Kindling Spirit: Healing in Community, Chapter 4
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Reality Sandwich series, Kindling Spirit: Healing from Within, the remarkable memoir by Dr. Carl Hammerschlag. Once each month, we will present a new chapter on RS. Please visit the Kindling Spirit homepage to learn more about the book, and about the accompanying teleseminars led by Carl and his longtime colleague John Koriath. These Kindling Spirit Telecircles will extend the dialog raised by Carl's experiences, related on these pages, and involve your stories as well. To sign up for the teleseminars, click here. Read Chapter One of Kindling Spirit here. Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
We are all tribal people; it is an essential part of our humanity to be connected to someone other than ourselves. It is how we come into the world -- it is in our nature to gather in community, to celebrate joys as well as commiserate in sorrow. Our ancestors knew that when people came together in community it lifted their spirits. The warmth of human contact reminds us that we are not alone in the world.
If you get sick, you heal better in community. When family, neighbors, and clans, come together and push toward a common goal, it actually makes that outcome more likely to happen. Why? Because everyone has a stake in the outcome; the dreams
(prayers) of individuals are magnified when people dream together. Gathering together in community is the core experience of all tribal cultures; it provides the structure, rituals, and ceremonies that bind people together.
In modern medicine we're not healing in community, we heal privately in private rooms with privacy rules. What is a healing community? One where the people you hang out with share common values, respect each other, and contribute to it. A healing community is one in which everyone contributes their strengths, who they are, what they believe in, and it gets expressed in the group's life. Healthy community can be with people who live close whom you often see, or it could be one that gets together periodically. Healthy community can be with people, places, ancestors, even unseen spirits; and it's always a place where your inner strivings and external surroundings give you a sense of peace and belonging.
One healthy community is the Oregon Country Fair (OCF) family. The OCF is a once a year gathering just outside Eugene, Oregon. Founded in 1969 by political activists, flower children, and environmentalists, this counterculture festival still meets every year on the weekend following the Fourth of July to fulfill its credo and "create events and experiences that nurture the spirit, explore living artfully and authentically on earth, and transform culture in magical, joyous and healthy ways."
Tens of thousands of visitors come every day throughout the long weekend to listen to the music, watch parades, kid's theater, mimes, stilt walkers, and listen to world recognized authorities on healthcare, politics, alternative fuels, and sustainability. The OCF has an elected board that administers its affairs, but it is the "family" of 6000 volunteers who run the actual event.
A pre-Fair crew comes together weeks before setting up the 280 acre fairgrounds and feeding the volunteers. A post-Fair crew will stay a week afterwards to close it down. Volunteers staff the presses, provide for healthcare, entertainment, security, traffic, and recycling. To become part of the OCF family means getting invited by somebody already working on a crew. Every crew does their own hiring; somebody knows you, how good a worker you are, and how much you love the Fair.
I started coming to the OCF when I was already an elder. All of my daughters went (one since the eighties), and it has gradually evolved into a three-generation family reunion. We now go as a three-generation family to join a family camp. We are an extended family of about 50 people from infants to septuagenarians who are musicians, healers of every description, pilots, organic farmers, students, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, authors, and world travelers. We sleep in tents, tipis, and campers around one central fireplace.
During the day, our jobs range from security, traffic, entertainment, administration, and recycling; everybody works. The Fair closes to the public every evening at 7 PM. when it is "swept" by Security. A line of hundreds moves through every public area clearing out anyone without Fair family identification (It is harder to get OCF identification than it is to get a courtside seat to an LA Laker's playoff game).
After seven, it's Family Time and a carnival of color begins: costumes, music, dancing, and improvisational theater. Sometimes I reprise the "Truth Fairy," a ballerina in pink tights and tutu, curly wig, and red clown nose. The Truth Fairy is the provider of truthful answers to life's critical questions. I am always accompanied by My Fair Brother, a retired airline pilot dressed as a giant Blueberry, and sometimes another equally outrageous clown joins us. They announce my arrival shill for me. They lead the Truth Fairy into the fairgrounds with signs and fanfare, "make way for Truth Fairy! The Truth Fairy has arrived and has the answer to an important question, problem, or predicament you may be facing. Is there something you want to know but may have been afraid to ask? Come on family, you know you want an answer. Three minutes with the Truth Fairy could change your life" And so the rap goes on.
We set up some poles and connect them with Do Not Cross tape, leaving a narrow entry, creating an eight square foot enclosure with a narrow entry containing two chairs. People have lined up, because a 6-foot 6-inch Fairy ballerina is no threat; you can pay attention or ignore the ridiculousness of this scene. For me it's a chance to let my spontaneity emerge. I open a channel into my unconscious mind and trust my intuitive soul will flow and connect with somebody else's in such a way that promotes healing.
