Lessons From a Prison Visit “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” ~Albert Einstein Recently I somewhat reluctantly gave into a voice I had been hearing for several months.
The first time I heard the voice, I thought I had misunderstood. I had heard, “Prison…go and do this work at the men’s prison.” Certainly, mind was playing its game. I watched the thought, expecting it to come and go. It was a persistent, nagging thought so I offered token acceptance to the Universe. You pave the way and I will go.
I didn’t expect heaven and earth to move quite so quickly but as I learned, when something is intended, our ‘Yes’, even when given with half-hearted acquiescence, sets this physical plane into motion. Just a few days later, without a shred of effort, a door opened and the pieces began to fall into place. As my date at the prison approached I had just a little anxiety. What would it be like? What would they be like? I was concerned about connecting with the men and a thought flashed through my mind that my life hadn’t prepared me to connect with men in prison. What did I have to say that would make any difference to them? Even as I questioned my usefulness, I knew I wouldn’t have been led here if there wasn’t a reason, so I slipped rather effortlessly into surrender.
When I walked in the door, I didn’t have any anxiety, just a desire to bring something of value to the men. Originally, I was supposed to join Blaze, the gentleman who started the prison program, for my first session. A few days earlier I had found out he would not be in attendance and I was on my own. The door slammed behind me as I entered into the population and I felt a dense energy that for a moment was a bit unsettling. For that second, I wished I had company, someone who had walked this path before. The guard escorted me to the chaplain’s office and after we completed a few details, the chaplain walked me down the hall to academics where I would meet with the men. He needed to chaperone the Native American drumming circle so he left me in the room and I waited for the first of the men to appear. Blaze had told me that the men had big hearts and an amazing openness to Oneness. They were captive, with no where to go. I wondered if surrender to God is easier when you have already surrendered your life’s dream. The words flowed through me. I was merely the channel—like heaven’s radio station. The teachings encompassed both beginner and advanced material. I had never felt it come through me in quite that way.
One moment I would be talking about basic concepts and in the next moment, quite advanced teaching would come through. As I engaged with the men, it seemed to be perfect for that moment. We talked about Oneness and whether they were really a part of this Oneness. They were so honest. Yes, they had heard about Oneness. Yes, they intellectually got it. Yes, they hoped it was true, but, it was not a true knowing. With their permission I did a little energy work with each man and held my hands a few inches in front of their heart chakras and in back of the chair at heart level. After a few moments I was led to hold my hands above their Crown chakras. To a man, albeit to varying degrees, they each felt the energy. One in particular, a tall Irish man, asked if I had my hands on his head. My hands were 4 inches above his head. That observation gave us lots to talk about. If I end at my fingertips and you at the top of your head, how can you feel this energy? Is it possible that we really are One? Blaze was right. They were so amazingly open.
Their hearts were somewhat hidden, but willing…wanting. They could have been any group of men. They could have been friends, brothers, husbands, sons…sitting around the table at the holidays. Not one would have looked out of place. Sounds like enough of a tale…but for me, only the beginning. As I drove home, I began to realize a new appreciation for freedom and in the same breath, I was also given a new appreciation for incarceration. Each thing I did for the balance of the next two days took on a beauty of appreciation and gratitude that was exceedingly deep—things as simple as opening the door to my car, my house, being able to close the door to the bathroom, being surrounded by flowers in my gardens, or my dog laying her head in my lap. As I write about this now, I feel my heart cracking open again, even more fully, yet another level of love revealed.
After the visit I felt unable to get my balance, unable to integrate the time at the prison, like I was standing on the groundless, untethered to earth. I felt myself becoming each person who had ever been locked inside a prison…then each soul embroiled in war or hopelessly lost in poverty. The brightness of compassion was my saving grace. It could have been a deep hole, a desperation created by mind, as I also felt a small daemon—separateness—clinging to me, something that I hadn’t felt for quite a while. That evening in meditation, in an effort to befriend it, there was awareness of the crusader within, wanting to change the world, a part of the whole that had stepped out of Now and into should, into past and future. It took several days to integrate all the energy and information but slowly, with the help of friends, a context of five levels of imprisonment took form.
As I write, two additional levels became clear. 1) Unaware of imprisonment (mental and emotional) and physically free 2) Aware of imprisonment (mental and emotional) and physically free 3) Unaware of imprisonment (mental and emotional) and incarcerated 4) Aware of imprisonment (mental and emotional) and incarcerated 5) Aware of imprisonment and consciously incarcerated, choosing to retreat to a cave or to sit under the Bodhi tree in one’s commitment to find freedom 6) Free mentally, emotionally (spiritual freedom) and incarcerated 7) Free mentally, emotionally (spiritual freedom) and physically free—not imprisoned or incarcerated Looking at the list, I know where I sit. I sit under the Bodhi tree with the Buddha. I walk beside Jesus in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. These articles are my incarceration, locked in step with the process of attaining freedom. I do not sit within a physical cave, but I clearly see the cave of mind, and shall remain dug in ‘til the last daemon is fully returned to the Whole. These words are evidence of commitment to freedom, of dedication to making the last thoughts and beliefs so transparent as to remove their ability to hide.
In awe of the power of forgiveness, willing to release all I have created in my ignorance against This that pervades all, I stand naked before God with nothing but Love. Physical freedom is merely another proving ground without spiritual freedom. It doesn’t matter where we find ourselves when we are imprisoned, when we see ourselves as separate from God. What does matter is what we do with our knowledge of imprisonment. What matters is that we begin walking towards freedom. Start walking and God’s pull will turn even the smallest steps into winged flight.