Early one morning, I was co-teaching a meditation class at the local county jail. The class was located in a tiny room with a giant picture window facing a busy, noisy hallway. Soon after we started the class, the guards lined up some prisoners just outside the window. The guys in the line peeped in the windows, making faces and laughing at the folks in our class.
On top of that distraction, the already small room was divided into two rooms with a moveable divider. Our group was on one side, and the “Anger Management” class was on the other. The Anger Management folks were definitely working through some anger issues quite loudly that morning. Despite all of the noise and distractions from the ‘outside’ world, most of the eight guys in our class sat quietly, meditating, and respectfully asking us questions about meditation.
One guy in the class, however, was really rowdy. He didn’t appear to have the slightest interest in meditation. He was making all sorts of wisecrack comments, interrupting everyone, and at one point, started rolling around on the floor (really!), laughing his head off for no apparent reason. He seemed to be doing just about anything other than meditating or listening to our instructions on how to meditate. He didn’t attempt to settle down during the entire class.
To wrap up the class, my co-teacher made this statement in a rather serious and dramatically loud tone of voice: “Listen up, guys! You may never come to this class again and we may never see any of you again. You may never go to a meditation group again or even ever meditate again, but remember just this one thing: Your Breath is your Ally!
The next week I was quite surprised to see that ‘Roll on the floor laughing during meditation guy’ showed up to class. He seemed very excited and wanted to tell us all something. “Guess what?” he said. “Last week, I was up on the third-floor tier and got in a big fight with another guy…I picked him up and was hanging him over the tier. Just as I was about to drop him, I remembered what you said and took a breath. And it stopped me, so I put the guy down. He was so shocked he ran off, and I was kinda shocked, too. You were right about that breath stuff!” Your breath is your ally.
ps. This phrase I often use and it tends to get repeated back to me by prisoners at the end of class series' as one of the tools that really stands out as useful.
Excerpt from the book Path of Freedom: Building Emotional Intelligence Skills by Vita Pires-Crisp. Since 2007, The Path of Freedom program has been run in hundreds of prisons worldwide supporting thousands of prisoners.
Artwork by Art Reid.