Once upon a time, I had some money to spend in the mental health programs I directed in Mott Haven, the meanest part of the Bronx. I built Labyrinths. That’s a picture of one I built on donated land behind a housing project . Well, I didn’t actually build it or any; I paid to have them built. If you saw the movie Bonfire of the Vanities or have read Jonathan Kozol’s book Amazing Grace, you know about how bad things were in Mott Haven not so many years ago.
The idea of emotional fitness .a concept that began during my years as a foster parent, moved out into the world when I started working in Mott Haven. In my efforts to strengthen people, I wanted to teach meditation and saw labyrinths as a way to accomplish that.
What is a labyrinth? Not at all like a maze which is designed to confuse and frustrate with blind turns and dead ends. A labyrinth has no dead ends, you walk in the entrance, then you walk to the center, and when you are ready to leave, walk out.
At the time, I was working for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) and directing several mental health programs including a family support and respite team. Those two were the programs I involved in building labyrinths.
As you see, the one above is built of re-cycled logs. My staff, the families and kids we served were all part of building this particular labyrinth and some of the others. The logs allowed the labyrinth to serve as an small out door stage. Performers, mostly story tellers did their thing in the center, while their audience sat on the logs.
My Mott Haven programs were part of a large federal grant called The Mott Haven Project. The grant sought to involve various agencies in providing what the grant makers called a System of Care (SOC) for seriously emotionally troubled children.
The major goal of a SOC grant was to get the various agencies trying to help a family working together. The biggest hope was that families would be involved in deciding what services their child needed and that there would one “treatment plan.”
At that time, if you had a child with mental health problems, the school might have one plan, your child’s therapist another plan, the child welfare people another, and anyone else professionally involved.
These “professionals” devised their plans without talking to each other. What was worse? Failing to involve either the family or the child in devising the child’s treatment plan. Crazy making.
Family Network Meetings were the major SOC strategy in their efforts to get everyone on the same page.For the most part, this SOC goal has been met.
Being trained to hold such meetings spurred my interest in teaching families how to hold successful family meetings. Learning to participate usefully in any meeting comes hard to many, but does involve skills that can be taught at family meetings. Which is why eventually, I wrote an eBook How to Hold Successful Family Meetings.
But back to building labyrinths. The grant gave me some money to use, not for individual families, but to improve the community. The grant also linked me to a number of community activists. One was a labyrintista, Ariane Burgess. She designed and built the labyrinths that I was able to sprinkle around Mott Haven We called our labyrinth programs, the Camino de Paz Project.
Here’s another picture of one of the labyrinths. This was a temporary one put up at a health fair.
In time, I also was able to get two portable canvas labyrinths made. These were taken to health fairs and school fairs.
Why meditation? Why labyrinths? I knew as a trauma treatment expert (I am one), strong self-soothing skills strengthened resilience or what others call emotional intelligence as well as to reduce the negative impact of stress.I also knew that most people did not want to be seen as needing therapy, but did want help easing stress.
Meditation is a major self-soothing skill. Labyrinths are meditation tools. Moreover, when you walk a labyrinth you are practicing Moving your Body which is one of my 12 easy Emotional Fitness Exercises. You can also use a labyrinth to practice three more of those exercises: Being With Beauty, Practicing Gratitude, and Remembering What Matters.
Although I was very pleased to have brought labyrinths to the community of Mott Haven, once I was no longer directing the VNSNY Mott Haven program, interest in the Camino de Paz project slowly died. Very sad for me, but it helps to know that at the time, people found a bit of peace through from my efforts and those who helped me. We all can only do so much, but if we do what we can when we can our efforts to make the world better are not in vain.
One aspect of the Mott Haven Labyrinth Project does live on and may do so for a while, but in not in Mott Haven. Where then? In New York City’s Battery Park. I wanted more for Mott Haven, but do find some satisfaction in knowing that in a small way I contributed to this more permanent meditation path.
A bit of blog business. I am going to on the road for a while, visiting friends and family. I am not at all sure how often I will be able to put up blog posts. As they are one of the pleasures of my life, I am hopeful. However, if you don’t see one from me for a while, know I am remember what matters and that means enjoying the company of those I care about and who care about me.
As always, thank you for all you do particularly for liking, commenting and sharing those of my posts you find helpful.
This post was inspired by this Word Press Daily Prompt If you could clone one element from another city you’ve visited — a building, a cultural institution, a common street food, etc. — and bring it back to your own hometown, what would it be? My answer of course: Labyrinths.