Anna Halprin Came to Our Shabbat Sangha

Antique Israeli NecklaceLast Friday, Anna Halprin came to our Shabbat Sangha. My good friends, Maryanne and David, open their homes on the first Friday of the month for a group of us to come together and build a community.

We gather in the kitchen around 6:45 PM and set out our delicious plates to share with each other. This time is truly precious because we take the time to greet and hug each other in meaningful delight.

At 7:00, we sit for ten to fifteen minutes of silent meditation. Sometimes someone leads a short guided meditation.

This is followed by a scrumptious meal and an opportunity to chit-chat. After we complete our meals, we begin our sharing experience. We pass a small turquoise ball in a random sequence to each of the gathered friends. The person who holds the ball shares deeply from their hearts, not unlike dharma sharing in sanghas and retreats in the Plum Village tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Anna came dressed with an antique necklace that everyone admired. It is pictured here. She looked lovely and no one could believe that she is 94 years old. She keeps telling us that she is 95, however.

When it was my turn to share, I told about my deep connection with Anna. The support group she led in 1997 at Marin General Hospital for cancer patients lasted for about eight months. For me, it was one of the most important and memorable experiences of my healing journey through my first episode of muscle invasive bladder cancer.

At each class, Anna would choose a theme and music and invite us to dance. We were to do as much or as little as we could to follow her instructions.

Then she would have us sit down and take a sheet of 24″ by 36″ blank newsprint paper and use crapas to express our feelings in a drawing. One memorable drawings I did was on April 1, 1997. Six flowers popped out of a green field. As I stared at the drawing, which you can see here, I felt a need to label each flower with one of my root teachers. The first five were Father Eli, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Buddha, Gabrielle Roth, and Thich Nhat Hanh. When I got to the sixth flower, it could only be me!

Anna ended the class in late June with a celebration in her beautiful home studio and deck on Mount Tamalpais. We had a lovely time and we really wanted to continue.

Recently, Anna told me that she could no longer bear witness to so many people who came to the class and then died.

When Anna was honored with the Pioneering Award in Integrative Medicine by the Institute for Heal and Healing (IHH) in 2009, my wife and I were invited to attend, along with Judy, another member of our Shabbat Sangha. As we walked into the vestibule of the ballroom in the hotel where the event was held, I saw Anna standing by herself.

I walked over to her to give her a big welcoming hug and congratulated her on winning the award. She exclaimed with great excitement, “Jerome! You’re still alive!” I was so happy to see her and reconnect.

When it became Anna’s turn to share at our Shabbat Sangha, she gracefully said something like this, “Jerome, I dedicate this to you. This is something I’ve never told you before. After the IHH event, I resumed teaching cancer patients again because you did survive!”

I was greatly moved by her words, her compassion, and her sincerity. Everyone else was also. To think that my survival from cancer inspired Anna to continue teaching caused me to feel tremendous compassion and gratitude that other people may have benefited from my experience.

Now, even more people have an opportunity to benefit from my experience as my new book, Healing with the Seven Principles of Mindfulness: How to Thrive and Succeed in a Complex Cancer System has been sent off to publishers.

Will you please help me spread the word about how people can survive in a complex cancer system? First of all, please share!

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