Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Martin Luther King day of service

With the support of the American Friends Service Committee, Breema bodywork,offered at a low, voluntary sliding scale will be coming to Friends Center for one full day at the end of the month.  Sessions available to those who work at Friends Center.  Because the space is being provided for free, I am able to offer free intro mini-sessions to first time recipients and longer sessions at a discounted rate.

I am open to working at other work spaces in the Philadelphia area.  If you have ideas, contact me (see below).

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It was a busy and inspiring Martin Luther King Day weekend and a lot of new opportunities blossoming for my Breema practice.

One of the nine principles of harmony at the core of the Breema teachings is "mutual support."  That principle has certainly been alive for me this weekend as I have seen that giving and receiving happens simultaneously in the same activity.  It is almost as if when I step out into the world to be of use, the world steps forward and offers me what I need to know and to hear in that moment.  And even when it is not exactly what I wanted to receive, often if I look closely, there is a necessary gift in it.  The more I see the principle of mutual support working in the world, the more I see that God is a good and generous God and our world is one of abundance.

So I happen to share my birthday with Dr. King -- January 15th. This year I turned 51.  As you might imagine, my family supported me in making a big deal out of the big five-oh last year, but no plans were in place for this year.

We have only recently returned from a Hjelt family reunion in Jamaica where we celebrated Traci's parents' 50th wedding anniversary, Traci's mom's 70th birthday, Christmas, the new year, and a deep love for each other.  We made special t-shirts and enjoyed playing with tie-dye:

We ate a lot of wonderful food:

and of course spent some wonderful time at a beautiful beach (Frenchman's Cove near Port Antonio):

And I had to opportunity to work with Chris again almost every day for eight days.  What a gift!

So life got busy after we got home and my birthday did not get onto the list of things to think about.

So happens that Rebecca was scheduled to bring a prepared message to the campus-wide Meeting for Worship at Guilford College on Sunday the 16th as part of Guilford's Quaker Leadership Scholars Program.  Given that she is a senior and in four years we had never been able to visit for a special occasion, Traci decided to go down for the weekend.  I had made prior arrangements to participate in a health fair on Monday morning, organized by my friend and former Pendle Hill student Victoria Ford.  (You go girl, it was FAB!)

So, as a result, with my family out of town, I was on my own for my whole birthday/MLK weekend.

Saturday morning I went out to find Girard College the host and site of the MLK health fair and to set up the mats for Monday's exhibition.  (I might have had pictures, but Rebecca asked to borrow my camera for the rest of the semester and it was on the train going to North Carolina, sorry.)  Victoria gave us a wonderfully spacious site in the center of the room, inside the inner circle.  So we had a bit of a buffer between us and the bustle of activity in the room, but at the same time a central location with a lot of visibility.  It was calming and supportive to spend time in advance setting up the space, thinking through the logistics, and writing a short list of things I realized I needed to bring but had not thought of the first time.  It was great to find Victoria puttering around doing last minute things and feeling pretty calm given that in 48 hours literally thousands of people would be arriving for her event.  It was great to meet other people setting up their displays and to hear about some of the many inspiring organizations that were planning to attend.

After setting up, I had scheduled an appointment to trade bodywork with Danielle Stimpson, founder and prime mover of the Philly Community Wellness, an alternative bodywork cooperative at 12th and Carpenter, just across the street from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative Arts.  As a result, the entire wall of the factory where Danielle's studio is located is covered with the most amazing tile art creations.  It is worth the trip, just to see the mosaics!

The Philly Community Wellness is a cooperative organization of bodyworkers dedicated to making bodywork affordable to the general public, to folks who have not otherwise considered receiving bodywork, and people of modest economic means while still honoring the economic needs of the practitioners.  They offer a wide range of modalities, all of which are practiced fully clothed in a community room, either on a table or on a pad on the floor.  Note: sounds like Breema!  And all practitioners are required to participate in their voluntary sliding scale.  Note: Does that sound like me?  They have a number of reiki practitioners, and a few thai yoga massage therapists, and many other modalities.  As of yet, though, they have no Breema listed among their services.

I thought I would honor my birthday, check out the facility, and introduce Breema to the Philly Community Wellness!

So Danielle is a bundle of enthusiasm and a dedicated bodyworker and healer with a strong community vision.  I found her to be very generous with her time and her experience.  While she was just turning 30  (and surprise, we both shared a birthday with Dr. King) she has been working in the field for many years and knows a lot about the legal and liability aspects of starting a bodywork business.  I hope to learn a lot from her as I address the issues of licensing, insurance, and registering my business over the next few months.

