Free at last

The prisoner was to be released tomorrow
He was hearing voices - was he crazy?
  No
  No!
He did talk to the voices
But
He did not heed the voices
He did not act on them
    He did have to act on them!
He critically evaluated what they told him
He carefully considered his choices
He skillfully took action
But
He was not always so
He was an anxious man
He had been beaten as a child, and angry
He had been beaten as an adult
    until his bones pierced his organs
He had been ill, terribly so
He had been intoxicated
   Addicted
He had been homeless
No friend, no home
Dying, alone
So alone
So he came to jail
So he received a book
And in those words heard the Buddha calling him:
    Walk with me, Bhikkhu!
So, homeless he now would sit
    Now in jail
    Soon under trees
    Harmless, friend to everyone
One morning in jail he rose victorious
    Ending his battle against the voices
    Against all his demons
He became self-controlled
Attended by Brahma, and Indra
See?
He could see.
He saw a new life waiting for him
He saw he was not healthy, not strong
He saw he was sick, homeless and dying
He saw he was free at last

Garuda to Kneeling Warrior

He had been reading online how to perform the poses
He wanted to stand on his hands
But did not understand why
He had worked day in and day out
His arms burned, his body burned

    Now he saw his world wasn't upside-down
    And learned again how to stand on his feet
    How to push himself up with his own two hands
    Above the ground
    Garuda!
    He gained the perspective he needed

Having learned of the Dharma
He exerted himself
    a little further
The kneeling warrior
Understood his duty
And extinguished the fire that burned him
To ignite a better one

Inner light

In the conference room the attorney frowned, waiting for his next client
The lawyer did not want to tell his client the prisoner the sun was shining
Though he knew his client likely knew that it was -
Attorneys know how to be silent.
Some things need not be said.

Prisoners in silent meditation reflect
  the sun shining above the clouds
  the moon floating high in the darkness
Spouse, children, work, green trees in spring's blossom
Prisoners also know some things need not be said.
Not beyond the brick walls, above the ceiling, above the roof.

Then understanding this
the prisoner with sudden insight touched his own heart
and said quietly,

"I was a framer. 
Outside, I had built walls and rooms.  
And inside here I built them too.
Now I know I am not far away, and never really have been. 
There is light, family and work - 
not only here and there, but inside and within."

In jail (and elsewhere)
Some sleep through all their days and years
But he was now awake.

Snake to warrior

Always had a story to tell, didn't know no one listened
Alone now, no one was there to listen
Speaking to himself - even he didn't hear himself talk
Not really.

Thief.  He stole again, and again -
Even here in jail: food.
Taking, taking, hungry, wasted
Hands always empty, reaching
Didn't even think about it anymore

"I am not a thief"
"I didn't want to take it, I couldn't help it"
"I didn't want to take it, I had to"
"I took for hunger of what I needed"
"I took what I desired and wanted"
"I took what my girlfriends wanted me to take"
(He had many lovers - he took their hearts)
"I took drugs and alcohol when they were offered"
"I took drugs and alcohol when they were not offered"
"I took the deal given me by the prosecutor"

He was without remorse
He blamed the women who seduced him
He blamed his co-conspirators who entrapped him
He blamed the police who targeted him
He blamed everyone but himself, it was not his fault.
It could not be: he would not hurt himself like this.

He was better off alone.

In the hole, alone now, he kept taking
He stole from himself
He became his own enemy
Taking all that he had:
Having everything taken from him
Having seen he took from himself
He saw he was a thief
"I -- a thief?"

Alone now he muttered, more and more
Persistent against the silence
He heard himself, for the first time
Heard those stories he told
And for the first time he was listened to
Now someone was listening, really.
Encouraged, he talked to himself, argued.
"I am not a thief."  "I am a thief."
He thought he was going crazy
He didn't recognize himself anymore
He didn't want to recognize himself anymore
He was becoming sane.

