As I began to write this morning, my MAC’s little rainbow wheel kept spinning, yielding up one letter or three or four at a time. Pretty much how I feel in week five of “recovery” from the flu. Not sure when I respond to a question, a directive, an email what might come out by way of wisdom or irrelevancy. As a human I am a creature of rhythm. My rhythms have been wildly disrupted between ragged breathing, coughing, and no routine. I have felt out of sorts.
Then last night I stumbled into a wonderful antidote: reflections on the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature.
I sat down to leaf through two photo albums I had put together during my second year as an herbal medicine student. Our assignment had been to spend a full year exploring some aspect of “People, Plants, and Seasons,” and present our learning to our classmates in some material form. As I began to work on the project in the spring of that year, I had a fundamental question. What is the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature? Between the patterns, cycles, behaviors of humans and other living creatures and the whole messy collective that we are?
Over the course of that year I filled three sketchbooks with field drawings, botanical and medicinal information, and personal reflections. I took photos, pressed plant material, tucked away quotes that touched me. I lived life, became a grandmother for the second time, and tended my mother through what turned out to be the final three months of her life.
As the project due date approached, I spent several weeks sifting, sorting and ordering images and words, and they took on a life of their own. I remember sitting on the floor, surrounded by scraps of paper, photos, dried plants and glue sticks. The process of cutting and pasting and arranging to making a meaningful whole of all those moments. How absorbed I was in making meaning, in finding the story that was mine to tell about people, especially my people, my plants. my seasons. How much room there was for the fresh grief of my mother’s death, the joys of grandmothering and the wonders of the green world. How healing it was to assemble and offer this story to my classmates, and be fully received.
The unsettling and awe-filed potency of birth and death, the generational shifts, full of feeling and poignancy: the relationship between human and Mother Nature revealed through the seasons.
What astonished me last night as I paged through the albums was how the whole experience sprang fully to life. The observing and recording. Aromas and sounds and places. Voices of teachers and classmates. The excitement of discovery. Sorrow and delight.
SPRING: Andre’s birth and garlic mustard SUMMER: nettles and St. John’s Wort
FALL: Ginkgo leaves, and fall too and fruit harvest WINTER: Seasonal forms and light
Sometimes life says, “you’re on” when I am “not ready,” and I am reluctant to act in the face of unknowns. Other times life gives me room to recover and shift in ways that feel natural to me – breath, pulse, night and day, work and play, season, giving and receiving. Change of viewpoint, change of heart. Refreshed rhythms.
As drawings and photos and words transported me back to my true place in the large scheme of things, there was a place even for being out of rhythm and cranky. And then I had a change of heart.
Invitation to practice:
Pick an outdoor location that you regularly pass through and that draws your attention.
It can be as simple as a square foot or two of ground.
Or a place where you stand and slowly turn in a full circle, taking in the unique features of this place and your viewpoint.
Revisit it regularly as the seasons unfold. Observe. Sense. Notice changes.
Notice colors, smells, textures, light and shadows, sky and clouds, effects of rain or snow, evidence of insect or bird or animal life.
Notice changes in your relationship to this place, your relationship to yourself.
Keeping a simple log of your observations, taking photos, drawing are icing that will enrich the experience, but there is plenty of cake in the practice itself.
I began my studies of the nondual with the intent to heal myself and the world. Surely, I thought, healing has much to do with doing good and being good. But from early on I had questions about where morality fits into a nondual scheme of things.
I sensed I had a moral compass that turned me toward right motivation, right discernment, even if that was not always enough to propel me into action. And I felt “bad” when I did something “wrong.”
But the nondual seemed to hold out something greater than my understanding of “right and wrong” or “good and evil.”
Childhoods lessons in right and wrong: I’ve thought a lot about how I first “learned” what it means to be a good person, to tell right from wrong. Religion had little to do with it. My father was a trial lawyer who took on hard-luck righteous-cause clients, cheated on my mother and tried doggedly to remain “friends” with her.
“Honesty” in my home was deeply mixed up with privacy and poisonous secrecy.
I rarely took inspiration, guidance, or direction from rules. Rules were made to be bent, if not broken. Both were clearly best done out of plain sight. By the time I was in elementary school I lied to avoid getting into what I feared was bigger difficulty. I stole change from my mother’s purse and Jokers – and only Jokers – out of decks at Woolworths to add to my trading card collection: I reasoned that whoever bought the deck could play gin rummy without the Joker. I knew I was wrong. That was not enough to stop me.
