Miksang in Austin:
What the kids are giving us…
by Jacob Lorfing email
Here in Austin, Texas, we’ve been teaching Miksang contemplative photography in a local juvenile detention facility for the past eight months. We have now expanded that effort to at-risk teens in one of the public high schools, and we’re having an amazingly good time! Adding to our amazement, both projects, originally funded through generous individual donations, are now supported by the juvenile justice and education systems!
At the Gardner Betts detention facility, we offer five-week classes to groups of 8-10 boys or girls, ages 14-17. We meet the teens on the locked units where they live, dayrooms surrounded by adjoining individual cells. The kids are mostly drug- and gang-involved, poor, failing in schools and in the community. There are four of us Shambhalians involved in the project, and we provide cameras and offer basic tutelage in photography and in Miksang presence and appreciation of the ordinary world.
Believe me, the world of a juvenile lockup is ordinary, in the most institutional of ways! Assignments are given (color, texture, pattern, light, etc.) – we show lots of photos – and then we all, adults and kids alike, explore and play together. There’s a lot of “Wow, look at this….” and “check this out!” Student photos are downloaded and reviewed on a large-screen TV, with lots of supportive but honest feedback and wonderment, celebrating that even their mundane world is fascinating and intriguing, and celebrating their eyes, minds, and skills. Large blowups of their photos are displayed on the facility walls, and at discharge each student leaves with a mounted photo enlargement and a CD of all their images. Plans continue to involve some of the kids in activities through Shambhala and Miksang, post-release.
We don’t consider our efforts to be “Shambhala outreach” that frames what we do in terms of “us” and “them.” Each of us on our small team of volunteers feels deeply privileged to be doing this work. We look at it not so much as “going out,” but as “joining in.” We have special offerings to make, but so do these kids – their lives are extraordinarily difficult, and in contrast, ours are so easy and privileged. Together, we’re all touching into the same magic.