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Passing It On

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Compassion

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Caregivers and Meditation by Bruce Arnold


I was moved to write this after receiving a card from my best friend from college today. She needed a part time job and is working as a caregiver 14 hours a week as well as working for NY State. She wrote me today to tell me that she is working with a 94 year-old woman who wants to know how to meditate and she thought of me.

My friend Beth took the class with me in NY that introduced me to Buddhism and led me down the path of becoming Buddhist myself. Beth informed me that she was going back through old CDs that I had sent her as well as going on the internet to gather info to share with this older woman.

She didn’t say much about the meditation itself, just what a blessing it was to have this woman she was supposed to be caregiving instead ministering to her. It pleased me that Beth was getting a taste of what my life volunteering at hospice is like; the sweetness in being transformed by those we think we’re teaching.

 

 

This Morning by Kaveri Patel


This morning my body felt heavy. I could not remember my dream, but
knew it must have reflected my attachment and control of my
daughter’s future.

She will be starting preschool soon, and I have anxiously been hoping
that we find the right fit where her soul will be honored and
nurtured. I know. That sounds deep for a 2 and a half year old,
right? Perhaps it reflects my fears from my own childhood, of not
feeling like I was understood.

As I sat down to meditate, I began to plan the meditation. I
probably spent most of the 20 minutes finding “just the right thing”
that would alleviate my physical discomfort. I tried all kinds of
things. Feeling my body, silently telling myself nothing was wrong,
that this too was part of my experience and that it was OK. After the
sit, I felt myself contracting even more and reacting to my inability
to soothe the discomfort.

Why do we run away from pain? There is the biological flight or
flight response, but there is also an underlying belief that
something is wrong. Perhaps even that something is wrong with us.

The ocean is a metaphor for our being. The waves come and go. We
can run away, or let them move through us, and stay in contact with
them as best as we can. It takes great faith in my practice to learn
to stay, no matter what is occurring. It also takes compassion to be
forgiving and gentle with myself when I am running away.

May I entrust myself to the waves.
May my heart expand beyond the sea where the sky and earth can hold
everything.

May you entrust yourself to the waves.
May your heart expand beyond the sea where the sky and earth can hold
everything.

 

 

Interventions by Carla Brooke


After a morning of yoga, my body is stretched to take in the ocean view. Still, I can feel my chest muscles tighten as I drive along Hwy 1 to teach Intensive Intervention, an afternoon program at an elementary school near my home in Half Moon Bay. I give myself an hour to set up for the nonstop whirlwind of students who are pulled out from their classroom for literacy help. Many are the children of migrant workers who have come to California to make a better life for their family.

While setting up the classroom I often find myself in a frantic blur – beautiful moments with a child interrupted by a wildfire of distracted behavior I need to address. I wrestle with how I can best help these at-risk children with complex emotional and academic needs.

Recess is a rowdy and sometimes frightening world out on the playground. When the students come to my classroom, D-2, I want them to see it as a safe sanctuary. They run in eagerly, “Can I go on the computers first?” I don’t answer until we sit in mindful attention for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the singing bowl. “What do you hear now?,” I ask. Feet stop knocking against chairs and the gradual silence envelops us all. It helps me as much as the children to do a mindfulness listening practice before beginning class.

One day, during a particularly stressful time in my life, I enter D-2, a shared teachers room, and see the skeleton of a shark on the table where my attendance sheet and singing bowl are normally kept. A group of 4th graders sit in rapt attention while a man with an Australian accent talks loudly about sharks. A few of the kids recognize me and wave in my direction. The man says, “No they rarely attack people on shore. The movie ‘Jaws’ isn’t true. Are there any more questions?” Apparently, it is Ocean Week. I wait outside by the children’s education garden until the presenter is done, reminding myself of the anchor words I teach the children, “breathing in, I feel my belly rise, breathing out, gently releasing.”

As soon as I return to the classroom the school bell rings. Cesar, a nine-year old boy with a peaceful, lilting voice arrives first. Our class celebrated Cesar’s birthday last month writing appreciative adjectives to describe him. I took dictation on a poster board while each student described their classmate. “Cesar is calm, considerate, a good friend.” I framed each word inside overlapping circles and handed it to the birthday boy afterwards to take home.

Since then, Cesar has been the first to arrive. He cut his recess short today to help me set up. The metal door jam squeaks against the cement as he comes in. “Is there anything you need help with today, Mrs. Brooke?” My back is towards him, my eyes are riveted on the defiant computers that refuse to turn on no matter how may times I try. The Sesame Street look-alike software is not my friendly neighbor after all. I vent my frustration in Cesar’s composed direction. “The computers won’t start. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” I turn around and realize that this four foot tall boy who writes poetry about endangered seabirds has come to rescue his floundering teacher. “Maybe the computers need to relax, Mrs. Brooke.”

I look at Cesar with reverence before letting my tension turn into a ripple of laughter. He is my mindfulness teacher today, this son of a gardener who has learned about patience. Cesar, is the one who, after the singing bowl stops ringing, raises his hand politely and says, “I hear flowers growing.”