I often chose the right thing because I liked the way I felt – not merely an absence of guilt and not a smugness at “being right,” not even some parental acknowledgment but – well, there was some vague yet meaningful emotional reward.
There was no religious observance in my house, and no talk of God. I was sent to Hebrew school and remember having to recite the Ten Commandments as part of my Confirmation training at age sixteen. They were dry as dust. The view that the “mitzvot” of the Torah were binding on me seemed quaint, except maybe for murder – a heretical position even for a Reform Jew. It was decades before I would come to trust the workings of the world, of God as Good.
Nevertheless I was well-mannered (for which upbringing I am especially grateful in our uncivil times). I was useful, courteous and cheerful (three of the ten Girl Scout Laws I pledged to obey). I colored inside the lines.
Since I spent most of my life until my mid-thirties with people who looked like me and thought like me, my perspective on right and wrong was never seriously challenged.
A limited relationship with reality makes for a flawed moral compass: With the help of strangers – that is, people who at first were strange to me, who looked and thought and behaved differently. With the help of teachers and role models, religious, spiritual and secular, I did develop a moral compass that I trusted, but that was not always trustworthy. It remained flawed and limited by many defenses and fears that were not yet even visible to me. There were so many parts of me and the world that I had no relationship with at all. Hence it was a moral compass designed to align with my selectively filtered aspects of reality. It was not true enough to keep me from being in denial in ways that fundamentally injured even those who were dear to me. This compass was True North only within the boundaries of my limited reality.
It has turned out that the key to moral maturity and trustworthiness has been the practice of waking up to one filter after another, one preference after another. The practice of coming into relationship with more and more parts of myself and the world. Of ceasing to turn away from, turn aside, and instead turn more and more directly into life, into discomfort, suffering, pleasure, joy. Nor is there an end point to this practice. It demands persistence and necessitates places of temporary refuge.
The Very Good does sometimes appear: This Very Good is the something that the nondual held out to me, greater than my understanding of “right and wrong” or “good and evil.” There are times when I am able to access a Totality of self that recognizes, re-cognizes right action: moments of brilliant clarity. Life quite simply parts in its direction and moves on, nourished. How does this happen? It is, despite all appearances, the mystery of our inherent Goodness, of the inherent Goodness of creation: And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was Very Good (Genesis 1:31.)
And when I am not so able? Well-tested codes of behavior, it turns out, are essential to my doing good and being good after all. They support my practice and continue to help me to reflect, discern, and act accordingly.
The intent to heal: We each of us come into this world in a messy act of separation we call birth. If we are fortunate we attach to a nourishing adult, experience life as more trustworthy than not. We separate again and grow into our own wholeness, fully individuated and connected with our fellow humans. This adult may not be our parents, but a teacher, an uncle or aunt, a babysitter, a mentor.
More likely our early wounding takes us on a circuitous journey where we are pulled forward by our soul knowledge of the Totality of who we are, a soul knowledge of the Goodness of which we are made, and a soul intent to heal and awaken.
From the perspective of Kabbalah, the world into which we are born is made of Goodness, is also broken, and also has an intent to heal and awaken. The world does not heal and awaken in spite of us.
The power of the world to heal and awaken depends on the Totality of each of us and all of us together who make up the body of the world.
As we each continue to invite in every single part of ourselves and grow into the Totality of who we are – as we become more and more who we already are – we cultivate a trustworthy True North. We grow in our capacity to marry our personal intent to heal with the world’s intent to heal. We marry our intent that the world not destroy itself with the intent of the world to heal. A totality of us within the body of the world.
Then, in the words of Suzuki Roshi, society and culture “grow out of us.”
Lilah came to us as a rescue cat. We were smitten at first sight.
She had been with us for some years before our cat communicator told us that we were meant to make her healing services available to our clients. For a period of time, I kept a lovely portrait of her in my rental space – now that I have a home office, she participates in person, once I have checked with clients about cat allergies. Contrary to Mark Twain’s caution, she can and does “improve the man” but without “deteriorating the cat.”
Still, life with cat
by Sara Eisenberg
Indifferent to the opening of a can
but never to a human arrival,
all silk, darkness, and underfoot,
in answer to a summons
we two have not heard,
plants herself in doorways,
demands we remain alert and
agile in our gaining years,
and also roams the the neighborhood.
