicine I’d chosen to practice would require a strength and perspective that medical training hadn’t offered. It was a chance encounter with a sand painting that helped me learn how to doctor patients I knew I would lose. “


Nice shout-out for Nathan Adelson Hospice here, and their chief nursing officer April Stewart, who says it all so beautifully!

“April Stewart is the chief nursing officer for Nathan Adelson Hospice. She’s been working in hospice for 12 years…. “Hospice is who I am,” she said. “The job isn’t as depressing as people might think, said Stewart. “This is the most rewarding job I have ever had…Hospice patients have the most beautiful stories to share. How lucky are we to be a part of someone’s life at this point in their journey? If we as a team can come together and provide true hospice care in the way it was intended, it is an amazing journey for all involved and can make a very sad, emotional time a little less scary.”

Great news and a generous gift to our friends at Community Hospice & Palliative Care:

“Community Hospice & Palliative Care and Baptist Health announced a $500,000 donation and joint venture for a new hospice at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville downtown.

Alice and O’Neal Douglas made the contribution to the new inpatient unit under construction and expected to open in October 2019. The Douglas Center for Caring at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville will be the ninth such Community Hospice inpatient facility.


Pause, Breathe and enjoy a sunset on the Crooked River