This was the “Tibetan” buddhist Sunday at the prison. We did the “Shambhala chants” and then sat for about 20 minutes. There were 8 guys present. 7 of them are “members” of the Theravadin group. One is a “member” of the Tibetan group and two of them consider themselves Zen buddhists first.
I spoke about lojong practice which is a Tibetan mind training practice. “Leaning into” our experience is a key principle in lojong practise. I talked about experience and focused on suffering side of experience. Both physical and psychological. Kind of a flash of our painful experience and our person “story” or drama. Then talked about Bearing Witness to our experience which includes our emotions and dramas. A kind of acknowledgement and gentle attention to our suffering and confusion. Then discussed Relaxing with our stories and emotions and giving them lots of room to naturally settle. Not trying to fix them or ignore them, but let them be as they are. And finally learning out to simply accept our experience as it is. This led to a discussion including the understanding that “others” also suffer and we all share this experience. How we can feel sympathy and connection to others whose experience is the same or very similar to ours. We talked a bit about tonglen practice (a Tibetan practice of exchanging oneself for others) but did not have enough time to practice it. During the next class we may try practicing some tonglen. During our conversation a couple of slogans (helpful short phases that support our mind training during our daily routine) naturally arose related to what we were talking about which I elucidated upon.
One inmate gave an analogy of “Leaning In” which I liked quite a bit. He was a downhill skier. He said that skiing down a steep mountain with mogels (very bumpy terrain) our inclination is to lean backwards because of our speed and hesitation because the snow mounds are constantly arising very quickly. But Leaning In is much more appropriate because you have more control of your skis and are able to make quick adjustments and turns from side to side around the snow mounds. He said that it requires some fearlessness to go against ones habitual inclination to lean back. I liked that analogy!! I asked him if I can use it in my future talks. We had a brief discussion about copy rights and he finally relented 🙂
Overall the discussion was lively, engaged and joyful with some suffering and hesitation included along the way.