Our People & Places: Jane Slatery @ Church Health
I have read and studied so much about stress, and I can honestly say that a solid meditation practice is as good a remedy as any pill that I can prescribe.*
Recently we had the opportunity to chat with Jane Slatery, a psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse specialist, to find out how mindfulness and meditation have affected her life and how she is bringing some new offerings to Church Health in Midtown Memphis.
MiM: Briefly describe your personal journey towards discovering mindfulness and meditation.
JS: I would have to say my parents were my first teachers. When my mother was 30 (in 1960), she was studying Transcendental Meditation, going to yoga, running three miles most mornings, and trying to keep her head above water with four young children. My father was a very deep and introspective man, a true Renaissance guy who read to us at the dinner table at night Ghandi’s letters from prison to his daughter Indira. In the summer they would abandon Calvary (our home church) and drag us all over town visiting temples, mosques, and churches of all denominations. They were extremely active in the community, politically and otherwise. They loved to host dinner parties (my mother was a chef extraordinaire) where there was always a big diverse group with the most colorful, interesting, engaging conversations. I don’t know exactly what I understood, but I loved sitting in my father’s lap taking it all in.
They never preached to us. They led by example. I feel that my parents instilled in me some of the most important life lessons and values: the value and importance of meaningful relationships, starting with God; a compassionate heart; a curious and inquisitive mind and hunger for life-long learning; a passion for the arts; the importance of always giving back, especially to those less fortunate. I owe them everything for igniting my journey into mindfulness (with that being said, I have had plenty of detours and derailments along the way … too many to count … sort of embarrassing actually … and I still derail … !).
I began to dive deeply and intentionally in my late 30s, beginning mostly with practices in the Christian tradition - Centering Prayer workshops; meeting with a spiritual director; attending silent retreats at an Episcopal conference Center; Enneagram workshops; walking the labyrinth and the stations of the cross. I took a deeper dive when I found a teacher who taught me a formal sitting meditation practice in a very concentrated tradition. This was a big turning point for me in my journey. It was life-changing. I spent several more weeks with him in small group formats over the years. I have been so lucky to have so many wonderful teachers over the years who have taught from many different traditions. I try to go at least once a year to a 7-10 day retreat that includes long periods of silence. My daily practice, my teaching, half-day silent retreats, church, my work with my patients, my friends and colleagues all sustain me (most of the time) and challenge me. It is truly a journey of one moment, one day at a time.
MiM: How are you trying to bring that to Church Health?
JS: I have begun, with the help of a number of colleagues who make it possible, to have regular “pop in” short, weekly, meditation classes that are available to anyone passing through Crosstown, any level practitioner, free of charge, with no registration required and no real commitment except to show up and give it a try! I would like to integrate mindfulness curriculum/practices into everything we do at Church Health.
I would like to have enough classes and teachers so that our employees, staff, patients, and volunteers all might find something that is meaningful and helpful to them.
I would like to have in our EMR (electronic medical records) patient education handouts. For example, the primary care provider (PCP) types in ANXIETY. And out comes a one-page with some information on ANXIETY, how mindfulness can be helpful, and just several very simple practices they may try. The evidence-based research is pretty solid now on how it is helpful with a range of problems: depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, addiction, sleep disorders, stress (which leads to all sorts of physical problems, right? Headaches, GI problems, heart disease, cancers … ).
I would like to have an extensive mindfulness curriculum deeply imbedded into our three-year Family Practice Residents Program.
There are several speaker series that I have in mind.
Lastly, I would like to be the place people in our community think about when they think “mindfulness … meditation … Wonder what is going on at Church Health this week? … " and always have lots going on! I would like it to be the place visitors passing through come to for the same reasons.
My colleague, Kimberly Baker, is director of our children’s programming and is working hard in all her areas, including work at our preschool, Perea, to bring it to her children, staff, and parents. Super, super important work. Our children are stressed.
MiM: Why do you think Church Health is the right place to start something like this, and whom are you trying to reach?
JS: I am trying to reach anyone and everyone who passes through Crosstown, which includes Church Health, who might have the least bit of curiosity about this practice. We are an amazing place, so incredibly diverse; honestly, we are sort of like a microcosm, in many ways, of the world! We are a goldmine of opportunity. There is a lot of joy that comes through our doors but also a lot of pain and suffering. Mindfulness practices are so deep and so rich in all the wonderful ways they can ease our suffering and expand our joy and compassion.
MiM: What would you say are some common misconceptions about mindfulness/meditation?
First, that it is a “religion.” It is not. Many of the practices arose out of the world’s great religious traditions, including but not exclusive to, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam. In its simplest form, mindfulness is really about learning a way to move through your day … moment to moment, non-judgmentally, and with intention, authenticity, clarity, and compassion. It is not a religion.
Second, it is not about “blanking out” or emptying your head. It is actually about expanding your awareness, seeing clearly.
MiM: Is there anything else you want people to know?
I guess, more than anything, if people just understood how helpful it is in just managing our every day stress. Life is stressful, for some more than others, but certainly for everyone at some point in time. I have read and studied so much about stress, and I can honestly say that a solid meditation practice is as good a remedy as any pill that I can prescribe. (With that being said, if you are under the care of a practitioner prescribing you medicine, do not stop it without consulting with them first). I am all for medicine when it is indicated and prescribe it everyday I am at work. I also introduce all of my patients to mindfulness practices. Some jump in and grab hold and some don’t!
MiM: Finally, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your own practice?
*Back is the way forward. / You have to go down to go up. *Talk less. Listen more. Listen better. *Pause. *Nonreactivity. *A non-judgmental attitude is always best. *My inner voice is my guide. Listen. Trust. *Walk slowly. Eat Slowly. No matter the pace around you. *Listen to my body and honor what it is asking for. *Listen for and stay in meaningful relationships. There is no time for other. *I am whole in God's eyes just as I am.
Jane Slatery is an advanced practice psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse specialist. She incorporates mindfulness practices in her clinical work to help patients suffering with anxiety, depression, trauma, chronic pain, stress, and many other chronic conditions. She also teaches Mindfulness 101, a regular weekly meditation class at Church Health in Memphis, Tennessee.
*(With that being said, if you are under the care of a practitioner prescribing you medicine, do not stop it without consulting with them first).