Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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The Kwan Yin House of Compassion

As I've been developing storylines with characters who have a wide range of self-destructive behaviors (Shiv, Cassandra, Keane, Turq, etc.) I've looked over many resources and talked with readers who have previously or are currently struggling with similar issues. I'm particularly interested in what helps, what doesn't, and what makes matters worse. Also, I'm aware that Terramagne-America handles a lot of things in community which have only clinical resources in local-America, or more often, nothing at all.

What I found was this totally awesome place ...

Warning for discussion of self-harm and other maladaptive coping methods, but the refuge itself is lovely to behold.

Newly opened in Onion City is this support center for people with self-harm issues, the Kwan Yin House of Compassion. It functions primarily as a sanctuary for them, designed to meet their actual needs, based on things that survivors of self-harm have said helped them or would have been helpful. It is not required that visitors identify themselves, register their problems, hand over implements of self-injury, seek treatment, or even talk to anyone. It's just a refuge. Many flavors of help are available to those who want some, but they're offered on a no-pressure basis. The House of Compassion also provides a convenient focus for friends, family members, and volunteers who wish to help anyone with self-injury issues. It is supported by charitable donations.

(These links are intense, sometimes graphic and controversial.)
Self-harm can happen for many reasons. It has practical benefits in terms of grounding and pressure relief. Self-injury is one way to accomplish that, but it has drawbacks. It can also isolate people, especially if others around them react badly to discovery or disclosure of it. Conversely, some people self-injure in groups. Sharing with others who self-harm can offer support and make people feel less alone with their issues.

In dealing with self-injury, what works and what doesn't? The use of no-harm contracts in therapy has raised serious concerns, because it can make matters worse. Often it imposes on a relationship that doesn't exist yet, and thereby prevents the formation of a supportive relationship between therapist and client. It also demands that people solve their own problems before they are permitted any help for their problems! The results of this can be disastrous. It happens less often in Terramagne-America than in local-America, but it still happens.

Here is what cutters and their supporters say about self-harm; it's always best to get an inside perspective on issues if you can. Understand what self-harmers want you to know. There are questions you can ask to help someone talk about cutting if they have trusted you enough to let you know in the first place. The Hurt Yourself Less Workbook was designed by and for people who hurt themselves and want to reduce it. There are many other coping skills that people have found helpful instead of hurting themselves. Browse some tip sheets tailored for different people who might know someone with self-harm issues.

Trauma-informed care accounts for the fact that many survivors of trauma don't tell about it, and that they are prone to self-destructive behavior, rages, and other negative coping strategies. It also recognizes communal trauma and offers interventions, a key issue given that two of the bottom-ten countries, North Korea and China, belong to Asia. These factors played into the foundation of the Kwan Yin House of Compassion as a pan-Asian refuge. Terramagne-America makes much better use of evidence-based care, and has higher standards of defining best practices. There are tips for trauma survivors, therapists dealing with traumatized clients, and parents of traumatized children.

Although the Kwan Yin House of Compassion includes a number of nuns and monks among its staff, mostly various flavors of Buddhists, it is not primarily a religious facility and some of the staff are not religious at all. There are many different practices among Buddhist clergy, and people argue over what is allowable or not. Some use money, or work, or vehicles, although other orders prohibit it. It's no accident that the more oppressive Asian cultures sometimes drive clergy out of the country into western cultures less supportive of Asian traditions. They're hoping that it will force people back into the secular life. But religion can be surprisingly adaptable, and the variety of practices is a reflection of changing needs and contexts. The Kwan Yin House of Compassion is therefore a mix of traditions and techniques. The spiritual approach is one of direct service rather than seclusion. Clergy there accept money for the House but not for individuals. They live simple lives and use some forms of work (such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening) as meditation. They use bicycles for personal transport and moving meditation, with a single minivan shared by all the staff. It is not required for staff outside the clergy to follow the same rules, but they often lean in similar directions.

