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Who Am I? Notes from the Inside…

(Note: PDN is piloting it’s “Path of Freedom” curriculum this summer. We will run the full newly revised curriculum beginning in September. At that point we will also begin a research study on the curriculum and the effectiveness of mindfulness based emotional intelligence learning in prisons). 

Class Two: Who Am I?

Its early morning and a group of us find ourselves in the a medium security prison facility. 17 men show up for our second session as we work though the “Who Am I?” section from the Path of Freedom Workbook (written by our one and only, Kate Crisp).

In my understanding, this concept of “Who Am I?” aims to break down some of our limiting core beliefs about ourselves. I say some, because it seems almost impossible to imagine breaking them all down (at least for me and at least in this first introduction). Some of the questions posed are in the likes of: ‘What are some of the identities that shape our lives?’ and ‘Who do we think we are?’

Some common answers we most often get are:

  1. I’m a loser

  2. I’m not good enough

  3. I’m too fat / too thin

  4. I’m not deserving enough

  5. I’m not…

There are lots, I’m sure you get the point and, like us all, have some of your very own personal beliefs that limit you too.

As many of you can most likely relate to, its not an easy feat to break down walls, in general, but this seems especially true inside actual prison walls. So, this process was done with extreme care and attention. Thanks to some of the most compassionate and experienced facilitators I’ve seen in action, I was able to see and hear movement from the guys in such a real way. Many of them seemed to move from this place of knowing who they are to questioning who they’ve been told they are…

This process was done by having the guys write on seven separate slips of paper some of their core identities, which then were gone thru in a meditative way which allowed them to release them…all of them, until all seven were gone. They were then asked “How do you feel now?”

As one can imagine, there was lots of rich conversation that followed.

Some things the men reported they wrote were: I’m a loser, I’m alone, I’m someone’s good friend, I’m a good listener, I’m a spiritual being, I’m incarcerated, I’m a father, I’m a person with feelings, I won’t give up! I’m a felon – (this guy put that as ‘least important’ and explains how great to felt to get rid of the stigma ‘felon’.  He said it brought him peace to not let it control him, or imprison him, anymore); the road to perfection is a road full of mistakes and problems to be solved;  I realized how deeply these identities effect me; I’m happy, considerate, kind and violent (that gives me the power and strength to examine what got me here).

The facilitators went onto explain how conditioning effects our belief systems and how our belief systems create a “knowing” mind, when in fact, as the core Buddhist teachings go, we can never really know such things, we’re told things are constantly in flux. After spending some time with this model the facilitators then moved deeper into the core three tenants of “Bearing Witness, Not Knowing and Loving Action.”

Quote from one participant:

“This class is the ONLY class I’ve taken here that didn’t just break me down and leave me deconstructed – it didn’t make me feel like a piece of shit – I actually felt rebuilt.”  

It was a rich and powerful that I feel a lot of gratitude to have been able to be a fly on the wall for. We didn’t get to ‘Statements of Learning’ this time around, but we did leave with more questions then we had time to answer. I’ll leave you with one of those:

Why do we hold onto these limiting core beliefs?

Here’s to throwing away the permanence we think our identities hold!

Until next time…

Madrone, PDN Staff

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