Amidst the hustle and bustle of nurses and doctors rushing round, the sound of bleeps going off and milling parents, some smiling, some looking very anxious, small islands of silence can be found where people sit calmly with their hands on their laps and a look of serenity on their faces.
Janki Foundation (JF) spreads its wings and flies into paediatrics wards
Almost a year ago, a small group of experienced meditators associated with the Janki Foundation and the Brahma Kumaris, some with backgrounds in health care or education, began conducting sessions in the paediatrics wards of two leading London hospitals. The first groups met a few days a month in the paediatrics units of Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, sandwiched between Wormwood Scrubs Prison and the Hammersmith Hospital in West London. A few months later similar groups began at St Mary’s Hospital, based in Paddington in central London. To date, over 260 people have attended these sessions.
The sessions are usually two hours long, with the first hour generally attended by clinicians and administrative staff, and the second hour by parents. The wards include the neonatology unit (where, if necessary, the newly-born are cared for), intensive care wards where older children are treated and haematology and oncology wards where kids with blood diseases and cancer undergo treatment.
The initiative for this project came from paediatrician Dr Veena Wadhwani who works at both hospitals. Participants, including nurses, doctor, psychologists and ancillary workers are shown breathing and muscle relaxation techniques and then partake in reflection and visualisation exercises that help them experience deep silence. They learn to slow down their thinking and to focus their thoughts on feelings of peace. One nurse commented how, after a session, she felt re-charged and ‘ready for a 12-hour shift’. Others remark on the relief they experience when ‘letting go of work and worry’, even if only for a brief period of time during the day.
Parents are invited to attend the second hour. They’re often from abroad and have brought their children for specialist treatment. Understandably, many feel uncomfortable in a strange environment let alone a strange country as well as being deeply concerned for their babies and children. Some only have a rudimentary grasp of English. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to take a break, sit in silence with each other and learn simple ways of calming themselves down through breathing.
Meditation gathers momentum
JF is delighted to be able to offer practical help in this way, especially at two such world- famous institutions. Queen Charlotte’s, now known as Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital and housed in a modern building, was founded in 1739, and is one of the oldest maternity hospitals in Europe. St Mary’s, established in 1845, is renowned for its medical school and for being the hospital where Alexander Fleming discovered life-saving penicillin in 1928. Both hospitals are now part of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
Word of mouth gets round and people want to know what’s going on in these ‘islands of peace’. The latest group to request the sessions is the maternity ward at Queen Charlotte’s where the first meditation session was held in January.