He missed friends
The games they played, the fun they had
Then he remembered he had no friends
He stole things from them and they hated him for it
He took his friends from himself
He missed his home - then remembered
He had taken his home from himself too - He was homeless
He missed his work - then remembered he took this from himself too
He took his home, work, life and hope
He stole everything from himself

Remembering his past life he understood his Karma
There, on the floor of Yoga class he wept
He felt remorse, he hurt the one person he ever cared for
Snake! whose Amrita was stolen

Now he was paranoid - so vulnerable!
Nowhere to run, no legs to run with
Substance withdrawal? Or growing sobriety?
He saw enemies everywhere, enemies he himself made
He was afraid of attack from every side
Everyone he had hurt would hurt him too!
He cowered, like a Snake he hid in that hole

The teacher said, get up! Come out!
So, there, in the hole he pushed himself up and out
Corpse to snake to wish granting cow
Cow to cat, cat to warrior
He transformed himself a thousand ways
He saw every world, searching
Then hunting
Then he found his enemy, the one who hurt him so
Finding himself, he bravely held the bow as the Teacher taught him to
Mercilessly, he attacked himself
But he would not die!
He felt his strength
Breathing, stopping breathing, breathing again
He fought and wrestled for an eternity
And in his hole he still does - and for a long time will
Steel will, steel mind, steel heart, stronger and stronger!
Now not a cold hearted warrior, hating an enemy
Now a compassionate doctor, cutting a friend
The sword now a knife: different than the knife he once had
No intention of harm: excising faults like a surgeon a tumor
He knows he will one day win.  If he keeps fighting.
One day his enemy will lose.  If he keeps fighting.
He will bring himself forth bound, holding the reins
He will bring himself to bear the yoke
Someday.

Success, Yogi!

Grounded

After the first year, he stopped counting the days, and started counting the months. After the second year, he stopped counting the months.  Some things cannot be understood by numbers - but still can be understood.  Some people cannot be known by names - yet will come when needed, like a good friend.  Forgetting the wide open sky, he felt the ground: it changed day and night, season to season.  Grounded, he understood. 

Seeing those coming and going from Jail (so relatively quickly!) he no longer knew their names.  He forgot his own.  His own past faded from memory.  As did his old habits.  Calm, self-controlled, compassionate, grounded.  A new life formed - one which would, after a time, emerge from Jail and see the wide open sky.  He practiced his breathing, felt his heart beating, and quickened.

Feeling better

No longer friendless, he first become his own friend

Now all his fellow inmates are now his friends
His celly whom he just met is now his friend too
As is the man who he knew too well
As is the man he once hated, and fought, and hurt
Like the man he once was

Returning from yoga, he answered the Deputy,
I am feeling better, and am getting better.
I am better and better.

It is by self control that one becomes a better man.

Climbing out of the hole

The fighter had begun - and lost - another fight.  What he was angry about now didn't matter much.  Now, in the hole, he sat alone.  He remembered what he had learned, and sat, hearing his breath.  Asana after asana, hour after hour, gradually, he was no longer alone: he was with himself.  He had never been by himself before, not like this.  Seeing himself for the first time, he was struck by the numerous faults in himself.  For once, he did not fight: he wanted to be a friend to himself.  So he decided to correct his faults, one at a time. 

He soon learned that he was not free - not because he was in jail, but because of his desire, his hatred, his own lack of self-control: these mastered him.  Seeing that he desired food, he fasted three days until he broke his desire for food: then he ate without desire, to nourish his body.  Desiring sleep, he fasted from sleep until he at last mastered his Tamas.  He conquered his thirst, for alcohol, for violence, for justice, for revenge.  All his desires now no longer mattered much.  Subtly changing his nature for a better one, he continued to sit - success after success, victory upon victory, the fighter conquered all, like a hero.

