Friday August 25, 2017 Concón. In the Dominican Republic, where I grew up, we eat concón. It is the rice that gets stuck to the sides of the pot where it is being cooked. It is slightly burned and full of the flavors of whatever we have added. We think of this as something delicious (though, honestly, I never liked it. Perhaps it’s time to try it again…). And in order to obtain it, we use a spoon, or something of the sort, to scrape it from the pot. Some parts of the concón  are harder to peel off the pot, some parts are more burned onto the walls. Some part of it may not come off at all, we may not be able to eat them, and in those cases all we can do is soak the pot in soapy water so that the stuck rice softens to be washed. Some parts may need further scraping with that spoon. The image of that spoon being used to peel concón just came up as I was about to write this piece.
My search (I hope) is not ever about reinventing a new conceptualized me, a new set of concepts to create a wall around myself, so that I only allow the people that accept those new concepts in my circle. That would be recreating polarities between me and you, me and the less-holy other. My search is somewhat, but not only, about widening the circle of experiences and concepts I accept about myself; the search is about diminishing or reducing the circle of things that I hide under layers of shaming and embarrassment. That act of widening my understanding of relationships  friendship, sexuality and ways of being sexual, the plurality of gender identities, each gender identifier, intellectuality, culture basis for thought patterns and behavior, religious upbringings, is an act of willingly looking within in order to come across my own limitations and definers. I believe that within this decision to see through my self sustained limitations lies the possibility of widening the circle of people and situations that I can face without cowering in fear. But this is not necessarily easy to do. It is like my own personal concón.
I do not know why, but many things are happening around me, in my world(s), that are pushing me to direct my attention to areas that I had long neglected, thinking that I was “done” with them. I guess that when I am wrong, I am wrong. There is no rush, but I do have a sense of “urgency”. I know that if I do not continue, the blanket of my conceptual “comfort zone” will most probably reassert itself. That is the nature of habits. And on the other hand, I also know that the pushing is non other than ego-monkey-brain trying to take over so that it feels in charge and safe. If anything, THAT is the saving grace: that I can see monkey-brain’s attempts to not be scared. The fact that it is scared and attempting to control means that I am on the right path, that what I am doing is timely. But, and it is a big BUT, I need to bring gentleness into how I am going about this personal search, and about dealing with Monkey-brain, and I also need to bring a sense of true compassion-openness, not guilt feelings nor pitying ego from a sense of snug-superiority. The circle of what I can take in before setting off all sorts of internal alarms is widening, and so is my sense of “this feels right” (emphasis on feels).
As it is with the beginning of any personal or not personal (re)search, there can be a maelstrom of information. In this case, the maelstrom is compounded by the fact that I have chosen to look at beliefs and feelings held mostly at an unconscious level, and, when not hidden in my unconscious, kept at bay by a very tight web of should and shouldn’ts. Breathe. I cannot pretend anymore that I believe in the possibility of an enlightened society of any kind if I continue hiding from myself. I need to look at the concón of beliefs and frozen prejudices that I hold, in order access the vulnerability or fierce-open-space-compassion from where any wisdom may arise. Space. I am suspended by wings in seemingly liquid space, flowing-floating on the dot of not knowing where this will take me. All I know, is that I get to eat the pieces of concón that serve to welcome others into my circle, and that I get to drop the rest. No more war, just open shakiness.
Smile on my lips: my concón as well as my frozen beliefs and prejudices are not solid at all. Wings. And a constant request for guidance on the path.

Memories and Unfoldings

Written on Friday August 11, 2017. Preamble. As a child, I loved to play in the bath tub in my home in the Dominican Republic. I have memories of drawing little soap-foam-bubble faces on the tiles, and then talking to them. The faces were the American president, and I was usually asking them questions about the “red phone” and telling them that it would not be good to press “the button”. In my child’s mind, I was conscious that the US president and the Russian president could blow the planet and create another “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” type incident with the their known aftermath of radiation, and toll on planetary life. As a sci-fi kid, I believed an event on Earth could contaminate space, and thus reach other planets. So I role played talking to the soapy-president-on-the-tiles, because I believed that he could see reason, i.e. I believed that he was capable of understanding and willing to rule from a place of understanding and clarity. As a child I believed that he (and all humans) could and would understand, if I talked to him/them, and I also believed that anyone would (after understanding) want to choose to do the right thing for humanity, for the Earth, and really, for the universe.

