Division Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids is like entering a new world to many.
Life as a homeless or housing unstable human is one most steer away from, often without trying to help or even understand.
In a city that is gentrifying at a rapid rate, homelessness is generally a problem to be managed, not understood & healed.
At Heartside Ministry, EmbodyGR's Here To Be outreach community partner, this is not the case. Each individual is seen as a human being worthy of dignity & respect. The negative language of "homeless", "bum", "street person", is replaced with the word "neighbor."
Entering Heartside Ministry is entering an oasis of peace from the chaos of the streets. It is a place to belong. Artwork and photos of the neighbors adorn the walls within, instantly giving one a sense of welcome.
Friendly faces greet you, warm coffee beckons, and art abounds- painting, drawing, pottery, woodworking, and fiber arts. Neighbors can access the computer room to check email or work on resumes, access clean needles & safe sex supplies through Clean Works, sing, play in a band, get nutritional counseling, attend a motivational group, even get a GED. And now, with EmbodyGR’s partnership, yoga and meditation are part of the weekly experience.
I am thrilled to be part of Heartside, making life a little happier and healthier for those who struggle day to day.
Yoga and meditation are transformational, life enhancing tools for all people regardless of housing status.
But I have discovered that simply walking through the door and hanging up a sign does not mean someone will immediately feel comfortable with what I am offering. They do not know me well nor do they really trust me...yet. To get people into a "pose" or to explore their breath, or learn "meditation," I must earn both respect and trust. This is at the heart of my work, which is only possible by taking the long game approach. One of the main rules is to show up each and every week, in integrity, to build trust & confidence that I will continue to come back, week after week, as I promise. Consistency has been and will continue to be a key component to building a yoga and meditation community at Heartside that is understood to be safe and welcoming without judgement or expectation. Every week these relationships are being built one cup of coffee, one conversation, one breath, one pose at a time. And thanks to the generosity of lululemon, EmbodyGR is Here To Be in the Heartside for one full year!
These first four weeks at Heartside Ministry have been informative, challenging, and inspiring. I learned that coffee is more important than just about anything to the neighbors. And this is one thing that instantly bonds us...love of java! First thing Monday morning, we grab a cup of coffee, take a seat, and then, just maybe, they are willing to talk. I have found offering a simple smile, a gentle hello & good morning, along with a little "it's nice to see you" opens the door of possibility. It is from there where we must begin. Looking eye to eye, they try to read me, to understand why I am there in the first place, and perhaps look for reasons not to trust me. I gaze kindly back at them, seeing only their humanity, offering love and acceptance.
Day 1: My first conversation was with a man who immediately approached me asking "Are you the Consumer's Energy lady?" Ha.. I responded. "No, I'm Dana, a yoga & meditation teacher." He shook his head as he walked away saying, "I am more into pilates." End of conversation. Ouch. Okay. I said, “nice to meet you” to his back, yet I am quite certain we will talk again.
I have always known yoga "isn't about the pose" and my first month at Heartside has been revolutionary in a new understanding. I have come to see that to even consider getting to the pose, a relational foundation of trust must be built between me and the neighbors. Week by week we are getting there...drinking coffee, learning names, hearing stories, laughing, and working to build trust. We have been able to hold space in a circle, create personal intentions, breathe collectively, and move slowly and simply doing chair yoga. We have been able to share both our joys and our struggles. We have shared our eyes, our hearts, and connected our humanity. From that place I believe it is possible to feel safe enough to begin a journey together of healing, growth and transformation. Yoga and meditation are the tools we are beginning to explore that offer a sense of happiness, peace and the possibility of hope that life can change for the better! I am grateful. I am honored. I am humbled to do this beautifully challenging work.
All love and goodness,
“The EmbodyGR community embraces and supports, says ‘yes you can’ when the noisy inner voice says, ‘no you can’t’ – Kari Wilson, Community Member