This is the first of a series of three articles co-created by the CompassionLab and Soaringwords for children and adults grappling with serious illness.
The darker the night, the brighter the stars.
For centuries, people have taken comfort and joy as they gazed at the night sky and were able to recognize clusters of stars known as constellations. Prior to the invention of global positioning devices, people actually relied on constellations in the night sky as a celestial navigation system.
In this article we suggest that there are constellations of compassion that can provide direction, clarity and comfort for ill children and their families as they navigate through a serious illness or pediatric hospitalization. Compassion is being able to sense, feel and act, to alleviate another’s suffering.
Compassion is an innate quality we all possess. When we see individual constellations such as the North Star, the Big Dipper, Orion’s belt, or Sirius, the dog, we experience micro-moments of joy, the sense of seeing an old friend, something comforting and familiar. We want you to think about constellations of compassion as an opportunity for healing. Once your eyes have been trained to recognize constellations, it becomes easier to pick them out of the swirling mass of glittering stars punctuating the night sky. In the same way, when patients and families learn how to recognize and use compassion, it serves as a global positioning system that can help you feel less isolated by coming closer to the effervescence and healing force of other people.
So here’s the invitation: Look up. Look out.
Once you start looking for constellations of compassion you will notice patterns of compassion everywhere. The best thing is that these shared micro-moments of compassion just take a moment to give or receive. Sometimes you are going to be the constellation or shining light for others. Simply by sharing a smile or a kind word you can become the North Star to someone who feels anchorless.
Other times, you will recognize patterns of compassion in others and this will brighten your spirits. For example, a woman who holds open a hospital elevator for you just when the doors are about to close on the large tray with hot beverages you are carrying. Or each day when the man who cleans the floors greets you with the warmest “good morning” and his kindness lights up your entire day.
Trust us, once you start noticing these constellations of compassion, you will begin to see and feel light emanating from people all around you, just like the countless stars in the sky. We believe that these Constellations of Compassion are like the invisible lines that we often don’t notice which connect us in meaningful ways to what’s important in life. We believe that if you look around you right now, whether you are in the hospital or grappling with serious chronic illness as part of your life or the life of someone you love, you can start to recognize patterns and shining lights all around you.
SoaringConstellations’ activity Draw and write a Constellation of Compassion message for someone special. Click here to get started.
Soaringwords founder Lisa Buksbaum with Jane Dutton of CompassionLab. The CompassionLab is a group of organizational researchers who strive to create a new vision of organizations as sites for the development and expression of compassion. Their focus is on the expression of compassion in work and in the workplace, including emphasis on roles, routines, practices, relationships, teams, and structures that impact the experience of compassion in organizations.
Never say “I know just how you feel.” A well-intentioned comment like this is actually hurtful because it suggests that the parent’s feelings are somehow generic rather than totally unique based on their life experience, their child’s unique character and circumstances, and the relationship they shared. The old language may not work during a parent’s time of grief, instead of saying, “hi, how are you?” instead say something like, “I am thinking about you today.”
Never try to “fix it” or justify it. You cannot change the reality that their child has died. The most common well-meaning phrases – “It’s God’s will” or “She’s with God now” can also be jarring when a parent has to mourn the death of their child. Listen to them. Let them express their feelings. Validate their feelings and grief so that they can experience it, process it, and begin to heal.
Never pretend that the child did not exist. Not mentioning the child’s name can actually be hurtful for a grieving parent. It can be reassuring for parents to know that other people hold special memories or recollections about a child who has died. It can also be healing for a parent to talk about a child who has died and share something about the child’s essence or an experience from the child’s life, as it validates the child’s existence. You can acknowledge the child by name. Share your impressions when appropriate and positive.
Never try to second-guess how the parent will experience holidays or life cycle events and celebrations and the fact that the child is not alive to share these experiences. Take your cues from the parent and let them set the tone. Holidays and special occasions bring up waves of feelings: happier times and perhaps trying times if the child was ill. Encouraging parents to express these feelings well in advance, during, or after the events can actually help them more fully participate, even while they are grieving.
