Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The drive was therapeutic. The ribbon of a back road highway meandered like a mountain creek over hills and through patches of forest, beside farmhouses and fields of green. It was the perfect transition from my clean, easy suburban lifestyle to the grit and gruel of Orange Correctional Center, a minimum security prison for men in Hillsborough, North Carolina where I volunteered as a music and art therapist for a small group of schizophrenic inmates.
My tires crunched gravel as I pulled up to park next to the chain link fence topped with razor wire. I pushed the bell and in no time a uniformed correctional officer let me in.
“’Mornin’ Miss Brynne. Mighty fine day now, woon’t you say?” No need for any identification or security badges—I had been coming for years, every Friday nine-o’clock.
“Certainly is, Officer. Beautiful even.” We exchanged smiles, too.
The small activity room sat on the far side of the camp. I passed a few inmates on my way, each one nodding, some removing their cigarettes out of respect. A few even smiled before their eyes met the ground. A smile too kind might get them a write-up. Most weren’t willing to take that risk. A write-up could mean more time. I opened the door and started to set up my things. Slowly, like teenagers on the first day of middle school, they started to amble in one by one.
“Mornin’ Miss Brynne.”
“Nice to see you, Miss Brynne.”
“How ya doin’, Miss Brynne.”
I greeted each one, too, gauging their state of mind by their voices. Everyone seemed pretty stable. I decided to go ahead with my planned activity.
I always believed that schizophrenia was not so much an illness as it was a state of mind, and working with the ‘guys’ (as I affectionately called them) only confirmed this supposition. Donner snapped when he went to Vietnam. Antwon when his Mama’s house burned down with her in it. Herb saw his baby sister get run over by a train. Each one had some horrible story, some unbearable reality they had to escape. Each one was creative enough to construct a new and more habitable reality. Maybe that’s why I always felt they were somehow more evolved even wiser than most every other ‘normal’ person I had ever known. Maybe that’s why I always felt they taught me much more than I could ever teach them. And especially….on this particular day.
Most days I had a few things planned and I let the guys show me what suited them the best. Some days we’d dance (ok, maybe a few would only move their fingers but they were required to move at least that), other days we’d paint. Sometimes I’d take them on a visual meditation or a walk through the gardens of their dreams, and all days we’d end with smiles. On this day it was music that felt right and unlike the usual jazz or soul, I had chosen a song for its words, for its message, a song that I thought would help them see how very wise they were even if society didn’t ever tell them so. The song was “I Have A Dream” by ABBA, and none of them had ever heard of it, or the band, before. I was thrilled.
I played the song then shared with them the words, asking them one by one what they thought it all meant. At first they were shy and unsure, afraid to say what they really thought. But then, as I began to share what I thought the singers were saying, I noticed a change of scenery in that little room that will stay with me forever.
Tightness was replaced with soft lines. Raised shoulders dropped, heads held up straight suddenly cocked to the side, revealing fresh vulnerability. Even their smiles seemed deeper, as if we now shared a secret. The song’s words told a story, their story. For a few minutes, the music of ABBA made them feel less crazy, more understood, maybe even beautiful. And I like to imagine that for a brief moment, they might have even grown compassion for themselves, a gift they might have never known before.
Years later I still think of nothing else when I hear that song. I see their faces open, exposed, revealing the essence of who they really are. I remember the feeling of breaking through another person’s invisible wall to that vulnerability we all keep hidden beneath layer after layer of protective armor. And then, before all those images and feelings leave me, I find myself growing compassion and, as they say in the song, to once again see and value the beautiful, magic wonder of the fairy tale.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Do you crave ‘something more’, but find yourself clueless as to where to begin? Or do you begin, only to realize you have lost interest in all your self-imposed ‘shoulds’? Does it seem too difficult to reach for, too painful to admit, too disruptive to announce even to yourself? Do you tell yourself you are too old to change or that this is the bed you made and now you have no choice but to sleep in it? Does your negative self-talk kill all the dreams before they even fully form?
I hear you.
You aren’t alone.
I am right here.
And I get it.
Come with me. Take my hand. Not for a day or even an hour, just for a few minutes. Let me be your friend, trust me from afar to hear you, to see you, to feel that beautiful essence that is you, the real you.
We are sitting on my couch with the fan whirring overhead. You prop up a pillow behind your back, I do the same. You realize suddenly how tropical the setting is. You see the lush flowering plants through the opened windows. You hear the birds sing their varied tunes. You breathe in ginger and gardenia and of course, the scent of the sea. A smile emerges on your face. Your eyes twinkle. You barely know me but somehow, with a twist of delighted curiosity, you already feel at home.
