To explain the synchronicity of events leading up to this would demand too much time, so lemme sum up. Long story short, through one of my Sanghas I have been very fortunate to become acquainted with the director of a local non profit group that offers many services to the underprivileged in my community. One of the programs they have is for ex offender re-entry, the first in the state of Virginia. This man has started a mindfulness meditation program in one of our jails, and has been planning one for those going through the re entry program as well. Because I am a more recent offender, I cannot participate in any jail programs for some time, possibly for life (depending on the jail); however, after expressing my interest through our Sangha's founder, and meeting my new friend for coffee after Sangha yesterday, he has asked for my help and input in putting together this meditation program for ex offenders.
What they already have going on is something based on or similar to the MBSR techniques, per Jon Kabat-Zinn. But since I have absolutely no experience with anything like this, outside of sitting on a cushion, I thought I would propose the question (and situation) to the PDN Sangha, who has experience with these things.
So what I'm asking, in a pretty time sensitive manner, is what has worked for programs that any of you guys may be familiar with, or even have been a part of, in one way or another. Mind you, this is taking the Buddhist wrapping off, as is necessary I think. But there's little in Buddhism that cannot be explained without the label "Buddhism." So, guys/gals, any ideas? I'm pretty sure it's going to be similar or identical to what's going on in the jail, and I don't know specifically what "ideas" of mine he wants. I can talk from the subjective perspective till ears numb, but outside of that, I'm having to do some research. (I've ordered Dhamma Brothers, both dvd and book, and greatly look forward to learning more about vipassana in regards to ex offenders.)
Thanks so much, at least for taking the time to read my babble.
I'm not an ex-offender myself, so I don't have very useful input. My guess is that the director with whom you spoke was looking for your personal opinion, as an ex-offender, of what would be most useful to folks coming back to the community.
In terms of a practice or program, one that has had great success is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The program consists of mindfulness practice along with other cognitive-behavioral skill sets. It has the flavor of Buddhism in that it uses vipassana, but it's sufficiently "disguised" as a therapeutic tool. I had a client when I was working in mental health that believed the NSA was following him via commercial airliners, local news helicopters, or stars. Although DBT didn't "cure" his delusion, he was able to separate his paranoia from the raw experience of jets, choppers and twinkling lights.
I've also been thinking of starting a similar group for alcoholics and drug-addicts. In my head, it'd be 30-45 minutes of guided mindfulness meditation, follow by 30-45 minutes to discuss the experience and how it might affect their lives if they practiced regularly.
Chris, thank you for your input. You always have something of value to say!
You know what's funny, the director, Ted, didn't know I was an ex offender! Our Sangha founder did not tell him, as she was protecting my privacy. I told her to feel free to disclose this about me to anyone in the Sangha she felt appropriate, since the Sangha was becoming involved in the True Freedom Pen Pal Program, and had just made a donation to PDN. I sent Ted and email, after our initial phone call, explaining my being an ex offender, and how I was concerned if he didn't know that, he may be in for disappointment. (I mean that I wouldn't be able to help with the jail program, which I had also been approached about at Sangha that day, by another member.) So I'm actually thankful he didn't know, because I know I wasn't seen from an ex offender perspective initially, and afterward was still valued.
He mentioned something about DBT. I had only heard of it recently, as a friend's therapist uses it with him. I'm going to look into that. I did not know it was anything like vipassana though. I mean, I didn't know anything about it, period. So very cool! Thanks for letting me in on that, Chris!
I hope you do start such a program for addicts. As a recovering (we never say "recovered", do we?) alcoholic, I can certainly see the benefit in mindfulness meditation. Because my recovery was initiated in jail, where the only alcohol was cell-made hooch, and beyond that I'm not into weed or anything else floating around the jails, my experience with strong craving emotions in the presence of temptation was limited. Certainly being able to recognize thoughts and thoughts, feelings as feelings, and letting them go would be a great practice for someone plagued with an OCD such as addiction. I look forward to hearing about this if/when you do it. What's holding you back?
(I think you were cut off.)
I've read some good stuff regarding Zen and the 12 Steps, but that's often a little much for the average 12 Stepper to digest.
I guess maybe one angle to look at it from is what are you as a group trying to achieve through meditation, specifically, and go from there. I think mindfulness meditation is the best all-around method. How do the different guys/gals in your group interpret the Step?
I also think Zen and the 12 Steps would fall afoul of WSO and we'd get one of those letters (there was an atheist meeting around here, once, that got kicked out of AA proper for taking a stance on a controversial issue).
As for how people interpret the step, the stock reply I'm given is that prayer is for talking to God, meditation is for listening. And that's about where it stands, sadly. When I probed under the surface of that comment, I found that most people didn't do it because of misconceptions about what happens to thought (namely, thinking that it should go away).
At the meeting I asked about people's meditation practices, most everyone described some sort of simple relaxation exercise, or hypnosis, or going for a walk in the woods. I think those are all good and legitimate practices, but I wanted to present a more traditional meditation practice and see if there's interest in trying it out.
I chose mindfulness/insight meditation because for the average non-meditator, samatha practice might be too much and vipassana can generate a lot of insight right away. For those on Step Four, it can churn up plenty of good grist for the mill. I can also take away the Buddhist trappings and it turns into a mental exercise rather than a system of meditation typical of one world religion.
Ultimately, I just want to lay out a spiritual tool in my kit so that others can decide whether or not to practice it regularly (say, every day). Meditation has done a lot for me, so I feel the pressing need to share it with others that might benefit from it.
HI Aaron, please consider taking our upcoming Path of Freedom webinar (scholarships are available) in April.
This curriculum would work for post release as well and is a mindfulness (as well emotional intelligence) model that fits well with MBSR. Let me know if you have further questions.
I'm sure I'll have some more specific questions for you as time goes by. I don't think this is an official MBSR, but rather one that borrows techniques from it and other systems, but I may be mistaken. I'm assuming the one you teach is certified? Or do they even have to be?
I'll ask you this to start. As an ex offender, and an ex addict (most ex offenders seem to have substance abuse in their personal histories, if not directly related to their offenses), what areas do you seem MBSR and/or other meditations being of most benefit to those re entering society? Yes, that's a broad question, apologies. Certainly the struggles faced by those in prison can be different than those re entering, especially if they've been down a while, or perhaps are just dealing with temptations when they hit the street. (We can discuss this via email, too, if you'd rather it be private.)
One question was rather to start the program as once a week or once every two weeks. My friend is very busy, and he may get another to help as well. But to me I'm not sure how much affect once every two weeks would have. That's just me though. (I'll start with these thoughts here and will develop my questions as the ripen and in relation to your responses.)
Thanks again, Gus!
One of the best things of the 8 week MBSR courses is that we teach both formal and infomal practices so the participant has different 'tools' for the issues that arise in their lives. Certainly the actual stress reduction of MBSR, mindfulness and most meditations, will be extremely useful in re entry. MBSR helps the participant get out of 'automatic pilot mode' and allows a space for choosing a better response, rather than a habitual (usually negative and harmful) reaction. And the more one practicies the calmer, less reactive one becomes. This will lead to improved thinking & relationships, and less tendency to relapse into drugs/alcohol and such.
AS far as addressing the logisitcs of once vs twice a week and such, the key, in my experience, is that the participant should practice daily!,The classes can then be offered at what is practical, but least once per week would be helpful.
There is no certification for a course, but teachers can get trained by the UMass Center for Mindfulness (Kabat Zinn's program). This is not really necessary, except perhaps if one is doing reserch. But I am not really sure on this.
Thanks for the inquiry