“When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness.”

Naomi Remen

Featured Shanti Articles

Shanti in Jail
by Terri Lee, Shanti Volunteer

A Sacred Position
by Bradley Smull, Shanti Volunteer & Multifaith Works Board Member

Shanti Trainings Provide a Unique Experience EffectiveArts Actors take Center Stage with Shanti by Robert Lux, Shanti Program Director

Poem: “When we listen…” by Naomi Remen

Shanti in Jail
by Terri Lee, Shanti Volunteer

I anxiously waited for the elevator amidst loud echoing voices. It seemed as if the elevator was moving up and down, but the doors still hadn’t opened. Did the King County Correctional Facility officers running the elevators know that I was waiting? After waiting what seemed to be an unusual length of time, the elevator door opened. I stepped in and the elevator began moving at once. A voice called out, “Where to?” “Six – the clinic,” I responded softly. “Where?” the voice grew louder with a tinge of irritation. “Six” I eventually learned that holding open the appropriate number of fingers while speaking loudly, clearly, and with as few words as possible expedites the process.

Once I enter the clinic, I gather the referrals from health care providers as well as the requests from inmates themselves who have seen our transparencies posted in the tanks, and begin to compile a list of whom to see and in what order. While I wait for an inmate to arrive, I clear the desks so nothing is within easy reach of the client. I then set up two chairs, making sure that I am between the client and the door.

While most clients come with an agenda of what they want to talk about, some come just to assess who I am and what Shanti is all about. Initially, I had decided to volunteer in the jail setting to experience something new and challenging. But now, it seems I am drawn by the great need for support in the jail. I have realized the true value of providing a listening ear. While some clients worry about their declining health or lack of top notch care, most worry about the reaction they might encounter if others learn of their HIV status. It is the mix of close living quarters, overcrowded tanks, and less than sanitary conditions that add to the stress of living with HIV.

The privacy of a closed space and the comfort of face-to-face meetings provide the atmosphere in which the client is able to express all the difficulties of jail life. Often coming from life on the street with other drug users and/or being from a broken family, most inmates have never fully experienced unconditional support and concern. Most are unable to trust or rely on anyone. As a Shanti client, the inmate is given the opportunity to express difficulties, organize thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, the client is confident that regardless of anything said, I will be supportive and never ask for anything in return. Most clients come to appreciate and look forward to Shanti meetings. I can see attitudes change and emotions open. Each and every time I hear the words, “Thank you for doing this,” and the subtle gratitude expressed by the clients I serve, I continue to solidify my commitment to the Shanti program at the jail.

Terri Lee is a volunteer with Shanti’s Jail Program. Since 1999, Shanti volunteers have been providing emotional support for inmates at the King County Correctional Facility. Nationally, the rate of HIV infection for inmates is 5-7 times higher than that of the general population. Few inmates who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS have a safe place to talk about their illness outside of their meetings with a Shanti volunteer.

A Sacred Position
by Bradley Smull, Shanti Volunteer & Multifaith Works Board Member

Those of us privileged to serve as Shanti volunteers each have our own special reasons for being drawn to this work. For many of us, I suspect it is a recognition of our own brokenness that compels and empowers us to support others. The beauty and mystery of this process is that, in so doing, we nurture ourselves.

I’ve never thought of myself as a social activist, yet I suppose my underlying hope is that our work with Shanti will in some sense change the world by combating the unreasoned fear (or worse yet, prejudice) that leads so many in society to recoil from those we serve. As a relatively new volunteer, I’m humbled and honored to have this opportunity to share my perspectives with you. But most of all, I’m surprised, because I never expected to lose my client–at least not so soon, not without some warning, not without more time to prepare.

Ours is a sacred position, for we are allowed into a space within our clients’ lives where even life-partners, relatives and friends may not be able to go. One of my fellow small-group members once remarked that Shanti promotes “accelerated intimacy,” and I believe that is a very apt description of what can transpire between the client and volunteer when both are open to it. My client was only human, but I can honestly say that I remain awed by the manner in which he faced his adversity so honestly, and yet was never, ever consumed by it.

A mark of my client’s generosity was that, without the slightest hesitation, he agreed to sit with me on a panel at a recent Shanti volunteer training, offering those gathered a window into the nature of our special relationship. But ultimately, that was not to be, for when I came calling that weekend, much to my surprise, there was no answer at his door.

