“Training the Mind”
I’m sure Madrone (Francesca) will offer more reflections on the women’s class but a few things stick out for me:
We began with the warrior bow, focusing on the warrior as “one who cultivates courage” and going through each of the steps: 1) ground yourself in your body, 2) connect with warmth of your own heart, 3) bow into the space. There were varying levels of engagement with this, but there was no significant outcry or chatter which struck me as a positive thing. It seems to me important to have this ritual in place with this group, both as a commitment to respect one another and a reminder (for me too!) of the courage it takes to engage in this work…
In general most of the women in the class have very little filter with respect to their inner world. Every thought and emotion shows up in the room as chatter, cross talk and/or outbursts so that classroom management is a constant challenge. Every dislike wants to be voiced and counter voiced and it’s clear that our facilitation/trust worthiness is constantly being evaluated by all. (One woman who did not like that we had so many people in the class (22) asked pointedly how I was going to be able to keep control of a class that big!) As the lead facilitator, I feel on my toes in the best of senses and I certainly feel like I’m on my learning edge. The one thing I regret is not establishing operating agreements at the outset and wonder whether it would be worth going back to this.
The level of vulnerability in the room is palpable. One woman couldn’t stand the sound of the bell (says it rings in her head painfully) and so I agreed to clap at the end of the meditation instead. However, when I did so, another woman was so startled by the clap that she started crying and yelling at the top of her lungs, “Please don’t do that, please don’t do that.” I immediately moved everyone into the meditation for panic, which seemed to work well to calm her as well as the rest of the room, which all had a reaction to what happened. (The woman who yelled later came up to me thank me, noting that she believes this class will really help her.) At the end of the next meditation I brought them out much more gradually which seemed to be appreciated. The class collectively felt that what was needed was a less piercing bell, so this week I will bring a bowl..! This is just one example of the emotional navigating taking place in the class at any given moment.
This class promises to be a roller coaster ride but I already feel a great deal of warmth for each of them and hope that the tools we are bringing will be of service as they each walk their own individual paths.
I then led a series of seated stretches which were well received and we talked a bit about mindfulness in every day life– noting both the spontaneous moments when we “wake up” and also the conscious intention to pay attention to daily activities. (One fellow who was in my class at Price last fall noted that he has been paying attention to tooth brushing ever since last September!) Fleet also used this opportunity to talk about the commitment this whole path requires and asked the prisoners to raise their hands if they were willing to make this commitment for the 12 more weeks of the class. This was a powerful moment and nearly all of them raised their hands. We did a short sit to close and gave out the first cell practice. All in all, a great class.