It’s been interesting to discover that the child-Rita is still alive in my heart. This child believes in the human potential to understand, and to choose to do what is right. However, this child-like heart is now tempered by the sadness of knowing that THAT president was a soapy-figure-on-the-tiles, and that while the countries in conflict at that time are not the same as the players in conflict today, many of the presidents in the world, our Earth, as it exists today, still have the means to blow us to pieces.  The sadness is that my soapy-president-on-the-tiles listened, and would/could understand (and he wanted to), but I am not so sure about the willingness to listen of our world-leaders today, and this includes my own. Sad.

From the perspective of this child-like sci-fi heart, I feel the weight of the thoughts that say that as a humanity we have lost our ways.  I have begun to remember how much I am affected by the leadership of presidents and governments from all over the world. The world has somehow seemingly gotten smaller and the fears I had as a child again weigh heavy in my mind: I see the likelihood for mass destruction increasing, and like it was when I was a child, my only tools are words, and the education/taming of my own mind-heart. I feel that I do not have much to offer, but what I have, I offer.

Talking. I started reading fantasy and watching sci-fi on TV very early. As early as age 4. I still do. And today, while at work, after receiving online news about North Korea’s threat to deploy nuclear weaponry near Guam, and of the American president’s response to that threat, I was caught in a felt-wave of fear-anger-laden thoughts that were mine and mine alone. Then I answered a phone call from one of my supervisors. We talked deeply for more than an hour about things that are at the core of how I currently feel about not having guaranteed work-hours or insurance; about how I do not feel as part of the team because I am a  PRN interpreter, called and present when needed, but invisible when not. My plight of wanting to have full-time status and medical insurance seemed extremely tiny in comparison to the newfound clarity of remembering that nuclear weapons have never vanished and that as they are tested, we, humans pollute not only our own air and water, but all systems around us.

However, regardless of how tiny my plight is or isn’t in light of the potential damages done at a planetary or a grander scale, one thing seems to remain true. Today I was able to talk calmly and truthfully to my supervisor with my heart in my throat, and with tears swelling in my eyes. I spoke my mind-heart as it was at that moment, and because of this, it was genuine. I talked with her with the same truthfulness I spoke to my  soapy-president-on-the-tiles when I was little. The sad-beauty of the conversation was that neither of us shut down. We both touched each other’s heart. And I feel clean, and clear. And I am grateful for that encounter, for the possibility of going beyond my fears and opening, and for that seeming-other human brave enough to do the same and open that space. I have not encountered many people in a supervisory capacity in this country with the bravery of a true friend. I pray that our friendship extends and that she has benefited from the encounter as much as I did, for this is “enlightened society at its best”. Sad truth: I crave this depth.

[Saturday August 12, 2017. Recent recognition of the darkness(es) or of things I had labeled as such and believed them to be so as a child-protecting-itself from what s/he intuitively s/he cannot handle– without again pushing it/them away nor craving it/them is/was key: This key can now be looked at with the understanding that all that it once hid is already integrated and that it all is as it should be. From the mud, the lotus.]

