Sam Settle, editor of Peace Inside, examines how the time tested practice of meditation – sitting in silence and paying attention to the breath – is helping people maintain a healthy mind behind bars.
“If you don’t go into prison with a mental health problem, then you’re very likely to pick one up while you’re there. And if you do have a pre-existing condition – and many people who come into prison do – it’s probably going to get worse while you’re inside.” So said the head of the mental health team at an Oxfordshire prison, speaking recently to yoga teachers at a training run by our charity, the Prison Phoenix Trust (PPT). Part of the PPT’s work is setting up yoga and meditation classes in prisons, training and supporting qualified teachers for this unusual work. There are currently 144 classes in 79 UK and Irish prisons.
Dr Monika Renz shares her perspective on optimal palliative care and talks to us about her most recently published title, Hope and Grace.
Could you tell us a bit about your background? Where you grew up and whether there were any early influences in your decision to enter the palliative care field?
I grew up in Zurich. My father was a business leader; my mother was a psychologist. Since childhood, I have been interested in the human condition, particularly health and spirituality. I was first influenced by my father’s focus on efficiency, and as a psychotherapist, I began looking for efficient therapy methods.
A second early influence was music: My mother told me that I had begun singing before speaking! Since I was 5 years old, my hobby has been piano improvisation. Without reading notes, I played whatever I heard and as a child discovered the healing effect of music. When I was a teenager, research on intrauterine hearing had just come to the fore. I was fascinated and became interested
in music therapy.
At the University of Zurich, I studied educational psychology, psychopathology, and ethnomusicology. The deepest influences on my therapeutic work with dying patients came from several accidents and longer periods of personal illness. As a patient, I experienced what I later called a transformation of perception. I discovered two different states of being: In one, I suffered great pain, and in the other state, I had none. In the one state, I was present and in control, and in the other painless state, I was somehow far away from time and space but very clear. I looked deeper into this phenomenon when writing my doctoral dissertation on primordial trust and primordial fear under Professor Heinz Stefan Herzka. Years later, I studied theology to better understand patients’ spiritual distress. My theologic dissertation dealt with redemption from early behavioural imprinting. Continue reading