Hospital 'wellbeing' class hailed by Buddhist monk

A BUDDHIST monk called upon by a local health trust to improve the mental wellbeing of staff is willing to extend his work in Northern Ireland.

Ryushin Paul Haller, from the San Francisco Zen Centre, was speaking after holding two separate workshops specifically aimed at achieving contentment and calmness for 160 employees in the Northern Trust area yesterday.

Mr Haller, originally from Belfast, specialises in teaching the practice of “mindfulness” to help participants deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

The Buddhist monk visited Antrim Area Hospital yesterday.

Earlier this month, Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson slammed the initiative as “an appalling waste of money”.

However, the trust confirmed that Mr Haller was offering the sessions free of charge to local health workers.

Speaking to the News Letter immediately following his classes yesterday, the former Queen’s graduate, now based in the US, insisted the day “went very well”.

“They (the participants) seemed to find it very relevant to working with their own wellbeing and also found it relevant to working with their clients through the trust,” he said.

Describing the format of the day as a mixture of speaking and practical sessions, Mr Haller said he was principally aiming to portray to employees “a description of the message of mindfulness and how mindfulness affects your physiology and our psychology”.

“There was also some experience in doing mindfulness and describing how it can be used in everyday life as well as working with clients.”

He added: “I would hope they gained a capacity to pay attention to their own thoughts and their own feelings and to learn how to respond to them skilfully and compassionately.”

As one of the leading Zen Buddhist teachers in the western world, Mr Haller said his practice was particularly relevant to healthcare staff who work in a high-pressure environment.

“The whole motivation of putting the classes on was to help people both to reduce their own stress and be able to bring a greater depth of skill into releasing the stress of the people they see as clients.”

The west Belfast native, who left the province nearly 40 years ago to become a Buddhist monk in Thailand, said he was aware of Mr Wilson’s criticism but defended his practice.

“I got a few emails telling me that something was stirred up but I didn’t have time to look at them,” he said.

“I can understand how some may wonder is this really worth the bother but from my perspective, and a whole wealth of scientific evidence, the simple answer is that it is worth the bother.

“It is a very cost effective way to help increase people’s wellbeing and mental health and it is a very skilful way to help them offer a better service to their clients.”

Asked if he hoped to extend his work in Northern Ireland, Mr Haller replied: “I am willing to work with anyone who is genuinely interested as this is something I passionately believe in and I’m happy to make it available in whatever way is deemed helpful.”

A spokesperson for the Northern Trust said: “We believe that by giving staff these skills and techniques we create a more effective and efficient workforce.”