by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
met Irisha Pomerantzeff several years ago; we were both involved with
a group of people looking to establish some sort of community living
situation. Irisha specifically wanted to create a healing center on
land in the area. She had already begun working with a young man, 21
year old Dominique, who was born with Cerebral Palsy. She started out
working through Turning Point Services, helping his parents care for
him in their home in Fairview. Today Dominique lives full-time with
Irisha at her home in Hot Springs. Over the years I have seen Dominique
infrequentlyperhaps two or three times per year. When we three
met recently to talk about Irishas work, I had not seen him in
more than 6 months. I was, frankly, astonished at the changes in his
physical abilities and his personality. Dominique is now almost 26 years
old; he is completely dependent on others for his daily needs: feeding,
drinking, diapering, moving him from place to place. As recently as
two years ago, I experienced him as a profoundly handicapped personlittle
or no response to his environment, nearly complete inability to move
with any volition, subject to difficult and frequent seizures. Today
he is so clearly improved that I would term it a miracle. His eyes are
aware, he has much more coordination in his movementsIrisha has
even taught him to do a modified sit-up that he clearly relishes accomplishing.
Following are excerpts from our talks and from writings she sent me
about her experiences caring for Dominique and her goals for him and
others like him.
the start I knew to recognize the gift Dominique is to those around
him. From the start I knew there really isnt anything wrong with
him. Nothing to fix. His mind may not work like most peoples but
his heart is open, always hearing. He is perfect in this role he chose
for himself. His purpose in life seems to be that of mirroring, always
mirroring, in an effort to promote and create harmony, truthfulness
and love. This knowing has afforded him enormous recognition and validation.
And as I say these things, I recognize the need and importance of repeating
theses things to him again, as 6 years of routine and rote, 6 years
of struggle with an unwieldy body tend to obfuscate the life and splendor
of this most giving being.
Dominiques success has been a great source for his own fulfillment,
it has been a huge source for my own personal transformation and my
growing experience of mindful living and unconditional love. This work
has afforded me a continuously deepening experience of myself, it has
offered me daily opportunities to face and embrace both my dark and
my light sides as well as the negative and positive within me and its
reflection around me. This work has, and continues to bring me closer
to Who I Really Am, more and faster than anything else Ive undertaken
in my life. I dare hope I am becoming a more compassionate person in
my entire universe. And it had to start with me. It had to start with
me being compassionate toward myself. He has no problem forgiving me
my shortcomings. I do. And in forgiving myself, deeply, I am able to
recognize, understand and forgive the same in others, whether with respect
to their behavior with Dominique or with respect to anything else. (I
am still working on Bush!
hmmm, on myself that is!)
started working with Dominique almost 6 years ago. In those days he
never looked into anyones eyes. In the beginning he was sad and
withdrawn most of the time. Today he is mostly happy and responsive.
He displays much more subtle emotions, reactions, laughter and interest.
His body as well is capable of feats he didnt come near 6 years
ago. Just recently Dominique had a sustained interaction with me for
an entire 10 minutes. This has never happened since Ive known
him. For 10 minutes he responded to me via smiles, almost giggles, and
eyes that were so wide and alert! His eyes were full of expression and
relatedness. To have witnessed this is my greatest reward so far for
my work with him!
did this come about? For almost 6 years Ive had to communicate
with Dominique non-verbally. Thats akin to conversing with, say,
a dog, a cat, etc. about their daily needs, their bodily needs, their
emotional needs, their every need. His body needed strengthening. I
bought him a pair of sunglasses, as direct sunlight seemed to hurt his
eyes. Soon we discarded the syringe and began drinking straight from
the cup, increasing the amount of intake, slowly but surely. His diet
needed some adjustments and modifications. I made sure it had diverse
tastes, different colors and textures, more raw foods, more fiery stuff.
From typical male striped clothes we went to the girls department
to find soft, bright colorful garments. Massage and bowel movements
became a daily routine. Some 6 months later, he moved into my house
and began frequenting the Hot Springs Spa on a weekly basis. His body
relaxed, he gained weight, and he relished attentively every night as
I read James and the Giant Peach to him before sleep.
began to feel I was his friend. He was ecstatic to trade his seat in
the recliner towards the passenger seat in my Honda Civic and go places.
He manifested his enthusiasm with loud sounds and broad smiles. We went
to Satsangs, meditations, parks, waterfalls, pot lucks, movies... and
everywhere we went friends recognized him for the beautiful being that
he is. Slowly he dared replace the scowl on his face when seeing strangers
with inquisitiveness and trust.
In the end, Dominique is communicating back and not just to me, but
more and more with those whom he knows well and with whom there is an
established trust. Before, he never looked into anyones eyes.
But trust was established. He looked into my eyes. He looked into his
speaking of trust, my most intense apprenticeship has been in the area
of tolerance. I used to think that what was required was patience. How
else can any one repeat the same task everyday, sometimes for several
hours each task, day in day out? He could know perfectly well how to
drink one minute, and in the next not know. He could be doing splendidly
well, laughing, happy, all systems on and working, then in a split second,
out of nowhere, comes a seizure, and in an instant, all that is gone:
sometimes for an hour, sometimes for days, and in the past for weeks.
