Monks’ visit has impact at Silver Hill Hospital

By Catherine Robertson Souter
May 1st, 2016

Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., works with a variety of clients – those with severe mental illness and addiction as well as clients dealing with chronic pain or eating disorders. They may be young or more mature, have co-occurring disorders and/or be dealing with an on-going issue. They may be a part of the hospital’s inpatient, transitional or intensive outpatient program.

No matter what they are dealing with or how the treatment plan has been worked out for that individual, every patient is treated both medically and metaphysically, in a manner of speaking.

From lessons on meditation to non-denominational weekly services to creativity groups, the hospital works to provide support for what they call the patient’s spiritual side.

“At Silver Hill, we treat our patients holistically” said Rev. Kathleen Thompson, M.DIV., LCSW, BCC, the hospital’s family programs manager and chaplain. “We believe there are a number of things that go into the struggle with mental illness and addiction. We believe in the neurobiology of addiction and mood disorders so we have a group of psychiatrists who manage medication, but we also realize there is a need for therapy, for psychological care and a need for spiritual care.”

The existential questions that arise with mental illness and addiction, she explained, can undermine even the strongest faith and will leave others bereft. The goal of the hospital is not to teach any religious devotion but to support the exploration of spirituality.

To that end, the hospital was excited to welcome a unique group in March. The Tasha Kyil Monks, a group from a traditional Tibetan monastery in India, recently finished an eight-month tour in the United States to teach basic principles of Buddhism and raise funds for their monastery.

The monks provided information on the political situation in Tibet along with readings from a sacred text.

While at Silver Hill, the only psychiatric hospital to host the group, the monks taught patients and visitors Buddhist meditation and gave talks on ideals within the religion.

“We can all benefit from their teachings about spirituality, mindfulness and compassion, especially in our fast-paced, digital culture,” said Sigurd Ackerman, M.D., Silver Hill Hospital’s president and medical director.

During their six-day stay at the hospital, the monks also worked on an intricate sand mandala, an ancient Buddhist symbol of harmony. Carefully pouring colorful sand from small tubes, called chakpur, the monks spent hours creating their World Peace design on an eight-foot square wooden platform.

“At the end of their visit,” said Thompson, “They wiped their hands across the board and wiped away the mandala. They poured the sand into a brass pitcher and brought it to the bridge and offered the mandala back to nature as the stream took away the sand.”

For patients, staff, families and visitors from the community, the chance to meditate with the monks, listen to their talks and view the beauty and appreciate the impermanence of the mandala was a treat.

“They love it,” said Thompson. “They love watching the mandala being created and they are interested in the themes of Buddhism, loving kindness, compassion and world peace.”

The monks returned to India shortly following their visit in Connecticut but are welcome back, said Thompson, on a return tour. The monastery works in conjunction with another in Indiana to raise awareness of Tibetan culture and religion.

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