Saturday, June 11, 2005

Two Tales of Boats

Some folks have heard Tale One before by telephone or what have you but not all. I thought it might be good to document it anyway. Also it may be interesting to do a little compare and contrast with Tale Two.

Tale One:

One day while in the middle of class Marcus who was supposed to be doing either vocational or kitchen work came into the school house and expressed a great deal of depression and frustration with being stuck on the island. He made some threats to try and leave the island and basically said he couldn’t take being here. He left the school and one of the school kids, Julius, asked if he could go counsel with the despaired. It is not infrequent that the boys can help each other through their problems better than a staff ever could. There’s something about the authority divide that can inhibit a lot of communication and reception of ideas. Considering this and the fact that Julius is a relatively mature and positive leadership figure among the boys I agreed to let him go counsel his friend.

I returned to working with my other student on his math. After a few minutes Julius came running back to the schoolhouse to alert, “He’s doing it! He’s taking a boat off the island!” The school is very near the area where we used to keep to boats on the beach and I knew that was where the launching would be taking place. Somewhat incredulous that this could actually be happening I jogged rather than sprinted to the beach and found Marcus pushing one of the rowboats across the sand towards the water. My initial response was to simply stand between the boat and the water and then hold the boat so he couldn’t push it any further. I started trying to talk him through the situation but Marcus got angry and walked around to push me off the boat and fight me off. Preferring not to wrestle him to the ground or box with him I formed another plan and stood out of his way.

He continued to push the boat down the beach and into the water. As soon as he put the boat in water he hopped in. Standing on the shore, I then grabbed the stern of the boat and tried to get a solid stance leaning away from the water. Marcus then tried to row but the boat wasn’t moving. I had it adequately anchored. In frustration Marcus got out of the boat and went back up to the house.

Tale Two:

There was another student who thought to escape Penikese by boat. This guy’s plan was a little more elaborate than Marcus’s.

The island has a bit of a hill shape and the main campus of the school is on the east side of the hill. Near the top of the hill we kept a couple of larger heavy wooden boats chained to each other. Mr. Betsy and his assistant Angus slipped one of these boats from the chain and over the course of an unknown number of days hauled it down to the west side of the island where they hid it in a place for convenient and secret launching.

Now with our students it is not infrequent that there are boys that when they start on our program, have a really hard time dealing with a lot of stressors involved. The work is physically hard. They are immersed in a new social environment where people are all living very close to each other. They are usually being sized up and placed on the primate hierarchy. When they are going through this stuff sometimes they run off and hide somewhere on the island to try and cope.

So on the fateful night Mr. Betsy was sitting talking with one of our staff about a task in as little time as it took the staff member to turn to another student and back, the kid was gone. For several hours it was thought that Mr. Betsy had just hid himself somewhere on the island. It was then that our office received a call from the police alerting them to what had really happened.

When he ran Mr. Betsy launched the boat and began to row his way out into Buzzard’s Bay. After a bit, what he was actually doing sort of percolated into his mind and he started to get scared and row himself back. Unfortunately, despite his rowing he was not moving towards the island. He had been caught by a strong current and was being swept further out into the bay.

We don’t really know how long any of this took but, we do know that eventually a boat out of Cuttyhunk, the island closest to Penikese, found the drifting rowboat and basically rescued the kid. Mr. Betsy told them that he’d been washed out from a harbor on mainland but they didn’t really believe him and called the police to inquire. He was turned over to the cops who got in touch with Mr. Betsy’s parents and he was eventually returned to our school. It was said that this was the only time since the school was founded in the mid-seventies that a kid escaped the island by rowboat. Maybe that’s because all the other boys have been smart enough to know they could die. Maybe.

As always, all these names are code. Duh.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Enlightenment and Attachment

I'm gonna try something new here and have a bit of an essay. If you think it sucks let me know and I'll never do it again... or something. Maybe I'll improve it.

My Zen Master says that to become enlightened you have to have an empty mind and cut thinking. Now what he means by this is not that you should have a mind with nothing in it. Instead it means having a mind that is empty in a way that gives it room enough to fit the whole universe. He says that in order to accomplish this you have to avoid and get rid of attachments. Attachment to something can cause you to think about it in a way that it takes up too much room in your mind and prevents you from being open to receiving enlightenment.

Developmental researchers have demonstrated that the way we form attachment relationships in our childhood has a big influence on our attachments in later life and in turn how our children form attachments. Through studies involving separating toddlers from parents for a time and reuniting them there are maybe three major ways that humans can form attachments. The first is when the child has an emotionally responsive parent who uses consistent non-verbal cues and consistently meets the child’s needs. In the resulting attachment the child is both stressed by the parent’s absence and is easily comforted by the parent’s return. This is considered to be a “healthy, secure” attachment.

Another version of attachment is regarded as “dismissing.” A child forms this kind of attachment when they have signaled needs to a parent who has generally failed to respond. In this case the parent does meet the child’s basic needs but fails to satisfy certain emotional needs. This process results in attachments where individuals establish no expectation that their needs will be met and so, in separation or reunion basically no stress or comforting is evident. These type of adults tend not to remember any details of their past attachment relationships particular during their childhood.

In the third version of attachment the parent’s response to the child’s needs is inconsistent and frequently involves the parent superimposing his/her mental state onto the child’s. For example the child could be having a nice day and the parent alters the child’s state by being overly upset about something when interacting with the child. These are the folk who are distraught when abandoned and are not easily comforted on being reunited with an attachment figure. These adults tend to frequently dwell on attachments of the past and allow the associated emotions to intrude on the present.

It has been shown that the brain requires some kind of attachment in order to develop properly. I have one student and an adopted little brother who are both diagnosed as having a fairly severe disorder regarding their attachments. This condition is the result of children who are so neglected as to have had even their basic needs unmet in infancy. It also frequently involves abuse. They tend not only to not care if the parent is around or not; they are resistant in the extreme to bonding with anyone. Whenever they get a sense that someone is starting to bond with them, their individualist adaptation leads them to unconsciously sabotage the attachment.

To use my student as a sort of example, he was once asked if he would be willing to never again see his best friend if he were offered a large amount of money in exchange. He said that he would say “goodbye” and do so easily because the relationship holds little value. In fact, the insecurity of being in a relationship would make the offer of money like getting paid to not endure torture.

To consider the potential for each of these to achieve enlightenment it is quite clear that the third type is in a very difficult position. They have a tendency for attachments to reemerge as negative experiences throughout life. Thereby these attachments consume the void that should become one’s mind. In some ways the fourth instance may seem the best except that where these individuals are not attached to people and tend to avoid such attachments their survival instincts are in full swing and they tend to form very strong attachments to satisfying physical needs: food, temperature, sex, etc. My student for example became a porn freak without ever looking at any. Those of the dismissive type are not too far off except for the fact that they tend to develop a strong sense of self-reliance and become obsessed or attached with work and career. It may be the best route to enlightenment through abolishing attachments is to start with healthy ones.