Koshin Paley Ellison: Zen and the Art of Caregiving

Koshin Paley Ellison

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Koshin Paley Ellison, innovative cofounder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and coeditor of Wisdom’s recently published book, Awake at the Bedside. Koshin tells us about how he was drawn both to Zen practice and caring for the dying early in life and how the AIDS epidemic, beat poets, and Zen teacher John Daido Loori had an impact on him. He shares with us moving stories of how he cared for his grandmother Mimi at the end of her life and how this relationship helped him to deeply integrate his Buddhist practice into his life. Koshin relates to us how facing our fears can help us respond to others more compassionately and how letting go of our clinging can open up new ways of being. We also learn how for Koshin, study, meditation practice, and caregiving are intimately connected to each other.

Awake at the Bedside

How do we think about death? How do we think about the dying? What’s the current state of palliative and end-of-life health care, and how can we improve it? And how do we give care without becoming emotionally and spiritually depleted? In Awake at the Bedside, pioneers of palliative and end-of-life care — as well as doctors, Dharma teachers, chaplains, poets, and caregivers of all kinds — offer insights on incredibly challenging questions like these.

This book isn’t about dying. It’s about life and what life has to teach us. It’s about caring and what giving care really means. Equal parts instruction manual and spiritual testimony, it includes specific instructions and personal accounts to inspire, counsel, and teach. An indispensable resource for anyone involved in hospice work or caregiving of any kind.

Contributors include Anyen Rinpoche, Coleman Barks, Craig D. Blinderman, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Joshua Bright, Ira Byock, Robert Chodo Campbell, Rafael Campo, Ajahn Chah, Ram Dass, Kirsten DeLeo, Issan Dorsey, Mark Doty, Norman Fischer, Nick Flynn, Gil Fronsdal, Joseph Goldstein, Shodo Harada Roshi, Tony Hoagland, Marie Howe, Fernando Kawai, Michael Kearney, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Stanley Kunitz, Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Judy Lief, Betsy MacGregor, Diane E. Meier, W. S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Frank Ostaseski, Rachel Naomi Remen, Larry Rosenberg, Rumi, Cicely Saunders, Senryu, Jason Shinder, Derek Walcott, Radhule B. Weininger.

Marvelous. A compilation of essential treasures exploring the face and feeling of utter engagement, compassion, and wisdom in turning toward death and being present with and for people who are dying. Our culture might benefit greatly from this book and its institutional implications for end of life care and for caring, period.”
—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are

Awake at the Bedside is a beacon in the dark night of our healthcare system today. It is a must read.”
—Donna Karan, fashion designer & founder of Urban Zen Foundation

Awake at the Bedside brings together an extraordinary group of teachers who share their wisdom and insights into the great issue of our lives: how to understand the dying process in a way that allows for grace and peace as we transition into what for most of us is the great mystery.  This volume will certainly be of help for accompanying others in their journeys as well as providing a deeper understanding of our own.”
—Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness

“This nourishing book, Awake at the Bedside, should be required reading for any compassionate caregiver engaged in fostering healing in themselves, clients, loved ones and society. It envisions revolutionary change in how we care for ourselves and the world.”
—Dr. Andrew Weil

“Profoundly moving, inspiring and helpful, Awake at the Bedside is a real treasure.”
—Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart

“Moving and informative—this is a much-needed book! Put into practice, the wisdom of Awake at the Bedside could transform end-of-life care in America. And, every reader will receive support from the collective understanding shared in these pages.”
Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness

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Koshin Paley Ellison, MFA, LMSW, DMIN, co-founded the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, the first Buddhist organization to offer fully accredited chaplaincy training in America. The organization delivers contemplative approaches to care through education, direct service and meditation practice. Koshin is the director of the Zen Center’s Certificates in Contemplative Studies. In order to bring the work to a broader audience, he co-developed the Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care Training Program. He teaches in the University of Arizona Medical School’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship. Koshin is the academic advisor for the Buddhist students in the Master in Pastoral Care and Counseling at NYZCCC’s education partner, New York Theological Seminary. He is the co-director of Contemplative Care Services for the Department of Integrative Medicine and serves as the chaplaincy supervisor for the Pain and Palliative Care Department at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, where he also serves on the Medical Ethics Committee.

Koshin is a dynamic, original, and visionary leader and teacher. His public programs have introduced thousands to the practices of mindful and compassionate care of the living and dying. 30,000 people listen to his podcasts each year. His groundbreaking work has been widely featured in the media, including the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and in numerous print publications such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He is the co-author of the chapter “Rituals and Resilience,” in the book Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience (Routledge, 2009). He also authored the chapter “The Jeweled Net: What Dogen and the Avatamsaka Sutra Can Offer Us as Spiritual Caregivers,” in the book The Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work (Wisdom Publications, 2012). He is a Senior Zen Buddhist Monk, Dharma Teacher and student, ACPE Supervisor, and Jungian psychotherapist.