Last night I joined two of our facilitators, David and Keith, for the class which has been known as "Buddhist Studies" for the last five years. This class will now be shifting over to the "Stress and Anxiety Reduction Phase II", beginning June 18th. Up until now, this has been a small class, with an average of eight guys joining in each week to study sutra's and practice meditation.
This class was originally started as the first Buddhist and meditation based class at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. Several of the men in the class have been taking both the "Path of Freedom" (PoF) and the "Buddhist Studies" class each week. Given the popularity of the PoF class, we had to make some room for new people to filter though, and in doing so, we merged the "Buddhist Studies" into what we're now calling the "Path of Freedom II" class. As part of the program, we will be using the book "The Mindful Solution" by Ronald Siegel, PsyD - which is a very rich and useful book for integrating practice into daily living.
So, last night's class...It was nice, we sat for 45 minutes, part of which David offered a guided tonglen meditation instruction. Before we sat, Keith (who is schooled in the Kwan Um Korean Zen tradition) offered to lead us all in their version of the Heart Sutra. It was lovely and some sort of calming chanting with the men. It seems to really resonate as a practice with them and spurred some discussion around different traditions and chanting. They expressed an interest in learning more and I told them I would bring in the Soto Zen version and we could practice that well, which they seemed excited about.
After the chanting we moved into our sitting practice, during which, the names of those who has visitors were being called, continually, over the loud speaker. This led me to reflect upon the preciousness of human contact - especially in a place with so many walls. I wondered where the stream of thought that that must have triggered brought the guys in there - to their ex-girlfriends, sons, uncles, mothers - I can't even begin to imagine what that must feel like. Here I am, free as a bird, able to drive out of there and grab some green tea and sushi with David, go pay a visit to anyone I choose really- AGAIN, just another freedom I totally take for granted..."Thinking! Back to the breath Madrone, back to the breath..."
The class continued. The space deepened. There were many moments to be had: quiet moments, moments of deep reflection, complete confusion, moments of irritation, moments of laughter and joy. (Yes, even in prison, moments of laughter and joy). It was a great class and I'm glad I was there.
Real. Warming. Deep. Connected. Committed. Truthful. Eager.
Those are just a few words I'd use to describe last night's class. I have strong hopes for this class and where it will allow the guys (and myself) to go next on their (and our) Path Towards Freedom.
Until next time,