Communicating. The following mini-event also took place yesterday, before I read the online news about Korea and before I talked with my supervisor on the phone. In the context of being the coordinator for a project. My tendency is to deal or navigate projects by asking questions and clarifying my understanding, throughout the duration of any project. I depart from a stance of open-curiosity, which all too easily turns into anger and feeling deflated (and I see this as my problem, not anyone else’s), when I feel that my understanding of my role and my particular way of understanding said role is not respected. I have over the years trained myself to not react by sending flurries of emails or text messages. Instead, I pull back and craft what I want to say, attempting to address with as much clarity as I can muster in my writing in English. I do so because in the crafting I manage to temper or tone down what ego-monkey brain comes up with initially. I also craft the message by re-reading the communication I am reacting to, making sure that I am responding exactly to my concern which usually boils down to something like the following: I am coordinating this project. This has been established. I have already initiated the conversations that I needed to initiate with the project leads, and I have told you who plugged me into my current role, that I have done so. Ah, but you did not receive my message to you on time, so you went ahead and contacted the leads to ask the same questions. Why did you not ask me instead if I had taken the step already? So I notice the communication flurry of emails and I become confused, and truth be said, a little annoyed since I do not like confusion with my morning coffee. So I craft a response, and I send it. Your response comes back with an apology and an offer of completing part of the task that I had already told you I knew how I was going to complete, ignoring the other part of the task and the fact that I took the time to tell you. So, I go back to my own emails, not just confused but doubting myself: Did I not say this clearly? How poor was my pre-caffeine-writing-in-English this morning?

And I sense my frustration swelling, and then the SNAP into place: “No. You do not get to torture me today (talking to monkey-brain). Everything I thought I had told her is there in what I wrote. If she wants to complete that part of the task herself, so be it. All I have left to do now is thank her for her help, and further clarify that I will be completing the other part of the task.”

Looking back. Looking back is useful because if we don’t use it as attempts to reify the past, it can shed light and let us see how far we’ve come, and where we need to look next. I have recently become aware of my tendencies to hide and not play at all, or to overwhelm and dominate the games or life situations where I was afraid. These tendencies hid in the darkness of not even denial, for denial acknowledges the presence of that which is being denied. These tendencies hid instead in the darkness of submissive-little-ms.sunshine who would pretend to do what others wanted while totally withholding warmth, and human empathy/contact. Instead, this time I could feel the tendencies swelling and getting ready to lash out, and I was ok with feeling annoyance, confusion, fears, shame, all the thoughts, together with the sadness I also felt because you could not bring yourself to ask me questions directly and felt that you had to do things yourself. Oh well.

I pray that I can bring the fruit of this newfound clarity, the clarity that happens when certain things SNAP into place, and the clarity of what happens when hidden things SNAP into the open and allow themselves to be looked at, to guide me in my attempts to communicate in order to conjugate “enlightened society” as if it were a verb. I am grateful to the teachings that allow and encourage me to look at the SNAPS of this mind-heart and at what is below the cracks. And I am grateful to the people who participate or appear for the dream of this life to unfold.





Walking on a sunlit corridor…

August 2, 2017

Yesterday I arrived at the hospital where I had a shift after having been at the clinics fulfilling an interpreting encounter. 

I came out of the parking lot and crossed the glass enclosed bridge that leads into a corridor also enclosed by glass. As I got to the corridor, a man. He greeted me good morning and I greeted him back. I looked at him. He was beaming a smile that pulled a smile from within me to light my face. I asked him: How are you? And he responded something like: “Every day I wake up alive, is a day that I know I am blessed by God. I know this.” 

He was still beaming, and I was still smiling. We parted ways. He headed to the reception desk, and I headed to where I regularly sit when I’m assigned to work here. 

Through this encounter and the smiles and words we exchanged I felt blessed, and touched by a sense of sheer presence. And now, I still feel gratitude for the encounter and exchange, and for the teachings that helped me see and experience them as teachings. 

May all being experience teachings and encounters that ever so gently touch their heart and draw a smile upon their lips.


Written on Saturday July 15th. I guess the best way to start is right at the end, which is also the beginning. So, yesterday I was touched and quite surprised at my willingness to be (albeit, grudgingly) in that space of being touched by experience; in the space where I can allow the touch and even invite experience in… And since I am starting at the end, backwards so to speak, I need to add what is seemingly a parenthetical note here, and let you know that there will be more added throughout this piece. So, you have been warned.

Note: Just as I have come to understand that ego is a very maligned misunderstanding, I have begun to understand that samsara is also a very maligned misunderstanding. When we/I give credence to how evil or dark samsara and get involved in futile attempts to comprehend it, fix it, or avoid it, then we are / I am trapped under its weight, that is under the non-other than thoughts or projections from my own mind-heart.

