Swimming with the Fishes

Updated: Apr 14



Last year we began doing our Path of Freedom (POF) classes on zoom in a few U.S. states. We recently began a new series with a group of eight men in attendance. The first POF class is always on “Training the Mind” and presents mindfulness sitting practice as a foundation of the Path of Freedom.


I began by asking the prisoners what they’ve heard about mindfulness. A few chimed in with: "Being aware.” “At ease.” “Peace of mind.” “Thoughtful."


Since the POF is a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence class, I asked if anyone had a definition for ‘emotional intelligence’?


One man said: “Maybe being able to read other people's emotions through body language or getting in touch with your own body?”


We then talked a bit about the health benefits of mindfulness including trouble sleeping as well as it’s ability to aid one with emotional distress as well as helping with focus and attention skills building. We also talked a bit about emotional reactivity and the way it ripples out.


One man responded.


“Here in a food line, when they serve some food that is disgusting, then one person in the line will start complaining and then it'll just ricochet through the whole line. And then that complaining goes on for six months straight. When I first came to this place I was like everybody else. It’s like a fish in a big aquarium with a ton of other fish, and then you throw that one little fish in there and at first the little fish is keeping all to himself, and then, the next thing you know he's swimming with the other fishes and joining in with all kinds of complaining. I'm 58 years old and I'm no better than anybody else. But, I’m around grown all these grown men behaving like that, I think to myself ‘Oh they better wake up cause they gonna end up in jail for a long time!’ I'm mindful of staying away from people and just keep to myself. I've seen lots of people get into fights in those lines. You know, basically, this thing is real what you saying (about reactivity and how it can viral out) and if you don't let it go, it'll hurt you all day long and you'll find yourself in all kinds of stupid situations And sort of think when they’re their cell they hollerin' cause this is what we do here I also see we could be doin' this for the next 5 years or more. Thank you. I appreciate this class”


After more discussion, we dove into a guided meditation and asked them afterwards what they thought.


“I feel that it, um, kind of relaxes a little bit and it's nice to make sure your mind's not racing all the time.”


“I think there's something to it (meditation) You know. It gives me something else to focus on instead of my problems. Like I said earlier, I pray five times a day, sometimes 20 times a day. I think it can help me to deal with things soI don't have to carry that weight. I see meditation is something that I can direct my focus on, my concentration on. It’s something to do is instead of counting the clock on the wall, you know. And maybe something that can help me deal with the monotony of being here, you know, going to court, all the anxiety and stuff. Instead of getting medication, I see a lot of people get medication. No, thanks, I’ll try meditation. I don't need to drug my mind. I'll stay in the class and see how it works for me.“


"This is something that if I was practicing it when I was outside I probably wouldn't be here (in jail). It's like you said. I can, stop. Catch a breath. Wait. It's not all that bad. It's not that big of a thing."


“I get what you're saying--meditation, is something we can do to offset the situation. It's how we can move move these things around. Instead thinking about the bad and we can use our mind to get calm. When we overthink, we bombard ourselves and instead of that we can learn to just go with the flow.”


“I really, really, really need movement, after being in just one place all the time my body needs to move. Prayers helped me tremendously, but sometimes I need a little bit more. I need balance. I know I got it in me. And I can move my body, my mind, everything, just with the breathing.”


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