My fascination with freedom became most palpable after spending time this past year with the inmates at Maine Correctional Center located 44 miles from the place I call home. I shared tools with the men and women that call MCC their home. It feels right and kind to share tools that have brought me great glimpses of mental and emotional freedom.
When I started volunteering at the prison, I was coming fresh off a divorce that I didn’t ask for. I thought we were the real deal, made to last. As I look back at it, it makes sense to me that I would surround myself with prisoners as I felt like one myself, trapped in deep sorrow and despair.
For over a year now, different groups have joined me in practicing mindful breathing, guided meditation, we share in music they call “soothing”, Qi Gong, stillness, honest sharing of experience, The Work of Byron Katie…
What I have noticed about the people I get to sit with is the clarity in their eyes. Clean and sober, stripped of all the things we use on the outside to distract with, identify with, medicate with, fill the void with. There isn’t even a cell phone to escape the scene with. They are just who they are, on their path, finding their way home. Just like me.
I asked them how they would define meditation or mindfulness.
Here is what they said:
“In the moment…not worried about others…aware of Self…in touch with inner peace…a pause…quiet…present…a clear mind…coping….an altered state of consciousness…a clean mind…stepping into another world…focus…being in the here and now…one with my surroundings…one with the universe…calm… (and my very favorite)…shaking my hand, meeting myself”…
I don’t ask them their story or what got them in prison. Details leak out here and there once they feel safe enough, I suppose. Some are there for life (can you imagine?) and some for a short spell and anywhere in between. The predominant theme spoken of is substance abuse. If addiction to something strong enough gets real enough, a person will do some interesting things to get the next fix. I can understand that.
And what led to the addiction? Confusion and pain, I would say. And before that? I don’t know for sure, but it seems like forgotten neglect or blatant assault. The prison is filled with the end result of confusion.
I meet a young man, must have been 21, who could not have been more excited to learn how to meditate. He had been reading about it for months and was afraid to “do it wrong” so he waited for class to begin. So eager for good medicine. Such beauty, appreciation and a willingness to grow.
After the meditation, I asked another friend what he noticed.
He said, “I saw an explosion of bright colored lights in my brain and it felt really good.”
I invite them to write about a stressful situation in their lives so we could take a closer look at it and see if there are other perspectives possible once they question their painful story and turn it around to what else could be true. The majority of the painful themes were around relationships; feeling unloved, left, misunderstood. Familiar.
Many came to see the other person’s innocence and even their own.
Freedom lives on the other side of a stance, a position, a righteousness of assuming to know what is best for the self or the other on Life’s great, mysterious path.
I went into the state prison store and found this hand crafted chess set beauty. I see and feel the presence and attention it took to create such art. Someone bled their soul into this project. Ok, I can’t know that for sure, but when I held it, it felt so rich and healing. Someone’s history and circumstance poured into this craft that I get to be with now as I contemplate my own history and circumstance.
This is the field I got married in. I finally got up the ovaries to walk out into it and lie there in the snow, in the sun and be held. On my way to town, I drive by this field and turn away. And compulsively cannot stop myself from looking out into the field, at the images from that fateful day filled with love.
I do my work to walk in that love still, now, here. Love prevails. I am grateful for the experience and how much expansion happened because of it. I am grateful that my former partner of whom I call my dear, dear friend has and continues to expand my capacity to love. I am grateful I know what to do to experience love (freedom) again, now, here.