Never diminish the joy of a grieving parent. “There’s a time to mourn and a time to laugh…” When parents re-engage in life and pleasurable experiences, let them have these moments of joy. Whether going to a movie, taking an outing with other children or friends, reading a book, or engaging in a project that they really enjoy, try to acknowledge them in the context of their joy, without reminding them of their loss, or making them feel guilty.
Never wait for the “perfect time” to express your support. Never wait to find the “exact words.” Keep it simple. Speak from your heart. Say something like, “I am so sorry for your loss” or let the person know you are thinking of them.
Never try to “deny the death” with excessive talking, activities, and other distractions. Often the most comforting thing you can do is listen non-judgmentally.
Never impose your beliefs, values or practices on the parents. The death of a child can provide an opening for simple rituals, prayer and even gratitude. People have to come to these things in their own time, in their own way. You can pray for them in your own way, just don’t add to their pain by suggesting that they are doing something wrong. Death can also turn people away from God and spirituality.
Never be afraid to be a compassionate human being. Share a hug, perhaps you can let the parent see you cry at the loss, or share a simple thought or emotion you are having about the loss. These actions let the parent know that they are not alone. However, don’t put your grief on their shoulders, it’s not appropriate for them to carry your grief and theirs at this time.
Never try to protect yourself from death. Of course it is easier to ignore the pain of grieving parents by crossing the street, averting your eyes when you see them, or not calling them, or not offering to help out with errands or taking a sibling for a few hours to give them time for themselves. However, you will appreciate all of life’s joys so much more if you open your heart and embrace parents who are mourning the death of a child. And, in doing something life-affirming and kind, you will be minimizing their pain andcontributing to the blessings surrounding death.
Lisa Buksbaum is the CEO & Founder of Soaringwords, a non-profit charity devoted to helping millions of ill children and their families to heal. She started the organization after three experiences with death and illness in her family. To date it has helped 250,000 children and families to “Never give up!” Watch Lisa on ABC Newswith Ann Pleshette Murphytalk about Coping With the Loss of a Child.
Watch author Jane Dutton and Soaringwords’ Founder Lisa Buksbaum discuss how High Quality Connections can infuse each day with meaning and well-being, even in the midst of serious illness and other setbacks. Learn how strangers and hospital employees, other patients and family members can provide High Quality Connections that can be for just a few seconds and yet have a lasting impact.
Nature inspired imageries are fun and easy to do. You can close your eyes and listen to the sounds… and use your imagination. You can think about the healing feeling of rain and water when you want to wash away something annoying or irritating. Doing these healing imageries can help you find the calm within the center of the storm… when you focus on these healing imageries you can relax and take yourself a million miles away to wherever you want to be.
Scientific studies show us that doing these healing visualization create instant changes in our bodies… our breathing and heart rates slow adding to our relaxation and healing. You can listen to these imageries as often as you like. You can also create SoaringArtwork inspired by these visualizations to decorate a child’s hospital rooms.
Join us behind the scenes in the Rain Room at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC to fall in love with the rain.
Close your eyes and imagine that you are next to a giant waterfall.
Imagine yourself in the middle of the rain forest.
Enjoy the beautiful waves of the ocean.
Listen to the power of the thundershower.
Imagine you are standing next to a beautiful fountain in the middle of a lush park.
As we enter the “official” season of gratitude, there’s so much with which to be thankful. For starters, it’s hard to imagine that my youngest son, Josh is starting to explore colleges and six-year med programs. Last weekend, we embarked on our first college visit to Johns Hopkins University. Speaking of gratitude, on Veteran’s Day, I was at Howard University in Washington, D.C. leading a Day of Service with outstanding Accenture employee volunteers and opportunity youth from KIPP Charter School DC school, Montgomery Community College and the On-Ramps program. This weekend,the giving continues and I’ll be in Philadelphia to cheer on Accenture employees from the Life Sciences team and 12th graders from the KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy. Together we’ll be spending the morning decorating quilts and pillows to donate to patients at St. Christopher’s Hospital and elevate their spirits in time for the holidays.
