This morning I arrived to MA prison right on time. There is a regular ritual I go through when checking in. I sign in and provide my picture ID and the corrections officer then takes my ID and gives me an another internal picture ID to use inside the prison. However, they lost my internal picture ID about 4 months ago and I have asked for it to be replaced each time I arrive, and often call my request in the office as well. They always tell me that it will be taken care and to date it has not. As the C/O does each time I visit, they go through a whole discussion about whether or not to let me in as I don't have proper identification. And the result each time is the same, that is, that they agree to let me in but that I need to get the correct ID. I no longer have a puzzled look, nor do I scratch my head. I simply go through the ritual which has actually become a kind of joke between the C/Os and myself. Whatever it takes...
I arrive to the our meditation room (the Battle Room) minutes before the movement of inmates and their arrival. I sweep the floor, lay down the meditation cushions and wait for help to move and open the portable shrine. There were 11 of us present today and we started with the Shambhala chants. Then we meditated for 15 minutes. It was good to be back with these folks after a three week lapse.
I recently viewed several youtube videos of lectures by Dr. Fred Luskin who is a professor and researcher at Stanford University. His research focuses on the notion of "forgiveness." I noticed many parallels between Dr. Luskin's work and the Tibetan Lojong teachings. As we are currently studying Lojong, I elected to mix the two approaches in this class.
We discussed the precursors to being able to forgive ourselves or others for the disappointment, pain, harm, anger, resentment and general suffering that we may have caused or received. This is a topic that many of these guys have thought about and so a very animated discussion ensued. Most of them quickly understood that in order to actualize the state of forgiveness, it is necessary to first take a close look at the event that occurred that caused the suffering. They totally understood that each of us must take ownership/responsibility of either being the victim of harmful actions or for causing harmful actions. One guy said that "we need to cradle the harmful actions and their effects with mindfulness." We agreed that this leads to acceptance of the harm committed by others or oneself which then opens the door for the "grieving" process to begin. We all agreed that grieving for a harm done, and as a result a loss experienced, is the only way to properly integrate the suffering into our experience and shed light on the painful experience. Otherwise, we would be practicing spiritual by-passing and repressing our hurt into the depths of our unconscious without ever being able to let go of it. We discussed how we often lean towards creating our personal armor or a cocoon in which to protect ourselves from feeling the open wounds of our experience, and how that is really just an expression of ego and fear. Genuine self-transformation requires that we mindfully Lean In to our suffering before *letting go*.
Finally, we touched on hope and fear. The hope of getting what we want and the fear of losing it. One guy suggested that if we are fully in the present moment, peaceful and aware, that we would not be swayed by pleasant experiences that we are attracted to or unpleasant experiences that we want to avoid. He said that we could experience everything in an open and unbiased way if we are honest with ourselves. A great insight that we all appreciated! This same guy told us that he has a life sentence without parole and that he has served 31 years so far. He told us that the family of the person who he victimized will not forgive him. He recognizes that he can't change others and that the only thing he can do is work every day towards positively transforming himself. He said that now when others don't want to or can't recognize his efforts towards self-transformation he practices tonglen (tonglen is a Buddhist lojong practice in which one visualizes taking in others pain and suffering and giving others peace and love).
I must say that practicing and studying with the these inmates and inmates living in other prisons is one of the most gratifying and useful things I have ever done.