This morning there were heavy dark clouds beginning to separate into back-lit luminescent, weightless and drifting blocks. The foliage was just past peak and the leaves were dying a fearless and brilliant death. Everything was quite vivid and bold. I entered the supermax prison and was the only volunteer. Alone in the waiting area, I walked around the large cluster of chairs dozens of times. I figured I could get a little exercise in...and think ;-) After twenty minutes I passed through the search area and was led into this massive complex of extreme control and security. The correction officers and I are getting more familiar and friendly with each other. Things are softening up in the smallest way, which does not go unnoticed in an otherwise brutal place.
Today there were five guys waiting for me in the chapel. Two of them were new to the group. I began by introducing myself to the new participants and then asked them to introduce themselves and say something about why they are here. One was a bright-eyed guy who simply has a curiosity about meditation and thought that it would benefit him. The other guy was an articulate and gregarious practicing Muslim who has also studied Buddhism and practiced meditation in the past. He thought that meditation and prayer are closely linked and that he may be able to enhance his Muslim prayers by also practicing mindfulness meditation.
I began with a guided meditation starting with a description of a proper erect yet relaxed posture, soft eye gaze and then introduced a simple breathing technique. As we meditated I would occasionally inject a comment about when we notice our absorption in thoughts, how to non-judgmentally return our attention to the the breathing process. We did this for about ten minutes. We began a discussion about the benefits of meditation which was rich and deep. We covered a lot of material in a short time frame. A few of the things we discussed was how meditation may allow us to slow down our speedy monkey minds, providing a more spacious and non-reactive way of being. We talked about how being absorbed in thought is a type of attachment or identification with those thoughts. And how that attachment/identification leads to unconscious habitual patterns of mechanical behavior. We explored why habitual patterns of behavior can lead to suffering for ourselves and others we come in contact with. And we discussed how the method of mindfully observing this habitual identification with thoughts and behaviors allows us to be released from these mechanical and harmful patterns. We touched on the fact that this mindful exploration of our minds is an excellent way to begin to experience the fundamental truth of who we more deeply are; that is, that we are basically good human beings that have the natural capacity to express our innate, positive and unrestricted qualities such as love, compassion, peace and joy. We took a short break and stretched, and then I introduced "walking meditation" which we did for five minutes.
Without exception, all five guys (six including me) were turned on and tuned in. They had many comments and questions and were very excited to continue with this class. Finally, the meditation books I dropped off a couple of months ago were approved by the prison staff and the guys now have access to them which they are happy about. We talked about opening up the class to all faiths and those who don't practice any religion. We decided to drop "Buddhist" from the Buddhist Meditation title of the class. We ended with a bow and said "Salaam Alaikum" ("peace be with you" in Arabic) to each other.