“Training the Mind”
Updated: Apr 21
I’m sure Madrone 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 the warmth of your own heart, and 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 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 few filters with respect to their inner world. Every thought and emotion appears in the room as chatter, cross talk, and/or outbursts, so classroom management is a constant challenge. Every dislike wants to be voiced and countered voiced, and it’s clear that all are constantly evaluating our facilitation/trustworthiness. (One woman who did not like that we had so many people in the class (22) asked pointedly how I could control a big class!)
As the lead facilitator, I feel on my toes to the best of my senses, and like I’m on my learning edge. I regret 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 (she says it rings in her head painfully), 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 and the rest of the room, which all reacted to what had happened. (The woman who yelled later came up to me and thanked me, noting that she believes this class will help her.) At the end of the next meditation, I gradually brought them out, 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 emotional navigation 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 bring will be of service as they each walk their own paths.
I then led a series of seated stretches, which were well received. We talked a bit about mindfulness in everyday life– noting both the spontaneous moments when we “wake up” and the conscious intention to pay attention to daily activities. (One fellow in my class at Price last fall noted that he has been paying attention to tooth brushing since last September!) Fleet also used this opportunity to talk about the commitment this 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; nearly all of them raised their hands. We did a short sit to close and gave the first cell practice. All in all, a great class.
Report from Rebecca Foster