She is known to have preferred life on the street
to people who were not up to her standards,
though we never learned the precise details.
When my children were young, their friends called me
“Laurie’s Mommy” or “Jenny’s Mommy,”
now I am “Lilah’s owner” to my neighbors,
even though we all know
no one owns
But oh for life as cat, a body that
joyfully, madly shoulder rolls in pursuit of tail,
An inquiry into healing, simplicity, urgency, and shame
Last week I found myself talking with a new group of herbal medicine students about simplicity.
I was sharing with them how I think about certain complex health pictures that clients can present: a mix of chronic infection, auto-immune or other disease with a history of trauma, abuse, or serious injury, a history of addictions or serious mental health challenges like manic-depressive illness. It is not unusual for a client to walk in the door seeking relief from multiple and intricate health challenges.
Each body is a personal history where genetics, behaviors, injuries, abundances and privations of all kinds come to rest. And my first approach to herbal care is often a simple and restorative one.
Not simplistic, but simple. Meaning that there is so much going on in that one body, that calming and nourishing the whole system is where I start. Changes may be noticeable within a week or two on a moderate dose of a small number of herbs that specialize in calming overworked systems, nourishing and toning weak systems, nudging the body towards its innate health. The body settles down, the conditions settle down. Some symptoms tend to be moderately to greatly relieved in frequency, intensity, and the degree to which they impact daily life. Then together we assess the new, slightly more resilient baseline, and continue to rebuild health from there.
It was only later in the week that I made the connection to urgency.
Because all over my life, all over the civic life of our country, urgency was doing what urgency does: putting itself forward, saying: pay attention to me!
And all those various conditions of ill health I spoke about with the herbal students, all the symptoms that accompany each form of dis-ease: all are forms of urgency that point to what Hippocrates viewed as the body’s attempts to repair disturbances of balance.
I am a poet at heart, and I can take a metaphor beyond where I should try. But it seems to me that our nation is that client who is unable to face the truths of our history.
And so we are ever in search of a cure for life-threatening, painful, bothersome, disruptive symptoms (depending on your societal experience). The illness itself remains unassessed and unaddressed.
When an herbal client is unable to be truthful with herself or me about her history, then we may make little progress in restoring health. We may chase down one symptom after another, never able to address the reality of her condition.
Embarrassment and shame are commonly behind this pattern.
In the body of our nation, wounds inflicted and self-inflicted have festered untended since our founding: since we appropriated first the lands of North American indigenous peoples and then appropriated the bodies and labor of African indigenous peoples.
Healing the underlying imbalance in our civic body depends on our capacity to face our national history, where genetics, behaviors, injuries, abundances and privations of all kind have come to rest.
It requires of us an epidemic of simplicity of heart, nuance, skill, courage and kindness to heal the shame that ails us. I can imagine nothing else that will nourish us to health.
From the sick-bed, the herbalist says: I know exactly when the scale tipped for my immune system and lost its preventive edge against this virus. I had already been taking liberal doses of Echinacea, Osha, garlic and honey for three days, ever since my husband had come down with a cold. They usually do the trick. Between my go-to herbs and some slowing down of activity, I was keeping infection at bay.
From the sick-bed, the activist says: But I tipped the scale toward illness. I made a choice: to attend an all-day training on “cultural proficiency awareness,” aka diversity and inclusion. I am passionate on this topic, and there are so few constructive conversations taking place. I want to show up and participate at any opportunity. The day was engaging and revelatory. I cannot recall ever before being asked to consider, for example, how stereotypes can be helpful. Everyone had showed up to really do the work. One woman’s intention deeply touched me: “I want to be the sanctuary.” The meeting room was cold, and I felt ill and sneezy by the time I got home.
Here I am a week later, having bowed out of traveling to DC for my first-ever writers’ conference. And I have no regrets.
I do have two and a half days of completely unscheduled time now to rest and recuperate. And at least another week of choosing with care when and where to engage, cancel, avoid taking on. Time to convalesce, an-almost quaint phenomenon. One more piece of privilege. I’m still going back and forth with myself about whether it is economic or white privilege or both. Convalescence is a luxury for many, among them single parents and breadwinners, anyone worried about job security, even kids worried about keeping up with schoolwork.
