It seems that Trayvon Martin is on everyone’s mind today. Who is on my mind? Children much closer to me. And Trayvon. But mostly, the kids directly around me.
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The 1st session of summer music/yoga camp wrapped up last week.
As you may have guessed, when teaching, I tend to gravitate toward the “troubled” kids. Not the hyper, overly physical, excitable ones – although tough to manage, they tend to socialize well and quickly become accepted through lighthearted eye-rolling and general silliness. I relate to the ones who have a really hard time socializing comfortably…who isolate, or cling, or hide, or run away, or harm themselves or others…who show signs of some sort of emotional hardship.
Over the past three weeks of camp, one little gal in particular struck a deep chord with me. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call her “Carol.” Carol was about 7-years-old; and it was her first time at a summer camp. She was an enigma to most of the teachers and staff; but to me, Carol was completely familiar. When she arrived, her favorite (and pretty much only) word was, “NO.” I took my time with her. First, I met with her group’s apprentices (aka camp counselors) and recommended boundary setting exercises that would liberate and empower both Carol and them. Then with Carol, I had one-on-one conversations about her actions, suggested alternate behaviors for navigating challenges and encouraged her to apologize when she made mistakes with fellow campers. Although a tough cookie, she was willing and earnest. We worked together, and she tried her best. Each day was up and down. Still, Carol made subtle – yet profound – shifts in socialization by the end of three weeks. For example, some days she stopped clinging to the legs of the apprentices and started interacting with other kids; she decreased her tendency to curl up into a ball and hide her face from the world; she more readily responded to my invitations to talk rather than running away; and she participated more and more in our percussion and yoga classes.
When Carol told me nobody was coming to watch her final performances, I asked if I could be her family. I cheered her on and we smiled at each other through every song and dance. At yoga class on the last day of camp, she gleefully joined in with the group’s playfulness and stories, as if she’d been integrated the whole time. Before leaving for carpool, she hugged me multiple times, looked up at my face and said, “I love you.” I answered, “I love you, too, Carol.” And I do.
During this camp session, teachers shared theories and opinions about Carol. Some were surprised I’d had a positive experience, exhaled with relief when she left and hoped she wouldn’t return. One peer related to my experience and efforts, and said, “These children who need love are the reason we teach.” Yes, indeed. And, for me there are other reasons.
I don’t need to know what’s behind parents’ neglect to show up for a child’s needs. They could be low-income and busily juggling many jobs; or, wealthy and struggling with emotional trauma. They could be any race and from any background. All parents give what they know how to give. In some cases, what they give is insufficient. So my approach is to recognize symptoms of neglect and, without assumption, judgment or blame – and more importantly, with compassion for the family as a whole – try to offer the child some tools for thriving despite hardship. Throughout that process, I show the child that she is loved, no matter what she does, says and is. I reinforce that her fallible humanness is loveable. And more importantly, I show the child that they can reach out to community for dependable and healthy support.
Carol is the kind of kid most people give up on. She is the kind of kid I want to spend more time with. I wish the best for this precious soul.
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Kids these days
Grow into adults these days.
Kids these days
Become parents one day.
Kids these days
Are in pain.
Transmuting unaddressed emotions into addictions,
Transferring unaddressed emotions through violent actions –
Toward themselves and others.
Kids these days
Who will guide them through their emotions
Toward tools to thrive beyond hardship?
Are they destined to grow into
Suffering adults and struggling parents?
Kids these days
Break my heart wide open
In the most motivating of ways.
They make me look squarely at myself
And continue my sacred inner work.
I am lucky to work with
Kids these days.
* * *
Kids these days – just like Trayvon Martin before he died – are being suspended from school. They are being sent home from summer camp and asked not to return; they are being publicly scolded by visibly disdainful parents; they are being hit for crying, slapped for saying something out loud, ignored for being troublesome, abandoned for being a burden.
And I’m talking all kids. From all backgrounds. Kids very, very close to me.
Which is why today, I’m less concerned with the outcome of a situation that I did not witness, in which I did not know the people involved, and more importantly, over which I have little control. I am more concerned with taking action right here, right now. In whatever way I am called to serve.
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In June 2012, I was assaulted by a kid in my neighborhood. I’d met him a few months earlier, in April, after attending DC’s Rally for Trayvon Martin.
The rally was my first “activist” action in many, many years. I am not comfortable around atmospheres of hostility and/or conflict – either I get triggered and begin to feel hostile, or, I get scared of losing someone/something and shut down. So when I feel passionately about a cause, I pray, I meditate, I have conversations with trusted friends and I write. But last April, I was moved to witness the group conscience of those demanding justice.
The energy at the Rally was angry, heavy and serious. At times hostile and conflicting. At times peaceful. And at times inspired by purpose. I stood for hours in the rain, in the midst of a passionate crowd, right up at the front, near the stream of guest speakers. I did Pranayama, choosing the cooling Sitali breathing to stay balanced and soothed. To stay spiritually, intellectually and politically neutral, I prayed for the well-being of all beings. To stay informed, I listened. Mostly, I heard messages of anger and blame.
