This morning I arrived at MA Prison with a dreamy sort of slothful mind. I checked in with the correction officer, put a quarter in the locker and locked my car keys, wallet and spare quarter inside. Instead of sitting on one of the wood benches as I usually do, I just leaned my forearms on the window sill and gazed outside. The sky was heavy with dark cloud cover and no direct sun light was to be found. The trees were gently receiving and giving way to swirling wind gusts. There was a moist cool breeze coming in through the window that was a soothing and pleasurable sensation on my skin. I was not thinking of the MA inmates but rather of the supermax prison inmates who have been under lockdown for more than five weeks. Lockdown has just been lifted and my thoughts were with them. My thoughts were drifting around restarting the new dharma practice and study group there.
I went through security checks, the security trap, and the "dead zone" between the outer prison wall and the next building. It's called the "dead zone" because anyone (inmate or visitor) who is in that zone without clearance can have a gun pointed at them from the security tower...and presumably, if that person does not comply with the security officers commands, can be shot. There were still a large array of colorful and vibrant flowers lining the passage to the next building.
This morning was the Theravadin Buddhist gathering which included fourteen guys, all of whom have become very familiar and friendly faces. We swept the floor and set up the shrine and cushions. The Theravadin Sunday mornings always have coffee served with plenty of sugar. I usually opt for a bottle of water instead of the coffee but today I eagerly welcomed the sugar loaded coffee with delight. We started with the Theravadin chants which are lovely and then meditated for twenty minutes.
Today one of the guys asked if we could discuss the four immeasurables. I was prepared to discuss the quality of "gratitude" but was the grateful for the chance to discuss the four immeasurables :) The four immeasurables are Equanimity, Love, Compassion and Joy. We started with equanimity which we agreed was an impartial, open and empty view. Then we discussed that if we cling to each immeasurable, the next one could become an antidote to that clinging. So, Equanimity if clung to becomes ignorance or apathy. The antidote to that would be Love which is a wish for others happiness. Love if clung to becomes attachment to the "object" of love and the antidote to that would be compassion. Compassion broadens ones focus and acts to quell all peoples suffering. Yet compassion can become a burden and we could become burned out helping others in which case Joy is compassion's antidote. Joy has a quality of spontaneous fulfillment and celebration. If we cling to Joy we can become overly elated and lose touch with the ground, in which case equanimity would become Joy's antidote.
We also discussed how these immeasurables are facets of one undivided truth. How the flip side of Equanimity can be seen as ignorance, Love as hatred/aggression or aversion, Compassion as passion/grasping or attraction, and Joy as a needy unfulfilled jealousy. We contemplated these immeasurables one by one. We then settled into ten minutes of meditation practice. We ended with dedicating the merit of our practice and study to all sentient beings.
I left my dharma friends feeling very grateful for the opportunity to practice and study with them. It felt so natural being with them that I completely forgot where I was, that is, at a medium security Massachusetts state prison. I could have been anywhere... and nowhere at the same time.