I picked up Nealy, my new friend and fellow prison volunteer, at her home and we drove together to the prison. It was a beautiful New England fall morning with cool crisp air, blue sky, high windswept white clouds and brilliant red, yellow and orange highlighted trees. And I was keeping company with a lovely new friend who is extremely experienced as a prison volunteer and in particular with prison hospice. I was content and happy.
As we entered the prison Nealy slipped and fell on the recently mopped wet floor. As I looked around to see what happened, I saw her flat on her back, eyes wide open and totally startled awake! Then she moaned a little but alas she was not harmed except for a small scrape on her knee. A true meditation warrior! We went through the security searches, all the circuitous hallways and security traps and finally arrived at the chapel where two inmates were waiting for us. Nealy introduced herself to the guys as this was her first visit to this prison.
We did a check-in with the two guys and encouraged them to share their meditation and life experiences since the last class two weeks ago. At the end of the last class I had asked the guys to contemplate the question "Who Am I?" after each meditation session. We entered a conversation about how we identify with certain negative self-identities so strongly that they become habitual subconscious behaviors. And we discussed how those habitual behaviors tend to drive us into destructive and harmful actions. The guys came to a better understanding that the more mindful and aware we are about our ever-changing states of mind, the more opportunity there is to experience real choice and take responsibility for our actions and lives. One guy mentioned that he is serving a 15 year to life sentence and how living with not knowing when or if he will ever get released from prison is difficult. He paused and met Nealy's gaze tenderly for what seemed to be an eternity. He talked about enduring suffering, meeting it head on and facing one's difficulties. This led to a wonderful discussion about how essential it is to look without judgement at the negative dark side of ourselves rather than ignoring it or pushing it away or resigning oneself to the false fact that we will never change. If we can Lean Into our experience with mindful awareness, we have the chance to consciously make the choice to change direction towards an allegiance to our innate goodness. This resonated well with both guys.
Next Nealy led a skillful meditation instruction for the guys and then we meditated for about 15 minutes. After the meditation Nealy asked the guys how their practice was. The guys said that they found themselves absorbed in thinking a lot! Nealy pointed out that most of the time we are thinking but that we are usually not aware of it and that becoming aware that we're thinking is a step in the right direction. I could see the light bulbs turning on in their heads. They were having an insight that they may have never had before. It was beautiful. We corrected their posture so that in the future they could learn to keep their spine more erect and centered yet allow their bodies to be relaxed and natural.
We parted with smiles, handshakes and with the unspoken assurance that we will be returning to SB to share together our meditation practice, contemplation, study and friendship for many times to come.