Yet, toward the end of it all, I heard Civil Rights Activist Dick Gregory say, “Meditate. Meditate that the truth will come out. The whole truth.”
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I’ve been practicing meditation since 1990. Here is the truth that has emerged from that practice:
If I am feeling anything but peaceful, then I am infusing the world with that unrest. If I want peace in the world, I must address my own unrest, deeply understand its source, bravely face its story, constructively express its pain and resolutely commit to its healing. When I understand that my unrest with external situations springs from my internal pain – and when I devote myself to the process of growth – I can contribute to a solution. I can access the strength of my inner peace, share that peace in service, and consequently, increase the peace in our world.
I try not to personalize politics and current events. If I am emotionally stirred by something I hear on the news, I take responsibility for my emotions by processing as described above. I am NOT Trayvon Martin; and I am NOT George Zimmerman. But I feel deeply for both beings. And it’s my job to know why, so my responses to their situation are not impulsive, harmful or destructive, but informed, healthy and constructive.
When I meditate, I am reminded that I am just a tiny part of this universe…that beyond the horizon there are infinite mysteries that I know nothing about…that there are far too many unknowns for me to think I know better. When I meditate, I am reminded to let go, let go, let go. Or as some might say: Let Go and Let God.
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After the Rally, I was waiting for the bus home. As it pulled closer, I noticed the tight crowd toward the front, and spaciousness toward the back. I heard why when I boarded. In the back was a group of eight loud, rowdy kids who I recognized from my neighborhood – the well-known 17th and Euclid households, which have been historically plagued by poverty, crime and general unrest. But y’know what? These guys sounded like they were having fun; and after an adult-sized morning of seriousness, I wanted to cut loose. I joined the kids, who told me that they’d just seen “The Hunger Games,” and proceeded to describe the movie with great detail and excitement (and volume!).
I was delighted to be surrounded by their enthusiasm. One boy in particular told his parts of the story and answered my questions with such earnestness and engagement. We all said goodbye after getting off the bus in our neighborhood. From then forward, whenever I saw the group on the streets (they have a daily ritual of heading to McDonald’s at around 6pm), I’d say hi, ask if they’d seen any movies and generally check in. This is how I became congenial with “Joseph” – the kid who, later that spring, would assault me.
It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday eve. On the way back from the grocery store, I came across the 17th and Euclid crew. As I veered toward them to say hello, Joseph jumped in front of me, shoved me, and then ran behind the bus stop. I demanded an apology. After some back and forth, Joseph apologized and told me he didn’t realize it was me. He was in a blind rage about something that had happened that morning. I was sure to validate his anger; and then we talked about alternatives to violence.
Since then, Joseph and I have run into each other multiple times; we high-five when we pass; and I’ve had the opportunity to intervene when he was striking out toward others, simply by talking about the situation.
This is all it takes with kids these days. Spending time and sharing solutions. Ah – and caring to do so.
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If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that, as a child, I experienced things that were so emotionally scarring, I spent years and years misguidedly attempting to mask and make up for that pain with alcohol, drugs and violence. Finally, decades later I would be compelled to uncover, face and address that wound – or die. The fact is: addiction is a killer. And in my 30s, I was on my way down the hole – until a moment of clarity led me to seek help for my habits, and therefore, discover the support and strength to heal and grow.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a moment of clarity and steer themselves toward solutions. And I truly consider it simple luck – not Karma, grace, privilege, intelligence nor entitlement – that I found my way to solutions for healing and growth. I have seen people from all backgrounds recover from addiction, transform away from violence and heal emotional trauma; and, I have seen people from all backgrounds gradually kill themselves while harming others.
My hope is to share my experience, strength and hope with youth – whether through yoga camp or street encounters – long before their childhood scars lead them down an unfortunate path toward violence, addiction or the subtle smothering of their spirits and souls.
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This week we return for our 2nd session of summer camp! And together, the “difficult” campers and I will work on our humanness. I don’t care how much time and energy it takes to give a child the attention and tools she needs to thrive. Because that is the reason I teach our kids these days
Ahimsa Now. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.
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OTHER URBAN YOGA DEN BLOGS ABOUT YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
& ALTERNATIVES TO VIOLENCE:
– Compassion for Killers, Revisited (Dec. 2012)
– A Warm & Fuzzy Feeling (Nov. 2012)
– Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention (Series: April – July 2012)
– Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion (June 2012)
– Haiku for George Zimmerman (April 2012)
– Peaceful Warrior (April 2012)
– Haiku for Trayvon Martin (March 2012)
– Healing Kids’ Scars With Yoga (July 2011)
– The Yoga of Being Mugged (June 2011)