Labyrinths: An Innovative Mental Health Tool

 This post is about my years directing Mental Health Crisis Teams in the South Bronx.

 It was there that I discovered Labyrinths and Meditation.

I was fortunate to find in Social Work a career that I loved. Point of interest: I never aspired to be a social worker. I fought it tooth and nail. However, after graduating with a liberal arts degree it was the only job I could find. Even then I needed my father’s connections to get the job. I also had to promise to get my master’s degree. Call it luck, good karma, or a father’s wisdom; whatever, I have been blessed to have found a career that made going to work more a joy than a drag.

The most personally fulfilling of all my jobs was being part of the Federal Government’s System of Care Project known as F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Inc. That project was set in the poverty and drug infested part of the South Bronx, known as Mott Haven. For a detailed description of my work there read my article Creating A System of Care in the Handbook of Community-Based Clinical Practice edited by Anita Lightburn, Phebe Session.

System of Care Grants are designed to:

  1. allow families more say and power in the treatment of children at risk of psychiatric hospitalizations;
  2. protect the rights of children, youth, and families and promote effective advocacy efforts;
  3. provide services  within the least restrictive and most normative environment
  4. develop and implement only one treatment plan
  5. ensure culturally competent treatment plans
  6. ensure that community-based treatment plans
  7.  foster cooperation and coordination among the agencies serving those families and children
  8. link with mental health promotion, prevention, and early identification and intervention to improve care.
  9. provide services and supports without regard to race, religion, national origin, gender, gender expression,
    sexual orientation, physical disability, socioeconomic status, geography, language, immigration status, or other
    characteristics; services should be sensitive and responsive to these differences

The grants also sometimes provided discretionary funds. Which is how I was able to fund a number of labyrinths during my years in Mott Haven. Two Mott Haven residents brought the idea to me. Harry Bubbins. Harry was a community organizer and founded  Friends of Brook Park in Mott Haven. With his help we built a temporary labyrinth there.  To do that, he introduced me to Ariane Burgess who became the F.R. I. E. N. D’s  labyrintista. Both have moved on to different things.

Walking the Brook Park Labyrinth, way back when.

I was also able to fund temporary labyrinths at street fairs, and a number of portable labyrinths.

Little remains of those efforts. At one point, I was told the Housing Authority was building a labyrinth at one of Mott Haven’s Projects. I have never been able to verify that. Maybe someone reading this can do that.

The one longer lasting outcome of these efforts was The Labyrinth for Contemplation in New York City’s Battery Park  which was designed by Ariane Burgess.

Emotional Fitness Training Tip

Walk a labyrinth if there is one near you, However, make any walk you talk a mindful walk.  Mindful walking  means walking  while being aware of each step and each breath. It can be practiced anywhere, whether you are alone in nature or with others in a crowded city. You can even practice mindful breathing and walking meditation in between business appointments or in the parking lot of the supermarket.

As Thich Nah Hahn notes, “Placing our footsteps one after the other slowly and in silence, we can create joy with each step. If we take steps without anxiety, in peace and joy, then we will cause a flower to bloom on the earth with every step.”

Thank you for all you do

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