From the sick-bed, the healing one says: I feel more grateful than usual for this time, and for
hot teas, miso soup, baked sweet potato, brown rice, veggies with olive oil and garlic
a soft afghan to wrap myself in
a few herbs for my still-boggy sinuses: droppersful of Baptisia and a neti pot with Goldenseal, Echinacea and Propolis
homeopathic Ignatia to soothe my nervous system
From the sick-bed, the awakening one says: And more grateful than usual for every one of you who is out there engaging with as much kindness, consciousness and skill as you can while I bench myself for now. There are other days when some of you will choose to step out for rest, or be felled by a Big Piece of Life, and I’ll be right out there working my fanny off.
We take turns in actively holding up the world. We run and we return. We do what we can when we can. As we fall back or fall down, others get up and get on with it.
Wherever you find yourself in life today,
if you can throw yourself into the thick of things with an open heart, go for it!
If you are low on courage, be extra kind to yourself.
If you need a rest, pull back.
Lean on one another.
Take good care: of yourselves, and with one another.
It’s 2017 and I’m determined to see that the power to act weds nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for my individual clients, for the civic body, for the common good.
I was a reluctant student of power. And in my efforts to exercise power and speak truth to power, I burned out as a non-profit professional by the mid ’90s.
My life took a different turn. I learned about other kinds of power: the power of the body to heal itself, the powers of the plants, the transformative power of embodying the nondual. I grew into a healer and an herbalist. The social activist entered a long sleep even as other parts of me were awakening.
Still, my years as a community organizer taught me to listen to my clients’ stories, to listen not only for the impact of their family life, but the impact of skin color, wealth, opportunity, gender, sexual identity, and the other societal constructs that shape us.
The Baltimore Uprising in April, 2015 woke up that sleeping seeker of justice. The November election energized me.
2017 promises me ample opportunities to explore the relationship between healing and empowerment, to marry the seeker of justice with the healer, to explore ways to heal our civic body.
What could that look like? How about we figure this out together?
Here’s my back story, with a deep bow to remarkable teachers of mine.
I was a reluctant student of power.
Charm and subtle manipulation served me so effectively for so many years in the daughter-mother-wife-entrepreneur roles. And when my few strategies failed me, I had learned to simply withdraw. I was 36 and recently separated when I was hired by the Northeast Community Organization and underwent a week-end church-basement training in Alinsky-style organizing. Among other things, I learned that those who have not amassed wealth to spread their influence around had better learn to amass a lot of human bodies. Also that an opponent, aka enemy on one issue might well become a bedfellow on the next.
Over the next fifteen years, two black professionals tutored me in different aspects of power. I inherited Organizational Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. as my mentor when I took over as Director of The Maryland Food Committee, a statewide anti-hunger organization where I’d been working for five years. He was the first person – yes, really – to talk with me about “use of self”: actual skills for becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and using intention to choose behaviors that would optimize getting desired results and minimize or at least manage difficulties along the way.
A few months into working with me, Michael cut through my foggy persona like a knife through butter with five words: You’re not helpless, you know.
I certainly had been helpless up to that moment, given how unconscious I was about my – um thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
I went on to learn an enormous amount from Michael and his colleagues Edie and Charlie Seashore, deans in the field of organizational development. How to participate in and then facilitate race and gender conversations in organization settings. How to run multi-day large-group consensus-building processes to address social problems.
But to learn play in the political arena, I needed more street smarts than my tidy upbringing could ever have imagined. My tutor and role-model was Reverend (now Bishop) Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church. Doug also headed Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church and neighborhood-based organization affiliated with Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He picked up with me where the church-based week-end had left off. No, I never set out to learn how to preach from this master of conscience, nor inspire crowds to action as he did.
Doug taught me about the importance of relationships built on trust, and the time, skill and heart needed to develop them.
He taught me about the courage and inner strength human beings draw from standing together, walking a street together, powering a meeting together. About the importance of everyone being crystal clear about the goal and the negotiating position.
Twenty years later
When I left social justice work, my colleagues and I had made some inroads in opening up what we thought of as the real conversation: the poverty that fostered hunger and birthed hundreds of food pantries and dozens of soup kitchens. The resistance to naming and delving into next level of reality, the institutional racism that drove poverty that drove hunger – that resistance was fierce.
Now racism, and all its kin are the stuff of daily conversation, from the raw to the scholarly. The lid is off and #this is our history, #this is who we are. What are we – together – going to do about it?