Yesterday, I went to the gym to workout. I got there on the verge of tears, and so extremely frustrated that I almost gave up on exercising altogether. I did not want to let my friend, trainer or anybody see me so frustrated. And truth be said, I also did not want to feel the frustration and accompanying thoughts. Yes, this is a very clear example of my wanting there to be another now, of wanting to hide behind a mask, of doubting not only myself but others, and of almost caving in to the habit of wanting to hide. But the very tiny-buddha-seedling somehow kept me on track while driving to the gym while feeling the burn of the frustration and hearing all the self-defeating thoughts. It was Friday and I had left the office on time because I really wanted to go to the gym. Warning: Here comes another seemingly parenthetical note.

Note: On Monday I went to work at the Clinics’ location where I have been covering shifts since May. Typically there are two interpreters assigned to that space/shift. While one goes to any pre-programmed appointment, the other remains and continues working on document translations, and takes care of any appointment that though not programmed meets the requirements for needing a on-site interpreter. If there are no programmed appointments both interpreters continue working on document translations/editing. So, around noon on Monday the full time interpreter got a phone call and towards the end of the call, almost as a side comment, he was told that starting the next day, the interpreters assigned to Clinics would no longer go to that office to work. Theoretically, work would remain the same, but we would do it from a different location. He was also told that we needed to move right then, that Monday afternoon. So we ate lunch, packed and left. While in our previous location we were housed in an office with one other person who was often not there, we got to our new location and were displaced. He was sent to a cubicle assigned to the Language Network in an office on the ground floor, whereas anyone covering the shift as a PRN interpreter (like me) would sit on a cubicle not assigned to the Language Network located on the first floor in a huge area full of cubicles. We are now both surrounded by non-interpreters/translators.

I went to the gym yesterday after a whole week of showing to work at our new place: of not knowing most of the people around me, of not having had access to a computer until Tuesday at around 3 pm, of feeling the weight of the “corporate” aspects of a hospital because of where we are housed, of not being able to consult with the other Clinics’ interpreter on the matter of translations without having to send him the document or calling and dictating whole sentences or even paragraphs to provide contextual clues, of hearing the phone conversations of those around me, and at times even hearing both sides of the phone conversation not because they were on speaker phone, but because the volume of their headsets was loud enough. This is understandably a lot to take in, for anyone. I felt that not only was I functioning on sensory overload, but I was admittedly contributing to the overload with my fear of another lay-off coming for our department. Warning: Here comes another note.

Note: Since I had spent so much time working in the Clinics and liking it, I had almost gotten used to an 8 to 4:30 schedule. I had also gotten quite used to working as a team in the context of translating/editing again and, most significantly, I had almost forgotten that I am a PRN. My mind toyed with the idea of what I would say if I got an offer for the 40-hour position of the person whose shift I have been covering. But this rug or veil has been thankfully pulled.

Yesterday, Friday around 11 in the morning we had our online meeting. An auditor was present. We can see his name on the screen, and to me it feels like eavesdropping, since his name appears on the screen but I have never heard​ him speak. This gives me a feeling reminiscent of being still under surveillance such as when I served in Hungary’s Peace Corps program in the 90s or like that of the stories my grandmother used to tell me about the dangers of being seen or heard by the eyes and ears of Trujillo, a Dominican dictator. However, I am aware that the memories evoked in me are not part of this present-day scenario. Suffice it to say that I have been dealing with these little demons of my own. Then, around noon, one of the men that worked in that office, came into the space with a white envelope in hand and said goodbye in a loud voice for all to hear. One of the women said something like, “You’re leaving early?” and he replied “No. I was let go. I am not coming back…” I felt like someone poured Icy-Hot down my throat… Those who knew the man hugged him… This event tore into the fabric of the day… And then, more loud phone conversations…

When it came time for me to leave the office, I was more than ready. I wanted to go to the gym and feel my body go through detox as if it were possible to sweat off the bad thoughts, feelings and unfounded premonitions. So I got to the parking lot as quickly as I could but it took me more than 25 minutes to find my car in the seemingly never ending spiral of open and blocked entrances, while carrying my bags! I felt stupid, angry at myself for not finding the car and angry for feeling stupid, and I also felt extremely tired. I sent a text to my trainer, and the message came back: “No worries. Be safe.” I felt tears, but my frustration was burning high and the tears turned into steam; there was no softening that I could feel.