Amazing things happen! This year a middle-aged, bright, well spoken, and heavily-accented Chinese woman sat down and stated that before she asked me anything, she wanted to know who I was and why I was doing this. I want to honor this Oriental greeting style and told her that I was a doctor of the mind, but my real gift was in healing the soul. I am like a Ji Tong I told her, but she stared at me blankly; Ji Tong I repeated, the rural Chinese folk healers who treat people by channeling the spirits of dead Buddhist priests. She laughed, "Oh, you mean jitong (which she pronounced completely differently)! You are a magician."
A couple of minutes had passed, and there was a line of people waiting, so I said maybe this formal introduction has something to do with the question you wanted to ask me? Maybe she said but hadn't thought about it that way. She told me she was dating an Occidental man who was ready for a more committed relationship, She wanted to go slower and get to know him better. The Truth Fairy said, "Look at what just happened here, we knew nothing about each other a couple of minutes ago and yet we have already made a soulful connection. Maybe, just like this moment, now is the right time and the right place to make a more spontaneous connection."
She paused and finally said, "But I am afraid, if I make this jump I may fall." The Truth Fairy said, "you will land or you will learn to fly. Trust your heart, it knows things your mind can't fathom and it will give you an opportunity to write a new ending to your old story." Time was up, a hug and goodbye.
A young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, followed her and he got down on his knees to bow before entering the space. He sat down and asked, "Truth Fairy, what is the secret of my life?" I said if he had to ask me, the likelihood was small that he could hear the answer. While he was formulating a response I asked him, "What was the bowing entrance all about?" He said he thought that was how one was supposed to enter into the presence of the truth. I said, "What he thought had nothing to do with my expectation or me. I had the feeling his bowing entry may be related to a big questions in his life right now." "What's that?" he asked. I said "when facing uncertainty, your way of getting comfortable is to take control. What's the uncomfortable situation you're in now?" He said he was in a relationship with a woman that he thought he wanted to stay with, but that decision would dramatically change his lifestyle. "Maybe it's time to trust the process rather than control the outcome," the Truth Fairy said.
I got up to hug him goodbye, but he didn't want to leave; he had another question for me as I was ushering him out. "How do I let go?" he wanted to know, and the Truth Fairy told him that was the same question he asked when first sat down, and the one he had to discover himself.
Next, a woman in her late fifties told me she was a nurse with Stage IV breast cancer. She was working regularly but becoming increasingly preoccupied with fear that her cancer was catching up with her. I said the more time she spent looking over her shoulder the bigger that Fear Monster would get. "It's like looking at your life through the rearview mirror; it always makes objects appear larger than they are." Look straight ahead, look at what you're
doing, look at the impact you have on others by sharing your gifts. Your cancer doesn't define you are any more than the people you touch. Tell your story every day, that's what we want to leave behind.
This is how we heal in community: the right people, in the right place, at the right time, and you get to see the world from a different perspective.
Every year I take away from this healing community an appreciation of tolerance. How many ways there are to serve humanity and show love to one another. Thousands of people, camping in close quarters, standing in line to go potty, OCF is a place where judgment is suspended and peace reigns. Here, for at least a little while, I feel the truth of Native American wisdom that if you can remember the stories your great grandfather told, and tell them to your grandchildren, then your tribe will live for another seven generations.
Healing communities can also be created around tragedy and common suffering. People coming together in community to face cancer, addictions, and traumas can heal. Sometimes an act of terror can build such a community. I spoke at the Anaheim Convention Center to 4,000, university-based IT specialists on the one-year anniversary of the worst campus killings in American history, the Virginia Tech massacre of April 2007. People from Va. Tech were in the audience. Thirty-two victims were killed, two dozen others wounded by a mentally disturbed student, who then killed himself. The massacre was the deadliest peacetime shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history.
One of the students killed was a young woman, 18 year-old Austin Cloyd; the daughter of Brian Cloyd an accounting professor at Virginia Tech. After the tragedy contributions were sent in her name and Professor Cloyd and his wife asked that they be sent in Austin's name to the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), a nonprofit organization that repairs dilapidated houses in the poorest parts of Appalachia. Austin had a passion for social justice, she made four weeklong trips with ASP, and those trips shaped her life, instilling the desire to pursue a career in social services.
Since ASP's founding in 1969, it has helped repair more than 13,000 homes in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. All those years volunteers came mostly from church groups. The Cloyds got the college community to support the Project. To the Cloyds' surprise the program almost immediately received nearly $70,000 in gifts. Dr. Cloyd began organizing trips for students and faculty to participate on five weekend house repair trips. In his classroom, Dr. Cloyd shifted from his typical focus on taxes, and offered an honors class titled "Inventing the Future Through our ‘Ur Prosim' Tradition," a reference to Virginia Tech University's motto "That I May Serve." Students in the class spend one week and working with the ASP.
At the same time I was speaking in Anaheim about the importance of authentic human connections in the Facebook age, the Internet weapons dealer who had shipped one of the guns used in the massacre, spoke on the Virginia Tech campus. The Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) invited Eric Thompson, owner of the online gun dealership TGSCOM, to the campus. Mr. Thompson told the audience that what he did was within the letter of the law. He sold it to the dealer who then sold it to the killer, but only after he had submitted his information for a background check and passed. Mr. Thompson said that not only did he do nothing wrong, to some extent he too was a victim. The bad publicity has hurt his businesses. One of Thompson's companies also sold two handgun magazines and a holster to Stephen Kazmierczak, who killed five Northern Illinois University= students and then himself just two months before.
His presence on the campus offended me, at the very least, it was incredibly insensitive to the families of the victims still recovering from the horrendous tragedy. But Thompson was invited by VT students who believed that carrying weapons on campus actually reduced the odds that some madman might victimize them. The SCCC believed no one should be left without recourse other than hiding under his or her desk waiting and praying not to be killed. They wanted to arm themselves.
So here were the choices: use this tragedy as motivation to carry concealed weapons, arming oneself against a conspiratorial world of potential assassins; or honoring Austin Cloyd's memory and break away from the world of dread. Here's a community that voted to heal by disarming themselves and reaching out to others.
A local hospital that brings a community together by mobilizing all of its healing practitioners (Native American healers, energy and body workers, nutritional experts, dance/play/art therapists, and multi-media artists whose talents often go unappreciated and untapped.
A small city hospital that sees itself, not only as an acute care facility, but a community resource that addressed the community's broader health needs.
A visionary hospital CEO in a small Midwestern town invited me to join him in sharing his vision of community health. He wanted to move his Board and hospital staff into a more proactive, collaborative, integrated, model of healthcare delivery. I spent a year consulting in Red Wing, Minnesota; a picture-postcard Mississippi River town of 17,000. In the mid-nineteenth
century Scandinavian and German immigrants arrived on riverboats. Chief Red Wing of the local Mdewankanton Lakota tribe, who had been living there for eons, welcomed them in peace and friendship.
The overwhelming majority of Red Wing's population is still the multigenerational descendants of those original settlers. The town is largely white and Protestant, and it still sits right next to Red Wing's descendants on the Prairie Island Indian Community. Chief Red Wing may have welcomed the settlers in friendship, but there was probably tension between the communities from the beginning. The profitable casino, Treasure Island Casino and Resort, the towns' largest employer, intensifies those tensions today. The tribes' wealth has funded many tribal improvements, and provided every tribal member with a significant yearly income. Children under 18 have the money kept in a trust fund available to them in a lump sum when they come of legal age. The Tribe has also provided Red Wing with a new ice hockey arena, among other public works.
Like other small tribes who were fortunate enough to find themselves near cities, their newfound wealth came with some untoward consequences. For example, Indian kids were dropping out of school at an alarming rate, alcohol, drug abuse, and
gang involvement was increasing. With guaranteed per capita income and young Indians driving fancy cars and pickups, it intensified adolescent tensions.
During that year I met with the hospital staff, the Board, political and business leaders, educators, police, social service agencies, and the Prairie Island Indian Community, to get a sense of their support of this vision of community health. I also spoke to the entire population in the town's historic theater, about the future of healthcare and the critical importance of moving from the current paradigm of an interventional model to a preventative one.
The CEO invited medical staff, administrators, and program managers to a daylong retreat entitled "An Experiential Gift." For a day they experienced hands-on demonstrations by art, music, massage and movement therapists, and energy and meditation practitioners. They experienced Feldenkreis, yoga, painting, and acupressure, and therapeutic massage. Those contacts resulted in some of these practitioners being included into existing hospital programs.
The growing Hispanic community said getting a Spanish-speaking priest in the city would make the greatest impact in healthcare delivery. The Priest would have the most direct access to people in need, they heard everything and could introduce social services and health care options before people appeared in emergency rooms and police stations. Redwing citizens petitioned the Catholic Archbishop in Minneapolis/St. Paul to find one for them. The hospital invited Winfred Red Cloud, a spiritual leader to perform a blessing ceremony at the hospital's rededication event. Winfred Red Cloud, is the great grandson of the Oglala Lakota, Chief Red Cloud (the only Indian leader to win a major war against the United States).