I invited you here because I care. I want to get to know you. Something in me tells me that yours is a bright and beautiful heart and that somewhere along the way, it went into hiding, only emerging when ‘appropriate’. Something tells me that the time is ripe for this beautiful heart of yours to reclaim its place of honor.
I invite you to speak. You don’t know where to start so you laugh a bit uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. I sense that and decide to ask you questions, questions to gently reawaken your heart.
I want to know what dream keeps coming back to you day after day, year after year. Do you remember what was important to you when you were a child? Before everything got so busy and responsible. Did you grow up to be who you wanted to be? Have you given up too many dreams? Is there one that you keep very tight, close to your heart, afraid it too, might get away?
And then I ask you if you have ever been in love. I want to hear all about it.
I want to know what your perfect day is like. From beginning to end. And to hear if you could do anything, anything at all, what it would be. What would you taste, see, feel with your finger tips and toes? What would your tummy say and how would your beating heart react?
What, I would ask, could you begin that inspires you? I would remind you that it doesn’t have to be something grand. Tiny is just fine if it feels thrilling, exciting, right for that bright and beautiful heart of yours.
What makes you smile? What makes you angry? What gives you hope? What makes you scared? What can you say to yourself next time negative thoughts try to make a home in your heart?
And as I ask you these questions that burn in my heart, I also ask them of myself. I invite myself to live my way toward my answers, and then invite you to do the same. For when we try to live our way to our answers, we begin to reacquaint ourselves with our hearts and as we do, we release a sacred elixir, the vitality of an awakened heart.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Five years ago I stumbled upon a magic Mexican casita. Now, at first glance, I doubt anyone would have thought it magical. The crumbling square box was alternately surrounded by overgrown weeds and clods of dirt, oh, and don’t let me forget the dog poop, strutting roosters and decaying garbage. Its windows were hanging off their hinges and the few that weren’t, were sealed shut. The floor was raw cement, rough enough to feel like gravel underfoot. The bathroom had a drain in the middle of the floor and remnants of more roaches than I care to remember. But the ceiling was pretty, even if the fans hung off to one side and the location was great. And best of all, I felt the little house’s magic spirit and saw her amazing potential. At that moment, I knew she was exactly what I needed in my life.
So I made an offer, took a conscious step toward my dream.
But the owners said I was too late. A French couple beat me to it. I was crushed. I went back to my apartment and cried. And then, between bouts, I put my hands together, asking the universe to bring my casita back to me. If she is meant for me, I said, then please, oh please let her come back to me. I do so need her. She does so need me. Please, I begged. Please?
Three days later, I saw a dear friend in town who knew my plight. Hey Brynne, he said, the casita is still for sale. What? I exclaimed, someone must have listened, someone must have heard me! Within minutes I was making another offer, an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Five years have passed since that day and now the casita no longer has the space that my daughter and I need. Her vine covered garden wall, her lush tropical gardens and spirited bubbling fountain, her pottery and sculpture and shelves packed with sultry Latino novels, even her chandelier in the bathroom, the one that brought me so much joy—all of her delights will soon belong to someone else. Someone else I already know and love.
It all happened a few weeks ago when I was introduced to Shaheen, a friend of a friend I had been told I needed to meet for years. Over dinner Shaheen told me she was dreaming of living in our little Mexican town one day. Why not buy my casita, I said enthusiastically! When can I see it, she asked, mirroring my enthusiasm.
Later, sitting on the couch and staring out at the casita’s gardens, I told Shaheen the story of how the casita came to me. I looked up to see her covering her mouth. Are you alright? I asked. Can I get you some water? She shook her head, then spoke. Brynne, she said, we were the French couple who was going to buy this house five years ago. I didn’t understand until now why my husband kept dragging his feet, why he didn’t just give them the money, why he kept saying we needed to wait. I can’t believe this, but my husband heard you, Brynne. We didn’t buy the casita back then because you needed it more than we did. (I think this was when we both started to cry through our smiles) And now, its our turn, Brynne. Now we need her more than you do. Not only that, you have fixed her up to be what we dreamed for her, for us. Brynne, she said with tears making her eyes sparkle with joy, we helped you create your dream and you helped us, create ours.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
"...when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal. That is what Siddhartha learned from the Samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Nothing is caused by demons; there are no demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast." from Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse