The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Now…and Then

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In Port-au-Prince the next day, Kathleen and Catherine have the opportunity to see the small groups—with kids, teenagers, and adults—in action, to hear which technique has been most helpful to each person, to feel the closeness that develops over the weeks of regular meetings.

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On to Jacmel

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Jacmel, a seaside town famous for its crafts, is a three hour drive south across the mountains. At the side of the road are chickens, donkeys and the occasional stray dog, behind them banks of vegetables in stalls; overhead, blue, purple, pink, and orange flowers, and, beyond, ranks of mountains marching off toward the horizon.

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Visiting Notre Dame de la Guadeloupe

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Before we leave for the countryside we visit classrooms at Notre Dame de la Guadeloupe where our Haitian team is currently leading workshops. After workshops, which take place in classrooms, have been offered to all 700 students, we’ll begin 10-week-long small mind-body groups for all the kids, and the teachers and administrators as well.
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Our Haiti Team, Bill Clinton, and More

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With me in Haiti is Kathleen deLaski, a former journalist and AOL executive, whose father Don has made possible everything we’ve done in Haiti. Since Don’s death a year ago, she has headed up the family foundation, and now wants to experience firsthand the program that Don so generously and lovingly funded. Her daughter, Catherine Grubb, who is studying neuroscience, is with us, as are Lee-Ann Gallarano, who manages our Global Trauma Relief program, and Laura Milstein, our Development Director. It’s Laura’s first trip to Haiti, as well as Kathleen and Catherine’s. Linda Metayer, the psychologist who leads our Haiti program, has organized our visit.
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Coming Together to Heal

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The terrible deaths of school children and those who care for them in Connecticut are bound to touch all of our children and, indeed, all of us. I’ve learned, over 15 years of work with populations traumatized by violence and natural disaster, that we must pay attention to whole populations as well as to the people most affected. All of us, certainly those who have lost family members and all of those living in Newtown need a way to come together to share their grief and anger, bewilderment, and, yes, despair. And they need, as well, ways to help them to deal with the fear and mistrust, the rage and the emotional numbing, that may persist along with the grief and the loss.

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Day Five: Images of Our Time Together

So much happens to all of us in the Jacmel training as we go deeper, become more aware, take chances, and connect over five days.

Our faculty faces fears of not performing well, of not sleeping at night, and of missing what is muffled in translation. We take the chance of feeling our uncertainty of daily supervision and are gratified that our colleagues have at least as much compassion for us as we feel for those we are helping.

The interns are stars, setting examples of emotional risk taking and taking care of business: filling in where the translator is a bit off, pointing out what faculty may have missed, and making sure, as if they have invited all of us into their own homes, that we are well cared for in lines at lunch, during the lectures, and at the beginning and end of each day.

I see the participants grow more receptive each day, feel them more engaged with every exercise we do. Men and women who have never heard of, let alone participated in, psychotherapy are exquisitely sensitive to each others’ complex feelings and thoughts, and us. Often without words, old and young, farmers as well as physicians, create a climate of acceptance in which everyone–and I really do mean everyone–seems to feel safe.

The suspicion and rancor among religious groups–Catholics, Protestants, Vodoun Healers—is palpable in the early days. Though the saying has it that Haiti is 80% Christian and 100% Vodoun, some of the Christians seem quite fearful. “Who are these Vodoun people?” They ask with uneasily politeness. By the last day, after having sat in the same small groups, most of them seem at ease. “We are just people” says Clement, who heads the Jacmel Vodoun Healers Association. “I feel like these people are my family,” and the nuns in their habits and scripture-quoting-Protestants nod their heads.

Nature is so important. In drawing after drawing on the final day, the restoration of hope is symbolized by new trees, green and blue where there was, on the first day, only brown.

If it is possible, community is even more important. The final day’s drawings of the goal each participant would hope to reach are crowded with family, friends, and neighbors. When the groups come to the front of the grande salle to receive their certificates of completion, they sing songs to their leader and intern, and to themselves, and they call themselves “family”.

Already on the first evening many of the participants are sharing what they’ve learned with children, spouses, and parents. On the fifth and last day, they are, without being asked, pledging to take “CMBM,” this work, to their schools, churches, clinics, and to everyone in their communities. Linda has to slow them down a bit. “Sharing with your friends and family is good, but you need to practice much more. You are just learning. When we have the Advanced Training in November we will teach you how to lead groups.”

James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.

Amazing Graces: Days Two, Three and Four

The Missing Twin: Part Two

For two years whenever the teacher closes her eyes to sleep or rest she sees “only all darkness.” After a while of doing Soft Belly, it changes. By the second day she is “seeing colors” and pronounces herself “very satisfied.” That first night she returned home and, just as we had done in the training, she shook and danced with her surviving son. The next night, after we had used imagery, she tells him to “close your eyes and say what you see.” “A house and a sailboat,” he tells her. She is amazed. This is exactly what she had drawn in the picture of how she would be without her biggest problem. On the third day she tells her group, “My smile is back.” She brings her son to a party and we kid around and dance a bit. Her smile lights up the restaurant.

Then, on the fourth day, when I give my talk on Trauma and Transformation she finds herself, like so many others, remembering and crying. “I am afraid the crying will never stop,” she confides. That she will never again locate the smile which has so remarkably reappeared. Toni tells her that smiles and sorrows can live alongside one another in the same person, that she felt that way when she did our training after Katrina destroyed so much in her own state. She and I and our whole team have seen it in Kosovo, Israel, and Gaza, and indeed everywhere we’ve gone.

When people are frozen in shock and grief all the emotions are deadened. As our work unfolds, they recover what they have lost. Years ago, I remember teenage Kosovan girls in a refugee camp in Macedonia. When they shook and danced the tears they had held back finally came, tears for the loss of fathers and brothers dead, imprisoned, or fighting. Only after they cried could they laugh with the ordinary joy of girls.

On the fourth night, the teacher returns. She is going to partage, to share, everything she is learning with her husband.

James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.

Amazing Graces: Days Two, Three, and Four

The Missing Twin: Part One

The loss of life here in Jacmel is far less than in Port-au-Prince but the burden is still heavy. There are of course the ordinary deaths that come with age, and the losses of younger people cut down by accident, sudden illness, or murder. And in the background for everyone in this coastal city, and all the surrounding communities, as well as in Port-au-Prince, is the tide of losses that came with the January 2010 earthquake. The deaths of children seem the hardest to bear.

Toni, a clinical social worker from Baton Rouge, tells me about a woman in her group–a school teacher. Her six-year-old twin sons were buried under the rubble with their father. He struggled to carry both out, but one fell under a collapsing ceiling. The father suffered a serious head injury as he carried the first boy to safety. Still, he returned to dig frantically for the fallen twin, but to no avail. By the time he reached him, his second son was no longer moving or breathing. Two years later the family is still frozen in grief. The surviving twin is furious. “Why are you alive?” he shouts, when family tension rises, at his father. “And why is my brother not? He should be alive, and you dead.” Toni and I both suspect that the boy feels guilty that he could as easily be angry at himself.

After her son died, his mother “lost my smile. When I smile now,” she goes on, “it feels”–and here she grimaces, all teeth–“like this.”

James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.

Amazing Graces: Days Two and Three

By the second day there are actually 135 participants-almost 180 of us altogether. The ones who didn’t come to the opening are present and others from the waiting list have found a way. There are thirteen in most of our small groups.

One of the remarkable things about our trainings is how often people who at first seem utterly closed down—walled off with indifference and suspicion, sunken beneath sorrow—suddenly come alive, sharing what they have not spoken of before; discovering new worlds of feelings, possibilities, hope.

The soft belly meditation invites calm and acceptance. The drawings play to the imagination, sometimes revealing solutions to problems that have seemed intractable. Shaking and dancing loosens most of us up. And the experiences that follow in the large and small groups provoke wonder.

Regine tells me about one of the leaders of the regional police. He came to early morning yoga and scoffed, “I thought we were talking about taking care of people. This is sports.” The drawings seemed, at first, ridiculous. “This is child’s play.” He stays and later in the day she sees him sitting quietly in meditation, laughing as he shakes and dances. He’s back the next day and the day after.

The drawings of a young woman whose face is filled with rage evolve from cramped stick figures–she is fighting with her parents–to a full bodied woman standing apart from them looking at the horizon. When she does the safe place imagery she sees herself “playing hide and seek with my friends having fun as I did when I was a girl.” And then–and a smile cracks her stern face–“flying free.”

I do Mindful Eating in the large group: a third of a banana for each participant. Almost two hundred people feel, smell, taste, and slowly chew. A fit man in his 50’s comes to the front of the room. “I have tended banana trees since I was a child. I know everything about the fruit and the tree and the soil and the bugs that come around. I sell bananas and give them away to the poor and have done so for many years. I eat them every day. And yet, I have to tell you, this is the first time I have truly eaten a banana.” The room swells with laughter as everyone gets the message: It really is possible to come to any experience, including eating an everyday banana, with an open mind and an open heart, as if for the first time.

James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.

Day One of the Training

The view from Soeurs Salesiennes school where we are doing our training opens out to the sea of Haiti’s south coast. Nuns glide quietly over the grounds and little girls in white blouses and blue jumpers with beribboned hair skip hand in hand.

We are working in a school because no hotel in Jacmel can accommodate our crew-120 trainees plus 40 international faculty, interns, interpreters and staff. We need separate rooms for each of a dozen small groups as well as the grande salle for all 160. Many of the students are on vacation for Carnival and the Sisters who run the school have generously made it available to us.

Meanwhile, Carnival made it almost impossible for us to find any hotel rooms. And those we have are fraught with complications-not enough beds, no water, absent or erratic air conditioning in 90 degree heat, etc. Minor inconveniences really, but reminders of the much greater hardships that almost all Haitians have to endure. The fact that we are able to have the training at all makes me so grateful for all the efforts of Linda Metayer, our Haitian program director, and LeeAnn, Jesse, and Wilguens, our US & Haitian administrative team.

Usual first day confusion and chaos-90 out of 120 doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, teachers, priests, nuns, and voodoo healers show up. “Oh, did it begin today?” wonder some of the absent ones whom Linda and Regine, one of our interns, called. “We will be there later” they say, and indeed most of them appear.

There are nine in my small group (more tomorrow I am sure) plus Regine, who also teaches yoga each morning, and Marc my interpreter. There’s a wonderful young pediatrician who supervises 40 professionals in the public hospital in Jacmel. She has been in one of Linda’s workshops and comes to our training like a hungry woman to a feast. “Everything” she says “I want to bring everything I am learning to my team.” There are nurses and teachers, the directrice of the regional chapter of the Croix Rouge, a sister who is a school principle, and some people with less formal education who are committed to helping those who continue to suffer from the earthquake and its aftermath. The middle-aged farmer who is helping in the schools and seems to be the head of his local mountain village concludes the first group; “If we had had these techniques before or even just after the earthquake we would have been less victims.”

James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.

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