Winfred Red Cloud performed the blessing ceremony, which was photographed and reported in the local paper. One result was an invitation to perform a blessing ceremony at a local middle school which was having a retention problem with Indian students. I thought this was a great idea, and imagined young Indians watching their traditions respected and elders honored would be positive experience. An announcement was sent home with the children, telling parents that Mr. Winfred Red Cloud, the distinguished Lakota spiritual leader, would be performing a Blessing Ceremony at the School, It welcomed parents attendance on Tuesday at 2:45 PM.
The night before the blessing ceremony, the School Board was holding its regularly scheduled meeting. The Board was greeted by a small but vocal group of protesters who objected to the following day's ceremony. They argued it was a violation of church and state separation, and the next thing might be Priests conducting Communion Services. They threatened legal action if the ceremony was held. Lawyers were consulted that night and the decision was made to cancel the
next day's ceremony.
To reject a blessing is a sign of disrespect and ridicule, and the Prairie Island Lakota were plenty pissed off. But instead of intensifying Town/Rez enmities, something extraordinary happened; prominent representatives of Red Wing's citizenry signed a letter that appeared in the local paper, apologizing for the School Board's decision. They were asking for their blessings just as their ancestors had been blessed when they first arrived.
The hospital CEO was among those who delivered the letter to the Tribal Council. When the healthcare contract came up for renewal a year later with a hospital in a city 60 miles away, the Prairie Island Indian Community decided to come to Red Wing instead.
Here is another paradigm shifting, cost-effective, community health model that takes place in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. Every week, a clinic is conducted in a converted RV called The Family Van. It parks in the same place on the same day of the week and people come to see healthcare providers, all of whom are certified professionals, but not medical doctors. Some providers receive additional training to provide medicines, but they all have long conversations and develop personal relationships with their patients.
The Family Van is a non-profit organization, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, providing low-cost, portable screening tools for diabetes, obesity, hypertension, alcohol abuse, and depression. They treat patients with these chronic diseases for preventative check-ups. In 2009 The Family Van saved the healthcare system of Boston more than $20 million, and it did it on a meager budget of $500,000. The Family Van has expanded access, controlled costs, and it has created a healing community. There are now more than 2000 mobile health clinics across the United States.
A more structurally permanent inner city, community-based health clinic is being built in Philadelphia. This architecturally innovative building is called the Patch Adams Free Clinic. For a small annual fee, members will get everything from urgent care, chronic care, counseling, birthing, family planning, chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, massage, and after-school clubs.
The Patch Adams Free Clinic, the brainchild of Paul Glover, a community organizer and social entrepreneur, was first launched by an alternative health insurance program in upstate New York called the "Ithaca Health Fund." The Fund, now in its 12th year, is available to individuals for $100 a year and is built on the old-fashioned barter system. The doctors, dentists, massage therapists, physical therapists, yoga instructors, farmers, midwives, lawyers, musicians, all contribute their services get paid in "money" that Glover prints.
The monetary system is guaranteed by human activity: Every note entitles the bearer to receive a specified number of hours in labor or a negotiated value in goods or services. The Ithaca Health Fund has seen thousands of people trading millions of dollars of this "money"- all of which is recycled within the community. This is clearly more than a health facility, the clinic is an economic development model curing existing medical problems and building community soul.
I want to support Paul Glover's vision of the Patch Adam's Free Clinic bringing the first Patch Adams Full Moon Festival (PAFMF) to Philadelphia. The PAFMF was born in the wee hours of many hilarious mornings on the road with Patch. We envisioned a health promotion event and massive fundraiser to support a city's preventative health services (free clinics, homeless shelters, AIDS hospices, after-school programs, senior centers, Meals on Wheels, and similar programs)
A long full moon weekend bringing a whole city together to share resources: people from diverse backgrounds sharing experience, wisdom, and healing stories. Doctors, dentists, midwives, survivors of cancer/addictions/traumas/burns/autoimmune diseases/depression/ ADD/PTSD, all telling each other what has worked and what hasn't.
Imagine a gathering where there is an opportunity to listen to the stories of parents with ADD kids who found alternatives to medicating them. Picture Native American veterans welcomed home in traditional warrior ceremonies so that cases of PTSD are rarely seen -- offering healing sweat lodge ceremonies to returning Iraq and Afghan veterans-among whom PTSD is epidemic. Visualize adult children, primary caretakers of aging parents, helping each other expand their resources.
Patch brings in clowns from all over the world to visit hospitals, hospices, shelters, to paint murals on dilapidated walls, and be joined with performances by world-class musicians and entertainers. Patch closes the event inviting people to participate in the world's largest mooning, a "full mooning." The PAFMF is a chance to remind each other of our noblest selves: coming together for the joyful expectation that something good is going to happen: A community creating passionate energy celebrating life, lifting the human spirit, and renewing the bonds that bind people together.
Photo by mylerdude, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet