The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Helping Haitians to Heal, part 2

The Training Begins– Day Two & Three

Tears are everywhere. Like high water behind a dam, you can see them swelling, pressing for release in the stiff bodies and taut faces of men and women who gather for the first day of our training.

We’ve selected 120 clinicians, educators and religious leaders. About that many crowd the registration desk and fill the chairs in our lecture hall. But they aren’t exactly the 120 that we invited.

This is the beginning of our Haiti training, but before I tell you about these new colleagues of ours and about what we are learning together, I have to jump to Wednesday morning—Day Four– and to the hours last night, after the election results were in.  Demonstrators filled the streets outside our hotel in front of the Champs De Mars, angry thousands protesting results which certified President Preval’s son-in-law in-waiting, Jude Celestin, as a participant in a run-off election. Last night our team heard the pop of gunshots as a counterpoint to the rhythm of music from the hotel band.  This morning, smoke from fires fills the air as demonstrators march toward, and, we are told, destroy Celestin’s headquarters.

Full streets in post-election Port-au-Prince (photo by Mark Silverberg for CMBM)

Everyone we meet believes Mrs. Mirlande Manigat was indeed the legitimate top vote getter, and they are convinced that another candidate, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, the pop singer, had more votes than Celestin and if he didn’t, someone else certainly did.

The election results seem to the Haitians only the most recent insult, the latest dismissal of their sovereignty, indeed of their humanity- -once again the big man appoints his successor.  All the frustration of all of their months since the earthquake and all the years before, all the pain we’ve seen in the tent dwellers on the Champ de Mars and in the faces of the men and women we are training is erupting- moving this afternoon uphill towards Celestin’s headquarters, and the homes of the rich and powerful.

On this day of anger and danger, only half a dozen of our participants have made their way through large, angry, often armed mobs and small fires. The rest however, have been on the phone, “Tomorrow?”  “Don’t do too much today; we don’t want to miss anything.” “Can your international team stay another day?”

Back to the Beginning-Training, Day 2

On Day Two some of our invited participants were kept away by the urgent demands of cholera care, and by fears of the demonstrations that had not yet occurred.  But others arrived from the Ministry of Health, the universities, the schools and churches to take their place.  By the second day these eager volunteers and the original invitees were joined by the latecomers and by some who have somehow heard stories about unexpected relaxation and education, welcome, and safety. At lunch we feed 145.

The small groups which are central to this adventure in self discovery and self-care- so supportive and inviting for men and women who have held back personal feeling in favor of continual service to others-  have swollen in size.

Sharing difficult emotions in small group time (photo by Mark Silverberg for CMBM)

12 or 14 men and women sit in circles meditating, breathing in through their nose and out through their mouth, allowing their bellies to relax, expand, become soft. After they open their eyes they share who they are, what they do, and why they took five days from over burdened schedules to be with us.  They speak in turn about the first morning’s large group lectures and “experiential exercises.”

“After the shaking and dancing,” an anesthesiologist begins, “I felt freer. There are not many people in my profession and after the earthquake we did amputations all the time. It was painful. I lost my spontaneity. I think we all have. It was good to dance.” (Read more about the shaking and dancing we used in Haitian schools here)

A Haitian trainee helps Jim demonstrate chaotic breathing, an active movement meditation (photo by Mark Silverberg for CMBM)

As we go around the circle the possibility of sitting peacefully, of relaxing at the end of the day, rises on horizons dimmed by almost unimaginable loss, “I have tried,” another physician says, “to bury myself in work so that I do not think of all of those who have died and are buried in the ground.”

“Or are still buried under piles of concrete,” another adds with grim precision.

To be continued tomorrow–check back to learn about how CMBM’s healing drawing exercises and what the participants appreciate about the training.


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James S. Gordon MD

About James S. Gordon MD

James S. Gordon, MD is Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine; Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Family Medicine; Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of Manifesto for a New Medicine, Comprehensive Cancer Care, and Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey out of Depression.

View all posts by James S. Gordon MD →

  • Kelsey Menehan

    Oh my, so glad the folks were able to overcome all the many obstacles to come together and get some much needed moments of peace and calm. So admiring of the work you all are doing…wish I was there!

  • naomi baum

    beautiful. keep up the important work in a place where it is so needed.
    much love

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