Updated: Apr 21
After leaving the trap (a trap is a secure space where one door closes behind the volunteers and another door opens in front of us leading inside the prison walls, electrified wire, and guard towers), the remotely actuated door opens to a pathway lined by yellow, red and multi-colored tulips. The smell of fresh cut grass mingles with the cool fresh air, and the sky is patched with threatening dark clouds, occasionally revealing bright blue sky. I arrive at my destination, “the battle room,” where our meditation class is held. There are eight of us, and I take a broom and clean the floor. A couple of the inmates removed some chairs, set up the portable shrine, arranged the meditation cushions, and distributed the chants.
We do the Buddhist morning chants and sit for 15 minutes. Then a get-well card is passed around for another meditation volunteer with a knee replacement. We discussed whether or not I could take the card outside the prison walls and give it to our friend. We decided that it was against the prison regulations and that if I got caught, I would lose my right ever to visit the prison again. So, they will keep the card, wait until that volunteer returns, and then give it to him.
We talked about “letting go.” I read a lovely passage that a great Tibetan Buddhist master wrote about the nature of the mind. When we grasp our thoughts, they become solid concepts like frozen water. Through meditation, we can allow our thoughts to come and go without clinging to them, and how that is like allowing our concepts to thaw and become like flowing water. We talked about how being in the present moment with mindful awareness provides us with a spacious, relaxing, peaceful perspective that allows us to let go. And we talked about how the demands and obstacles of our post-meditation life to test us.
We talked about how prison life is a great challenge, and the guys expressed their appreciation and good fortune to have meditation practice as part of their prison life. We discussed how circumstances, whether hard or easy, pleasant or painful, are an opportunity to practice awareness, kindness, and compassion. And we talked about how taking direct responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions is another way of saying we are willing to Let Go of our ingrained habitual patterns.
We meditated for 10 minutes contemplating the “letting go” state of mind. We ended with the dedication of merit chants. We’re getting ready to move from the “battle room” to a new space in another building (the battle room is below the chapel that has amplified church music that is quite distracting for our practice). The new practice space is quiet and will undoubtedly aid our meditation practice.
Report from a prison dharma volunteer.