This was the question I posed to my tan-garbed guys behind the walls when the now infamous Sandusky was put away. “What is your role? How would you handle Sandusky being placed in this facility?” I told them, “My role is simply to teach; there is great freedom in that. I am no one’s judge or jury, thank goodness. I could not do my job if I felt otherwise. “
Every Tuesday for over a year, I taught two meditation classes at a nearby medium security facility. The men were always open, appreciative, honest and occasionally raw. This combination made for a sacred circle that allowed for our most authentic selves to show up.
For most of my life, however, I had the voice in my head that was ALWAYS judging, mostly me. As Anne LaMott quips, “My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to enter alone”. Even yoga alone was not enough to raise my awareness of my negative thought patterns. It wasn’t until I began practicing seated, silent meditation following my breath with the intention that the shift occurrred. First and foremost, I began writing poetry ( meditation opens your creative channel and helps you better utilize your right-brain) and found that to be another extraordinary tool for further healing.
Not all “sits” were obviously fruitful nor were they all peaceful. That is not the point. The point is to practice awareness of the mind without judging it. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It is a way of self-transformation through self-observation that focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body. This can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.(1)
This eventually carries over into everyday life and that is where the magic really happens. There is very little story-telling any longer and when one can be present to Life, open to finding that joy and miracles are everywhere.
The spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I like to quip that I haven’t always been this nice. More importantly, the men at the FCI would share that they found they were more hopeful, less reactive and having healthier, problem-solving conversations with their loved ones back home.
Scientists have been able to prove that meditation and rigorous mindfulness training can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immune response and possibly even affect gene expression. Scientific study is also showing that meditation can have an impact on the structure of the brain itself. Building on the discovery that brains can change based on experiences and are not, as previously believed, static masses that are set by the time a person reaches adulthood, a growing field of neuroscientists are now studying whether meditation–and the mindfulness that results from it–can counteract what happens to our minds because of stress, trauma and constant distraction.
There is a swath of our culture who is not going to listen to someone in monks’ robes, but they are paying attention to scientific evidence,” says Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Consciousness. Because whatever goes on happening within us, is not only within us, it affects people who are close by. To meditate with these incarcerated people, just to sit silently with them, one will be pulled more and more towards our own intrinsic potentiality.
1. Vipassana website Dhamma.org
So there are people who’ve responded to my vulnerable way of sharing saying it gives them permission to find out how strong God is living in them when they are at what feels like their weakest.
This morning I notice I am feeling unappreciated and misunderstood. The house empties and it is just me and the baby and piles of dog hair and dust accumulating in the hardwood corners. I know the crying is necessary (again) to release these emotions, although by now I recognize the need to be patient and surrender what else might be arising. What feels like a huge “AHA” in the midst of the tears sounds like, ‘When you cry you talk to Me and your trust and reliance on Me grows. This is part of my plan to draw your heart closer. Keep right on crying and do whatever feels necessary to stay in the flow’.
I find a book of poetry and letters by Fr. Michael Doyle of Sacred Heart church in Camden under the chair as I’m folding laundry. It is called It’s a Terrible Day, Thanks Be to God. I begin singing this to the baby through my tears and I notice that to him, whether I am laughing or crying it makes no difference– he smiles at me just the same.
My sweet neighbor gave it to me a few months ago as she recognized both my growing love for writing and commitment to Camden, the city I lived in until age 8. There in his beautifully crafted words, I read of women and childbirth. He references Beauvoir, “You are not born a woman. You become one.” I am reminded that one of my daily manifestation prayers is to embody the woman God created. Deep to my core I acknowledge that God is drawing every experience and every tear to accomplish this. I also sense that part of my grief today is for my own passing fertility. I am going to be 49 this year and I believe I am about to enter menopause. The realization that there will be no more babies traveling through this passage makes me momentarily sad.
It’s ok to allow the feelings of aging and being on the brink of a new decade sink in like seedlings sprouting a blossom of heartache. I surrender to it and head to the park with the dog. I’ve written before about how healing lying on Mother Earth can be. I gaze at the expanse of sky in the still-brown field and with a grateful heart hear , “Let God transform your ugly cry into tears of joyful thanks and laughter”. I know this is my message for the ladies of the FDC this afternoon. Do not be afraid to try the crying method to break your heart open, allowing the Light in.
p.s. a passing car beeped and I rose up as he yelled “Just checking. Are you ok?”. “Why Yes, I am great!…thank you!!’
Do you ever wake up with a low-level anxiety, shallow breath and tightness in your chest? At 48 I awake somedays with the feeling that my rapidly shifting hormones are to blame–and maybe they are. It’s Monday and the weekend with friends and family was relaxing and fun and we got shit done around the house. I tell myself there is no reason for this –what do I have to feel sad and lonely about?
The voice in the head begins telling me the story of why I should- I’ve gossiped and hurt people, I’m not always the best friend, wife or daughter. I tell myself ‘just get outside and walk the dog’. The tears come immediately once the cool air hits my face and my feet touch earth. I acknowledge there is still this little girl living inside of me that just wants to be loved. She just needs to know I hear her, her innocence and purity of intention. I tell her that there’s a loving God who also dwells near and He has totally got this. I reach out my hand and surrender the need to know more. The tears continue as I acknowledge that there’s a part of me that is trying to be so strong, that feels this need to have all the answers.
I have been planning for a 2 day retreat with the women of the Phila. FDC beginning this Friday. I am responsible for yoga, meditation, writing and a dance party to celebrate our healing after 15 hours together. I realize that I have been subconsciously pressuring myself to organize a meaningful encounter. There is a part of me that wants so much to share the right words, music and mindfulness tools. Somehow hrough my tears, I sense a calm and clarity arising. I realize that sharing my vulnerability and honesty about waking with anxiety and self-doubt is the most important thing I can do to connect with these women who have been separated from their loved ones.
I lie on the ground and feel a sinking and connecting to somewhere deep below the earth’s surface and at the same time, I feel a drawing up toward the endless blue sky. I breathe and know that not having any answers is the best gift to my spirit this day. I am humbled and grateful and confident all at the same time. The anxiety is gone and I am pumping my legs to get back home to start working and I feel my heart begin pumping in response and suddenly my mind is sure that all is well in the world.
in what appears to be
and so often, completely
for how to save my own
the only one I’ve been
my attempts at allowing you
to fall and fail
and weep and struggle
are feeble, yes
but still I know
and trust that you, too
messages to decipher-
the hero of your own
your very own
etched and sketched
in the hidden diary of
ah, the challenge arises
the author of
our story occasionally
reading like a tragedy…
deep in my soul
I am assured
of the indelible ink
crafting a dazzling, happily ever after
affair of the heart