St. Vincent De Paul of San Francisco

Meet a Volunteer:

Cathi Murphy Reflects

One of the most inspiring stories from my work at the Wellness Center is watching one particular person’s deepening journey into home practice. His name is Robert* and his story exemplifies the value of weaving a wellness perspective into the fabric of daily life. Many people practice meditation and yoga at classes for years without ever taking it home and integrating the benefits into their daily lives. Soon after getting his own living space, Robert proudly told me he had bought his own yoga mat. Soon he showed me an instructional book he’d found to help him work on his physical practice at home. More recently he has been telling me about making his own meditation cushion; designing it, choosing the fabric, waiting for the buckwheat filling to arrive in the mail. The strength and happiness his practice brings him is palpable and affects the energy in the space all around him—he’s a source of warmth and support for everyone in the room. Taking the instruction out of the confines of the Wellness Center and placing it firmly in one’s own life, one’s one home, is an essential part of living from the perspective of holistic wellbeing and not just visiting it temporarily; it is this that leads to long-term individual change in the direction of health and happiness. When individuals can have health and happiness in themselves they can more authentically and effectively offer it to others, and this then leads to long-term social change. There is no silver bullet; it’s one step at a time, one individual at a time, doing their own inner work towards healing the multifaceted wounds that hold them back from helping themselves and others.

While outer support is crucial in beginning any healing journey, the kind of wellness that plants itself deep enough to last the inevitable trials and tribulations of life grows when the seeds are taken home and planted and nurtured daily in the hearts and minds of practitioners—then they begin to see that inner wellbeing is something they can carry inside themselves, something they can nourish in their everyday lives which will nourish them in return. I firmly believe that Robert was able to find this strength to cultivate his own daily home practice because the Wellness Center offered him the daily and consistent outer support he needed for this—a daily regimen of mindful movement, spiritual inquiry and creative expression, the body, the heart and the mind all invited to everyday activities…no part left out, and especially because it was offered to him in community. From the perspective of some spectators who focus on more immediately visible actions and results, this kind of approach to integrated wellbeing may seem somewhat ineffectual in the context of the very gritty and interrelated cycles of homelessness, poverty and addiction; however, but just as one dose of vitamins does little to reverse ill health in the immediate term, consistent and committed sips of the font of a holistic wellness perspective makes for a powerful dose of self-empowerment in the longer term. The key ingredients are faith and love. When the practitioner does not have these for herself, as is often the case at the beginning of the “healing journey”, these must come from outside and this is why the faith in the practices and compassionate attitude of the Wellness Center staff is crucial, more crucial perhaps than the a kind of material support that outsiders might see as more pressing.

This brings me to another story—that of Liam and “Pass the Parcel.”

This is a game I grew up playing in Ireland, a kids’ birthday party game where players passed a large parcel of newspaper wrappings around to music and when the music stopped the person holding it would unwrap a layer. In one of our morning meditation sessions, we played a version of this game as part of an interactive meditation on Joy (we had been exploring a teaching in both Buddhist and yogic traditions on the qualities of the awakened radiant heart, and Joy is one of these qualities). For the parcel I prepared for our game/meditation, each layer contained a message from another group of yogis with whom I had just shared a workshop the previous weekend and who were happy to send messages of joyous encouragement to fellow yogis on the path of wellbeing. As we played the game, each person read aloud the message they unwrapped and smiled. Each person was invited to keep the message as a touchstone for their continued meditation on the possibility of unwrapping the joy that lies waiting in their own hearts. People seemed touched by the idea that someone else had been happy to hand-write them a message of support and encouragement—we are all in this together. When the game went on a little longer than scheduled and started to encroach on snack-time and I asked if we should stop, Liam, who is known for truly appreciating his snack-time declared “let’s keep going-this is better than a snack.”

Yoga and meditation are invitations to feed the spirit as much as liberating the body and clarifying the mind. Their function at the Wellness Center are not just opportunities to exercise and/or relax (although these are important and wonderful by-products), but they are occasions to offer people skill sets by which they can learn to see themselves more clearly, listen to themselves more compassionately, and to notice how negotiating the difficulties of life’s outer landscapes becomes more manageable and successful when we are not being tossed blindly about in the turbulent weather of the inner landscape. When the people acquire the tools to work intelligently and compassionately with their own hearts minds and bodies, they can then independently work towards sharing the richness of their inner being with all around them and together we can all support one another on the journey to health and happiness.

*Names have been changed to respect the privacy of Wellness Center participants.