Although the Kwan Yin House of Compassion offers a variety of therapies from bodywork to counseling, it is not primarily a medical facility. However, it does count as "in care" for the purpose of showing that people seeking help there are addressing their difficulties instead of ignoring those. That means they can't be dragged away by police or doctors against their will, unless they pose an immediate and serious danger to themselves or others, beyond the staff's coping ability. This makes it a safe place to take shelter, seek first aid for injuries, to talk with counselors experienced in treating self-harm, to disclose the problem to friends or family members, to take comfort after telling someone, to cry, to find refuge from outside pressures that make people want to hurt themselves, and so forth.

Kwan Yin (Guanyin, Kwannon, etc.) is a bodhisattva or Buddhist goddess of compassion, whose name means "she who hears the weeping of the world." In Burmese, the name of Guanyin is Kwan Yin Medaw, literally meaning Mother Kwan Yin (Goddess Guanyin). Several of the staff are devotees of her path in particular. Although many other sacred symbols appear throughout the House, hers are the most common, in assorted variations.

The Outbuilding

This is the bus stop closest to the Kwan Yin House of Compassion. The S-curve bench allows people to sit together for company, or face in opposite directions for privacy.

An outbuilding beyond the main House of Compassion holds the yoga studio and other resources for physical activities. The left side of the outbuilding's basement floor plan is the hallway shown with the personal lockers. These cubbies in the basement provide space to lock up self-harm supplies or other personal possessions by visitors who wish to secure them. The men's office and women's office offer a combination of emotional and physical first aid. The men's first aid room is adjacent to their locker room. The women's first aid room is on the other side. The locker rooms look similar for both men and women. The facility does not have a unisex locker, but does have dotties upstairs. Some QUILTBAG folks use the bathrooms behind the first aid rooms, while others go upstairs to the dotties. The trainer oversees physical activities like tai chi, yoga, and falun gong.

See the upper floor plan. The storage room adjacent to the studio holds yoga mats and other equipment. The Japanese supervisor of the outbuilding works from the back office. This area at the far end of the office serves as a breakroom for the staff. The powder room is near one corner of the outbuilding. The bathroom is beside the powder room. Small baskets are used to hold towels, washcloths, and toiletries for bathing; and for intimate supplies such as condoms and feminine hygiene products. The room is large enough to function as a family bathroom, usable by several people at once. The outbuilding holds a spacious studio used for large group activities. It offers meditation, yoga, tai chi, falun gong, and other sessions. Several small rooms provide space for a wide variety of bodywork including acupressure, acupuncture, shiatsu, and chakra balancing. This healing room has a single low bed and a coffee table. The textured tiles are made of whiteboard material so people can write on them with dry-erase markers, in this case kanji. Behind the bubble panels are programmable LED lights, which provide soft pastel lighting if desired. Another healing room has two bodywork tables. One healing room is extra-large with a single bodywork table and a small lounge. Sliding panels of bamboo and rice paper make this a favorite with guests who prefer not to be separated from their support person(s). These lockers just outside the studio provide space to lock up self-harm supplies or other personal possessions by visitors who wish to secure them. A reception desk in the outbuilding handles booking for appointments and other scheduled activities. Some activities are open to walk-in guests. A lounge provides open space for people to relax, wait, or gather for classes. The lounge also has a snack bar with healthy foods and beverages for before and after workouts.

The Main Building

The main building of the Kwan Yin House of Compassion has three stories. The entrance has layered doors to deal with Onion City's sometimes inimical weather. A help desk just inside the door provides an opportunity to greet people and assist them in finding desired resources. Signing the guestbook is optional, not obligatory. A large shrine with multiple Buddhist figures occupies part of the lobby. These lockers in the lobby of the main building provide space to secure self-harm supplies or other personal possessions for people who wish to do so. For opportunistic self-harmers who don't have preferred tools, there are globe and Earth stress balls in assorted styles which people can lock up to symbolize a desire not to hurt themselves right now.

