On Thursday I lead a tonglen practice at the Norfolk MCI prison, asking the guys to bring to mind a difficulty they are currently experiencing, very familiar with, and really allow themselves to feel it deeply. Then arises the realization - "oh, this is what so many others are feeling, exactly like this!" and to wish that by feeling this they and all others would be freed of such suffering. Then I asked them to go through the practice again, with another difficulty.
One fellow said that at first he chose the noise and intense rudeness of the inmates right around him, that made it impossible for him to meditate or even relax - it drives him crazy. He said it was hard to really do the practice of seeing others suffering in the same way, and taking on the difficulty in order that others would be free, because he was so caught up in hating his cell mates. But the second time, he chose the more general difficulty of being locked up, and realized deeply for the first time that there are millions of people all over the world who are imprisoned, and who share that experience, and as he considered it, he realized that that group included those very cellmates he was finding so annoying - "If I'm suffering this, they must be suffering the same, or maybe more, because they don't have any way to understand it." Beautiful moment.
I mentioned also that this is part of what is meant by "precious human birth" - that even though this man is locked in prison with all the frustrations and suffering that entails, he's been lucky enough to meet the dharma, offering him a way to turn these experiences into the stuff of awakening. Like Rumplestiltskin weaving straw into gold.Blessings on all our tiny heads,