Guide Martin Bayne on Turning the Stream of Compassion Within

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You're meeting somebody late in their life and knowing just, like, the tip of who they are and trying, you know, trying to encounter them as a full person but not knowing so much about their past. I find video extraordinarily helpful in that respect. I try and get people on video as soon as possible because you never know how long they're going to be here, and video's never let me down.

BAYNE: I just set my camera up on a tripod, and I invite people in to sit down with me and talk for half an hour about anything that's on their mind. And I had a fellow in the other night that was weeping during a discussion of his role in a Navy disaster, where one ship had hit another, and a number of men died. For me, video is a very personal thing. It's almost like the most intimate form of communication that I can think of.

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And it allows me to sit there with the person, and for a few moments, we just let our guards down. GROSS: Oh so you - I think I get what you're saying: You're there as an interviewer, and that gives you, as I feel I often have when I'm at the microphone, the liberty of asking anything without feeling like you're being presumptuous. And I find that people that I've never talked to before in that way all of a sudden open, and their life spills out in front of me, and I am moved, often, to tears myself.

I still keep them, but I always show it to the family if I do have the video of the deceased to share. He's now 62 and lives in an assisted living facility because of Parkinson's disease. He's 62 and lives in an assisted living facility because of Parkinson's disease, which has left him unable to care for himself. He blogs about life in assisted living and wrote an article for Health Affairs that was excerpted in the Washington Post. You've witnessed a lot of deaths. Is death talked about? I know someone was telling me, who lived in an assisted living facility, that one of the things that really bothered them is that everybody there knew that death was either just a little down the road or a few years away, but it was close.

But no one talked about it, and when somebody did die that the administration didn't say anything, that you'd notice somebody wasn't at the dining room table the next day, that the room was empty, people were coming in to look at it, but nobody had said that the person had died or what they died off.

It was almost as if it would be too depressing to mention it, so they didn't want to bother the other residents with it. But I would say it's fair to say that on the whole, death is handled very poorly and very badly. And I think that setting up a time and a place to honor the person who has just died, not only completes their life but in a way brings a sense of even joy and releasing unintelligible life.

And it gives you a sense, I think, for everyone, that life is purposeful and that we have to acknowledge, not hide under the rug.

Jeff Marshall

A death is also an integral part of who we are as human beings. And I think to talk about it openly, while in a way celebrating the lives of the deceased, I think is very helpful.

GROSS: How has it made you feel about death to be so surrounded by it because the people who you live with are so old that, I mean, even if they weren't sick, you would have witnessed many of them died because you're talking about people in their 80s and 90s. It has dramatically, and I feel now much more relaxed about my own death than I did before.

My relationship with almost all the residents is such that many of the people who die, typically die slowly. I mean, there are some sudden deaths, but it's a slower process, generally, and I'm allowed to kind of take part of it. This woman that died last week, I went into her room that night and sat with her, holding her hand, and she died the next morning while her son was by her bedside.

And I talked to her son and gave her son a hug, and I'm much more - I guess relaxed is a word I have to use again, about my own death. When it comes, it comes. And whatever happens happens. I'm told that billion people have died up to this point in time on our planet, and none of them have come back to complain, and so it can't be that bad.

I wanted to be there, and people know it. I make an attempt when anybody new comes into the building to introduce myself to them immediately. And when people are coming to an assisted living facility, it's typically after a trauma in their life: They just lost a spouse; they have some terrible disease; or they're in a stage of dementia where they can't live by themselves.

And it can be frightening for people at that age to come in and all of a sudden have to deal with all this foreign, new stuff. So I make it a point to go right up and introduce myself. And I think that my philosophy that it's the small things in life, the very small things, that mean the most. That too has given me a certain position, if you want, in the community.

And I think my age, too, people just kind of scratch their heads and look at me sometimes. But I love the community I'm in. It is my home, and the people there, no matter how demented or how sick, or whatever wrong with them, I feel that my responsibility to make their journey while still on this planet as joyous and fulfilling as possible. GROSS: So I'm wondering if the things that you learned there about meditation, contemplation, are helping you at this stage of your life and helping you live in an assisted living facility, in an atmosphere that some people might find very depressing, you know, because people are so much older than you are and so much, you know, closer to death and often more seriously impaired - and so on.

And the time that I spent as a monk in both monasteries was without a doubt the most productive, powerful period of my life. And I owe, I believe, everything to the training that I received in both monasteries. Zen is not that far from Catholicism. I was at the Benedictine monastery, and they encourage their monks to be rather eclectic when it comes to religious beliefs.

They're obviously Christian. But one of the monks had built a small Japanese tea ceremony room. And I was reading a book one day from - it was in the room. And it said the Buddha had learned how to turn the stream of compassion within. And I dropped to my knees and started to weep. It never occurred to me that one could turn the stream of compassion within. Sometime later I was on a plane to California to the Buddhist monastery to try and find out how does one do this. How does one love themselves? How does one give oneself the benefit of the doubt?

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GROSS: How does one give to oneself the compassion that would come naturally when it came to caring for other people. BAYNE: Exactly because in my experience, Terry, this is all in a mirror, and how you treat yourself and how you treat other people is identical, identical. The love and affection that you have for other people is only as much as you can afford for yourself. It was like a homecoming. I had forgiven myself, Terry, of all the things that I had done that I didn't think I should have done, of all the things I wasn't I thought I should be.

I accepted them. And when that happened, it's indescribable, really, that something so simple as accepting yourself, turning the stream of compassion within, yet it's such a powerful gift. And not to just myself but to all those now I come in contact with. I appreciate you making the trip to a radio studio so we could speak over microphones to each other so that the audience can hear you well. Thank you so much.

Thank you for talking with us. He wrote an article about life there in Health Affairs, which was excerpted in the Washington Post. You'll find a link to both, as well as a link to his new blog, and his literary journal on our website freshair.

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View the discussion thread. SDPB Radio. SDPB Classical. Related Program:. Share Tweet Email. View Slideshow 1 of 2. Most residents in assisted living facilities are in their 80s and 90s and arrive after a traumatic event, according to Martin Bayne, who writes about long-term care reform. View Slideshow 2 of 2. Martin Bayne was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's at The five interventions make up a set of instructions, or an operational guide, for a Therapeutic Assisted Living community.

First, there should be a Welcoming Committee each new resident should be greeted by a group of existing residents. The interchange is simple, yet the rewards are often profound for new residents. There should be a Peer Support Group , a weekly, residents-only meeting. This provides a safe, supportive environment for honest exchange between community members on myriad issues. This group is the heart of the community, and its objective purposeful living the soul.

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A Crisis Team , made up of residents, should be available to other residents around the clock. This team is composed of three or four residents who agree to be available at all times for any resident who asks for their help. A Crisis Team member is not a therapist, psychologist or professional healer, but simply some-one willing to listen, comfort and demonstrate compassion to a resident in trauma. To anyone who has ever suffered a panic attack at am, and just needed a kind and reassuring voice to walk them through the rough spots not an often-ambivalent ambulance crew or 10 hours in an emergency room this concept needs no explanation.

Community Volunteering is a key component as volunteering says to the world, I am worthwhile; a fellow human being with something to offer, regardless of my age. A Peer Support Group is the heart of the community, and its objective purposeful living the soul. And finally, there should be Legacy When a resident dies , the community should come together to honor and pay respect to one of their own as the fallen resident embarks on the Great Adventure.

Therapeutic Assisted Living says dying is completely safe, and if all goes well, the residents can expect to be greeted by another Welcoming Committee, albeit one with a bit more spirit. Person-Centered Practices.