The back door has a foyer with bike racks and small personal lockers for clothes or other equipment. The matching bikes with baskets belong to a community bikeshare. This sitting area surrounds one of the side doors to the House of Compassion. Each of the public restrooms has a row of sinks and a row of toilet stalls. The little wall where the Buddha sits is marking a place to change into toilet slippers, without leaving them outside the door for everyone to trip over; basically, like a genkan (shoe foyer) for the restroom. Some Asian cultures dislike wearing socks or outdoor shoes into the restroom.

This is the main lounge for the first floor of the House of Compassion. The kitchen includes an adjacent closet. The pantry stores a wide variety of Asian spices and staple foods such as rice. The snack room near the kitchen provides a place for visitors to eat. Hunger makes most other problems worse, so people are often directed here if they seem angry or exhausted and they haven't eaten recently. The snack room also holds one of the side doors.

The library and reading room holds about 4,000 volumes on psychology, self-harm, self-help, Buddhism, and Asian cultures. Another 1,000 additional volumes are distributed around the building. The library shelves contain many devotional objects. This shrine has a Buddha statue draped in malas. The House of Compassion has many nooks and crannies set up for meditation or silent contemplation. A tray holds an assortment of stress toys. The childcare area offers space for children whose relatives may be seeking care in the House of Compassion, or who have self-harm issues themselves. Common childhood versions include headbanging, severe nailbiting, and chewing or swallowing inappropriate objects after toddler age. A quiet corner assists children in self-soothing and emotional regulation.

The art therapy room offers a selection of organized and freestyle activities. One end of the room has large work tables, racks for displaying finished art, big sunny windows, and lots of houseplants. The sand table can be used for anything from sensory play to still-life drawings to sand tray therapy. Visitors may request a therapist to assist in more formal therapy, but many folks just play in the sand by themselves for personal expression. This station is also helpful in illustrating a conversation for people who aren't great with words. It's all good. At the beadwork station, people can make malas or other jewelry. Many people also enjoy bringing beads to trade or donate. This is good for prompting conversations, because many beads have inspiring shapes or stories behind them. Personal trauma counters can be made from beads. In group therapy, people can make the counters together. Then they set theirs according to how they feel about their trauma, the amount of support they're getting, or their mood today; or whatever else they think would be helpful for other folks to know. A counter with sinks makes cleanup easier. Shelves above the counter and cabinets below it provide storage space for tools and supplies. The far end of the art therapy room holds shelves and bins full of arts and crafts supplies. People often make malas as prayer beads, friendship bracelets, or fidgets.

Visitors can make a donation to have the holy people pray for someone. This is a key way that the monks and nuns contribute to the House of Compassion, although it's not employment in the sense of paying a specific individual for a specific job and there are no required amounts of donation. The money goes to the House as a whole, and the prayer requests go into a basket for all the clergy to share. There are several different styles of prayer offered, which people can request. One of the options is making a healing mandala from sand in the Tibetan tradition. Another is praying with incense, popular in Japan and China. Some of the Hindu women do rangoli; this design honors Green Tara, the goddess of compassionate action. Mantras appear in Hindu, Tibetan, and other traditions. Because self-harmers often feel ignored, such sensory demonstrations of care can help them feel better. It doesn't make the underlying problems go away, but does give some people more strength to deal with those and shows them ways of comfort other than hurting themselves.

The art therapy room also hosts workshops on mandalas. Most people prefer to make their mandalas with paint, which is easier to use than sand. Learn about how to make mandalas.

Among the craft projects that people often make is this kind of portable shrine. A decorative box holds a Buddha statue, incense and burner, candle and holder, mala of prayer beads, and a Khata blessing scarf. You can also make a traveling altar out of an Altoids tin decorated in various ways. This one has a picture of Kwan Yin, a vase of flowers, a mirror, a candle, incense, and an incense burner decorated with tiny seashells. This Chinese one uses the I Ching. Here is one with a prayer to Kwan Yin. This one shows her holding a scroll. Here is a healing shrine with a figurine of a nurse.

