The other day, I sat in a circle with about 40 men who are incarcerated at the Minnesota state correctional facility in Stillwater. They had come for a session in mindfulness meditation, which is offered twice a month by a group of volunteers. I’ve been to Stillwater before, but I’m just starting to volunteer with this particular group.
We went to the prison chapel, and the four of us who were there to facilitate set up the room for a typical attendance of 25-30. More and more men kept arriving until nearly every chair was used, and we ended up creating a circle that pushed to the perimeters of the space. It was the largest number that have ever come.
Patrice, the leader of our group, has been guiding this mindfulness practice in prison for nearly 20 years. She creates an atmosphere of both openness and boundaries, helping the men receive the gift of silence and stillness, when that is such a rare commodity in this place. She invites them to try the meditations and allows individuals to leave after the chime rings if the experience isn’t right for them in that moment. She acknowledges that some may fall asleep and that is okay. She sets clear expectations and guidance for the time together. And she accepts the men where they are.
We offer three different kinds of meditations with time for a check-in and sharing reflections on each round. I heard many of the men testify to feelings of peace and relaxation. Some said it was a time for prayer. Some said it helped them manage their anxiety. They shared glimpses into their fears, perspectives, disappointments, hopes. They put on fronts and allowed vulnerability. Some embraced the experience and some had other motives.
I learn so much when I come to prison. This is a place of monotony, control, confinement and punishment. It does not foster imagination, hope or wonder. It is built for retribution and not restoration of humanity. And yet, there are people who know something else is possible, who can change a trajectory, who can look at themselves or another and know there is more there there.
“In the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities; in the mind of the expert there are few.” — Shunyru Suzuki
When we bring curiosity about ourselves and others, we can transcend assumptions, predictability, inevitabilities. When we approach each moment with beginner’s mind, we realize that nothing is fixed, nothing is defined, nothing is fully known. Curiosity about the world is perhaps the greatest gift. It helps us go beyond what is and what even can be imagined. May we meet each moment with genuine and humble curiosity.
— Rev. Terri