This Sunday morning I arrived to MA prison and bumped into the new interim Director of Treatment in the waiting area. I introduced myself to her and the first thing she told me was that the move for the Buddhist class from the battle room to the new space has been put on hold until a further evaluation is completed! After many months of planning the move, a change in the Director's position has delayed our move indefinitely! Working in prisons truly requires an unlimited reservoir of patience. The public sector can at times be very bureaucratic and facilitating change is sometimes futile or at best a very slow and incremental process.
While waiting in a building prior to being released to the building that our meditation group is located I had about fifteen minutes to observe a few correction officers relating among themselves and with a few inmates that were doing various work tasks in that area. I was very interested to watch the way the C/Os relate with each other, which was friendly in a macho kinda way. I bantered about with them as I know most of them well and often learn something new about Norfolk as a result. What fascinated me today was the way one C/O related with one of the inmates who was trying to get all the materials together to do some maintenance work. The inmate knew exactly how to get his materials and what to do with them, but he had to convey what he needed in a way that the C/O agreed to without making the C/O appear like he did not know what he was doing. It was comical and also a great display of skillful action by the inmate to finally have the C/O understand the steps involved in getting the task done and provide his consent. As the C/O and inmate parted ways the inmate looked in my direction and winked with a wry smile... I smiled broadly and we both understood that prison life (and life in general) was often lived in absurdity.
Once in the battle room we took our seats, did the morning chants and started the class. Of course the first topic was the delay in moving our class. This discussion could have lasted the entire class time, however we agreed beforehand to give it ten minutes and then move on.
I read a poem from a Tibetan master that is very beautiful and full of wisdom and insight. The poem conveys the effortless way we can connect with our buddhanature and how that nature is the true nature of our minds as it is. That our practice is simply getting used to this natural state of mind. It's a very fruition oriented approach which the guys enjoyed listening to. As we are studying lojong now, we tied this poem's approach with the notions of Leaning In and Compassion. Leaning In is the way we can acknowledge and bear witness to the difficulties, obstacles or karmic thought/feeling knots that arise as a result of past trauma in our lives that we have not properly processed. We're still stuck on and being driven/directed by these knots. The awareness of bearing witness acts as a spacious container in which we can allow our karmic knots to be carefully looked at and loosened up. We agreed that the dispassionate bearing witness is precisely what allows our "knots" to relax and be released from the tense and anxious energy. We discussed how Compassion is our ability to know that we are all connected and all share the same or very similar knots and that we all have the ability to Lean In and recognize (bear witness) to our knots' true nature. We agreed that we can treat others in the same way we are learning how to treat ourselves, with mindful awareness, loving kindness and the recognition that natural goodness is, without exception, everyone's birthright.
We ended the class with the dedication of merit and a reflection on the truth that whether or not we are in the battle room or a new room, in prison or not, tied up in this knot or that knot, we can all be grateful for the opportunity to practice together regardless of the circumstance.