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.