Meditating on the Gumdrops
This month marks two years into my journey as a field instructor at Entrada. As I prepare to head into the field this Tuesday, I can’t help but reflect upon my experiences thus far. Above all, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude! I am grateful for the friends I have made, the participants I have both taught and learned from, and for the development opportunities I have encountered while working here.
What originally stood out to me about Entrada was the support and care that was given to the staff. In an industry that averages between three and six month tenures for its field staff, Entrada’s retention rate is more than double that number with an average length of stay of 18 months. My belief is that Entrada wishes to create a community in which the field staff can continue to grow and develop far beyond the industry standard by having access to an abundance of in-house and out-of-house trainings.
For roughly the past six months, field staff have been offered weekly free yoga and meditation instruction from our Health and Wellness Coordinator, Elise Mitchell. As I had almost no exposure with either before working here, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. Without touching upon the research describing the benefits of meditation and yoga to therapy, of which there is a plethora and a quick web search will yield several hundred pages of information on the subject, I have seen the impact first hand. What follows is an experience I had a few months ago while working in the field with one of our adult groups…
I sit on a pock-marked boulder, taking stock of my surroundings, and ask my participants to close their eyes. As I begin the meditation, I notice a few group members smile and then shift their positions, taking me up on the offer to, “get comfy.” In the east, the autumn sun glances over the top of a juniper and pine covered peak, sending our shadows out as giants across the fields of sage below us. I cannot help but smile along with the group, as the heat dissolves the mid-morning clouds and warms the back of my neck.
I ask the individuals to recognize their breathing, to simply acknowledge their bodies’ natural cadence without trying to manipulate it. At this point, one of the six participants opens his eyes, faces away, and quietly watches our shadows creep closer to the rocks we sit atop. I encourage the group to strengthen their breaths by taking longer, fuller, more deliberate inhales and exhales. We breathe deep down into our bellies, hold, and then release. We breathe wide into the sides of our ribcage, hold, and then release. We breathe up into our chest and shoulders, hold, and then release. We breathe in, expanding our lungs down, wide, and up simultaneously, hold, and then release. I encourage the group to maintain these powerful, intentional, tri-directional breaths, and I begin the Tonglen.
By the time I reach the end of this compassion meditation, the sun has escaped higher into the sky and the seven of us are able to bathe in the warmth it provides. I invite the group to direct their attention to that sensation. After a short while we begin to wiggle our toes, our fingers, and then slowly return our awareness to the present moment. I thank them, they thank me, and I ask what, if anything, came up for them during the meditation.
A long pause ensues after which a newer member in the group shares. With tears streaming down his face he relays that he had imagined his brother sitting across from him, “I’m just overwhelming grateful for my brother… I love him, and I feel sad thinking about the ways I’ve mistreated him. I hope that he can forgive me for the ways I’ve hurt him.”
Looking back across the past several months, the above example has become the standard, not the exception. There are markedly increased levels of support and vulnerability that have resulted from being able to include meditation and yoga into a group’s daily routine. As a field instructor, having such opportunities to learn new skills and tools has been invaluable to my ability to care for the participants under my watch. So, once again, with the experiences of the past two years now behind me, more than anything, I am grateful! Thank you.