The Path From Within

A day of mindfulness with the men at Mountainview Correctional Center
By Alan Davis, Radiant Compassion of the Source

Morning comes and the early darkness of day permeates the drive to meet my friend and teacher, Leslie. I am up earlier than I have been in quite along time, in fact I cannot remember that last time that I was up earlier than the sun. I enjoy the solitude and quiet time to myself for it prepares me for the day ahead. This is my first time going into a prison as a visitor and I am feeling so many emotions on this early morning drive, it seems fitting that it is dark and I feel anonymous as I drive on the freeway among the busy people of the world who most likely feel anonymous too, as they drive to work and prepare for their day.

I keep thinking of the different paths that each of us take in life. Each person on this freeway is headed somewhere different, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Much in the same way that individuals whom I will be meditating with today are on different paths, one is not better than the other just headed somewhere different. Or are we? It was not too long ago that I was on the other side of the fence, literally and figuratively. So as I pull into the driveway and my friend and I hug, I breathe. A deep, slow breath, one that will follow me throughout the day, one that will ease my spirit and tell me that it is okay to be scared, it is okay to be unsure, it is okay to be free.

We are surrounded by patchy fog as we drive up the mountain to the prison. The patches of fog are complimented by patches of beauty, trees and land, farms and roads, houses and cars. Aromatic colors, colors that you can feel and smell, they feel like winter, they smell like a crisp frost. It takes about two hours for us to reach the prison, during which Leslie teaches me some chants and songs that we will be sharing with the group. They are fun songs and they relax me, with each one I feel more connected to what I am doing, to who I am with and the ties that bind it all together.

As we ascend higher and reach the final hill that will take us into the small valley in which the prison sits, I am at last confronted with the barrage of feelings that I knew I would face. But they are not what I thought they would be they are somehow different and confusing. They are not the fear and trepidation that I feared would overwhelm me along with the memories of my past, the thoughts of how I felt and the days I spent confined and filled with fragility. But rather they are feelings of excitement and fulfillment and of peace and tranquility. They are the feelings that tell me that all is as it should be. With the first steps out of the car I say to myself: 

Breathing in I calm my body,

Breathing out I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment.

 We enter the prison and it looks like every other prison that I have seen, metal and concrete, badges and blue, locked doors behind locked doors behind locked doors. I am comforted by the fact that I know I can leave at any moment and I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty because I know that I am no better than these men whom I will meet, no better and no worse just in a different place. We enter the room where the men are and I am surprised to see they are all doing some form of Tai’chi, each man in a similar pose, breathing deeply, each man alive with their breath, alive in the moment and reaching out to my spirit welcoming me into the space and creating a safe place for me to open up and grow.

After a few moments, the men stop and greet each of us as if we are crossing paths anywhere in the world other than in a prison. They are friendly and calm, they are polite and warm, they are human beings and after many hugs and handshakes, after many smiles and nods, I feel completely at ease and I fully allow myself to open up and be aware of each intricacy that surrounds me and the similarities in each of us.

The day was filled with meditation and discussion, deep relaxation and chanting, singing and eating, laughter and smiles, warmth and connection. There was no pretense or expectations and certainly no discomfort or fear. It was what I had hoped it would be, a time to share the dharma with fellow friends along the path and a time to learn from the many teachers that we come to pass in life, sometimes without even knowing that they are there to teach us something.

I learned something that day that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life. I learned that Joy comes from where you least expect it. Tangible joy, the joy that comes from within and not without, the joy that finds a warm spot in your heart and pervades your entire being, the joy that finds people in the places that are thought to prevent such feeling, in people that are thought to be without emotion. Joy was apart of each connection made that day at the prison in the small valley on the side of a mountain, and no matter where I go or what I do I will always remember that day spent with them and I will remember the joy that I found.