Speaking of the holidays, while you are doing your shopping, we hope that you will designate Soaringwords as the recipient of the AmazonSmile promotion. AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% at no cost to you. Its easy to get started, sign in to your Amazon account. Search for Soaringwords. Click Select next to “Soaringwords” to designate us as your charity.
Wishing you and your family a healthy and happy month of gratitude and well-being, Lisa
For the fourth year in a row, BNY Mellon employees headed back to schools – in Pittsburgh, PA; Los Angeles, CA; New York City; Jacksonville, FL; Everett, MA and Syracuse, NY. Seasoned Soaringwords champions and first-time volunteers came together to mentor elementary school children in a day of service learning to benefit hospitalized children at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, Montefiore Medical Center, Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Shriners Hospital for Children-Boston and Ronald McDonald Charities of Central N.Y. Grown-ups and students bonded, laughed, drew inspirational messages and artwork on the SoaringQuilts® and SoaringPillows®, enjoyed lunch while talking about what it takes to succeed in a career, and then turned up the volume with a high-energy Zumba® Fitness class and performance. Teams choreographed their own dance routines to share with the entire group. The day ended with a Closing Circle and lots of hugs. After the students were dismissed, BNY Mellon volunteers stayed back to create a SoaringMural for the school. MORE PHOTOS
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson on Love 2.0
It was a delight to interview Barbara Frederickson, the Chair of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) and the author of Positivity for our latest Soaringwords Book Club video. In the video she shares a radical new concept of love that is different from romantic love or infatuation. “Love 2.0 is defined as micro moments of connection which are able to transform our perspective and enhance our resilience.” The video includes healing and hopeful actions that patients, families and healthcare professionals can implement immediately to enhance well-being during times of illness. Share the video with anyone you know who is grappling with illness in their lives right now. WATCH VIDEO
Back to School with No Homework
It was a wonderful feeling to return to the University of Pennsylvania for the MAPP Summit, a meeting of 150 positive psychology practitioners and leading scientists. Dr. John Ratey presented findings from his new book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. In 90 minutes, he covered 10,000 years of evolution and the scientifically-validated link between fitness and mental dexterity. “Sitting is the new smoking!” Dr. Ratey had many exercises that had the audience up and moving to generate more BDNFs (Brain-derived neuroplastic functions) which he calls the “Miracle Gro of the brain.” Dr. Ellen Langer shared riveting data from her new book, Counter Clockwise, the psychology of possibility. She cited many examples of how powerful mind-body connections can override “limiting rules of absolutes” which diminish health and flourishing. Her talk concluded that “we should make uncertainty a universal attribution instead of feeling insecure that somehow everyone else knows something I don’t know.” I was honored to be invited to present the results of the Soaringwords Empirical Research to Measure the Well-being of Hospitalized Children. This study was designed to empirically measure the impact of a positive intervention on the well-being of hundreds of pediatric patients. Dr. Peggy Kern, Soaringwords Research Director, presented the study analytics that showed across the board that patients felt more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions. (Photo left: Peggy Kern. Photo right: Lisa and Dr. Martin Seligman, Founder of the field of positive psychology)
Soaringwords + Zumba® Fitness™ Fitness
With each passing month, we are working diligently to bring the healing power of Soaringwords activities coupled with the fun and energy of Zumba® Fitness classes to hospitalized children, their families, and the healthcare professionals that need to experience more positive emotions and social support. As of November we have 24 hospitals participating in this Soaringwords initiative. (Photo left: mother and daughter team Reyna Zurita & Janice Gonzalez at Florida Hospital for Children. Photo right: John Asenso at Ronald McDonald House in Stanford/ Palo Alto, CA.)
After the successful Soaringwords/JCC Manhattan collaboration with summer school students, we launched a weekly, ten-month Soaringwords Educational Outreach program with three New York City public schools. Each week, JCC volunteers and Soaringwords team leaders have the joy of working with second graders to create fun and meaningful projects to donate to patients and families at Harlem Hospital. All of these projects are infused with Character Strengths and Virtues to allow students to change their perceptions, bolster core skills to deepen knowledge and experience the process of meta-cognition. Our next activity at the schools is Gratitude Ladder, join in the fun and make your own ladder. More Photos
She’s Danish and unflappable. Josephine is a Nurse who has worked with children and families at Ronald McDonald House at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark; special needs children; and provided testing and treatment for HIV-infected patients in Uganda. As Soaringwords’ Associate Research Director, she is part of the team that manages all of Soaringwords empirical research studies in hospitals, schools, and corporations. Josephine is a certified yoga instructor completing a 200 hour degree program at Yoga Vida. Her husband Lukas and she enjoy living in NYC, hiking and traveling to and exploring American cities.
