The hostel where I’ve been staying this week was once a hospital for treating tuberculosis, and later housed patients suffering from mental health problems.
For me, and many others who are attending the workshop with me, the building virtually immediately seemed to display a powerful energy – and not what I felt was a positive one.
We cannot know what may or may not have happened here – and it’s easy to make assumptions, especially in a building that’s been required by regulation to keep its 1960s institutional look, even down to 1950s NHS style beds in one of the rooms – but such a common and strong feeling can’t be ignored.
One or two of my fellow visitors have spoken of having strange dreams or feelings of discomfort. I would not be surprised if there’s been occasional confusion and possibly some tension too among our number .
I must confess that I’ve felt very tired throughout my stay (although that could be unrelated to place). Last night, as I was attempting to fall asleep, I felt a tingling over my body, in one or two places pricking strongly like a burning. Might I have picked up on a memory of electric shocks that might have been endured here, or was just my imagination at play?
Whatever the case, I am sure that buildings store memories, and I fear that like so many institutions of the past century, this place may number among those that have witnessed some disturbing scenes.
Last night I read on the ABC (Australian) news website that a cardinal in the State of Victoria is being investigated for alleged sexual abuse. It comes in the same week that a TV documentary uncovered supposed mistreatment of young teenagers in a correction facility in the Northern Territory. Similar stories of alleged and often confirmed abuse in care homes, hospitals, and church houses in the UK and elsewhere are all too common.
I have long believed that one of society’s most vital roles is to protect its most vulnerable citizens. We might only imagine how many horror stories remain unknown. How many more are suffering at the hands of the very people who are meant to be protecting them?
Over the past couple of days I’ve pondered what I or my fellows here might do to try to help heal this place. I realised that I couldn’t go too far in inviting participation from the group. But my experience last night also reminded me that it can be very dangerous to attempt to take on suffering , then to process, and give back what has been transformed into love from others’ pain (a practice that Buddhists call Tonglen, and what I believe is what Christians mean when they talk about Jesus taking on the sufferings of the world). This takes a huge heart, and the total protection and offering of the invincible love of The Divine.
Perhaps often the best that the far less strong like me can do is pray and ask for whatever healing we can when we come to places with auras of a troubled past. This may only be a small step toward opening the door to a better future, but it is a step nonetheless.
A peace conference starts here this weekend, the day after we leave (peace work is a key purpose of the centre). May peace be found here for the unheard and the unseen. May peace come not just where there is dissent now, but where memories of the past are still alive and raw. May we who’ve visited this week have made one small contribution toward that aim.