Now he sat in class, and was aware of his injuries - not only from fighting, but from his victory.  And so now he began to heal himself.  And seeing his own hurts, became aware of how others hurt.  Now that he had climbed out of his hole, he sought to heal the world of its pain.

Books and television

He had learned yoga in prison, from a book. 
His friend had learned yoga in jail, from the television.
At their first class they now quickly understood

The last breath

He asked, "there are so many kinds of breathing, which breath is best?"

Each is a tool, more or less suitable to accomplish different purposes. The one which most effectively accomplishes the necessity which makes requirement is best. 

Asanas like these are acts of sitting, or resting, necessary to the exertion of strength: understand here rest itself is merely a preparation for further exertion and can become difficult after a time.  When one holds in breath, one must let go of it; when one lets go of breath, one must take it in.  If one sits too long, standing seems to be rest: when one stands too long, sitting seems to be rest. 

Therefore, sometimes one breathes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes deeply, sometimes shallowly.  One day, you will stop breathing entirely.  The purpose of contemplation is action, the purpose of rest is effort.  What is the purpose of your present misery?  What is the purpose of your life?  Do you yet know your duty?

After visiting even the best temple, you leave it.  Climb a mountain to see the best view, and you return down again.  Going to work, you return home; coming home, you return to work.  Did you find rest in any of these asanas?  The dayworker waits for his wage before he stops working.  Have you enjoyed (Kama) the benefit of your work (Artha), what have you gained by this sacrifice of strength?  Every yogi finds one or another asanas easier: do you know your Dharma?

In this short time, you have breathed many times.  Which of those was best?  Did you even observe them to know?  Accomplish your purpose, succeed - with this breath, and the next.  Achieve success, even with your last breath.  And on that last breath you will know which one was best.

The eternal Asana

Hold for one breath
Hold for two
Hold for one heartbeat
Hold for two

Hold for one minute, one hour one month
Hold for two
One year, two, more

Hold for long enough.

Foolish cowardice

At night, in the dark, he fled. Foolish, intoxicated, he was not entirely human now.  He felt hunted, afraid, like an animal.  He was sure he was innocent, but was afraid he could not prove it.  So, he committed the crime of trespass and in a bush, he crouched among the small birds and mice, evading his hunters. Seeing their nests, enjoying their tolerance as hospitality, he missed his own home.  After a very long time, it was safe to leave.  But not to go back home.  

Intoxicated, with fear and alcohol, he stumbled further into the night.  Finding a fence in the dark, he trespassed again and crossed over and saw a shed in which to hide.  He broke the lock, and the law again.  There, he was comforted by the snakes and bugs.  His fear faded with his warmth as he passed into the shadows there like a ghost, missing his wife and family.  Not quite awake, not quite asleep, he was encouraged by the silence to go further into the night.  But not back to his wife and family.  

Intoxicated, with regret, remorse and alcohol, passing down the streets like wandering wind, his breath frozen, his heart still as the world.  Into darker streets, as everyone slept, at home, with their families, safe.  Safe from him, and the other fearsome things of the darkness.  

Wandering deep into hell, he became alone in the darkness.  He asked the darkness if he had gone too far to leave?  Not even Yama and Laxmi could understand his intention, and so the darkness asked him "did you want to leave, or go so much deeper you cannot leave?"  And for a moment, even he didn't know the answer.  

In this moment of sobering human frailty, he saw he was not a creature of the dark.  He wanted the path out of hell, back home.  So as the dawn rose, he sought his hunters to submit himself for capture.  It was better to face his accusers, and prove his innocence than run like an animal, fade like some ghost and disappear into the darkness.  He wanted to be judged a man.  Having learned some courage, he has reason to hope he might be less foolish in other ways too.  But the path out of hell is longer than the road into it.

