Bloomington Hospital Site Regeneration

RodOfAsclepius

Image from Akron Rural Cemetery, Glendale, Ohio

On April 16, at the Hospital Reuse presentation at City Hall, a slide was shown that told us that we, the citizens of Bloomington, will be repurposing a piece of land that for 114 years has served a single purpose—as a hospital. Although I have been following the hospital site redevelopment for years, this was the moment when I first thought of Asclepius, and the significance of healing places.

Most of us are familiar with the Rod of Asclepius, the snake-entwined staff that is the symbol of medicine.* The ancient temples of that Greek god, the asclepion, were powerful places of pilgrimage that people traveled to in search of healing.

How many people have traveled to some incarnation of IU Health Bloomington Hospital hoping to be healed? I doubt there is a single citizen in this town who has not had a loved one patched up, a beloved child born, or a dear one pass from this life into the Big Mystery in that hospital. Many of us have been healed ourselves, or received bad news, or good news, or most common of all, uncertain news. At this point the land is unarguably sacred—to many of us personally, and to our community as a whole. It may also be valuable in dollar signs, but its real value lies in its meaning to the citizenry of our region. New York City’s Central Park occupies land that is worth a gazillion dollars, but to the people of New York, the park is priceless.

Discerning the best way to respectfully work with this piece of land that has literally touched every one of our lives should be our common goal. When the buildings are razed, the water-sheeting asphalt jack-hammered up, how will we bring this sacred property back into the fold of our community? Connecting with the neighborhoods of Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens, knitting together the space between the B-Line and the properties west of the hospital, is critical: more than developing, it is welcoming that land back into the community. Instead of rushing to develop it—and there are many different ideas about what that word even means—we should aim to seamlessly weave it back into the neighborhoods that surround it, with an eye towards regenerative development, and perhaps inspired by the Slow Movement. In this way we may begin to honor all of the lives that have moved through the “healing temple” that is currently there.

Perhaps you live at a distance from the hospital, and think this issue has nothing to do with you. But if you’ve had any interaction with the hospital, then this does have something to do with you. Consider how your fellow Bloomingtonians, the residents and businesses that border the hospital site, have by default been holding space for our community’s well-being for over a hundred years. (How many times has an ambulance screaming down 2nd street in the middle of the night awakened me? That, I will not miss.)

The word “heal” is related to “whole.” Mending takes time; it cannot be rushed. To repurpose this utterly unique piece of land, without folding its history into its future use, would be a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t we prefer that this continue to be a place of healing, on another level? When I imagine what that land can become, I envision a place that holds space for the healing powers of nature, where life is able to live, and where wholeness is supported: not just for those with deep pockets, but for everyone in our community.


* Note: Or maybe we’re familiar with the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, which is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius.

Practicing Reiki like a Martial Art

kickassdavid

Every once in a while, someone who is curious but skeptical about Reiki will ask if I really “believe” that it works. This can be intimidating, depending on the tone in which the question is asked. It is easy to start stammering, and to fall back on vague “woo-woo” language, which never helps. It only takes a few experiences like this to discourage one from speaking with confidence about the value of Reiki, a practice that is truly better experienced than discussed.

Recently I’ve been trying a response that feels more playful: Do you ask an aikido student if she believes in aikido?

My spouse, David Ondrik (pictured above) helped bring me to this idea. A student of taekwando for 25 years, he took Reiki I with me, and immediately saw a reflection of his martial arts training in the approach: the Grand Master/Master/student relationship; regular practice with fellow students; an individual commitment that, when combined with the commitment of others, becomes the larger community of the dojang.

Martial arts training benefits the body, the mind, and the spirit. An aikido student doesn’t believe in aikido, she practices it. More precisely, she practices because she believes in the benefits the practice brings her. It is an art she has committed herself to, and the power of her aikido practice lies in doing the work, not in talking about it. If you’re interested in what she has–strength, ease in her body, a calmness about her–then you might want to know more about how she attained those things. She may have some simple words to offer, but most likely she will encourage you to experience aikido for yourself.

“Reiki” is two things: it is universal life energy (Rei = universal, ki = life energy), and it is also the practice itself. When people ask if I believe in Reiki, they usually mean the former, universal life energy. All I can say to that is everyone knows when they see someone who is lacking in life energy; a person might seem depressed, washed out, a little blue, bored.

Reiki practice works at the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels (much like a martial art). We all know what physical muscles look like, but what about your emotional muscles? What constitutes mental muscle? And what shape does spiritual muscle take?

In the martial arts, testing day is often a public event. Given the task of breaking through a series of wooden planks, the student take all of his or her experience from practice—the body, the emotions, the mind, the spirit, and their sacred connection to their Master’s lineage—and brings that experience to bear on the task at hand. To an outsider, this task might seem impossible; they might not believe it can be done. The student might not even be certain they can do it. All the student can do is prepare, and then give it their best.

And so it is with the art of Reiki. I am less concerned with believing in Reiki than I am in practicing it. It is through practice that Reiki teaches me, and I can speak of my own personal experience with confidence and ease. I aspire to what Stephen Mitchell writes, in his translation of the Tao te Ching: “He who knows doesn’t talk, but words are no hindrance for him. He uses them as he would use gardening tools. When someone asks, he answers.”

 

Silence, and Speaking Up

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
Tao te Ching
Lao-tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Silence can be profoundly healing. Next to sleep, I find nothing to be more restorative. And in these past winter weeks, I’ve been unsure about what I have to say that is worth throwing into the cacophony of dismay reverberating throughout the United States, and the world.

Possibly I’ve been waiting for my mud to settle.

But as people gather in protest against too many distressing developments, I’ve been considering how speaking up—and out—is healing, too.

I have attended several events in the last couple of weeks: the Indianapolis Women’s March, author Roxane Gay’s appearance at IU, the National Organization for Women’s Monroe County call out meeting, and a postcard write-in at Yarns Unlimited. I have noticed that many of the speakers are saying: pace yourself. We’re in this for the long haul, and each person must pick the issues that speak to her heart, and take on only what she can reasonably handle.

This seems very different from the activism I participated in years ago, and I wonder if this is what mindfulness practice, slowly trickling into the larger culture, looks like. Personal healing is intrinsically connected to community and global healing, and speaking out and keeping quiet are twin skills to be cultivated with equal dedication.

Which brings to mind a favorite poem by Pablo Neruda, Keeping Quiet.