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Touching Spirit & Getting High – this week at Juvie

Updated: May 26, 2020

I am grateful for the quiet. I spoke earlier this week to someone doing meditation classes at youth facilities elsewhere, and gained plenty more appreciation for the relative peace and quiet of the environment that we are working with. With just three guys in class, and no interruptions, we were able to sink relatively deeply into some peaceful minutes of meditation.

We had just one of our regulars this week – the rest have been transferred to other facilities – and two newer folks. It was great to be able to have our regular tell the other two about what meditation is like, and why he is into it. It relaxes him, he says, and he often compares it to going to the beach. This week though, he said he felt something inside of himself, some kind of force. I had been guiding them to connect with their breath in their bellies, in response to their curiosity about what kind of meditation do. The other two guys kind of laughed when he tried to describe the “thing” inside of himself that he was connecting with. I tried to offer up the linguistic connection between breath (spiritus) and spirit, in a way that was accessible to guys who don’t have much literacy skills at all. I am not sure that I succeeded. The word spirit thoughseemed to really hit home for him to describe what he was experiencing, and he was excited that I mentioned it.

Meanwhile, one of the new guys, with almost equal earnestness, insisted that meditation was a lot like getting high. He was lit up. After we did a couple minutes of cross-overs and straw breathing, his whole posture shifted, and his breath slow down. Afterwards he was wide-eyed. “Isn’t this just like being high?” he demanded of the other two. They sheepishly agreed. Getting in touch with spirit, and getting high, whatever is the real and honest experience of meditation for these guys is good with me. And perhaps the two feelings weren’t even so different…

I initiated a conversation around “Transforming Conflict,” the Path of Freedom topic of the week, but the guys caught me off guard by anticipating most of what I had to offer. The one where you feel yourself getting mad, and you take a few deep breaths – they know that one. What does anger feel like in the body? They know that too: hands shaking, sweating, heart beating faster – they described all this no problem. Counting to ten before acting – yah, they got it. They had a fairly rich vocabulary to talk about fights and ways of calming themselves down to avoid them. This made me think that they have probably had plenty of conversations with adults about not fighting. While many of the Emotional Intelligence concepts that we have been offering are totally new to these guys, discussions around conflict seem to be pretty common. I tried to link up what they already knew with what we have been doing with practicing mindfulness – I’m not sure how effective that was, but worth a try.

We closed out class with a minute of meditation, during which we heard the pastor walking into the next room for his weekly visit to the facility. One of our guys, who really doesn’t like this pastor, shook his head and looked like he was starting to get triggered. He had told me earlier that he doesn’t have any thoughts while he meditates, so I thought this might be a great opportunity to get him to look at the thoughts of anger and annoyance as they arise. “Notice the thoughts,” I recommended, “and come back to some good deep breathing. If you can do that, you can do anything.”

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