I arrived at MA prison and waited outside on a bench for Joel to arrive. Joel is another Path of Freedom (POF) facilitator and friend. It was cool and very humid. A spooky yet comforting fog had blanketed the area. I felt relaxed and ready for the class. Joel arrived and we, along with several other volunteers (volunteering for other classes), proceeded through the elaborate security searches, security traps and check points and finally into the building that houses the classrooms. We got some materials (paper, pencils, markers and eraser for the blackboard) from a volunteer storage room and rearranged the classroom chairs into one large circle. The inmates arrived, signed in and we greeted each one with a handshake and a smile. It's only the second class of a total of sixteen classes, yet I already felt some warmth and affection towards all of them.
We started the class with a short breath and body centering meditation. Then we did a "check-in" and each of the fourteen guys took turns sharing their experiences over the past week with their homework assignment of silent meditation practice and meditation in action practice. Each person, with the exception of two new additions to the POF class, had something to say about their experience that was insightful, whether it was a positive or negative experience. This group of guys are very engaged and eager to get something meaningful out of this class. Then we dug into the main exercise of this "Who Am I?" class. In brief, each guy received seven pieces of paper and wrote down on each piece a few words about how they identify with certain roles or personal identities/character traits connected to themselves, whether they be positive or negative. Then they each ordered the pieces of paper in terms of importance and intensity of identification. We allowed them to contemplate each of their statements of identification for several minutes and encouraged them to look closely at how each of these "identities" have influenced (positively or negatively) each of them, their friends, love ones and others in their world. It was a powerful exercise that had a significant impact on most of the guys. Many of them shared with the group how they viewed themselves through the various roles that they identify with. And some of them began to understand that they were inherently good people that have all to often been conditioned over time to frequently behave in unconscious, reactive and destructive ways. Sound familiar? We discussed how we all have had to deal with (or not deal with) this dialectic of recognizing (or not recognizing) our negative habitual behavioral patterns and transforming (or not transforming) those frozen energy patterns into a lighter more spacious and present way of being. It was delightful to see these guys light bulbs light up while they considered the greater possibilities that they may have forgotten existed for them to embrace. And we discussed that the bottom line is that we are decent good people who often forget that we are precisely that, but rather we identify with the negative core beliefs/identities that keep us isolated, defensive, fearful and reactive.
We ended the class with a "self-acceptance" meditation which was a soothing way to contemplate the innate basic goodness which is each and every persons birthright. I then handed out a few copies of Fleet Maull's book "Dharma in Hell". And I told them that Fleet would be visiting them during one of these POF classes. So Fleet, if you read this blog post please mark your calendar, as there is a great group of guys at MCI MA eager to share their experience and learn something from you.