I got to the gym, changed clothes and we started our workout for the day testing a series of moves that could become a class. I was close to having a meltdown as I was trying to understand the sequencing, and the exercises themselves, and also every time I realized that I would not be able to do everything in the way that was planned because my left knee was sore. It was painful to feel the meltdowns approach, and the battle I was waging because my ego-based-pride did not want tears to show… We started the workout and within the first three or four rounds I noticed that I was beginning to smile as my heart rate increased, with the frustration was still burning high and not allowing a full smile to form. And then, as I continued moving from exercise to exercise and talking, there was a distinct moment, something lifted leaving a clear sense of a mental-heart space that encompassed the frustration and its accompanying thoughts while facing my trainer and the gym itself, altogether with a smile and the joy coming from feeling my body in movement. And when I acknowledged that space, the frustration seemingly melted and was replaced by a sense of being fully there. I was, and still am, in awe and grateful.

Concluding Remarks. When our session ended, I told my friend about my week and why it had been exhausting. And in doing so I noticed that lately I found myself repeating that I still love what I do as an interpreter. I was apologizing. It was and is as if I had to justify or ask forgiveness for any fears and negative thoughts I may have. It is as if ego-monkey brain is saying that I should not feel what I feel regarding corporate cube-land or the struggles within the restructuring phase of the department where I work. But here is the good news: I feel the way I do, and it is ok for me to feel this and any other feeling. And more than this, I have come to believe that it is important to not distance ourselves from our feelings nor our experiences as humans. I believe this distancing to be the cause of justified self aggression and aggression in the workplace. However, this very humbling week reminded me of how difficult it really is to sit with my feelings while allowing the thoughts to come and go (or stay for a while) while in the middle of life. For me, the workplace is and has seemingly been in this lifetime perhaps the most difficult arena in which to train.

Perhaps Samsara can be a friend or at the very least I can learn to see it as such. While it definitely has the sense of the cyclical endless patterns of dark habits forming and reforming with the potential of ensnaring me/us, there is also the faint sense that precisely because I recognize some of the habits and repetitive scenes (like I have worked in cube-land before; and I have been in situations where my bosses have forgotten the true meaning of our job (teaching, writing, language, education, being human…), I can now choose not to engage in them.

I found myself saying that I can choose to be nice, though, being a Buddhist is not particularly about being nice boys and girls. It is perhaps about being real, genuine from the sense of softness that can be accessed when I am not fighting myself or trying to hide. From that softness, being genuine may open the space so that others can be genuine as well. In parting, I asked my friend/trainer a rhetorical question; it was rhetorical because while I did not expect and answer I expected a response. I said: “It’s not rocket science choosing to be nice. Why does it seem so difficult? Why do we so easily forget about being human and about being nice to each other in the context of work? Why am I telling you this? You are one of the nicest people I know!” But to my surprise he answered, and his answer was: Confirmation.

How wonderful it is that I could/can hear this word and hold it close to my heart. It helped me see. As a Buddha with training-wheels I do not need confirmation, nor do I believe that it should be necessarily sought. But I know that as humans we thrive in the space where our Basic Goodness is confirmed by and in the presence of the ineffable other. I dream of putting that space back into education, healing, interpreting, and all other fields were we find ourselves at work or at play. Perhaps this is to happen one conversation, one encounter, at a time. I have come to believe that workplaces and/or classrooms where our humanity is consistently ignored and/or thought of as an object to be bought or sold reduce us to being merchandise or merchants at best. For now I am simply thankful.

I thank the friend that held the space for me, and with me, on Friday. And I am thankful for the space-mind-heart that allows for the lessons that samsara-as-teacher may bring to emerge. I am thankful to the dharma and the to the Sakyong and all Teacher(s) that have touched my heart and send constant reminders that we are in this together. May this writing be of service.

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You punctured my heart
with instant space and the brittle heart you own.
And all I had to give you in return
was a broken gasp, and deep-felt warmth.

