Kneeling next to a large recliner with her hand resting gently on the chair’s arm, “Nancy” (not the individual’s real name) invites a cardiac patient in respiratory distress to change his breathing pattern. The house is a familiar call. Two additional Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) are on Nancy’s heels setting up the equipment to deliver the required medical treatment.
During one of my CPR trainings, I learn about Nancy and her unusually calm demeanor from one of the instructors who also teaches EMT certification courses. As an EMT certifier, the instructor is required to complete several active-duty EMT shifts annually, which is how he has come to know and work with Nancy. If she is on duty, Nancy is the preferred first responder in situations where respiratory distress is involved. Her “uncanny ability” assists other EMT’s by granting them valuable time for the set up of critical-care equipment. As a professional meditation and yoga instructor, listening to what is described as Nancy’s almost “magical effect” in such circumstances, I note that Nancy is employing the use of a technique known as entrainment.
Entrainment is what happens when an individual gives up his or her own independent breathing pattern or rhythm, for a time, to accept the breathing pattern or rhythm of another individual or group. Entrainment is a formal pedagogical tool in some spiritual traditions. It is used primarily to ready an individual or group for receipt of a teaching, to grant an aspirant the opportunity to stand in another’s shoes, thereby, assisting in the teaching of compassion. Or, it may be employed to share experiences of certain emotional states (joy, freedom, calmness) or states of consciousness (forgiveness, surrender, unconditional love).
The most critical component behind the employment of entrainment is a sincere desire on the part of the lead breather, if you will, to serve selflessly.
“I do not know how you feel about dreams and dreaming, but I have been having a reoccurring dream about you,” the sentence comes out of my mouth with explosive apprehension. My discomfort is growing, yet my sense of obligation to report what I have been seeing in my dreams is greater than my personal discomfort. “Sometimes I see things—in real time or in dreams—and, I feel an obligation to pass them on, unless someone demonstrates an observable, radical shift in behavior.
Deciding not to wait for feedback, I plow ahead, “In the dream, I keep seeing you in this studio space, splayed out on the floor. You have suffered a massive heart attack. My sense is that you need to slow down professionally—to make some changes in the number of work duties that you are committed to. That is all that I have to relate.”
Silence. Then, we both return to business as usual.
In a few weeks, I learn that the recipient of my news has resigned his administrative duties. My Spirit feels a great sense of relief and hope for the future.
“Why did you leave the weekend program early?” The question is posed to me over the phone on a Sunday evening by one of the program’s key organizers.
“This morning, I reached a point in the teachings where I had been given what I needed to continue my own work. I left early to apply those principles,” I answer trying not to express my surprise about the late-evening call.
“The teacher was concerned about what might have happened to you. He felt that a connection was made over dinner last night. Your departure prior to the closing session was confusing. It seemed abrupt.”
“Please reassure him that everything is fine. I am fine. The light bulb came on during the morning session, so I went home to apply what had been presented. Thank you for checking in with me. Give him my regards.”
I hung up the phone thinking, “How odd to actually have someone call me at home.”
Years prior, when I was functioning in the role of a teacher, working as a paid intern in a secondary school, there was a particularly difficult traditional piece of literature which was part of the curriculum. With so many new and amazing voices available in modern, global literature, I felt the crunch and crush of the classics taking the wind out of my students’ sails. To accommodate for the rigidity of the traditional reading, I decided to make the choice of projects about the reading as broad and inclusive as possible. Think paper-machéd theatre masks, live musical presentations, silk-screened t-shirts, Greek food dishes and one-act, in-room dramas.
What had been one of the most reputedly dreaded of academic uglies, in terms of assigned readings, blossomed into an amazing, impromptu project fair. Students were able to choose how best to express their comprehension of the material in a manner closest to their individual skill sets and expressive hearts.
Walking through the halls with my mentoring faculty member near the week’s end, I observe, “The amount of pride I feel about the projects coming out of this assignment is absurd. I did not personally create any of these things. These students are not my children. This pride or ownership is embarrassing really—hubristic.”
Thoughtfully my mentor answers, “Yes, but you created the environment—the assignment parameters—allowing these kids to shine. Some of them have never experienced this level of creative freedom before, especially in a classroom setting with a traditional reading.”