The multisensory room has colorful lights, bubble columns, fiberoptics, swings, nests, piles of pillows in all textures, and other sensory resources. It can soothe anxious people, or stimulate the senses of people who feel dissociated and numb. The incense room has a Chinese theme. Candles and incense are used for prayers. This room vents to the outside, to avoid bothering people with a sensitivity to smoke. This office belongs to the manager of the whole facility, a Tibetan Buddhist nun. The spacious area and extra furniture make it easy for her to meet with major donors or small groups. About five people can fit in front of the desk, plus the manager behind it. One end of her office contains a kitchenette inside a cabinet.

A staircase connects the levels of the building. On the second floor, the blue lounge provides an open area for people to gather and chat or relax. This is the balcony off of the blue lounge. This therapy niche provides a space for people who don't feel comfortable behind closed doors. It is popular among small groups that are iffy on trust, or survivors of therapeutic abuse, who want impartial eyes on them for safety's sake. A similar space has been set up as a reading nook. A study room near the reading nook provides desks, chairs, bookshelves, and a large viewscreen. This is the most popular place for people to go while researching self-harm or related issues.

This large quiet room has smaller alcoves lining the walls, with movable curtains so people can choose more or less privacy as desired. Each alcove holds a built-in bed and small bookcase. Drawers under the bed provide storage space. Desks and chairs in the middle of the room offer opportunities for quiet study, solo games, or other activities. The small meeting room has a neutral decoration style, unlike the many thematic rooms. This suits it for support groups and for prayer sessions in non-Asian faiths. The small meditation room can accommodate about 6-10 people. The far wall holds a Tibetan meditation niche and a trunk for holding meditation equipment. Anxiety and depression are exhausting, the things that cause them are tiresome, and headwork is tedious. The nap room provides a quiet place for people to lie down, relax, and get some rest. Repurposed from an oddly-shaped storage closet, the cry room has been completely lined with acoustic foam to render it soundproof. A U-shaped bench runs around the outer walls, with the door in the center of the front wall. It's a safe place to cry or scream as loud as desired, without bothering anyone else.

The third floor consists primarily of small to medium rooms which can be used for various personal or therapeutic purposes. Most of them have some combination of desks, tables, chairs, couches, and/or beds distinguished by decorating theme. These are popular with people who wish to meet with a counselor or talk to friends and family. The Pagoda Room has easy chairs and tables. It's favored for discussions with friends and family. The Swan Room has a desk and matching chair, plus easy chairs and an end table. The Mythical Creatures Room has a couch and a chair. This one is good for a counselor and client(s). The Wild Animals Room has a desk and matching chair plus a couch. This one is good for a counselor and client(s). The Snow Lions Room has a full-size bed and easy chair. It is favored for cuddling and other touch therapies. The Panda Room has a small niche with a desk and chair plus a larger niche with a full-size bed. It also has a small private balcony. This one is used for family therapy, including cuddle therapy. The offset spaces make it ideal for shy people who don't want to see or be seen by someone while talking. The Forest Room has two twin beds side by side. It's good for people who like to talk while lying down. The Nomads Room is the biggest therapy room. It has a desk with matching chair, two easy chairs, and two twin beds. This one is used for small group and family therapy, including cuddle therapy. The Tibet Room has two twin beds, end tables, an easy chair, and an ensuite bathroom. It is suitable for families, especially pregnant or nursing women and small children who need a bathroom more often than most people do.

The Tibetan nun who manages the Kwan Yin House of Compassion has a bedroom with a plain bed and a Buddha painted on the wall. On the far side of the room from the bed, an old Tibetan cabinet holds her clothes and a few other possessions. A cupola rises above the center of the third floor. Around it you can see doors to some of the therapy rooms.

