This morning I arrived at MA prison and sat in the waiting room for thirty minutes with a volunteer minister. We discussed the terrible fires out west, climate change and the feelings of helplessness around what seems to be the inevitability of greater ecological disaster and the increasing suffering that is and will continue to occur as a result.
We passed through the security trap and inside the prison walls. Today there was an explosion of brilliant and vivid colors-- tiger lilles, pansies, daisies, impatiens and many other flowers I could not identify. The grass was emerald green, the sky shimmering deep back lit blue adorned with a few drifting white clouds. The temperature was in the low seventies and for a few moments I felt as though I was in some sort of heaven. The correction officer who "greeted" us at entrance to the next building brought be back to earth.
We arranged the meditation mats, cushions and shrine and took our seats. There were eighteen of us and this morning the format was altered. Five guys (including myself), one after the other, stood in front of the others and talked for about fifteen minutes about wisdom. Words cannot do justice to what transpired in that room, but I'll try to give you a tiny taste of it anyway.
The first guy just arrived two weeks ago from the supermax prison. He apologized for any his harmful behaviors to the audience. He explained that at Sousa the intensity of interaction and level of hostility is sky high there and that he learned to adapt in that environment by creating boundaries, that for him sometimes meant flashing his strength and machismo to gain enough respect that his boundaries would be honored. He said he was aware that at Norfolk the psychic environment is more relaxed and asked everyone to be patient with him as he adjusts. He talked about wisdom as knowing the difference between right and wrong actions and how meditation allowed us to naturally see the right way to behave.
The second guy talked about the wisdom he has learned from Islam. His mother is Vietnamese and his father African American. He grew up as a Buddhist and now practices Islam. He talked about wisdom being limitless, formless and beyond anything we can think about. He talked about how knowledge and wisdom are connected and that we must learn ethics and morality that will in turn lead to greater wisdom. He told us about his difficult past and how he has learned to take responsibility for his actions but that it remains a challenge and a test from God everyday.
The third guy talked about wisdom and how it cannot be owned or possessed by any one religion. That the very nature of wisdom is the understanding of impermanence and that all things are transitory. Then he talked further about compassion as a natural expression of wisdom. That when we live our lives with others, the insight of wisdom automatically allows us to be compassionate towards others because we are all interconnected. We are not really separate. It was at this point that I noticed a lump in my throat and a tenderness in my chest.
The fourth guy talked about the wisdom of the four noble truths. How suffering permeates our experience because of lack of wisdom. How clinging to that which cannot be grasped is the cause of our suffering. How learning to let go of that grasping is the end of suffering. And that the noble eight-fold path is the the method used to end suffering. He talked about the eight-fold path one by one and took extra time to discuss how right concentration, that is, meditation practice is such an indispensable technique to uncover our wisdom. I spoke and then we meditated for fifteen minutes.
I got the five minute warning from the correction officer and said my goodbyes to my friends. The minister and I were directed back to the other building and the security trap. The walk between the two buildings was many times for vivid and colorful then when I had arrived ninety minutes earlier. I was crying and the minister asked me if I was ok. I told him that they are joyful tears and that I'm ok. He started to tear up. Oy, what a morning!