Over the past ten years, ElderSHINE has been the source of much joy and connection for a group of low-income elders living in East Baltimore. This is how one ElderSHINE participant describes her experience:
“You know I’d be fit to be tied if I missed my SHINE group!
It’s my joy. It makes me a better person towards other people.”
Imagine living alone in a small apartment, with limited contact with the outside world. For many of us who live busy, mobile and fast paced lives, this may be difficult to imagine. Yet the lives of many of our low-income elders in the community are often isolated, filled with multiple health challenges, limited resources and few opportunities for connection and mobility. It is understandable that many suffer sadness and even depression.
Ten years ago, SHINE first began to address the mental and physical health disparities and isolation among low-income elders living in subsidized housing. We adapted our SHINE program specifically for the elders in our community, focusing on those who were facing life’s biggest challenges. We built a weekly program based on connection, compassion, and self-care, teaching mindful awareness practices and skills within a caring container of essential social support.
In a published research study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, findings indicated that compared to a control group, ElderSHINE participants had statistically significant improvements in blood pressure.
Carm Dorsey, a nurse who taught Community Nursing at Johns Hopkins for many years and helped bring ElderSHINE to East Baltimore commented, “This is a revolutionary process, a wonderful tonic. This program is a wonderful resource, knowing they have the ability to help themselves and each other.”
The stories shared by participants also describe how ElderSHINE helped them in many other ways as well. Ms. B. a highly respected elder in the, proclaimed,
“This program – it gets my mouth talkin’ and my feet walkin’!”
Miss R, who was dealing with serious health concerns, told us,
“You know, I had to have this MRI. It was so noisy. So I took you right
in there with me, and remembered I could find my breath and just relax. That clanging and banging didn’t bother me at all!”
“By sitting quietly we can learn to slow down – we can learn about peace.”
This month we celebrate 10 years of ElderSHINE in Baltimore, sharing the gift of mindfulness. Although our numbers have dwindled over the years, we continue to meet periodically to share meditation, enjoy quiet reflection and cultivate joy. Through this group we have been able to SHINE a bright, positive light for those in our community who may have normally been forgotten in our busy world.
After a recent hospitalization, one ElderSHINE participant said, “a little voice inside me kept telling me to remember to shine.” As she describes, “I had my meditation to get me on up out of there and back here to SHINE.” After her return to the group, she commented, “Life is too short for a lot of yang yang stuff!”
A special lovingkindness meditation is practiced at the close of each ELDERSHINE gathering. It is a beautiful way of cultivating gratitude and joy, a practice that the women dearly love. As a gift from them to you, here it is for you to use in your life as well.
After Miss N. rings the Tibetan tingsha (bells), everyone settles into a few moments of stillness, finding their breath, and following the gentle rise and fall of its natural rhythm.
One by one, these phrases are spoken into the center of the circle. In call and response fashion, the women repeat each phrase out loud in unison, allowing the sentiments to be fully felt.
May I be well
May I be happy
May I be free from suffering
May I be filled with lovingkindness
May I know the beauty of my own true nature
May I be at peace
Miss F. tells us, “Don’t lose your Hallelujah!”
Joy is so important… we can choose to find it, grow it, cherish it, and make it a big part of our lives. Despite the challenges of living in an inner-city neighborhood, compounded by the pain and limitations of growing older with physical ailments, the women in ElderSHINE often remark, “it’s all good.” Practicing the lessons of mindfulness they learned in the group, they constantly remind one another that we can choose where to put our attention.
May you and all those whose lives you touch benefit from the lessons shared so freely by the wonderful women of ElderSHINE. They remind us to remember the richness of our moments; even in the midst of life’s challenges. They inspire us to use our abundant opportunities for discovering happiness in each moment; and to hang on to our Hallelujah!
Our sincere gratitude is extended to everyone who has volunteered, funded and participated with the ElderSHINE program over the past ten years. You have had a powerful impact and played a key role in the success of this unique program.
We invite you to join us as we embark on the next ten years of serving individuals and organizations through SHINE. Whatever your skills, interests or areas of expertise, we’d love to hear from you and explore how you can be a part of this important work!
Additionally, new collaborations and partnerships are critical to reach more under-resourced communities and the professionals who serve them throughout Baltimore. Right now we are looking for organizations who want to bring SHINE’s 3-hour transformative workshop on Building Resilience and Self-Care through the Keys to Mindfulness to their staff.
To what one breath can do,