I would like to share my experience teaching meditation at the Hasharon Prison. I was assigned a group of inmates from the rehabilitation ward who were taking part in the 12-step program. There, I encountered people who yearn to find a true place to rest. Above all, I make an effort to clarify that we must learn from our own experience, by exploring the place inside ourselves where we can let everything be as it is, and rest. One moment at a time. For me it is a great privilege to sit with this group, to share, teach and learn. People who have chosen to undertake a rehabilitation program are consciously making a very significant change in their lives. These are people who – even though they may struggle along the way – have found the strength within themselves to assume responsibility for their lives and choose a new, unknown path. I make a consistent effort to link meditational practice to real life, to remind them that we aren’t practicing in order to sit in silence for two hours but rather so that we may incorporate the insights gained during meditation into every moment of our lives.
Currently, the 12 steps fill their lives. I try to use a vocabulary familiar to them so that everything will come together and so they don’t feel like they are being led down two different paths. In the end, we learn to let go of all that brings us suffering, whether it be thoughts, emotions, sensations or addictions. In the end, we are all searching for a way to face life’s pain and hold on to life’s pleasures. In the first meeting we discussed change, choice, responsibility and courage. We discussed changes in life that always begin from within, and whathad to happen inside them so that they could decide to come to this ward.
I find there is something very easy about teaching this group. Firstly, the fact that they are already a group. A group of people who are already undergoing a variety of things together. I assume they have already heard each other’s experiences and are learning to support each other. There is no pretense here. Everything is very authentic, nobody pretends to know and understand everything. Even when objections or doubts arise, they are expressed openly, making it much simpler to discuss our many difficulties, whether in life or in meditation.
The first of the 12 steps is admitting that we are powerless in the face of alcohol and that we have lost control over our lives. If we replacedrinking alcohol with any other attempt to grasp happiness, we can see that all of us are addicted. If we weren’t addicted, it would be much simpler and easier to let go instantly: to stop seeking, once and for all, the desired happiness and relief in all transient aspects of life. In order to make them understand better, I simply said that the first step in meditation is to see that we don’t have control over our mind. They immediately understood and were enthusiastic, someone even asked me if I designed their rehabilitation program. After we really see clearly that we don’t have any control over our mind, we release the necessity to try to manage it, to organize or control it. Suddenly I remembered the second step: we believe that a force greater than ourselves can give us back our sanity, and the third step: we have decided to dedicate our desires and our lives to reaching Godas we understand him. The 12 step process is very spiritual; it involves great dedication to something that is greater than one’s self. I can see so many analogies: the letting-go that we agree to undertake while meditating, the dedication to something greater than ourselves. Agreeing to give up control, to lose our grip and to try to open ourselves to a new layer within ourselves, even and especially if we have no idea where it may lead us. I must state that I was surprised by the degree of openness and the inmates’ personal, honest explorations (of course there are still many doubts and objections, it is impossible to avoid them). There is something specific about their difficult situation, both in prison and in the rehabilitation program, that doesn’t allow them to live an illusion. Although I believe there is not a single person among us who would want to find himself confined in the therapeutic ward of a prison, perhaps in such a situation, where it’s so clear that this is not the way you envisioned your life, and where it’s no longer possible to delude yourself that everything is OK, a new door opens: some sort of readiness and incertitude, which are a great point from which to begin practicing meditation.
Something else I would like to share: in my experience, it is most important to give the meditators the feeling that everything is OK. Everything that is happening within them is alright, and it is important to allow this space to resonate so that they can find respite within themselves, even if the thoughts, emotions or pain they experience is unbearable. One man shared with us that he has many malignant or self-destructive thoughts and that he is trying to rid himself of them. He asked whether I was saying that he does not need to rid himself of them. He is a very intelligent and curious man, and always asks relevant questions. I answered that he should try to let go of the need to change or to manipulate his thoughts in any way, and check if there is space within him as these thoughts arise,so that he may rest, without needing to do anything. I reminded him of the clouds in the sky, and the many phenomena that may appear within them: lighting, storms, rainbows; that despite everything, the sky will never be influenced and will remain open and pure. I told him that within him, there is also a part so pure that cannot be influenced by anything. That very second, his face transformed before my eyes, as though a mask that was glued to his face fell off, and there was such great relief and openness there. That moment remained with me all week.