Another intense three days at the prison working together with outside and inside facilitators for an Alternatives to Violence workshop. It can be a lot of fun and always very engaging. One isn't aware of the emotional and energetic effect it can have. Often the outside facilitators, still in that fulfillment swoon, comment on how exhausted they are on the way home as if surprised.
The biggest impact on me is witnessing the profound experience the inmate is having in the workshop, seeing the changes in personality and outlook of the individual. It does not happen every time I am there that there are such huge turnarounds like we saw over the last few months with some of the inmates. I am keenly aware of the massive distance a man has to travel to get from a life of tragedy and criminal activity or hardcore drug addiction and related crime to that man who is living in service to his family and community or that man before us speaking with such conviction about “compassion” or “consciousness.”
A participant relayed the story about seeing someone he had been through the Alternatives to Violence Basic workshop with who was literally on the verge of getting into it with someone on the yard. He walked by in earshot and said “AVP,” and continued on his way.
The inmate who had been about to get ten years added to his term and a long stay in the hole with his next move was with us in the workshop. He explained how he had been aware of the price he was about to pay but was going to act anyway when he heard someone say “AVP” and was able to stop himself and walk away.
Another inmate told the story of seeing a fellow participant about to get into it with someone at one of the "houses" (dorm of around two hundred beds). He walked right up almost between them, close enough to get hit, and faced the the man he knew from an AVP Basic workshop.“Are you sure this is what you want?” is all he said. The other man was able to walk away because of that intervention.
I facilitate Alternatives to Violence workshops in prison as an offering of gratitude to my spiritual teacher, H. E. Garchen Rinpoche and his tremendous service around the world teaching others to awaken their love and compassion as his teacher Khenpo Munsel taught him during those twenty years in a prison labor camp.
From the film about H.E. Garchen Rinpoche's life.
The Warden in the Chinese prison camp where Garchen Rinpoche lived for twenty years begged him to say something against Tibet or Buddhism so there would be some official reason to grant him an early release. His cell mate had tried to end his own unbearable distress and suffering by a slice of his own throat. As soon as that happened the Warden called Garchen Rinpoche in to his office. The Warden had become fond of the young monk early on and was naturally concerned about his well being. The Warden tried to coax a reason to grant early release. “It’s not that bad, H.E. Garchen Rinpoche told the Warden, trying to comfort and reassure him so that he would not be worried or distressed. He thanked the Warden and stayed full term. He would not lie, could not lie even had he wanted to as he was bound by extensive vows of conduct. It truly was not that bad for him at that point. He understood that it was not our environment that causes our distress or suffering so much as the condition of our minds. What is the antidote to a distressed mind? He always tells us it is very simply awakening love and compassion in ourselves. Putting our attention on the wider benefit--that of all sentient beings.
He was in a unique position to understand this better than most. When he arrived in the prison in his early twenties he had seen his home and brethren suffer terrible destruction and cruelty and harbored intense anger toward his captors. That was when he met his root guru, Khenpo Munsel (root guru is the Lama who shows one the nature of one's mind).
The monks and Lamas and yogis in the Chinese prison labor camp were forbidden to pray or practice or meditate. Young Garchen Rinpoche practiced according to the instructions of Khenpo Munsel in secret while pretending to be asleep . The practice was focused on awakening love and compassion for all beings in Garchen Rinpche's embattled heart. Such was the extent of the awakening he accomplished that a few of the guards were moved to become his students.
If a man can grow up surrounded by violence and spend most of his life in prison yet accomplish transforming himself into a benefit to his family and community, he has traveled a distance no other man could possibly understand.
I had no idea how much I would learn and how profound it would be when I offered to train to be a team leader for Alternatives to Violence at the prison. I just thought I was helping out a facilitator who had been keeping AVP going at that prison for six years and needed some time off.
I couldn't begin to express my gratitude except to say let any service or benefit I can bring be an offering.
Michelle Espinosa is Blog-o-licious
I hope not to squander this life on anything less than love. And what do I mean by love? Think fierce love. Love that cuts to the core, that burns away all nonsense in an instant to get at what is most human. M+