SoaringHealth & Wellness Check out the Soaringwords video on the Importance of Play with positive psychology practitioner Michelle McQuaid chillin’ with Lisa Buksbaum. This video will inspire patients, their parents, and hospital professionals to appreciate how being silly and playful actually has serious and immediate health benefits. Take a minute to watch the video and start goofing around to better your health.
There is still time to incorporate a wonderful Soaringwords team-building activity into your company or family’s holiday celebrations. If you are interested in launching a team-building employee volunteer program, off-site, inspirational speaker or community event, kindly contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Greta at 646-674-7105 to set up a time to speak with us.
We are excited to share that the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of your eligible Amazon purchases to Soaringwords.
AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support Soaringwords every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’re using your regular Amazon.com account with all your usual shopping cart, Wish List/registry, and other account settings… with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to Soaringwords. Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for these donations.
Signing up is easy.
Follow these simple steps to register Soaringwords as your favorite charity:
Take time to smell the roses, and don’t forget to enjoy the artwork.
In their new book, Art as Therapy, (Phaidon) Alain de Botton and John Armstrong beautifully articulate how art can help us deal with life’s key challenges such as our longing for love and our need for hope.
Like music and literature, the authors show how art is an apothecary for the soul. One way to have this emotional, therapeutic affect from artwork is to take classic works of art off their lofty pedestal and make an emotional connection with the art, based on where you are in your life. Its almost like moving aside the museum stanchions that separate us from the artwork.
For example, when viewing a luscious Banquet Still Life by Adriaen van Utrecht we are invited to think about abundance and how these vegetables and lemons made their way to our tables, rather than just taking them for granted.
In The Twilight of Life by Canadian painter Sydney Tully we see an elderly woman and notice the artist’s generosity as she took the time to see this woman, wondering who was she, what was she like in her younger, vibrant years. Looking at a painting this way reminds us to open ourselves to compassion for others and to look beneath the surface. Lastly in Matisse’s The Dance we are inspired to clasp the hands of another person and join the circle.
More than putting pretty works of art on a pedestal, the authors show how taking a moment to stop and connect with artwork and the artists that created the artwork can allow us to experience intense responsiveness to beauty, meaning and, perhaps, our own humanity. The work of art may remind us what is missing from our hyperactive, 24/7 connected lives while providing a luxurious respite into another reality. Appreciation of beauty activates our sense of awe and transcendence, allowing us to live our lives more deeply and purposefully.
Soaringwords is an organization built on a Positive Psychology framework, beginning with its mission –to lessen the impact of serious illness by connecting ill children and their families to a community of compassionate volunteers who inspire them to “Never give up!”
From daily gratitude exercises, nutrition, wellness practices, laughter exercises, art and writing therapies and other healing modalities, everything we created is firmly rooted in Positive Psychology.Whether you are a patient, a family member whose loved one is grappling with illness, a healthcare professional, or an employee who wants to be supportive of co-workers and friends who are ill, Soaringwords has healing resources to enhance your well-being.
This is the time of year that our thoughts turn to community, the renewing energy of fall foliage and the crispness of the air, and in my family the celebration of the Jewish new year. My heart is especially full this time of year spending considerable amounts of time giving pause to be grateful for all the abundant blessings in our lives which can often so easily be taken for granted. These gifts include a home, meaningful work, abundant health, and energized colleagues, friends and family.
This month, Soaringwords community is expanding in meaningful ways. We are delighted that our friends at Zumba® Fitness shared a video of Beto Perez, co-Founder of Zumba® Fitness, leading a free monthly dance class in one of our pediatric hospitals. It was a thrilling day at the office as we watched the Zumba® Fitness Facebook fans take notice of the Soaringwords initiative. The video received 9,659 likes! After 12 years of building the organization, it was a thrill to see our community grow so quickly.
