Dublin and Ramadan reflection

A conversation with new friend in Dublin keeps coming to mind. I’ve just finished six weeks in Dublin. The first couple of weeks I stayed at a peaceful Catholic retreat centre called the Avila Carmelite Centre – it was a luxury – very quiet, my own wee house, and very reasonable. However, they couldn’t accommodate me the whole time in Dublin. Therefore, through the wonders of Facebook, a friend of a friend offered me a room in her two up two down wee house in Drimnagh, a suburb of Dublin. It was a very different experience from the retreat centre. Small, busy, loud, and lots of time spent with my lovely Dublin host and her man.

Down the road from the Drimnagh house was a row of shops – amazingly there still existed a butcher, a fruit shop, an off-licence, and three small grocery shops. The first of the shops was where I often bought coffee. The shop owner was a lovely man from Pakistan, though for the last thirteen years a Dublin resident. Ramadan happened while I was in Dublin and most days I spoke with my coffee man about it, his fasting and the challenges. For example, Dublin only has about five hours of darkness, with Ramadan falling at the peak of summer and long hours of light.

On my last morning in Drimnagh before going off to the airport, I went to get a coffee and say goodbye. A free coffee and an interesting discussion later, I was off to the airport. The conversation stuck with me. It was all about Ramadan and the aim to bring the spiritual fruits of a month’s long fasting, prayer and reading scriptures into every day life, until next year’s Ramadan. He talked about the need for reflection about one’s life, how one was living, and how one needs to treat all people with care, love and respect. This Ramadan message contrasts all the Islamophobia that comes through much of the media today. This spiritual impulse expressed so beautifully by the lovely coffee man in the wee shop was my last impression of Ireland, a land in spiritual transformation.



Talking about death

Kia ora koutou,

A recent report from the UK’s Macmillian group (http://www.macmillan.org.uk/aboutus/news/latest_news/thousands-of-cancer-patients-die-in-hospital-against-their-wishes.aspx) highlights:

“There is a crisis of communication in the UK when it comes to death. Many of
us face barriers that stop us talking about dying – and health and social care
professionals, too, may be missing key opportunities to bring up the topic.
In fact, around two in three people (64%) think that we do not talk
about death enough in this country.”

We could say the same for NZ. We’ve done some research showing this in the area of renal care (kidney disease), see: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nep.12323/abstract;jsessionid=18762E548379E1EE7202B418CFA59C41.f04t01 . Some in NZ and around the world are responding to this with ‘death cafes’ (http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/life/79398938/Mortality-on-the-menu-at-Death-Cafes)

And others regularly talk about our ‘death denying’ culture. Talking about death more would have an impact on many things; at the most expedient neoliberal end, it would impact on how much we spend on heroic interventions.

Of course there is a spiritual aspect to the whole death discussion, not least, what are our beliefs and values around the process.

What do you think?



Healthcare chaplaincy

Kia ora koutou,

UK has multi-faith/belief chaplaincy service (see link below). We know spiritual care impacts positively on wellbeing. NZ hospital chaplains do a good job, but are underfunded, under resourced, and mostly underutilized. Our national healthcare chaplaincy service needs to be reviewed, re-structured and re-invigorated to take spiritual care into the 21st century, where over 80% of us don’t attend church, synagogue or mosque, yet have spiritual needs (call them existential if you don’t like the S-word).





New paper on spirituality and aged care

Kia ora koutou,

You or people you know may be interested in a paper I was invovled in, led by Mei-Ling Blank from our Department. Apparently 50 people can download it free, just go to this link:


The abstract for the papers is below.



Addressing the spiritual care needs of residents living in aged-care facilities should be an important dimension of quality care. We conducted semi-structured interviews with residential aged-care staff (including caregivers, nurses, managers, and chaplains) in New Zealand to explore how spiritual care is understood and operationalized. Many participants appeared to equate spiritual care with holistic care that respects the whole person. Participants discussed five types of spiritual care engagement requiring different skills, knowledge, and personal commitment, including information gathering, facilitation, companionship, end-of-life care, and counseling. Our findings suggest that the spiritual care that was offered by our participants, clergy and non-clergy alike, was predominantly informal and unplanned.


Spirituality Education

In New Zealand up to 50% of Primary Schools have some form of ‘Bible in Schools’ for which there are mixed reports about:

In the year 2000, I did my Masters thesis looking at spirituality in NZ State Education (http://mro.massey.ac.nz/handle/10179/6489) and my impression is that not much has changed since. What I called for, along with many others like Prof’s Morris and Geering, is multi-belief education, similar to what they have been doing in England for a long time.

What is often not understood is that values education is very widespread in NZ primary and early secondary school teaching. Almost all primary schools highlight their values at a Board of Trustee level and usually in the classroom with some form of values education. Health education is compulsory to Year 10, and while it varies considerably in hours, content and expertise, there is some values education going on there. But when it is probably most important, from years 11 – 13, when young people are exploring ideas, beliefs, ideologies, and so on, there is no consistent approach.

