At a recent daylong retreat for people with disabilities and illness, one participant asked, “Why should my disability be a characteristic that’s any different than my hair color?” Dharma leaders Debra Kerr and Charlie Johnson of the East Bay Meditation Center are helping to form a group where people can create a space for themselves in which that aspiration is realized.
Based on their experience leading two previous daylong retreats for this population, they realized, says Mr. Johnson, “that we had tapped into a growing need that had never been addressed.” This led to a recent meeting at which interested people were invited to help form a vision of an ongoing group.
Ms. Kerr recalls a personal experience that demonstrated for her the potential of this group. At one of the retreats, she observed a disabled participant walking through the room with great effort. Ms. Kerr realized that she was seeing that woman only as a person – without feeling any pity, or aversion, or urge to help. She says, “One of the most exciting things is seeing the conditioning in my own mind and being able to move beyond it.”
They point out that even at EBMC were diversity and inclusivity are greatly emphasized, people in wheelchairs are generally asked to sit in a designated area somewhere to the side or back of the room. Says Mr. Johnson, “That is more of the norm at practice centers in the area. Folks will be given a spot and not have the freedom to move about where they would like.”
The intention to create a space where people with disabilities and illness can experience both freedom and safety is central to this new group. It is envisioned as both a Buddhist practice group and a place, says Ms. Kerr, where members can be “be seen and heard and get support from people in similar situations.”
The next organizational meeting for the group will be held at EBMC in Oakland on Sunday, February 13 from 11 AM to 1 PM. The ongoing group will most likely meet weekly on Sunday evenings, beginning in a few weeks. For more information, please e-mail Debra Kerr at email@example.com.
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Stephen Colgan can be contacted at StephenColganMFT@sbcglobal.net
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