We arrived at the chapel, set up our meditation cushions and greeted the class participants with warmth and friendship. The guys reciprocated in kind. We took our seats and meditated for 15 minutes. As is customary, we allowed the guys to “check in” and share how they were doing, how their meditation practice had been going and any other personal stuff they wanted to share. As usual there was some pensiveness, anxiety and worry about their situations. The pressure of prison life in a ultra-high security prison is hard to fathom, let alone describe. On top of that, they carry on their shoulders the struggle, shame, and guilt of the crimes they have committed and the negative patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that often creep back unnoticed.
We began a discussion about embracing our habitual patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. We defined “embracing” as a non-judgemental spacious acceptance that is infused with awareness. We defined “habitual patterns” as the unconscious, reactive, judgemental way we identify and grasp at phenomena that arise in our minds and environment. We also touched on the notion of addictive behaviors that seem to arise from identifying and contracting around our thoughts and emotions that in turn reinforce the habitual patterns. We talked about how our meditation practice is a very ordinary yet powerful method that allows us to embrace the habitual patterns with awareness, allowing us to take full and conscious responsibility for them. One guy was clearly touched by our conversation and shared how he sometimes holds (embraces) certain difficult and painful past experiences in a “sacred space” for periods of time. He said that it was a form of contemplation for him that made him feel very tender and vulnerable. He said he almost always felt refreshed, recharged and more alive after that contemplation. Another guy expressed delight and excitement at the possibility that he could really take practical steps towards transforming himself in a positive way by practicing meditation. A third guy had tears in his eyes…he couldn’t speak.
We began a second meditation period that lasted for 15 minutes. During this meditation the guys were reminded several times to place their attention on their breath, in and out, and when they notice being absorbed in thought or emotion, to touch/embrace it, then to let go, and return to placing their attention on the breath. The correction officer signaled the end of our class. We parted by embracing each other with smiles, handshakes and a few friendly words.