Zen of Play

A student asked Soen Nakagawa during a mediation retreat: “I am very discouraged. What should I do?”
Soen replied, “Encourage others.”

If you are discouraged, here is a chance to remedy those feelings by contributing, encouraging and showing up for others. Radical Zen work guaranteed.

In my other job as Director of Clinical Services for the East Bay Agency for Children, we are hosting a community playground build this Saturday for one of our special education programs for “emotionally disturbed” children. I put quotes around emotionally disturbed because it is language the behavioral health care system and the education system uses to classify these students. Indeed, they can be very disturbed and disturbing and what I love most about them is their fierce determination to ask questions of the world and not let us get away with pat answers.
“Why don’t you just let us play all day? We would learn more!”

“I hate you. I want to die. Why do you give us eggs for breakfast all the time when you know we hate them?

“I could take this pencil and kill you but Im going to do my math to get on Mars level so I dont have to look at you anymore.”

“My dad stabbed my mom last night, so I can I go home early?”

Some people call these students disrespectful and they can be, but I prefer to look for the questions they are presenting the world which has presented them so many unbearable experiences–parents dead from overdoses, gun violence, 4 different foster homes in one year, family homelessness, and then the unbearable act of pretending its all normal and asking them to work on math problems.
So this weekend, we get to show up for them when others have not been able to show up. We are looking for volunteers to build a playground for them and surprise them when they come to school on Monday. Children play. All children play and our students, more than others, might be able to answer the questions they really want to ask through play–is life worth this much suffering? At the top of a climbing wall, yes. Caught up in an edgy chase game on the slide. Yes. Hearing their laughter makes me a little less emotionally disturbed too. If you want to help volunteer, please go to http://www.ebac.org images


About jenlelandmft

Jen Leland is a licensed psychotherapist (MFT 42860) in Oakland, California. Through The New Practice, she offers psychotherapy and clinical coaching to those seeking new paths, new directions, new solutions and new practices during challenging times.
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3 Responses to Zen of Play

  1. Jen, I hope Saturday went well. It’s great to see your blog coming to life here.

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