This blog post was inspired by an editorial I just read that argues an overemphasis on subjects like Maths and English underplays spiritual and emotional education and subsequent student development. And that this situation, happening all over the world, particularly  impacts negatively those most vulnerable, thereby further embedding a cycle of poverty and ennui. Here in their words:

A prominent aspect of children’s spiritual nurture is family support. Parents and

grandparents provide affirmation, promote relationality, model ethical decision-making

and travel with children on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness. If children are

systematically deprived of influential family members from an early age, they become

even more dependent on educators, religious leaders and social service providers to fill

the void. School systems that elevate language and mathematical skill development to the

exclusion of creative arts and character development or valorise individual achievement in

lieu of collaborative opportunities provide little space for spirituality education. Religious

education that is dogmatic or limited to the conveyance of information about religious

traditions rather than open and responsive to spiritual questioning and questing, is

unhelpful as well. Organisations that provide general and mental health coverage, nutrition

supplements and other social support provide essential services and yet may fail to address

spiritual well-being because they are focused on preventative care for body and mind and

unaware of damage being done to the soul (spirit).

(Yust, K.-M., J. Watson and B. Hyde (2017). “The spiritual challenges of the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality: 1-3.)

I’d like to affirm all those primary schools doing a great job with values education, but call for another look at multi-belief-faith education across primary and secondary schools in NZ.



Washington DC spiritual care training

Kia ora koutou,

As part of my sabbatical travels this year I’m attending (teaching and learning) at the Summer Institute below. Prof Puchalski is a world leader in this area. See you there!



ps. they also do this cool retreat in Assisi, Italy, see details below.

Our 9th Annual Spirituality and Health Summer Institute, which will be held on July 10-13, 2017 in Washington, DC.  The 2017 Spirituality and Health Summer Institute will address spirituality as a solution to the current challenges in our healthcare system. Speakers include international leaders in spirituality and health research, clinical care, public health, and professional development.

The 12th Annual Art of Presence Health Care Renewal Retreat will be held on August 17-23, 2017. This retreat is a wonderful opportunity for healthcare professionals to find renewal and self-care in an amazing location in Assisi, Italy.


Christina M. Puchalski, MD, OCDS, FACP, FAAHPM

Director, George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health

Professor, Dept of Medicine and Health Sciences

George Washington University School of Medicine
Professor, Health Leadership and Management
George Washington University School of Public Health
Co-DIrector MFA-GWU Supportive and Palliative Care Clinic

Sabbatical considerations

Sabbatical considerations

Kia ora koutou, I find myself in the truly fortunate position of having a time of sabbatical. I have all sorts of things I hope to do, write about, think about, and explore… . One of the things I’d like to do is post more often on this site.

We, the spirituality and wellbeing strategy group, are a loose group of academics/practitioners who have an interest in spirituality – and an interest in fostering the conversation about it in health, education and politics (maybe). Our engagement in this site is sporadic, but we’re all committed to the kaupapa generally, we’re just far too busy. BUT, this year I’m not going to be as busy, so hence the conversations that I hope to start here.

My formal commitments this year are:

  • a Movember funded Kaupapa Maori men’s prostate cancer project;
  • a Cancer Society/Uni of Otago funded euthanasia project that’s trying to better understand the issues to help inform the politicians and public before it’s voted on again in parliament; and,
  • another Cancer Society funded project working with Sande Ramage et al at the MidCentral DHB working in a co-design way to explore better ways to provide spiritual care in the hospital and an elder care facility.

Then I have a range of papers and bits to write up from the last five years!  And over the year, I am going to explore the topic of spirituality and public health, considering the question of how we can help create an environment where spirituality can flourish.

Comments welcome!



Talk in Dunedin:Spirituality is a public health issue

Department Preventive & Social Medicine, University of Otago
Spirituality is a public health issue; By Richard Egan
Thursday 20th October 12:10pm -1:00pmRoom 033, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Adams Building, 18 Frederick St, Dunedin

Public health, as opposed to the publicly funded health system, is a discipline that aims to prevent illness, and protect and promote population health and well-being. Public health efforts have largely centred on the understanding, tracking and prevention of diseases. However, there is growing support for a ‘new public health’ approach, which takes a holistic view, encompassing four key dimensions of health: physical, mental, social and spiritual. This holistic approach parallels the Māori model of health, Te Whare Tapa Whā, a model that highlights the interdependence of Te Taha Wairua (spirituality), Te Taha Hinengaro (emotional and psychological health), Te Taha Tinana (physical health) and Te Taha Whānau (social wellbeing). Nonetheless, public health engagement with the spiritual dimension remains largely theoretical and implicit. Despite a growing literature base at the healthcare level, spirituality remains relatively overlooked in public health peer-reviewed literature and practice. This omission is an obstacle to achieving the public health goal of ‘healthy populations’. This presentation aims to present these issues and ask questions about how to develop and map this new area of research.

For more information on our upcoming talks please visit: http://www.otago.ac.nz/dsm-psm

Spirituality – even at the Rodeo!

The Urenui Rodeo took place over the weekend and – as is tradition – stopped mid-way for the reading of the Cowboys Prayer (see below).  With hats off and hands on hearts most of the crowd chose to obverse this with respect.  Another example of latent spirituality within seemingly secular society?

Our Heavenly Father, we pause at this time,
mindful of the many blessings you have bestowed upon us.
We ask, Lord, that you will be with us in the arena of life.

We as cowboys do not ask for special favors.
We don’t ask to draw around the chute fighting horse, the steer that won’t lay, or to never break the barrier.

We don’t even ask for all daylight runs.

We do ask Lord, that you will help us live our lives here on earth as cowboys, in such a manner, that when we make that last inevitable ride, to the country up there, where the grass grows lush, green, and stirrup high, and the water runs cool, clear, and deep, that you’ll take us by the hand and say – “Welcome to Heaven cowboy, your entry fees are paid.”