Bees and Improving the Tech World: A Stanford Chaplain Fellow

I meet Anannda in an intentional Oakland residential community, where she hands me an all-white beekeeper’s suit—a color that relaxes bees. We enter the large backyard: a garden with flowers, herbs, fruits and crops, chickens in a hen house and a few chase dogs.

“Okay, so play plan: When we get in there, so I don’t have any smoke, I just have the almond oil, which will smell wonderful to us, but the bees will say, ‘aaahh what are you doing? ..’ “

As we approach the busy hive, I feel a twinge of nerves. Normal people get scared when a bee lands on their sandwich, but Anannanda confidently moves through hundreds. In fact, between her two closets live about fifty thousand bees.

Anannda tells me that if you’ve ever seen a honeybee collect nectar or pollen, it was with an elder. Bees age due to different roles in the hiveand their last job before dying is to leave the house, to forage and ensure the health of their colony.

“What does it mean to love going out and caring for something much bigger than yourself? And I hope the work that I do as a chaplain is also that, like, how can we help empower seven generations later?”

What does Anannda do as chaplain?

“I literally sit with people and guide them where they are emotionally and spiritually on their journey…”

So it is other than going to a therapist or psychologist – it’s professional, compassionate listening – whether that’s in a hospital, the military, prisons, or schools. And Anannanda is open to everyone regardless of their spiritual, religious beliefs or lack thereof.

“…and contrary to popular belief, I do not repent, even though I identify as a Christian and am a Presbyterian minister of the word in the sacrament.”

Breaking away from what has been the norm for chaplains and for Presbyterian religious figures until very recent history, Anannda is not a straight, white person.

“I was ordained in a church in Silicon Valley, uh, First Pres Palo Alto, scream it out, um, they ordained this strange black woman. So I am grateful.”

Anannda didn’t always know that she wanted to become the priesthood and later become a chaplain. In her late 2000s, she studied at the Illinois College for the LSATs, aiming to become a lawyer when:

“I felt like I heard God’s spirit say ‘you’re going to seminary,’ and I was like, haha, you’re joking.”

So, reluctantly, she made a deal with God: She wouldn’t stop partying and enjoying college. But if she was accepted into any divine school she applied to, she would continue.

“And I went to every seminar I applied for. So I was like, well. like, God, I’m doing the family business.”

So after graduating from Illinois College in 2011 with a degree in International Studies and Spanish, Anannda embarked on the next chapter of her life. In 2014 she had a Master of Divinity. She considered becoming a missionary, but did not want to convert. And after being ordained to the Church in Palo Alto, she realized that pastoral ministry was her calling.

“I remember I had a patient and the patient’s daughter got very angry with the staff. Um, and so they called me in as the chaplain on that unit to say, ‘Hey, could you sit with the patient’s daughter?’”

Anannda says the most important role of pastoral care is to look beyond one’s behavior – to discover the root causes – often: fear.

In this case, the daughter was afraid of her mother’s prognosis and lack of control. In the end, Anannda managed to calm her down so that she could communicate peacefully with the staff and support her mother.

“But it takes time to do that. To sit, nurses don’t have that kind of time, and that’s not their job, right. Doctors don’t have that time, and it’s not necessarily their job.”

The stress that occurs in places of crisis, such as a hospital, can be debilitating for all parties involved. That is why the role of a chaplain is so essential.

“Do you have any stories of one of your hardest days as a chaplain?”

“Yes, one of my hardest days as a chaplain was a day on watch, and watch is a 12-hour shift. And I took the day shifts because the Lord knows that I am better by day than by night. And it was now maybe the fifth week in a row where it was just constant death.”

This was at the height of the Covid pandemic, so before there was a vaccine. Anannda was a chaplain at Stanford Hospital in four different departments, including the ICU Oncology Unit and the Bone Marrow and Transplantation Unit.

“And just this repetition of families who believe in miracles because they reactively went to the hospital with their loved one and so now the time comes when the patient is in the active death process and a shock occurs.

Anannda sat with dying patients and their grieving families. She saw how hardworking hospital staff were treated with anger and denial. Not to mention the administrators, whom she calls the silent heroes of the pandemic, who clean every room.

“So that was definitely the hardest time, with five or six deaths a day. Because that’s all I did that day was death.”

“All right, beloveds. I’m known for giving a grueling sermon in and of itself, going deep into all the things that are wrong with the world, but this sermon touches on that, but it’s a little light, okay?…”

As a child, Anannda and her family always moved between Illinois and Georgia. It was difficult for her because relationships were constantly uprooted.

“And so the church was one of the most consistent things in my life. Wherever I went, God is always with me. Like, and really developed a prayer life, I think out of necessity.”

Her mother spent the first half of Anannda’s life in engineering, doing so for a total of 19 years.

“And now she’s not in tech anymore. So I saw some of the ways that technology is really impacting, especially black women. And so as a preacher I thought, how am I supposed to understand this culture that is Silicon Valley?”

Anannda is passionate about how, in human history, this is the greatest period of innovation – ever.

“Being in an early enough construction phase also means we can do some really great things as collaborators and co-conspirators in our various professions to make this the best it can be.”

She says that high rates of depression and anxiety in the workplace are far too common and normal in the industry. Her role is to help those people who are working to improve the technology that can cause mental health dilemmas.

“They help recognize who they are, recognize their values, their integrity, so they don’t, you know, live lives that suck the souls out of them.”

That’s why she works now at Stanford, as a chaplain fellow, providing services to students in STEM while conducting research.

“I think this does humanity a great service, frankly, and a great service to industry and I think it will empower and free them to make better products for mending the world.”

In particular, Anannda is working to set a precedent for the use of evidence-based pastoral care. She says it’s important not only to find out what kind of care is missing in the field of technology, but also to… show that it is missing.

“So that way we have healthier people in a healthier society, you know? I don’t think it’s utopian, I actually think it’s practical and I think it’s actually a more sustainable business model and a more sustainable model of the academy.”

Evidence-based pastoral care already exists in clinical settings. So Anannanda is paving the way for higher education. In the year she has been at Stanford, she has already discovered that she can help discover herself in students while sitting with them during existential crises.

“And so what I often see in students is their worth, their sense of self is linked to their achievement.”

Anannda says relying on achievements to provide joy and self-esteem is very concerning because if that disappears or disappoints, then what? And it turns out that this is not a theme that only occurs in higher education. Those lying on their sick or dying beds have similar revelations.

“I think agreements arise from a crisis. Rarely have I met a student or a patient who, due to a crisis, has not raised these deeper questions. So they literally explore joy on a very basic level, which is beautiful.”

Until now, most people seemed to be open to the idea of ​​receiving evidence-based pastoral care and care.

“Everyone I spoke to about this said, yes, this makes sense. No one is like, “Ah, don’t listen to me!” You know, ‘I don’t want to share my problems. I don’t want to be a full-fledged human being.’ I don’t have that reaction.”

How can we disconnect our self-esteem from our achievements, and instead gain meaning from the community, from giving back? Like the bees!

“I think that’s such a lesson for us of, what does it look like? And it doesn’t have to be the last stage of our lives. Right. Because we’re not bees, um, and may that work be good enough. It has to be, but to insure life.”

“Wow. Those bees just went really deep.”

Talking to Anannda makes me think: Do people like her help students discover and deal with the same existential crises that others may not experience until they are close to death?

It seems that the work she does here is empowering others to discover their own calling – before it’s too late.

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