This morning I arrived at MA prison 30 minutes early so I decided to go to a nearby Dunkin' Donuts in Norfolk Center. I got a small coffee with milk and one Sweet n' Low and I was eyeing a corn muffin which I often get when at a DD. I'm trying to lose weight so I eyed that corn muffin for a long time. I was Leaning In to that corn muffin... I was even salivating! This morning my discipline and mindfulness won out and I left with the coffee only. I knew at that moment that we would have a good meditation class today.
I entered the prison waiting area and hung out with a minister I know and his wife whom I met for the first time. We had a friendly conversation about our kids and the delight in seeing them grow up and leave our homes. We also talked about the deep wish that they succeed and only come back "home" for visits :-) We all went through prison security without a hitch and went to our respective rooms. Our room is the "battle room" in the basement. I appreciated the coolness of the battle room this warm summer morning.
We had nine participants today and two new inmates to the group. Of the two, one guy was totally new to meditation and Buddhism and the other was a transfer from the supermax prison Sousa-Baranowski. I knew this guy from Sousa as I'm a volunteer there as well. He was ecstatic to be at Norfolk as Sousa is a very tough and severe place. We did the morning Shambhala chants which included the Heart Sutra. We then sat for 20 minutes, and part of this time I gave a guided meditation as the new guy needed some direction. I then opened things up for some discussion before diving into our next Lojong slogan for the day (the slogans are a part of a Tibetan Mahayana practice). One guy asked about the Heart Sutra and specifically the part that mentions "form is emptiness and emptiness is form...". We had a lengthy discussion about this which was wonderful. We tried to apply this notion to the Lojong teaching of Leaning In to experience. We discussed how when we bring bare attention to our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations we can dispassionately Lean In to them just enough to feel their texture, accept them and then let go. This "touch and go" process for us practitioners is how we can ride the edge of our experience in such a way that we don't overdo or underdo things, and find the nondual middle way that joins form and emptiness. The guys really loved turning this idea over in their minds and we continued with this discussion for some time.
Next we discussed the Lojong slogan "Don't ponder others" or "Don't judge others" (another translation). We discussed that when we judge others we are judging ourselves as well. We talked about ego and egolessness and that the less ego involvement the more interconnected we are with other people... the less separate we feel from others. We discussed how ego is a fear-based, self-preservation mechanism. Ego stains our perception in ways that distorts and inflates who we think we are relative to others; that we think we are more important than other people. We all decided that the middle path between the extremes of "I" and "other" would allow us to be open and honest towards ourselves and others, thus by-passing judgement all together.
We ended by dedicating the merit of our practice and study to others. I found myself not wanting to leave the battle room and my friends. I just wanted to be with them for a while longer. With a sad/joyful heart we parted until next time.