Wednesday, July 2, 2008

MAIA in Helderstroom Prison

On Monday the 30th of June, we presented the third one-day module of the MAIA Program - Mindful Awareness in Action at Helderstroom Maximum Prison. The workshop was attended by 39 participants, all incarcerated for serious/violent crime.
During the first module participants were left with the question - WHO AM I? as homework for the next session. It is exactly this question, their understanding and interpretation of it that once again reminded us of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s repeated admonishment: “Try, try, try for 10,000 years nonstop!”
Some participants felt threatened by this question and thought it pertained to details of their crime, or perhaps even involvement in the Numbers gangs – prevalent in most correctional facilities. Once this misperception was dealt with, and they were given some guidance as to how to approach the question they were left to explore it in whichever way they felt most comfortable.
In most cases, participants gave details of their name, place and date of birth and levels of education or lack thereof. They also mentioned likes and dislikes with regards to music, food and clothing. One participant simply said that he could not write anything about who he was, as that would be a lie - because he really did not know!
The question “Who am I?” is truly inexhaustible and it’s underlying meaning cannot easily be transmitted and attained after only two sessions of Mindful Awareness instruction and working with I, ME and MINE! Hence Ven. Seungh Sahn’s encouragement “Try, try, try for 10,000 years nonstop!”
During the second module participants were again left with a question as homework. This time: “if you could give anyone a gift, what would it be and who would be the recipient of this gift?”
95% of the participants approached this question from a purely materialistic perspective and mostly said they would give ‘this gift’ to their mother in acknowledgment of her gift of life, as well as her ongoing suffering as a result of their incarceration. A few participants approached this question from the perspective of their personal lack of education and said they would give themselves the gift of a higher level of education, as they truly believed that their crime/ incarceration is as a direct result of their lack of or low level of education.
The emphasis of the first three modules of the MAIA program is to introduce participants to the concept of moment to moment awareness or present time awareness and working with ‘I’, ‘ME’, ‘MINE’ versus ‘i’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ using various forms of meditation to facilitate this process: i.e. Sitting and walking meditation, listening and pausing meditation, breathing and eating meditation etc.
Bringing attention to eating meditation elicited lively discussion and detailed descriptions of the smell and color of food they eat on a daily basis. “We eat as quickly as possible to get it over as quickly as possible,” was the common thread of this interaction.

A teaching from - S. N. Goenka, The Art of Living called: JUDGEMENT, concluded this session and set them on their way (hopefully!) to approach their meal times with a different mindset:
“A sensation appears, then liking or disliking begins. This fleeting moment, if we are unaware of it, is repeated and intensified into craving and aversion, becoming a strong emotion that eventually overpowers the conscious mind. We become caught up in the emotion, and all our better judgment is swept aside. The result is that we find ourselves engaged in unwholesome speech and action, harming ourselves and others. We create misery for ourselves, suffering now and in the future, because of one moment of blind reaction.
But if we are aware at the point where the process of reaction begins--that is, if we are aware of the sensation--we can choose not to allow any reaction to occur or to intensify . . . in those moments the mind is free.
Perhaps at first these may be only a few moments in a meditation period, and the rest of the time the mind remains submerged in the old habit of reaction to sensations, the old round of craving, aversion, and misery. But with repeated practice those few brief moments will become seconds, will become minutes, until finally the old habit of reaction is broken, and the mind remains continuously at peace. This is how suffering can be stopped.”
In July, during a two-day module, we will begin to explore the levels of consciousness – intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual in an attempt to make available some tools and processes to further explore the question: “WHO AM I?”

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