By Holly Herring
I have been told that I have a way of explaining complicated things in ways that are easy to understand. I think that comes from the way I use my imagination.
I have imaginary people and things that I use to help me get through situations. I think it started when my therapist asked me to create resources for me to use during the PTSD treatment, EMDR. That involved me dreaming up an ideal nurturer for when the treatment made me sad, a protector for when I was scared, a safe place when I was overwhelmed, and an imaginary container to keep things sealed up in temporarily that were too much to bear.
I probably took the exercise a bit too far.
I work with people who live outside. While I carry out my duties at work I sometimes need some imaginary folks to lean on for guidance and help. My initial reaction to hearing some things is not always very compassionate and I need a bit of redirection. I don’t always immediately have all the answers.
I don’t find this a weakness; having imaginary friends is a strength for me.
One person is not enough to get my job done. Often, I take Guan Shi Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion with me. You may also know this being as Avalokiteshvara. This being is gender fluid, but when they travel with me at work they present as female wearing a flowing white robe.
I’m glad she’s only visible to me when we go to work together because I go to some pretty muddy and off the beaten path places for work. Imagine you live outside, in a homeless encampment in a riverbed. Now, you see two women coming towards your camp. One is wearing hiking boots, jeans and a flannel shirt with flame red hair. The other….?
The other is wearing a long, flowing, white robe and headdress with a crown. She’s carrying a few items with her such as a vase and a willow branch. Somehow, no mud or debris sticks to her white gown.
I do all the talking and Guan Shi Yin uses a lot of symbolism in her silence.
Guan Shi Yin has a way of hearing cries that I cannot hear.
As we walk she stops and holds her hands in her head a moment. Then she changes direction and leads me deeper into the riverbed. We encounter a man who is tending his small fire. I introduce myself and a conversation begins. The man explains that he needs a little help but he’s not sure if I have what he needs.
I take a seat in the dirt by his fire and welcome the request. He tells me he’s dependent on injecting substances but he is out of clean syringes. His camp mate is willing to share his supplies, but he has a contagious, bloodborne illness.
My initial reaction inside the privacy of my head is not to offer him what he wants to keep him healthy, but to beg him to go to treatment instead. Guan Shi Yin motions to get my attention and I look up at her. She’s got her willow branch in her right hand and with her left she’s bending the branch.
She carries a willow branch as a reminder to be flexible.
The branch will bend pretty far without breaking. Guan Yin looks at me again with compassionate eyes, pleading to me with her bent willow branch. I think a moment and then I say to the man, “I think I have a couple clean syringes here. But I’m curious, would you be willing to tell me about your relationship with your substances?”
The man sits with me and talks awhile about the times he has attempted to stop using and how each time he’d start again. He says he would like to stop and thinks maybe a medication would help him to reduce cravings. I give him a few fresh syringes and we agree to meet to talk again in two days about the programs available to him. Guan Shi Yin smiles in the background.
As we begin walking in the direction we came, Guan Shi Yin pauses to hold her head again. It looks as though her head is beginning to split with the weight of the cries she’s picking up in the breeze. I watch as she turns slightly and holds her arms out before heading off the path.
Guan Shi Yin leads me into another camp and the camper there does not look well at all. She’s lying on the ground in the fetal position, arms folded around her leg. I announce myself and I see she is startled. Now that she is looking at me, I can see she’s been crying.
I ask her if I can help.
“It’s my leg. I think it’s infected. It has a sore that’s getting worse. It hurts so bad.” I look as she pulls up her pant leg and immediately I feel ill looking at the wound.
I want to turn away—leave.
I notice Guan Shi Yin waving her willow branch at me. When the being sees I am paying attention, she raises the vase she carries and pours a small amount of the fluid it holds on the willow branch and begins gently shaking it. I see droplets of pure water, the divine nectar of life, compassion and wisdom sprinkle from her willow branch.
I look back at the woman’s leg. I ask her if she would like me to try to clean the wound with some supplies I keep in my bag. She nods her head and I proceed. As I dab cleaning solution on some sterile gauze and begin, I ask if the woman has a doctor and has she had her leg seen by them. The woman sighs deeply and tells me her story.
After listening to her, I offer the woman my cell phone. “Would you like to call your doctor or…you mentioned your mother? Maybe your mother would like to take you to the clinic.” The woman wipes her tears away and reaches for the phone. After dialing some numbers and placing the device to her head I hear her softly speak,
“Mom…..mom…..it’s me.” Then a pause and tears begin silently falling down her cheeks. “Mom, I’m sick, mom. Can you pick me up? I need a doctor.”
I watch as Guan Shi Yin holds her head again. Then she suddenly pushes her arms out in the motion of a big hug. Her eyes are closed and she walks towards the woman on the ground who is crying while giving her mother directions to her location. “I love you too, mom,” the woman says as she hangs up and hands me the cell phone. I help her up and all three of us walk through the riverbed to the street. Soon a car pulls up and the woman smiles and tells me “That’s my mom. I haven’t seen her in three years.”
The woman’s mom gets out of her car and the two of them embrace. Guan Shi Yin reaches her arms out again in her air hug. Soon I see a thousand arms reaching out, invisible to the two women. Guan Shi Yin smiles and then her arms retract into her body as the two women climb into the car and leave for the clinic. The woman mouths the words, thank you from inside the car and then disappears from sight.
Now that Guan Shi Yin and I are alone again, I say to her,
“I don’t always know what to do or what to say. Sometimes I screw up.”
A dove circles Guan Shi Yin and I while she rolls the beads from her necklace between her fingers. She says no words but I know she’s turning the beads for me and for everyone else we encountered that day.
My own understanding is not always enough to be of good service to people. I find that thinking outside the box to help people solve their problems is easier if I can pretend there’s someone else there.
I’ve written about how The Buddha and Mr. Rogers has helped me when I grieve and now you know about how Guan Shi Yin supervises me at work, sharing her divine wisdom.
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