Wanting to hold and shield you,
to cup your face within my hands,
I wanted to whisper in your heart’s ears
that I see you:
human, strength,
fierce friend and brother,
the wings of a butterfly that has covered itself in ice
afraid of touching and being touched
afraid of feeling and not feeling anything at all…
while veiled by the illusion of control.

As the thoughts came flowing through my pen
the blood of gentle warriors
warmed my lips
and tears and moist poured from my eyes:
I wanted to hold you
but instead I witnessed
how your frozen wings began to flutter
echoing the beating of my own…

Garuda spans the Dragon’s dance
my breath was held
and in my mind
I held you closely so you could hear me softly say:
You are strength and beauty
fears and joy
a sentence dancing between night and day
more than words
courage moving to find its way.

Wrapped in stories that are just so,
we believe them to be Truth.
If Truth, they would define us…but as we hold them closely
their truth changes leaving us no trail at all…

Perhaps these stories are reflections,
patterns both and neither truth or not;
but at the core remains the essence:
the gem I see, that you forgot.


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Short Sweetness in a Glass

(Originally written on January 20th, 2016)


Short sweetness in a glass

Because knowing that all things are empty

Sometimes is not enough.


Short sweetness in a glass

Because sometimes at times all I see is doors closing on my face

Though I know they are just my thoughts…


Sweetness in a glass

Because today I’m not held tenderly and perhaps that’s all I want:

A gentle word, caring…

Empty of anger…

A touch that says, “I get you…: wind-blowing



Short sweetness in a glass half-empty

Warmly caressing my guitar

No echoes for my heartfelt longing,

Except the loneliness of the teachings from afar.


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Two Gifts from a Week Full of Mondays

Two Gifts from a Week Full of Mondays

This past week was one of those weeks which I call “a week full of Mondays”, with stressful, heavy long days punctuated by moments of opening. These openings were brief moments packed with tenderness that I was privileged to feel and to touch only because I somehow allowed myself to do so… So I guess the good news is that I feel that the path of meditation works: it walks on me, treads on me ever so gently reminding me that my task is to be there with my walking or dancing steps, but moving, always moving fully present with every step.

Framing: Three days without a working toilet in my pre-k classroom, and the cold weather that prevented us from going outside to play framed the week. The kids seemed restless, talkative, clumsy, careless with each other. On my part I was dealing with feeling sick, and not having had enough sleep. So by Thursday, I was really tired and painfully aware of how short my supply of patience and energy felt. This provides some context for the remainder of my Thursday after work visiting with a friend and then at choir rehearsal later that evening, and for Friday.

Thursday after work. My friend and I just chatted about our week, our day… and as it is with me, when I relax in the presence of someone I trust, I allow my questions, topics, jokes, laughter, sadness to flow without too much mental editing. Within the stream of our conversation I had asked a question which I cannot remember but to which he answered with a simple: “I don’t have a dad”. I followed with: –He passed? Died? And my friend’s reply was: –No. He had surgery and is now a woman. There are no words that can completely or remotely adequately describe my experience(s) at that moment. My-Mind-Heart-stopped. I felt time and things around me slowing down like when witnessing a car accident. I turned away from my friend. I looked away in order to hold myself without pushing thoughts, comments, feelings away. Blank. I needed to look away in order to hold myself without giving in to the thoughts, and feelings that were mine and mine alone. I needed to look away to my own reflection on the glass window panes that surrounded us so that I could feel and hold the sting that I heard on his voice when he uttered the phrase that I myself had uttered so frequently before: –I don’t have a dad.

