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The Two Wings of a Bird

I entered the prison this morning with a spring in my step and filled with joy. I noticed that the correction officers were friendly, warm and responsive to my presence. I wondered if the way I was feeling influenced my perception of how I saw others, or how I was feeling influenced how others were feeling, or if it just happened to be a coincidence that all of us were joyful and friendly this morning! I pondered and appreciated these different perspectives and simultaneously basked in the simplicity and warmth of our heartfelt connections.

As I waited for the meditation class door to be unlocked there was a steady stream of prisoners passing me on their way to the chapel to participate in the Christian service. Almost all of these guys greeted me with a warm smile as they walked by and many added “good morning and God bless you”, and I beamed back and replied “good morning and God bless you too!” Our classroom was unlocked and I helped sweep the floor and set up the meditation cushions. We started the class with some chanting and 20 minutes of meditation. We then began our study of a text that we have been focused on for the past few months.

The current chapter of study was about the value of joining together meditation practice and the study of Buddhism. One of the inmates read the chapter aloud and then we sat in contemplation for several minutes. Suddenly, another inmate lit up with an insight and then articulated it for all of us. He said that our study of Buddhist ideas and philosophy can inform and clarify our meditation practice, allowing us to skillfully share it with others. And that our meditation practice can imbue our studies with direct heartfelt connection. Next, we engaged in a lively discussion about when words and philosophy get in the way of greater insight and when they lead to greater insight. We all came to a consensus that meditation practice, as a way to connect to the heart of our experience, can be reflected into a prism of bright words and ideas that in turn can refine that experience. When study and practice are joined together, they engender an interdependent and reciprocal relationship that enriches our spiritual journey. As many meditation masters in the past have said, “practice and study are like the two wings of a bird.” And of course in order to soar in the vast blue sky, a pair of wings working in unison would be handy!

We ended the class with a few minutes of silent meditation, and complemented it with a chant that dedicates any merit that our class activity may have created to all beings.

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