I am determined to figure out how you and I can each use our life of practice to see that we wed the power to act to nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for our individual clients, for the civic body, for the common good.
How can we open up meaningful conversations across the divides in our families and communities, make life-changing strides for our hurting kin, all while being our wise and foolish human selves?
Here’s my invitation: Join me via Zoom, Tuesday, January 17, 7:30-8:30 pm EST
in observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday.
Let’s mobilize our yearning and our practice to bend the long arc towards justice.
TO REGISTER: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Those of you who have been drawn to this tribe of Good Enough human beings have told me that you appreciate the perspective of A Life of Practice with its focus on becoming not more perfect but more human. Over the past year you have responded especially to posts that offered open-hearted personal stories and models of how to engage with practice in daily moments both challenging and celebratory. I greatly appreciate your traveling with me, and your comments along the way.
The central prayer of Jewish worship is known as the Shma: Shma Yisroel HaShem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. I learned this prayer as a kid in Sunday school, where it was translated as: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Another and quite accurate translation is: Listen, you who wrestle with God, Reality is One Thing.
In NKH, we throw everything up against this statement. I mean, everything.
Whatever limitation or wart you want to leave out: include.
Whatever the shadow cast by the brilliant sunbeams of your latest inspiration: include.
Whatever you cannot bear turning away from in disgust: include. Include even your turning-away.
Because all those things we edit out or orphan: they haunt us.
They too want to come in out of the cold.
This is the radical practice of Oneness, the alchemical power of Kabbalistic Healing, and the heart of A Life of Practice.
This Oneness is not prescriptive: how human life should be in some idealized or actualized state, some Golden Age past or future.
This Oneness is descriptive: true to how life actually is, lived on the ground, in the mind and imagination, in the heart, in the soul.
This Indivisible Oneness is a fabric embellished by the moments of our One Life
Some of those moments feel like shining, precious gems, others like bird droppings. Yet all are adornments. One Life. NKH’s radical practice of Oneness invites me to make use of everything I am and experience, a potent compost that nourishes and sustains a life of practice.
Practice is our faithful and trustworthy ally on the journey – because we do still need to journey within the One.
The “journey” is then our gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the Presence of God, to Reality, to our own glories and limitations, an integration of our split-off parts, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
Me and my practice – we keep moving with the movement of life.
And on we dance, awake and awakening, healed and healing.
How are you faring in your “journey”?
What have you accepted? How have you changed?
What have you brought in from the cold? What remains huddling outside?
I am delighted to continue my interview series with healthcare interior designer and fellow herbalist Bethany Ziman. As an herbalist and healer, I know how important it is to hold a space and deep listening for each client’s story. A story constructed from ephemeral sensations, fashioned memories, and enduring emotional patterns, each with its own syntax and language. shaped by our culture and family, our neighborhoods and the physical homes where we grew up.
As we awaken and heal, we often deconstruct or otherwise rewrite our story. And yet we continue to live in our stories, much as we live in our material homes and workplaces. It had never occurred to me before talking with Bethany that designing interior spaces, especially hospitals, also starts with story: not typical at all, she told me, but a method that works for her. As you read on, you’ll also appreciate her “not typical” results.
During uncountable hours I have spent as a family member, friend, and advocate in more than a dozen hospitals over the years, I know how the physical environment itself wears me down. Monitors buzz and beep. Urgent voices page medical staff. Carts clatter. Ever-present fluorescent lights and high-def screens glare. Plastic everything, even the plants. Windows are sealed shut. Air heavy with deodorizing cleaners poorly masking medical odors.
The healing power of nature, vis medicatrix naturae, has been abandoned. Read on and learn how one talented woman harnesses and translates this power into one of the most challenged of modern environments: the twenty-first century hospital.
Bethany is Director of Healthcare Interiors at the Baltimore architectural firm Marshall Craft Associates, and owner, herbalist and health and wellness coach of The Herban Pharm, LLC. She is an LEED accredited professional (aka “green” designer) and a Registered Yoga Teacher. Bethany brings both thoughtfulness and improvisational delight to all of her work.