“Nonetheless,” I ruminate, “there is something discomforting about the degree of emotional involvement I am experiencing.”
Whatever role we are playing—the person on the seat of the two-wheeled bike learning how to ride or the person hanging on to the back of the seat assisting with the mastery of balance—there comes a time to let go.
It is day two of my trip home on the Greyhound bus. I am crossing the expansive landscapes of many large states, pondering the artificial boundaries separating the various people of the United States. We sway and move to the inaudible music of the road passing beneath us, together for purposes of travel, while trying hard to remain apart out of respect for each others’ sense of space.
Sometimes there is conversation—sometimes not. Many passengers have spent days on the bus, traveling to see family and friends. Frequent breaks for passenger pick-up and drop-off, the humane stretching of our legs and the respectful nod toward nature seem to serve mostly as cigarette breaks for the majority of passengers.
At one stop, watching most every man and woman file off the bus for a ten-minute cigarette break, I am virtually alone when I hear this giant of a man in the seat kitty-corner and behind me exclaim with amazement into the empty air, “You’re all a bunch of smokin’ b*tches.”
I smile at the forthrightness of the observation and turn to give him a quiet nod of affirmation. My compatriot is as big and black, younger than myself, with jet-black lashes that are so thick, long and curly they look artificial. He could be a line-backer.
At one stop, where we have enough time to purchase something to eat, I note my non-smoking, line-backer friend has picked up a salad for dinner. Turning to him, I comment on the obvious, “It is really hard to eat healthy foods on these trips.”
He nods as an over-sized, plastic-fork-full of salad travels the distance to his mouth. I wonder how he keeps his frame going on iceberg lettuce, bits of shredded carrot, a few slices of cucumber and three anemic cherry tomatoes. He and I do not appear to have anything in common, except that we both do not smoke and seem to favor healthier foods.
“Eavesdropping” on a conversation between two wiry, retired veterans—one white and one black—both hard-of-hearing and diabetic, I learn that one of the men is traveling across country, back to the east coast after a visit to Vegas. This means days on the bus. After the conversation finishes and one veteran gets off at the next stop, I plop down beside the remaining vet. He draws a curtain of privacy around himself by plugging in his ear-buds and listening to tunes. With the shift in seats, I can hear a melody seeping from around his ear-buds, so I decide to do the audacious thing and ask about his music.
“What are you listening to?” I pipe up.
Pulling one ear-bud from my side of his head, he turns to introduce himself, “My name is Martin,” while extending his hand. “‘Part-time Lover’—you know that song?”
Taking his hand in my own, we shake. “My name is Julian. Just like a guy’s name. Can you call up anything by The Gap Band?”
“The Gap Band, you like them?” Martin asks, expressing a subtle level of surprise.
“Yeah…something with a heavier beat. I am not a huge fan of late, Stevie-Wonder songs,” I confess. My truth is out.
At this point, my line-backer friend starts the call and response, “You like The Gap Band?”
Martin finishes scrolling through his options, “Okay. Here it goes.”
We listen quietly (Greyhound rules), “You dropped a bomb on me, baby. You dropped a bomb on me…”— as an extended three-some. More conversational popcorn happens. And, at some point, I am asked about what I do.
“I am a writer.”
“Hey, me too,” my line-backer friend responds. “I have two books coming out.”
It is then that I understand why the economic disparity in wages and in living conditions remains intact and largely unchallenged in the United States. We are a bunch of madcap gamblers. The majority of Americans and United States émigrés still hold a fundamental belief and trust in the ability of an individual to better his or her personal lot, through skill, creativity, luck, originality, invention, investment, avarice, altruism, parsimony or some combination thereof.
Whether we call ourselves writers, musicians, politicians, do-gooders, investors, bankers, hard workers or adventurers, we live in a nation of risk-takers. My sense is that the majority of Americans would rather play and pay for a high-stakes, all-out win than go through the process of changing our economic system. In accepting this condition, we fail to assist those who may never possess a winning scratch card, and we lose the opportunity to devise a more equitable way of compensating people for the hours they work. We are, as my fellow writing peer might say, a bunch of gamblin’ b*tches.