Much of my recent learning about the meaning of suffering was sparked by three months of training in Clinical Pastoral Education, the formal process by which hospital chaplains are trained and credentialed. It was an intense learning experience for me, bringing together my life as a father, as a medical educator, and a Zen teacher as I worked with patients. I’ve written a manuscript about those three months and am currently exploring ways to have it published.

“Wrestling with Angels: a Father Becomes a Chaplain”

A health care memoir focused on the training I needed to face the suffering of my patients, my family, and myself

Gordon Greene, PhD
Head Priest, Spring Green Dojo, Spring Green, Wisconsin
Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Night Chaplain, Meriter Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin

We don’t know how to suffer. We know how to avoid suffering. And, many people have learned to survive suffering. But if you don’t know how to suffer, your ability to help those who are suffering is limited. The most common responses include detachment, distortion, or immediate efforts to problem-solve, rarely effective. How can we change this?

Starting from the moment that my son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy twenty-five years ago, I painfully learned that most of the people seeking to provide care to my son and my family hadn’t learned how to suffer and remained unnecessarily separated from us. As a freshly minted Zen Buddhist teacher and a new medical school faculty member at the time of his birth I was compelled to learn how those professions learn to face the suffering at the core of those they encounter

In this book I focus on that learning, using the context of three intense months of chaplaincy training to interweave stories from my own Zen training, from the training of medical students, with my training as a chaplain.

My focus is on the physicality of the work of facing suffering. Don’t face it with your beliefs or your thoughts. Face it with your whole body. Hard to wrestle without it. When you use your breath, your posture, your senses, a more muscular form of caring emerges, one that has strength and sensitivity in extreme conditions and one that helps prevent burn-out.

The book will have meaning to the tens of thousands of people training as physicians, as chaplains and as Zen priests every year. But there is also a much broader audience that I have begun to reach through presentations at places as diverse as Oxford University and a Conciousness Hacking Meetup in Silicon Valley. I will take up an appointment as a Getty Visiting Scholar in 2018 at the University of San Francisco.

Full book proposal available from the author, including sample chapters.