Finding inspiration in the natural world
Bethany first visited Hamilton’s Pool near her hometown of Austin, Texas as a teen.This natural pool was created when a limestone dome collapsed exposing an underground river. She described to me the wonder, awe and overwhelming sense of connectedness she felt to the landscape and the people who came here before her: “I remember thinking ‘Wow, I am sitting at the very spot where Native Americans sat with their families.’ I imagined them enjoying – just as I was – the beauty and coolness of the cave-like limestone canopy, providing protection from the scorching Texas heat.” That formative experience continues to influence Bethany’s design work and reminds her how vital it is to “tap into people’s sensory and emotional centers when designing places of healing, by incorporating natural textures and materials that we have co-evolved with from the beginning of time.”
An Interview with Bethany Ziman
Sara: It seems as if you begin writing your “story” for a design project with the same kind of empathic imagining you described at Hamilton’s Pool, re-membering within yourself what it was like for travelers of a totally different time, era and culture to enter that space.
Bethany: I do begin with what I call the “energetics” – an understanding of how a design can evoke sensory and emotional responses from different groups who will enter and move through a space.
I consider how to design the interior architecture to uplift their mood; evoke a sense of peace, comfort, and reassurance; encourage collaboration and a sense of community; even initiate a movement toward health and healing.
Patients, their families and friends, medical and maintenance staff – each group enters with a different mindset and agenda. I approach a Physical Therapy/ Occupational Therapy unit differently than a Neonatal unit or a Heart and Vascular unit, yet they all have over-lapping goals. I think through the implications of these different perspectives.
In addition to the energetics, I draw on both art and science. The art is a choreographed play, using various media – color, lighting, texture, noise reduction, line, rhythm, balance, and harmony. Evidence-based design principles also play a key role. Studies have demonstrated, for example, how the presence of a garden or even just images of biodiverse gardens, can lower blood pressure and reduce patients’ anxiety and their use of pain medications
Sara: Recently you completed the design of a new neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). A NICU functions as a kind of sophisticated womb, in a sense, where premature infants can come to “full-term” development so that they can go on to thrive in their own family homes. In your story you set out to draw on the healing power of the natural world, what you call “its consistent complexities.”
Bethany: I was working on my Master’s degrees in Herbal Medicine and Health and Wellness Coaching at the same time I was working on the interior architecture and design and “the story” of the NICU.
As I learned more about the world of plants and plant medicines, I understood how we draw comfort from complexities that we don’t necessarily bring to conscious attention.
The UMMC NICU is designed with 52 single family rooms divided into 5 “neighborhoods.” People enter the NICU off an elevator lobby, passing through double doors in a floor-to-ceiling glass wall etched with a field of lavender flowers. I wanted to evoke our memory of grasses naturally swaying in the wind, which is an invisible but real energetic force. Even though the lavender motif is static, people may sense a natural movement that subtly breaks the static box of the built environment.
I was also learning about the energetics of plant medicines, when to incorporate cooling herbs vs warming herbs to create balance in the body. In the NICU I used the medium of colors, which are also cooling and warming, to distinguish different neighborhoods, each entered through it’s own “portal,” an architectural detail that you walk through to transition from one neighborhood to the next.
I strategically placed the orange and yellow neighborhoods on the north side of the unit so the colors would energetically balance and visually warm up the lower-lit northern exposure, and the blue and greenish-blue rooms on the southern side to balance and cool down the brighter southern exposure. Solar shades in the rooms – also with a lavender motif – are programmed to rise and fall with the sun, reinforcing and rebalancing circadian rhythms. I chose photographs of healthy and biodiverse Maryland environments guided by this same color palette – their harmony and balance enhances the identity and sense of place of each neighborhood.
Sara: This design story, you told me, also takes into account the reality that NICU hospitalizations can run to weeks and months, and so the families need both privacy and social support.
Bethany: In my herbal studies I kept coming across patterns in nature that repeat at progressive scales, called fractals. I saw that I could incorporate this type of patterning to transition from spaces supporting refuge, intimacy and family bonding to progressively expansive spaces encouraging opportunities for social and environmental support.
A family can stay in the room with their baby, “huddle” or draw inward, regain strength and bond. When parents want to step away from the room but are not ready to travel too far, they can wander within their neighborhood, which includes a “respite,” a large window seat with a view and an architectural bulkhead overhead – a “protective canopy” inspired by the natural formations like the one at Hamilton’s Pool. Here a family may encounter other immediate neighbors.
And as time goes on, a family may wander through the other neighborhoods and encounter a larger pool of people going through a similar life event.
