I’m humbled when I volunteer in prison. On Sunday, I felt beleaguered: too much to do, not enough time. Essentially, the “me” channel was loud and voracious. I was a big deal in my mind (though not a big deal in the world). I’d lost touch with gratitude and perspective.
Yesterday, I had pastoral visits, as well as group meditation at Oshkosh Correctional. The “me” channel immediately disappeared. I listened to heart-wrenching stories of repeated childhood abuse and its impact on current life. And I witnessed the positive effect of mindfulness: empowerment found in a pause. I saw prisoners supporting prisoners: honoring each other’s vulnerability, wisdom, and growth. I heard men talk about their own suffering—how, eventually, it was a catalyst for waking up.
Slowly, through streaming tears, R shared, “If it weren’t for the horrible abuse inflicted by my dad and the rage I used to carry, I wouldn’t have the amazing, boundless love for my mom and my kids. My compassion comes from my suffering.”
Quietly yet astutely, M said, “I visualize this as a stick: One end is pleasure and the other end is pain. Somewhere in the middle, they meet. The farther I go toward one end of the stick—feeling grief and shame—the farther I go to the other—feeling joy and ease. I can’t have one without the other. Both sides grow my heart.”
In this sangha, people’s parents and wives are dying; they themselves have physical pain and medical issues; they suffer from after-effects of abuse and deep remorse about their crimes. And still, they show up to group; they show up as-is. They see how discomfort is part of the path, especially when it’s transformed into compassion, generosity, and understanding.
This morning, I sat on my meditation cushion, filled with gratitude and appreciation. Not just for good things but for things that are scary and difficult. Grateful to be resilient, hopeful, and alive. Grateful to feel and express a range of emotions. Grateful to just sit and breathe.