And then, my gaze returned back to him and I just wanted very much to hold him, soothe him, take any sting from pain or anger away from him. Protect. In truth, I knew that these were/are my interpretations of what he had said. He never said to me that he was feeling pain or anger as he was speaking to me. But my heart-felt reaction was that I wanted to provide comfort, and space. And later on, I wanted to provide assurance: I wanted my words and my whole being to reflect to this other human being in front of me that the wholeness and light of his presence, his worth and the value of his being on this planet were not at all diminished by the content of any of the stories that contributed to his being the person that he is today. I wanted to convey to him that even if he were to take the same path as his dad, his integrity and worth would not diminish. And then, slowly, time and things around me recovered their usual speed. And as they did, I knew that I had been punctured and blessed by something precious. An image of a cartoon by Argentinian artist Quino came to my mind. In the cartoon strip there are very young children talking among themselves saying, What does a turtle have to do to be a turtle? A dog, to be a dog? Why do I have to go to school to become something? Instead of comforting my friend, touching his hand or sharing a gesture that would indicate that I SAW HIM through that and other stories that he has shared with me, all I managed to do was to say: Isn’t it amazing? we are the only creature always striving to be or become something that we are not. Breathe. I am not talking about not going to school, nor stopping our personal search and growth. The image of the cartoon in question represents the extent that we will go as humans in order to find our core, and/or be at ease with who we think we are.

Friday. Then, Friday came and I went to work. The kids were still wild, seemingly regressing to an emotional and social state reminiscent of where they were at beginning of the school year (perhaps related to two new students I got in January and their effect of the chemistry of the group). I was still tired and feeling somewhat ill. And then in the morning, bam!!! Someone had gone to our bathroom, and thrown dirty (poopy) toilet paper in the waste basket and floor. The smell. I noticed. As a group, we had been talking about this habit since August, the beginning of the school year, but there has been a relapse on the behavior and on not coming forward and telling the truth. So, in the morning I picked the toilet paper up, threw it in the toilet. Then, I congregated the group, and we talked about it. We agreed that we would be more careful and we recalled where the white paper goes after it is used, and what we have to do (flush and wash our hands). We moved on to work on our projects, and then we went to lunch, did music, and had our rest period. And then, again, bam!!! The waste basket in the bathroom was full of poop-laden-smelly toilet paper.

At that point, for my aide and I, the most important thing became trying to find out who had done it so that we could work with that particular child. And for me, it was also important to bring the group to the understanding that accusing a person likely to have done the deed would not necessarily relieve the group from having to act responsibly and that telling the truth is important, no matter how scary it feels. These are tough lessons even for adults to live by, so I felt for my kids. It was time for bad cop, good cop. My aide and I took turns asking them to let us know who had done it. We wanted the child who had done it to come forward with the truth. I said that if the person who’d done it would come forward and let either one of us know, nothing (bad) would happen. I also said that if nobody stepped forward, then I would have to let all parents know about the incident, so that they would take the retraining of the desired behavior in their hands. It was at this point that one of the boys started to cry. He had done so in the past when we have said that we would send notes home, or sad faces for everyone.

His crying somehow indicated to me something positive, i.e. that his parents actually read my notes and that they are actively involved in educating their child as a whole person. On the other hand, on that day he seemed brittle, anxious. I decided to take him out to walk with me in order to calm him because I had a very strong sense that it had not been him who had thrown the dirty toilet paper in the trash can. So I told the aide to handle the room: she was to allow them to be on their own to talk and when the person who had done it was ready, they should come to get us. She simply had to wait outside our classroom door. I took the boy by the hand and we started walking down the hallway. I prayed: please get me out of my way so that I can say what’s needed to be of comfort.

However, what I wanted to accomplish with the group and with the boy I had by the hand was easier said than done. As soon as the group saw me walking away with him, they wanted to escape too, so other boys started to cry to no avail. The aide, more like the other teacher, stayed with the group while I left with the little boy by the hand. Deep breath. My mind was frozen watching his tears and sobbing. I wanted to hug him, but I did not. Instead there was an exchange of words and gestures, mostly in Spanish and with translation because to top it all, he is one of the kids in my bilingual class for whom Spanish is not dominant, and I am never sure of how much he is really processing/understanding in any language. The exchange went something like this as we walked hand in hand up and down the corridor:

[While my walk with the boy was happening, the aide came out to stand by the door, and about three time a kid would come to get us saying so-and-so did it. After the third time, I went back in and I said: I do not want to hear: —he/she did it. I want to hear: –Teacher, I did it… Silence fell on the room as the understanding of what I wanted dawned on them…]