After this I decide to augment the federally funded literacy curriculum by bringing in a hyacinth bulb floating in a glass vase, guaranteed to bloom in two weeks. Keep the water clean, the directions remind me. Sometimes I forget to clean the water and one of the children reminds me. As part of our mindfulness exercise at the beginning of each class I pass around the hyacinth to each child. “What is different today? Each child makes a fanlike folding book that honors each stage of growth; the bare bulb floating in water, the first show of green, the leaves and finally a purple flower growing like a regal crown.

Feeling that I too have grown roots, I bring in a children’s story I have written. Next to the singing bowl on the formica table I lovingly place the photo of our dog, Hanai, sitting with me on the beach when she was a puppy. It was taken soon after my husband and I brought her back from Hawaii. We had found her, a skinny black dog who had been wandering around homeless. We were in Hawaii because what I knew of my past had literally gone up in smoke nine months before – our house burned. One turn of a dryer cycle had forced us to let go of the past. We were fortunate that our house didn’t burn completely, the firemen had said. If they had arrived five minutes later it would have been a different story. After the restoration, my husband John and I went to Hawaii to celebrate and we found, and rescued, Hanai. As I read the story of Hainai to the class, I realize that rescuing Haini was a life-changing event, but it is not clear exactly whose life changed the most or who rescued whom?

The 5th graders, my most challenging group of students, have been asking about my dog ever since I read that story. Later, while facing my group of 3rd graders, I added some information about the origin of Hanai’s name. I put a syllable breakdown of the Hawaiian word on the board behind me. “Hanai” means adopted family. As I read to the 3rd graders I become aware that over the past six months this diverse group of children have become my Hanai.

Later that week my initial fear that first generation students won’t understand my heartfelt story is transformed by a series of colorful illustrations they make at the art table. Cesar makes an expressive felt pen rendering of Hanai playing in the grass, while Osvaldo draws the stars overhead and several rainbows captioned by, “Hanai’s dream of finding a home.”

With just a few more weeks left to the end of school, I realize it has been a privilege to work with these children. As my heart opens wider, healing opportunities find their way in. Since that day of the shark’s guest appearance, I find myself in a calmer state of self-acceptance.

Among the stuffed folders where I keep student’s writing and artwork is a separate file for my attendance sheet. It took me nearly six months to say their names without a mix up. A quiet 4th grader would patiently remind me, “I’m Alberto,” after mistakenly calling him Alfredo. I look at my pencil marks in the various columns on the attendance sheet. What the marks don’t show are the life lessons that came to me through these children.

For example, Francisco, a referral from Child Protective Services, is one of the boys I have to send to the office frequently because of out of control behavior. A skinny boy with a perceptive, sharp wit, Francisco’s comments jump out of his mouth in repetitive, sharp bursts through the flannel hood tucked over his head. Over time, his impulsive outbursts have quieted down long enough for him to draw a picture of his feelings. One day, when he stayed after class to help me clean up, I noticed him with a drawing that he hid from me. With some coaxing I got to see part of it. I most remember the urgency in the wild repeated strokes he made with a dark green marking pen, and his shyness at revealing his emotions to me.

An other student, Filiberto, asked to show me his work. He pointed to a wildly rendered warm yellow line crossing through the center of a deep red field. “This is my anger,” (pointing at the red field), “and this,” he pauses, “is my happiness coming through.” I feel grace settle right here where our eyes meet. In the silence that follows, Filiberto continues to draw, adding starry yellow dots in the few empty spaces that remain.

On the last Friday in May we talked and drew about bullying. Eric had been acting somber and uncommunicative lately. I asked Eric to read out loud from a book that tells a story about bullying at school, No One Knew What To Do. As Eric read he seemed to be getting the message. A happy ending results when the story’s main character summons enough courage to reach out for help from his teachers. The teachers provide a supportive intervention that helps transform the cycle of violence at his school.

After reading the story, Eric lights up with passionate resolve and tells me how much bullying he has witnessed at our school and at his home. Eric then makes a poster on the biggest paper we can find. He puts in bold lettering what he just read. “The first step: to ask for help from an adult; not being afraid to speak out, and fearlessly banding together with others who witness bullying and want to help.” Eric adds his own commentary and illustrations to his poster. “This planet is in trouble because people are mad at one another. People fight and they don’t want to tell somebody big.” He signs his full name at the end of his statement. Now Eric helps ring the singing bowl at the beginning of our class and continues to write about nonviolence during our final weeks together.

The hyacinth flower bloomed at last. Instead of the two weeks promised, it took 3 months. During that period of attentive care the bulb became our class mascot. When I brought it home to freshen the cloudy water, the children always noticed it was gone and asked where it was. We were so pleased when it bloomed we had a birthday party for it. I laid the vase carefully on a violet colored tablecloth. In the picture I took, Eric, Jennifer and Flavio are smiling like proud parents beside the flower that seems larger than life. Near the vase is a handmade card from a student that says, “You rock, Mrs. Brooke.” Beside that is a zen-like poem written by an eight year old girl, Viri. She wrote it one afternoon while playing with a language game. The pieces she puzzled together speak of the hyacinth and of our year of interventions together, “Flowers will grow silently.”

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