The Gardens

The Kwan Yin House of Compassion has gardens around the buildings, and they stand next to a park. Here you can see a large statue of Kwan Yin, a gazebo for outdoor meetings, and the park in the background. The bamboo grove holds another gazebo. A large outdoor pool offers hydrotherapy during warm weather, and serves as a gazing pool in cooler weather. This statue honors Jizo Bodhisattva. Unplanned pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, and child death are all things that can drive parents to hurt themselves. Jizo Bodhisattva looks after the departed souls of children. When people want to pray to him, they often bring a red bib and/or hat as an offering.

Self-harmers often feel useless. The Kwan Yin House of Compassion offers a work program with simple tasks such as cooking and cleaning to help people feel productive. Outdoors, volunteers often help take care of the Zen garden or the moss garden. Taking time to explore a sense of purpose can also help people stop feeling useless and become more useful. This doesn't always fix the feeling of uselessness, but it does stop the fact of being useless.

The Monks' House

The Kwan Yin House of Compassion has a nearby house for the monks and other male staff who wish to live onsite. It has beds for 6 people. See the exterior and the floor plan. The black space in the lower left of the first floor plan is an outdoor parking pad. The monks and nuns share a single minivan for tasks like hauling groceries or making group trips. Their primary vehicles are bicycles, and they have indoor space for secure storage. The bike room / drying room has racks for hanging bicycles and niches underneath for storing shoes or other items. The coat closet is the long slot just above the entrance. The laundry room includes space for storing shoes. The bathrooms typically include a sink, toilet, rinsing bench, and bathtub with shower. A hallway leads to the first floor bedrooms. Bedroom 2 and Bedroom 3 each have two twin beds.

The upstairs landing has a small gathering area. The L-shaped lounge includes couches and a viewscreen. The kitchen and dining room are two halves of the same space. The parallel lounge leads into the dining room. Bedroom 1 upstairs holds two twin beds.

The Nuns' House

The Kwan Yin House of Compassion has a nearby house for the nuns and other female staff who wish to live onsite. It has 5 bedrooms with beds for 7-10 people: two double beds, two pairs of single beds, and one trundle bed. See the exterior in autumn and winter, and a floor plan. The finished basement is simply a large open space which can be used for meditation, classes, hosting feasts, or other activities. The garage has been converted into a craft room for sewing, scrapbooking, and other creative activities.

The bike room / drying room has cabinets for holding bicycles. The entrance hall includes a genkan (shoe foyer) for leaving shoes 'outside' the house proper. The lounge includes couches and a television. Bedroom 1 downstairs has a double bed. This bathroom has a sink and hooks for clothes outside the roomlet which holds the toilet and bathtub. This makes it easier for multiple people to use the bathroom at the same time for different purposes, a feature popular in large households. This bathroom has a sink, toilet, and shower room. The kitchen lies beyond the woodstove. The dining room extends into the upper storey. The tatami room looks into the dining room.

From the upper floor, you can look down into the dining room. The upstairs landing holds a little lounge with a piano. Bedroom 5 upstairs belongs to a cria and her mother, so it has a slightly brighter and more child-friendly decorating style. Bedroom 4 upstairs has two twin beds crammed into a corner. Bedroom 3 upstairs has two twin beds in a tatami room. In winter, they can be pushed together for added warmth. Bedroom 2 upstairs has a double bed.

The monks, nuns, and other staff share a single minivan for communal travel and for personal trips beyond bicycle or bus range.

The Kwan Yin House of Compassion also has a minibus for group trips and visitor transportation. See the floor plan, exterior, lift, interior, and cockpit. It was donated because the nuns were helping the daughter of a local man who runs a dealership. He asked if they would like a bus, and this is what they picked out. The wheelchair docks can be used to secure matching luggage bins or large items when not required for riders.

Read on for characters.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, poetry, reading, safety, spirituality, weblit, writing
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