Kindly take a minute and make a donation to our campaign to fund free monthly Soaringwords + Zumba® Fitness classes in 100 hospitals around the world. Click here.Together, with your financial support, we can make this happen and inspire thousands of hospitalized children to feel part of a vibrant, caring community.
Facebook has taken the notion of community to a whole new level of connection. Soaringwords was happy to spend few hours on the Facebook campus with sixth graders from Belle Haven Elementary School on 9/11, the National Day of Service. The entire day was in celebration of the life of Facebook’s Executive Chef Josef Desimone who recently died. The program started with a special lunch for the students in the Facebook Cafe. Together, employee volunteers and the students decorated 100 quilts and 100 pillows with inspirational messages and artwork to donate to patients at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital and Alisa Ann Ruch Foundation that helps children who are burned victims. Three amazing Zumba® Fitness instructors — John Asenso, Alejandra Picollo and Chris Pilawski led a lively Zumba® Fitness class, which was followed by a moving closing ceremony. MORE PHOTOS
NY Life September Month of Service Soars
On 9/11 Soaringwords and NY Life launched a collaboration to support hospitalized and bereaved children around the country. Here in New York City a team lead by the amazing Carolin Fermin created SoaringSuperhero messages, decorated capes and masks for hospitalized children at Harlem Hospital. Employees also assembled SoaringSuperhero activity kits of the same project so that hospitalized or grieving children will be able to “get one and then give one”. This activity will enable children to experiencing altruism and reciprocity which will enhance their well-being and inspire them to heal.
Global Zumba® Fitness Convention kicks off global collaboration to benefit hospitalized children
In August, the Soaringwords team spent five days at the global Zumba® Fitness Convention in Orlando where 723 licensed Zumba® Fitness instructors from around the world, representing 39 countries, signed up to lead free monthly classes in pediatric hospitals. A big thank you to the magnificent Thomas Estler for joining the Soaringwords team for the 2nd year in the row at the convention, and helping us spread our passion to bring Zumba® Fitness to hospitalized children. This week, here at the office, we have been very busy contacting Zumba® Fitness instructors to setup classes in hospitals around the country. If you have registered to lead a class, you will be hearing from us soon if you haven’t already heard from us. Help support this important initiative by making a donation. Together we can bring the healing power of dance, movement, laughter, and community to transform the lives of pediatric patients. Click here.
Doris is an 8 year old champion who inspires and helps other hospitalized children stay hopeful as she waits for her lung transplant. A true hero. On September 8 she came to school to be part of the creation of nine new Soaringwords Book Club videos featuring the Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges.We will be launching this new video series with Soaringwords hospital partners in November.
SoaringHealth & Wellness Have you ever kept a journal? If so, you may have discovered that by the time you finish writing about a problem or question, you have already discovered an answer inside and feel a sense of relief. Your shoulders relax, you un-clench your jaw and things feel more manageable. It is cathartic to express yourself on paper and doing so can have a positive impact on well-being. Psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker posits that regular journaling strengthens immune cells. The way in which your brain and body is engaged during the physical act of writing allows mental blocks to open up, allowing you to more freely understand yourself, others and the world.
Tips for Journaling:
Find a time & place where you won’t be disturbed.
Write continuously for about 20 minutes.
Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
Write only for yourself.
Write about something extremely personal and important to you.
Deal only with events or situations you can handle now.
We are busy planning our annual Make a Difference Day employee engagement events with BNY Mellon in multiple cities. If you are interested in launching a team-building employee volunteer program in 2013/2014 contact email@example.com or call Greta at 646-674-7105 to set up a time to speak.
Mata Amritanandamayi is known throughout the world as Amma
Or Mother, for love and compassion toward all beings. Her life has been dedicated to alleviating the pain of the poor, and those suffering physically and emotionally. Even as a small girl, she drew attention with the many hours she spent in deep meditation on the seashore. Throughout her life, Amma has embraced and comforted more than 32 million people. I was grateful to have an opportunity to meet Amma and to experience the presence of a holy person at the Amma retreat in Massachusetts.