Six years ago, very short drinks (3 oz), lasted for hours. Today, long
drinks (18 oz), usually take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour on
a good day. On so-so days the same drink can take up to 3 hours. On
really bad days, one drink can take all day
The one most difficult aspect for me to accept is Dominiques physical
resistance to everything. Even when he wants to do something his body,
his motor skills, are resistant. Relax, Dominique! are my
most commonly used words just about any dayI couldnt count
them, they are in the hundreds. He relaxes and then we have to do it
again. I used to think of Gods patience towards us humans, always
resisting his love, always resisting trust of All That Is. No,
thats not the most difficult thing to accept. Its the seizures.
Recently I realized its not patience thats required its
tolerance. Its both, but tolerance is harder and more encompassing.
seizures! My goodness! They used to be numerous. Today, they are not
rare but they are few and are either isolated or go in cycles. He rarely
has more than 3 in a day and often goes for weeks at a time without
one. Yet when he does have them in a grouping and his body and motor
skills quickly deteriorate, I often feel exasperated, frustrated at
least. In one instant, everything changes. His well-being changes, our
plans change, the color of the day changes. How I deal with this frustration
influences Dominiques trust of me and through me of people in
general. It influences how much eye contact he has with others and how
much happiness he can experience.
seizures are very interesting. According to my chiropractor, they are
the result of over stimulation of the brain. This appears true on a
physiological level and thats how they can be treated physically.
Yet there are so many other levels and so many different reasons for
them to happen. So many times, Dominique has made quantum leaps after
a seizure. So many times they are a form of release. So many times,
it seems like he goes into a black hole and gets reworked, gets informed.
So many times, it seems like he is having sex in another dimension.
And so many times, it would seem better for him not to have them at
all. Yet its also true that after each time Dominique has been
very ill, which manifests in numerous seizures, Dominique has grown
exponentially. It appears that seizures are a form of letting go, a
form of death and a rebirth. Everything that is dark, negative, fearsome,
unworkable is spit out as a prelude to a new beginning, a quantum leap
into a higher frequency.
after looking at all the work we have done together, I can say that
what makes him feel good and thriving are the same things that also
make you and me feel good and thriving: being recognized, being acknowledged,
being heard, being loved! Approximately a year ago I realized people,
including me, ask him questions but do not wait for the answer. Sometimes
it takes several minutes, many minutes for him to come up with the answer.
And then, what good is it to answer, if no one is listening? [And I
would add that in our culture, we only acknowledge and are comfortable
with verbal answers; we dont really know what to do with the non-verbal
have quickly understood Dominique heals as soon as I do. He has less
to do as I heal, as anyone heals. He no longer has to react. Dominique
has a capacity to fluctuate his physical well being according to how
people in his environment deal with their own issues. To the degree
that we look at our issues, dealing with them and being honest with
them, he is OK. The minute I deviate from my own truth, he reacts. This
is the way he interacts with his surroundings. Yet it is not the end
result that seems to affect him, it is the honesty during the process.
work with Dominique has become, when I let it happen, a living meditation.
All of my animals participate. I have also noticed how the birds have
come to signal and alert me to Dominiques calling. For example,
one day, I was weed eating, making a lot of noise. My weed eaters
string got eaten up, and I had to stop because the string got enmeshed
and I had to manually get the string out. When I stopped the machine,
I noticed the birds where frantically screaming around the house. I
thought of Dominique and went to see. Indeed it wasnt the cats.
Dominique needed to be changed. I could tell he had just relieved himself.
As I responded to the birds call by taking care of Dominiques
need, the birds became silent and went on with their normal business
of eating... I was amazed. The entire universe, and even the weed eater,
when I listened, was talking to us. Iwecan choose to be
is not my son, and never will be. Yet I know him like my son, I feel
him like my son. I know, whether I am in the room with him, or outside,
whether I am awake or asleep, I know when he needs my assistance, or
anyones assistance to burp, to come out of a seizure. He knows
this and relies upon it. It has given him and me the ability to create
non-verbal, occasionally vocal, vocabulary for some of his
daily needs. In the end Dominique is increasingly communicating back,
not just about his daily needs, not just to me but to all, though it
is true he does it better with those whom he knows well and trusts.
would like to continue caring for Dominique and provide him with a good
home where he can best self-express. I would like to create an environment
where such caring would extend to others. From this environment, Dominique
and others will find their unique voice to speak to other caregivers,
to their families, and to anyone who would like to hear.
this purpose, I would like to find a person, or persons who would come
into this picture and help. I would like for our work to be filled with
celebration and fun but also with contemplation and accountability.
I would like to fill our house with music and play yet with silence
and exercise as well.
live on slightly more than 3 acres of organic, beautiful land. With
a large pond filled with frogs and fish, a small enclosed garden intended
to grow larger with time, flower gardens, wooded areas, creeks, knolls
and views, the land is of several dynamics and feelings.
would like for the people on this land to evolve into a mindful and
sustainable way of living and create a microcosm of peace, compassion
With time I envision a small center to enable the disabled (CP and Autism)
which would be a nucleus for a greater retreat for people in general
who would like to come and learn innovative ways to work with the handicapped,
and/or to simply to immerse themselves into a way of life that falls
back on who we really are and what we are here to be.
is an artist, musician, gardener and healer who is currently living
in Hot Springs. She has lived on several continents and speaks four
languages. [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]