I take some solace in the fact that his suffering was not prolonged, though I find myself yearning for one last chance to tell him goodbye; to say how much his love and sharing have meant and continue to mean to me. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing here… I know he would want me to tell those new volunteers how grateful he was that they have stepped forward so others might benefit from Shanti’s services as he believed he had.

Girded by the loving support of my wife and fellow volunteers from my Shanti small group, I had the privilege of speaking at my client’s memorial service. I believe that our presence there, both as caring individuals and as representatives of Shanti, honored him in a way that would not otherwise have been possible. I will never forget the opportunity we had to see a picture board filled with images from healthier, happier times in his life… his face shining alongside those of his partner, co-workers and friends. My face is shining too: sometimes with sad tears, but more and more with fond memories of the precious time and honest connection that my client and I shared, thanks to Shanti.

Shanti Trainings Provide a Unique Experience

Shanti trainings are often experienced by trainees and facilitators as being not only educational, but also nurturing, powerful, even life-changing. Shanti’s recent training prepared 14 new volunteers to provide emotional support to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses. The group very quickly bonded in a space of respect, confidentiality, and safety ­ aided by the facilitation of seven experienced Shanti volunteers and a Shanti staff member.

Trainees found it especially helpful to listen to current clients and volunteers speak about their Shanti relationships, about living with a life-threatening illness, and about the process of both giving and receiving emotional support. In addition, community professionals presented information on cultural sensitivity, basic HIV/AIDS information, and working with clients who have mental health and/or chemical dependency issues.

Trainees also participated in experiential exercises on improving listening skills, getting in touch with their own grief issues, and exploring their feelings about death and dying. In support groups, they practiced both giving and receiving emotional support both in one-to-one scenarios and small group settings. They were encouraged to learn and use the Shanti model of emotional support, to practice giving and receiving clear feedback, and to honor their own personal style which they bring to this work.

A recent trainee commented: “From the start, it was apparent that Shanti volunteers were unique, and possessed a tremendous capacity for love and understanding. As the training progressed, it became evident that these same people were apparently without pretext of judgment or condemnation of lifestyle differences. Daily life rarely brings us into consistent contact with such caring people, and when it does we’re often too busy to appreciate it. Shanti was a refreshing breath of air in this regard, because it not only assembled such a caring cross section of humanity, but went on to lay a strong supportive foundation, to create a conducive atmosphere, and to provide the opportunity for us to build what I hope will be loving and lasting friendships.”

EffectiveArts Actors take Center Stage with Shanti
by Robert Lux, Shanti Program Director

Shanti has had a beneficial alliance with EffectiveArts, an interactive drama organization dedicated to social contribution, the enhancement of education, and community development through art. EffectiveArts actors donate the time of actors who play a starring role in Shanti volunteer trainings.

For each Shanti volunteer training, EffectiveArts actors perform interactive drama with our new trainees. The actors play the roles of hypothetical clients, helping each trainee to sharpen skills at active listening, limit setting, and providing non-judgmental emotional support.  Each actor extensively rehearses a given role prior to doing his or her performance at the training. The roles encompass a wide variety of “characters” representing the broad scope of clients, personalities, and situations that Shanti volunteers might meet.

Through their participation with the actors, Shanti trainees are able to sharpen their emotional support skills. After their encounter with their actor “client,” each trainee receives feedback from the EffectiveArts actors, training facilitators, and other trainees. This process of giving and receiving feedback becomes a cornerstone of providing effective support to both clients and small group members. The debriefing also allows the actors to fully disengage from their client-character, something that is needed since the characters they play are often quite intense.

Jim Boggs, the founder and director of EffectiveArts, says that the actors receive great benefits from their experience with Shanti: “I believe that, at our core, all we human beings want to do is to contribute to others. Shanti provides our actors with opportunities to serve those who will be serving others, and to see with their own eyes the difference that their art has made. EffectiveArts is designed as a transformational program for the student actors, and Shanti plays a large role in that process.”

Certainly, the EffectiveArts actors’ presence at Shanti trainings has made a big difference in the quality of preparation which new Shanti volunteers receive. Shanti looks forward to continuing this mutually-beneficially relationship with EffectiveArts.

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When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness.

Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person.

That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and by others.
That which is hidden.

In this culture, the soul and the heart too often go homeless.

Listening creates a holy silence.

When you listen generously to people they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time.

And in the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone.

Eventually, you may be able to hear, in everyone and beyond everyone, the unseen singing softly to itself and to you.

-Naomi Remen