More Than Skin Deep
Hugging not only feels good but it turns out the effect is more than skin deep. A study by University of North Carolina researchers found that hugs increase the “bonding” hormone oxytocin and decrease the risk of heart disease. Not big on hugs? That’s ok, because just like a hug, a touch can show love, understanding, requiring no response and leading to physiological calming, emotional well-being, relieving stress, and enhancing trust between giver and recipient. If hugging people might feel funny at first, you might learn to enjoy it over time.
Sending you a SoaringHug, share it with the people you love or with a stranger who needs a little lift today.
Summer is upon us and I spent a week in LA for the world conference on Positive Psychology, where fellow practitioners shared cutting edge wisdom, knowledge and FUN. One of the highlights was creating videos to inspire hospitalized children and their families with Barbara Fredrickson, the leading expert on positivity and love and Shane Lopez, the world renowned expert on hope. I look forward in sharing these videos with you in the next newsletter.Stay tuned to learn about the latest scientifically-based findings in a new positive psychology construct called SOAR, as my Master’s thesis is only weeks away from being finalized. I look forward to sharing the empirical findings on how Soaringwords interventions elevated well-being for hundreds of pediatric patients.If you are going to be in Miami on July 13, join me for a high-energy Zumba® Fitness master class 100% of the funds will support free monthly Soaringwords Zumba® Fitness classes for patients, families and staff in pediatric hospitals throughout Florida.
On Friday, June 7, Deloitte employees around the world headed into the community for IMPACT Day, a global day of service. In NYC, a delegation of employees volunteered with Soaringwords and mentored sixth graders at Dual Language Middle School in a three-hour community service project. The day started with inspirational talk about leadership and altruism, followed by the decoration of SoaringQuilts® and SoaringPillows® with inspirational messages and artwork to donate to patients at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. The entire group enjoyed a high-energy Zumba® Fitness class led by one of our favorite instructors Thomas Estler. The day ended with a closing circle and a visit to the hospital.MORE PHOTOS
We are all connected
On June 21, I was honored to give the commencement speech at Independent School 229, in the Bronx. After getting to know the eighth graders through Soaringwords Educational Outreach field trips, throughout the school year, I felt a strong connection with these young people. It was a thrill to be part of this momentous life-cycle event and to give the students some words that soar and inspire them as they begin their high school careers and young adulthood. MORE PHOTOS
Never doubt the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead. We held a Soaringwords’ Summit to discover, dream, design and deliver for Soaringwords’ 2013/2014 expansion. The power of our small group of dedicated strategists under the capable leadership of facilitator Nadya Peeva, co-created several million-dollar insights which we will be manifesting in the months ahead. Dr. Peggy Kern joined Soaringwords as the Director of Research and will help us empirically measure all interventions: hospital outreach programs, educational outreach initiatives, youth leaders programs, employee engagement initiatives. Special thanks to Horizon Media for hosting this event in their fabulous offices. MORE PHOTOS
A team of spirited JPMorgan Chase employees under the guidance of the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) in Chicago came together to embrace patients and families at Shriner’s Hospital.
Special thanks to the lovely, understated Ingri De La Cruz for her leadership in IS 229 school and in the community. Through her dedication she is inspiring students to embrace life of service, as part of becoming well-rounded, successful human-beings. She is a strong and resilient role model and precisely what you want in an educator.
SoaringHealth & Wellness When you look up to the sky, you’ll find constellations of compassion. Compassion Lab founder Jane Dutton & Soaringwords’ Founder Lisa Buksbaum collaborated on three articles to bring hope and a paradigm shift for children and families grappling with serious illness. Using the metaphor of constellations, we encourage children, parents, and healthcare professionals to find their own north star amidst turmoil.Check out the three articles and the SoaringConstellations projects that school children have made for hospitalized children.
Soaringwords has powerful leadership service projects to add to your summer-fall conferences and meetings. If you know of a fabulous, hard-working, brilliant college student, we still have space in our Soaringwords internship programs for the fall. Contact us at: 646-674-7105, firstname.lastname@example.org.