Community naturally evolves through these casual encounters where parents can teach and learn from other parents and the medical staff.
The unit is laid out like a large rectangular race track. To travel from one neighborhood to another patients and visitors move at their own pace along a wood-look path. Along this inner track, they walk among images of nature, sheltered from the fast-moving medical staff speeding along an outer track.
Practically speaking, “neighborhoods” met the need to conform to fire and building codes and functional “zones.” Together the single family rooms and the neighborhoods provide opportunities for this range of privacy, social and care needs.
I wanted the high-tech critical care to fade into the background so the space would feel more nurturing and less clinical. The consistent complexities found in nature help bring peace and a sense of stability and reassurance to the worried mind. Where better to transplant these potent and viable seeds but in a healthcare setting?
Sara: What would you like readers to take away from your story?
Bethany: To be inspired to observe the world and beauty around them, to feel deeply, compassionately and with overwhelming gratitude. I find importance in investing in the time required to discover your gift – your passion, investing the time to develop it and then taking the time to share it with those around you who may be touched by the enthusiasm. I have learned that it often takes “going against the grain” on the road to self-discovery and being the driver of your own life but it is well worth the stance and I am happy to have been a rebel in this regard for most of my life!
A siren wails in the distance as I head home from an early-morning stop for coffee. Not a police siren. Not a fire engine. Clearly an ambulance.
From behind the wheel, I send blessings. I have been doing this since my children were young, and taught them to do the same. I don’t think about it. The sound of the siren cues me to this. Pavlovian.
Its a good habit, a beneficial habit – it uplifts me, pulls me out of my pre-occupation with one worry or another, with one to-do-item or another. Pulls me out of isolation and into connection. And if you believe in the power of intuition and prayer, as I do, the blessing has some healing effect on the injured or ill one.
But blessing in this way is still a habit,beneficial only to the extent that I inhabit it. Bring awareness to it. Let the blessing live in my body. Let the blessing draw from a well of compassion that is in no sense “mine,” but that I can access and share, from which I can partake and pass on.
When I hear a siren, I don’t have to remember to send a blessing.
I have to re-member myself.
I have to re-member connection, Source, suffering.
When I can be all this, I re-member wholeness, and the blessing is real.
The patient, the ETs, the ambulance driver are blessed.
I am blessed.
Read my guest story-teller piece, Dance Camp, about embracing limitations as opportunities HERE.
Read about this practice to break a common habit that doesn’t serve you.
Is there anything we want more than to know ourselves and to be comfortable in our own skin? in our own life? to be ourselves? to re-member our wholeness?
Is there anything more difficult than to see ourselves as we are, to see life as it is, to persevere in this exhilarating and terrifying effort?
Most of us have a strong preference, even a habit, of relying on honesty, or falling back on kindness on our healing and awakening journey. But unless we draw on both, we are likely to get bogged down, off track, or lose heart altogether, running from angry ghosts or chasing after angels.
Honesty without kindness is brutal.
We see our faults and limitations, act as judge and jury. We mete out penalties. Or we simply turn ourselves over to a taskmaster whose job it is to bring us up to snuff, into conformity with some idealized version of ourselves. We cut ourselves no slack. All while knowing we wouldn’t treat our friends this way.
Kindness without honesty leaves us complacent.
We let ourselves off the hook, unable or unwilling to see the trail of unhappiness our behaviors leave behind us. We strand ourselves in fantasy.
The truth of any situation is that we are mixed and mixed up, imperfect human beings.
Honesty roots us deeply into reality. Kindness waters the roots.
As we take the help of both honesty and kindness, we can cease shrinking away, turn directly into our life as it is, look directly into the mirror and see ourselves as the wholeness we already are. This is the heart of healing and awakening. This is the heart of ALife of Practice.
by Sara Eisenberg
no upraised arm,
no torch aloft,
no golden door,
no frank welcome.
just me standing guard,
close by the only sign of vacancy:
a tent slit flapping in the night wind.
the timid and the raging,
creatures graceful, one-eyed, or many-toed:
I might, from grudge or curiosity,
inquire into each one’s country
and allow in a likeness.
when I can bear to name
grant it ground
that is not for rent, for sale, for land-grab;
permit it entry without
bath, deodorant, change of clothing;
give up my ragged belongings
and vain efforts to secure them;
then each dark distinction that longs to return
is belonging itself.