Me: –I know I am ugly. I think I look ugly when I am scolding you. Are you afraid of me?
Boy: (He nodded yes glancing at me, and not holding his gaze.)(I felt stung by my own long held beliefs of being an unattractive ugly person not just physically…)(Breathe….)
Me: –I am really sorry that you are afraid of me. I don’t want you or your friends to be afraid. I want to know the truth. And then softly, sweetly: Was it you that threw the dirty paper in the wastebasket??
Boy: (He looked up, held his gaze and nodded No.)
Me: –Then you have nothing to worry about. You should not be afraid and crying; nothing is going to happen because you told me the truth, your truth. You did not do it. You know what to do with the toilet paper.
Boy: (Still sobbing.)
Me: –I need to know who did it so that I can teach him or her to be a champion like you.
Boy: (Furtive glance at me, with the beginning of a smile)
Me: –If the person who did it tells me the truth, then I don’t have to talk with your moms and dads because I can teach him/her what to do with the toilet paper. But I know it is hard to tell the truth because I look mean and ugly. So you are very brave for telling me the truth, your truth. You don’t have to be afraid.
Boy: (Crying stopped, glance, serious look followed by a quick smile.)
Me: –If the person who did it does not tell me the truth, you also don’t have to be afraid because you have already told me your truth.
Boy: (Kept walking, and then yelled): –I don’t have to cry??? I don’t have to cry…
Me: –Why not? (Me sounding hopeful…)
Boy: –I don’t have to cry…I didn’t do it…I am a champion…
Me: –(Relieved because he had understood deeply…) You got it buddy!!! Can we go in there now? (He nodded yes.)Will you cry? (He nodded no.) (We walked together into our classroom.)

As we were walking in, my aide told me who had come forward. I was a little girl that has been with us from the beginning of the school year. I thanked the girl profusely in front of the group. I told them that she was very brave for telling the truth in spite of being scared. I told the group that I knew I looked ugly when I was angry, but that they should not be afraid of telling the truth. I said that since the truth was out I could now help the girl, and that moms and dads did not have to become involved. I instructed the aide to have the class sing and dance, to dissipate or move fear around before we resumed working on our projects. I asked the girl to come outside with me.

A bit of our exchange
Me: –Thank you for telling the truth. You are very, very brave. Now tell me, what happened that you threw dirty paper in the trash can? Is this how you do it at home? (This could be true in homes without proper plumbing or septic systems…)
Girl: –No.
Me: –When you’re at home, where do you throw the paper after you are done?
Girl: –Inside the toilet, in the water.
Me: –And then what happens?
Girl: –I flush.
Me: –So what happened today?
Girl: –I forgot… a mistake…
Me: –What can I do to help you with this so that it does not happen again?
Girl: –Happy face… I don’t want a sad face…
Me: –You are not getting a sad face today at all. If I put a sign in the bathroom with a drawing of the paper going in the toilet, will that help you remember?
Girl: (Big nod yes with a big smile on her face…)

And then back in the classroom, I announced: We all make mistakes. We all forget things. I make mistakes and forget things… it’s okay to make mistakes and forget things. What is not okay is to blame others for something that I forgot or for a mistake I made. And I know that sometimes telling the truth is very scary and does not feel good. But now, now we need to pick up our projects and line up. It’s time to go outside. (I needed time out.)

I pray for space… I pray that I can get out of my way, so that the words from my heart can flow. I pray with gratitude for the friend and students that like true teachers forced me this week to step outside the institutionalized-rotten-roles in which we all fall so that I could simply be: human-frail, human-brittle, human. Not a role. Not a category. I pray again with gratitude for the friend that punctured my arrogance, softening me with his shared truth. I have yet to milk all of the deep-felt understandings that stem from these two gifts for they both touch upon the notions of roles I play, how I play them, the beliefs I/we carry around from childhood. And the gifts also touched on the need to be fully present to ourselves so that I/we do not shut down and start acting from the constructs and concepts that I/we have adopted as the truth about me/us. In gratitude for the dharma that is in all, and for the ability to be touched by it.

I wrote this on a week of Mondays that marked the end of this dön season. May it be of benefit.

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