Success

In class today, one of the inmates made such significant progress that it exemplifies a moment of success worth being proud of. He was able to understand from his own experience how responsibility, concern and danger at home and work can cause stress, and then immediately observed that the deputies he saw in the Jail had tremendous responsibility and concern for him and the other prisoners, and were working in a potentially dangerous situation. He then immediately respected the deputies, and their work, and considered aloud how he might make their workplace safer, and their work easier. The student next to him was struck by this line of thinking, and understanding its implications, suggested that obedience to the deputies and rules would likely accomplish this goal. They then thought together to bring this understanding to others they practice yoga with in their pod.

In the same class, this same first inmate understood too that becoming comfortable with discomfort, as Krishna instructs in the Bhagavad Gita, and as he learned by sitting Zen, would be essential to his recovery from drug addiction. He understood that he was equally uncomfortable from withdrawal symptoms, and asking for help with them. He understood that recovery from addiction would require considerable effort, but that it was worthwhile, and possible. Similarly, the challenges he will face upon release will be difficult, but not impossible. Advancing his yoga practice through application, his expressed what appeared to be a sincere intention toward self-improvement, accomplishing the important work of the Mesa County Jail.

Selfless service, not punishment

Jail is not for punishment. It is incorrect and unjust to punish those who have not been convicted. Many confuse Jail with Prison - and their ignorance of the system of our Government's justice is likely contributing to their understanding of its purpose and administration. Deterrence by punishment is only one means of criminal reform. To bring an end to criminality requires prevention, service and addressing the underlying causes of criminality - all of which the Sheriff should be praised for undertaking systematically and scientifically through modern theories of criminology. You would do well to learn more about your American system of government, it is one of the best in the world. And the Deputies of the Sheriff's Office are always ready to instruct the community in the best means they can help in crime prevention. We cannot nor should not rely on the Sheriff alone for protection against criminals, but should volunteer our assistance in every way possible.

All of our Teachers are volunteer (unpaid). Even the yoga mats were provided without taxpayer dollars. There are many opportunities to volunteer: whether with the Sheriff in making the workplace for Deputies safer, or through other crime prevention programs, or in providing community service by cleaning up our County - or by volunteering in numerous capacities with Grand Junction, or with the County. Or with your religious community. Or the Hospital, or any of our local non-profits. Volunteerism not only improves the community, but reduces the burden on the taxpayer. You might even say it is our duty as Citizens to serve to the greatest capacity we are able.

Many of the inmates are awaiting trial, and are not yet convicted of a crime (in our system of justice, a person can be detained before trial if they lack the money to post bail). And yes, their incarceration prevents their employment - both in waiting for trial, and afterward (even if they are found not-guilty, as many employers frown on hiring someone with an arrest record). Criminal justice reform is of critical concern to not only our County, but many Counties in Colorado - and since the issue is of concern to you, you should consider taking a greater leadership role in your political party and government. Civic involvement is essential to the vitality of our entire community.

And if you cannot yourself volunteer, donate to Loka Hatha Yoga, or any other NPO of your choice, so they may exert themselves on your behalf.

Please help with overcapacity

With over 2 dozen inmates in one pod alone interested in learning yoga, most will not be able to attend the class offered due to classroom capacities and a limited number of volunteer teachers.    Those who do attend carefully study, and convey the lessons to those unable to attend.  You can help with this overcapacity while advancing your own practice simultaneously.  And, besides the Mesa County Jail, there is need for yogis throughout our community.  Please consider volunteering. 

Loka Hatha Yoga offers free teacher training to any volunteer interested in volunteering to instruct yoga: contact lokahathayoga@gmail.com, or 970.778.2835

Teach us all the Asanas

One of the prisoners asked, "please, teach us all the Asanas?"  He handed his Teacher a lined piece of paper, with stick figures drawn on both sides of it depicting various Asanas, sometimes with arrows indicating a movement associated with the pose.  It was carefully folded, and cared for, but stained, worn and well-read.  "These are the ones we know.  We have written down the ones we have learned, and practice them." 

Yogis in the yard

Yogis in the yard
Others run round in circles
They hold the world still