Updated: Apr 21
It is a different environment to teach meditation than
a Buddhist temple or city center. Coming there and passing through gate after gate, barbed wire on top of the high fences and security controls, leaving id-card, phone, and everything but some handouts.
A guard shows us to a room we quickly put together with chairs in a circle. It’s a tiny room, so we must put away the walking meditation plan. We can hardly get everyone in there if all 13 inmates who have shown interest will come to the class.
Then the people show up and fill the room; we greet them all when they enter and offer them a chair. After a short presentation, we start with a “holding your seat” meditation for 1 minute. I give the instructions and wonder how it will work out… After 30 seconds, I notice one big muscular guy shaking a bit and sweat pouring down his neck. And I see how I have forgotten how strong defenses we sometimes have built up. Today it’s such an ordinary thing to sit down and breathe (not always easy!), but as an instructor, it’s good to remember how it was to begin once. The first time I sat down on a cushion, I started to hyperventilate – and continued to do so for the 20 minutes I sat there! I am very grateful for this man helping me to remember this.
After the first meditation, we talked through the Path of Trouble and the Path of Freedom. The guys start to share – some more “programme used” than others, some more insecure than others. And some try to get cheap laughs when it’s too difficult to sit there. But the atmosphere is good and focused. When we do the last sitting meditation – they can both see that it’s difficult and that several feel relaxed. For the final Q and A round, some questions about how to do it. We point to the daily routine, the small-step approach, the possibility of doing one daily activity as meditation (leaving the urine sample as meditation was one old guy's suggestion!), and to keep a gentle approach. The gym analogy also landed well – the training of the mind is not much different from training the biceps. Everyone has their own experience of that.
The one thing that was a bit of a mishap was the difficulty of communication through an institution. One of the guys where so happy that we were there. He had made his own meditation pallet and really looked forward to sitting with others on a weekly basis. When we said that we could start up the actual Path of Freedom program in January he got really frustrated and sad since he’s leaving the prison at X-mas. We had been very clear to the prison staff about that, but the information hadn’t found its way to the prisoners. It was the prison staff's suggestion that we come for a couple of introductions in the fall and then start up in January. I guess this stuff is bound to happen to work with giant institutions, but still – one doesn’t want it to.
The staff that was with us during the class (two of them) thought it worked very well and was way above their expectations. That proves it is a program and an attitude that works in this environment.
Pake, POF Facilitator, Sweden