The space itself is small and very intimate with three tables and two chairs.  The middle table can easily come down to make room for a Thai yoga pad on the floor.  The coop has only just begun to get off their feet, but with a community acupuncture class in the studio space preceding us, a yoga studio with a full class across the hall, and a couple of other practitioners and clients sharing the space, there was a wonderful atmosphere and energy for our work together.

Danielle received Breema for the first time.  Her receptivity and sharing of her experience was delightful.  She returned the share by giving me a reiki treatment and I experienced it with warmth and power and deep rest.  It was a gift.  Literally a shared birthday gift, but also the gift of a new resource, the encouragement that there are others who share the values I have set out for my own practice, and a joy to experience a young woman growing into her vision and power.  Giving and receiving happens simultaneously in the same activity.

Sunday morning was business meeting at Green Street Friends Meeting.  I was given vocal ministry to share during the Meeting for Worship.  The theme that was arising among us was the power of paradoxical truths, of resting in God and being challenged to live faithfully into the will of the Divine.  I remembered the witness of the redwood trees at my beloved Ben Lomond Quaker Center.  I remembered how they have such shallow roots that if they did not live together in community and intertwine their root systems, they would literally fall down.  And yet they grow to be among the largest and the oldest living things on earth.  I also remembered how in spite of their gigantic size, the growing parts of them are the tiny green tips at the end of the branches, reaching for the sky.  I was filled again with the understanding that we are invited both to rest in the love of God and God's community at the same time that we are invited to stretch into the uncomfortable so that we may grow into faithfulness in building up God's community here on earth.  Again, giving and receiving in the same motion on our journey into faithfulness.

At Business Meetng, Green Street Friends affirmed their interest in establishing a deeper on-going relationship with EMIR, a non-profit organization about half a mile from the Meeting.  EMIR provides practical and compassionate services to families who have experienced homicide here in Philadelphia.  The Meeting would like to have a more active and supportive relationship with the diverse community around us, and it is exciting for us to take on such a commitment.  It is clear that, if we can be faithful in our action, we will be challenged to stretch and grow at the same time that we will be blessed as much as any gift that we might have to offer .

Sunday afternoon I slipped out of Meeting for Business a few minutes early in order to attend the 28th Annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The event was put on by the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement, an organization in Mt. Airy that I pass each time I take the bus up to Chestnut Hill to worship with the Evergreens.  The evening was filled with music and inspirational readings.  There was an award presentation from the Shalom Center by their Executive Director, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, followed by a talk given by Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and co-founder of the Park51 project in Lower Manhattan. 

The event gathered together an amazing community across boundaries of age, ethnicity, religion, and class.  We were nurtured by a festive evening of community and song.  And when we heard the words of Dr. King and Ms.Khan, we were reminded of the need to continue to stretch beyond our comfort zones to help fulfill the dream that Dr. King and so many others dedicated their lives to.

Monday, I had to rise early to be in time for the Breema exhibition.  The earliest staff were scheduled to arrive at 4am to prepare for almost 4,000 volunteers and participants for dozens of service opportunities, a Civic Engagement Expo, a Kids Carnival, as well as the Health and Wellness Fair.  Luckily, I only needed to be there by 7:30.

But by 7:30 the place was hopping.  Groups were setting up exhibit tables.  Volunteers were arriving to start work.  Even though we were in the basement and a bit away from the largest of the crowds, there was a constant flow of people, spontaneous line dancing, and numerous other entertainments.  I was joined just before 9 am by Matthew Tousignant and Sara Moore-Hines -- two of the three other Breema practitioners living and working in the Philadelphia area. It was a joy to work together and I was grateful for their support of the event.  It was the first opportunity we had ever had together to bring Breema to the larger community.

And the community was ready.  My original vision was that two of us would be working at any one time and the third would be available at the exhibit table to greet interested recipients, to answer questions about Breema, and to help organize those who were waiting to receive a session.  None of the three of us ever had much more than about five or ten minutes to sit at the table.  The first volunteer lay down about 8:30 and the last one stood up a bit after 1 pm when all the other booths had been taken down and only a few stragglers were still waiting for their rides to come pick them up.

Mostly we worked on women, but a few courageous men were willing to lie down on a mat in public and receive nurturing touch.  We worked on people of all races and ages.  Not everyone was convinced.  In fact there was considerable skepticism in the room.  Over my shoulder I could see many people watching us with looks that ranged from confusion to disbelief.  One young woman from a center city AIDS service center went back to her exhibit site and tried heroically to get her co-workers to come try out this strange thing.  "It's good, I tell you.  It's really good,"  I heard her say.  There was clearly some interest because folks kept on watching throughout the day, but none of her primarily young, primarily African-American, primarily male colleagues to the leap to come try us out.

But many other young people did, and that was what was most inspiring to me about the day -- the number of young people, mostly African-American, who had come out for a day of service, who spent the day developing what might become a life-long habit of volunteering and community service, who were curious enough and willing enough to lie down on the mat and receive nurturing touch from three light-skinned, middle-aged strangers.  I was pleased that young activists were receiving a clear message about the importance of self-care and renewal.

The work that Matthew, Sara and  I did was better because we worked together, side-by-side.  The room was large.  There were lots of distractions and background noise.  Even though we were enclosed by a circle of tables, there was a press of people around us, and an occasional child running after a lost ball.  By working together we were able to create an atmosphere of reverent calm in the middle of it all.  I was often distracted by the group of people waiting to receive a session or the bustle of dancers learning the Electric Slide.  But, in that same moment, I might also get a glimpse of Matthew giving a recipient a deliciously long, slow stretch, or Sara listening deeply to the feedback of a young person who had just received her first bodywork experience.  In that moment, I could be reminded to return to my breath and connect with the weight of my own body and come back to being present to the person that I was working with.

And so it is in this every day life.  Distractions pass us by constantly, competing for our eyes and ears, for our attention, and for the mind's chatter.  And just as many distractions as there are, there is support, if we choose to see it, to remember and to come back and be present to the essential work of the moment.  It is because of this gift, this lesson that I need to learn again and again, that I practice Breema.  It is the same reason -- the lived experience that in any moment that I remember to be open to it  I can be both nurtured by community and challenged to stretch -- that I am a Quaker.

I am grateful to Victoria Ford and her staff for organizing the health fair and for inviting me to be a part of it so that, once again, I could remember.

My MLK weekend ended with a wonderful tribute concert put on by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  It is an annual free event, sponsored by GIGNA, my first time to hear Philly's finest, and my introduction to Thomas Wilkins, the delightful guest conductor.  I had heard Charlotte Blake Alston before at the launch party for Fit For Freedom, Not For Friendship and she was wonderful reading King's I Have a Dream Speech set to beautiful orchestral music. But the event was stolen by the performance of the Philadelphia All City Choir.  I strongly encourage you to go hear them if you get a chance!

And what else would one love to cap a weekend than a visit to Wissohickon Park after a snow storm:

May our new year be filled with gratitude for the Dream we have inherited.

1 comment:

  1. As Walter mentioned above, he brought Breema bodywork to Friends Center yesterday, where I work at the Friends Council on Education. I took advantage of his presence there to give myself a 35-minute treat -- fully present, non-judgemental touch, and good old fashioned nurturing under Walter's expert hands.

    This was my first experience of Breema, which I had never heard of until Walter told me about it a few months ago. I have really high standards for bodywork, because I am a bodyworker myself -- I teach Alexander Technique and have also developed my own hands on healing modality called Somatic Release. ( I can tolerate average or mediocre practitioners, and even put up with newbies when I help out on training courses, but I don't really like it much. A massage therapist, cranial-sacral practitioner, or Rolfer better be good at what they do or they will only ever see me once.

    So it is with some slight amazement that I can report how unbelievably great Walter is at Breema bodywork. It was fantastic! As I told him, I have only known a few people whose touch is as warm, deep, and clear as his -- including my mentor (who has never been surpassed in my opinion and probably never will be). Walter is simultaneously gentle yet firm (a principle of Breema), deep without being invasive, confident but not arrogant, and just plain sweet. :-)

    Granted, I have a lot of experience in knowing how to let go and allow someone to move my body parts around in various ways; I teach and know how to access inner body-mind wisdom. Still, I'm not going to do it if I sense that the bodyworker isn't very, very good at what they do. This was a wonderful little dance, and it left me feeling refreshed and reintegrated with myself.

    If I were you I'd give Walter a call. It's a great way to "forget your troubles c'mon get happy." Plus, he has a sliding fee scale so you can probably afford his awesome work.