Men’s minimum feels a wee chaotic and it was clear from the start that things run more loosely. For one thing, much of the population leaves each day on work release so the energy is more frenetic than in a place where everyone is settling in for the long haul. Nevertheless I settled into a dingy classroom as the C.O. went to call in the remaining members of our former class. Six of the seven guys showed up, greeting me with genuine enthusiasm and a lot of “What took you so long?!” All of my frustrations of trying to get into this place vanished right then. Stephen (my co-teacher) appeared at the door and we were ready to dive in.
Having missed three weeks, we offered the men a choice on what we would cover: conflict, pain or forgiveness. Universally they all chose forgiveness. So we dove into the topic, emphasizing that in this work we aren’t talking so much about forgiveness for the sake of the person we are forgiving, but rather forgiveness as a path of healing ourselves and moving on. Forgiveness, in other words, as a path of freedom.
We talked about what we do when we don’t forgive– which usually means being stuck in the blame game (all agreed that that game eats you away inside) and stuck in old grievance stories of betrayal and woe. We noted that by not forgiving, we give free space to someone in our heads– usually someone we really don’t like– and how that doesn’t make much sense. And we also talked about the unenforceable rules that set us up for that scenario– how we run around the world with an assumption that everyone else should be following our set of rules about how the world should work. Every time someone violates one of those rules, we are surprised and angry, even though the rule was all along totally unenforceable. This seemed to hit home for the guys.
Then one of the participants noted that for him, forgiving the guy who “got him into prison” wasn’t the problem. He said for him the problem was that he would forgive AND forget (usually in the context of “drinkin’ & druggin'”) and then he would end up in the same situation again. “That’s why the breath is so important,” he said. “It gives you time to stop and remember.”
We also talked a bit about choosing to be a hero rather than a victim (a similar notion to stepping off the Drama Triangle and into the “co-creator” role). At Moran the night before Fleet had talked about using the Hero’s Journey as a metaphor for time in prison: You find yourself away from home in a dangerous place and you go through all these trials and tribulations and — if you choose to take the hero’s route (big emphasis on IF YOU CHOOSE)– you end up with all these new gifts and strengths to bring home to your life and to the world. We closed the discussion by talking about choice and how this whole class was about using mindfulness to help give you the power to choose.
Stephen then led a half hour of yoga –during which about 10 different guys walking by asked how they could get into the class. We then finished with a guided meditation focusing on gratitude (the antidote to grudge holding) at the end. I closed noting that one of my favorite yogic sayings is “May we live like the lotus at home in the muddy water.” I use this quote often in my class in the women’s prison as it always strikes me as incredibly apt for the setting but I had never thought of using it with the men. As we went around the room sharing appreciations, one of the men noted that he really appreciated the saying and that he would remember it.
May we ALL live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water…