From: Working@Duke 2018
Jon Seskevich’s meditative teachings help Duke University Hospital patients
Earlier this year, Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, was released to positive reviews and a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. A mother of two from Greensboro North Carolina, Riggs was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Earlier this year, the disease took her life. Recounting her battle against cancer, her book has been praised by reviewers as a meditation on the joy of living.
Riggs wrote about the care and support she received at Duke Cancer Center. Among the people she recognized was Jon Seskevich, a stress management nurse clinician for the Center for Advanced Practice at Duke Health.
She praised the breathing and meditation techniques Seskevich taught her, writing “time stretches and bends as he guides us with his voice into an impeccably quiet place”
A note from Jon:
Early one morning 6 months after the book came out, I received a text from a friend who was reading a New York Times Best Selling Book and saw me mentioned as “Nurse Jon” who really helped the author while at Duke Hospital. What a big surprise for us both!
This book is deep and inspirational, like one of Stephen Levine or Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Living and Dying workshops. I read it on plane flights and trains in India! In the book, Bright Hour Riggs shares about our interaction which was very powerful both in the session we had on 9100 at Duke Hospital and carried over the last year of her life. One story featured in the book was a healing from a chronic panic attack. During this experience, she had a trancendental life altering event that brought to mind her relative Ralph Waldo Emerson’s story about the Bright Hour. Read the book to learn more!
Jon was awarded Blue Devil of the Week April 10, 2017, (Not bad for a Tarheel) and is interviewed here by Stephen Schramm of @WorkingatDuke
For 31 years at Duke Mr. Seskevich has been a Stress Management Nurse clinician for the Center for Advanced Practice with the Duke University Health System.
What he does at Duke:
A teacher and student of meditation since he was 24, Seskevich uses what he’s learned to help ease the stress of patients at Duke University Hospital. He does this through a variety of means, including helping them meditate by focusing on breathing, relaxing their bodies and helping fill their minds with positive thoughts.
“Illness gives a person stress but then stress can aggravate the health problem,” Seskevich explains. “So stress management is a way to lower symptoms and give control to a person. Health problems take control, I bring control back.”
With a calming, empathetic demeanor, he’s also found a niche as one of the hospital’s most sympathetic ears.
“Patients hear ‘relax don’t worry,’ which makes it worse,” Seskevich said. “But what I’m able to do is teach how. How you’re able to relax and decrease worry.”
What he loves about Duke:
“The idea that I’m supported in what I do. … For me, I have a lot of autonomy in what I do. I’m getting the consults, I’m figuring out who to see, prioritizing. I’m obviously getting to use creativity in my work. Everybody talks about my voice being relaxing, so again, having this position, I get to use a real strength and gift that I have.”
A memorable day at work:
Seskevich remembers working with a woman who had been paralyzed. Coming to grips with the severity of the situation left her devastated. But after a session with Seskevich, her spirit began to lift and some of her symptoms lessened.
When her husband entered the room, he was elated to see his wife’s smile return.
“I don’t know what you did, but it helped her,” Seskevich remembers him saying. “Thank you!”
“That was so humbling,” Seskevich said.
A special object in the office:
Seskevich is rarely without one of his many sets of prayer beads. Thumbing through a strand while repeating a positive or spiritual thought is an effective way to relieve stress and ease the mind.
“I guess you could call it a kinesthetic device that helps you focus on the present,” he said.
As a teenager, Seskevich was a caddie at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. While his golf days are long past, he fondly recalls hammering one long, satisfying drive during a rare caddie golf outing.
“I maybe got a double-bogey on that hole, but that drive was farther than anyone’s,” Seskevich said. “… It just exploded. But that was the only good shot.”
Best advice received:
When Seskevich was a nursing assistant – a job he enjoyed – he mulled an opportunity to return to school and advance his career. He asked his meditation teacher what he should do.
“I like what I’m doing, I’m at the patient’s bedside, I’m helping them,” he said. “Why go back to school?”
“You’ll make more money,” his teacher responded.
Years later, the exchange still makes him laugh.
“So here’s this spiritual teacher telling me to go back to school because I’ll make more money,” he said. “He was right.”
Something most people don’t know about him:
An accomplished singer and player of the harmonium – a type of organ – Seskevich has released six albums and appeared onstage at festivals. Recently, his music has explored blending the circular melodies of old-time bluegrass with chanting derived from several faith traditions.
“It’s all different,” Seskevich said. “Buddhist, I’ve got Christian, I’ve got Hindu, I’ve got Sufi Islamic, Native American. I say chanting is universal. All these spiritual traditions do this common practice. I’m more for bringing people together as opposed to separation.”