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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 43 MABINTI DENNIS. I’m originally from Jamaica. I live in Toronto now and I’ve been practicing meditation for quite a few years. But when I took the bodhisattva vow last year, it hit me that what I was doing wasn’t just about me. I live close to a homeless shelter and I often go in and drop things off. Once a year, during one of our annual practice retreats, I put a box out at our center and I ask practitioners to donate food. • This helps, but it doesn’t really share what I’ve learned. People in the black community knew I was deepening my meditation and were asking “When are you bringing it back home?” I’d always say, “Oh no, not me.” But after I took the vow, another black member of our center and I started discussing the idea of offer- ing meditation in the black community. It took us about a year to organize it, to find and negotiate for the use of a space in the heart of the black community, explaining to the people who owned that space what we would be teaching. • Rather than inviting people to our meditation center—to another commu- nity—we are taking meditation to the people in their commu- nity. We are also trying to offer instruction now at a variety of different locations, moving it around so we can reach as many people as possible. We have just found another place in the suburbs, for instance. None of those people would come down to a center in the middle of the city. • To get the word out, we sent emails through a variety of black community organiza- tions, and they have passed it on to other lists. So we’ve reached quite a large number of people. We have a flyer, but people connect with us mostly through email and word of mouth, and then they call me to find out more about what we are doing. We don’t say we’re doing sitting meditation. We ask people to come join our meditation circle, because in our community we’re used to circles. We have prayer circles and funeral circles. Everything we do is in a circle. If we want meditation to reach more people, we can’t just wait for them to knock on our door. We have to reach out and meet them where they are. AUDREY SCHWARTZ RIVERS. The organization I founded, PetShare, brings animals, a number of whom have been subject to abuse, into situations where they can be companions and helpers for abused children, hospital patients, nursing home residents, and others who can benefit from having a compan- ion. It is also valuable for the animals, because they need love and attention too. • I’m a new Buddhist, but I’ve been working with dogs for a long time. In fact, my work with dogs led me to Buddhism in many ways, because I was searching for a form of spirituality that accepted all sentient beings. The medita- tion center in Houston said it would be fine for me to bring my dog, Kayla, with me, as long as she was quiet and didn’t bite. • PetShare took its original inspiration from the fact that both animals and children are vulnerable in this world. As a result, children have tremendous empathy with animals, and I thought that children who were abused or at risk or in neglectful situ- ations could learn to care about an animal. By so doing, they could learn to care about their own situation. They could gain self-esteem, as well, through training animals who themselves had been abused or lived in neglectful homes. • Many of these children who are abused have a very flat affect. They just think everything’s fine and they wear a frozen smile on their face. When they hear Kayla’s story—how she was abused and went from home to home, and how she gets nervous that I won’t be coming back when I leave town—some of them ask questions about how Kayla feels. We talk about how Kayla sometimes goes under the table to get space and how everyone needs their space, how everyone needs some boundaries. If the dog can have feelings, so can they. • Once when I was in New Orleans for a conference we walked down Canal Street every day. Kayla greeted every one of the homeless people. She didn’t care if they were homeless; she didn’t care if they were stinky. In fact, their smells might have been very interesting to her. By the end of the week, everybody knew her name and wanted to pet her. She broke down the barriers. There’s a lesson for us all there. ♦ MICHELLEO’RIORDAN