Owning Our Power Through    Meditation         

I get crazy when folks in the meditation group ask me “why” questions or repeat what the current guru has said on television or talk in abstractions off the top of their heads.  I have committed to make the Saturday morning meditation group a healing experience and healing never happens intellectually. The Controller tells us to get into our heads.  The Controller is trying to protect our vulnerability, to prevent too much feeling, and to live superficially.  The Controller is never the figure we call on when we want to live with passion and depth, the essence of meditation.


The Controller helps us keep our lives going by attending to necessary details–keep food in the fridge, cut the grass, balance the bank statement (or at least know pretty much where you stand), pay bills on time, change the sheets regularly, buy clothes on sale, and generally use good judgment in practical matters. 


That’s great and we absolutely need the Controller’s input.  I hope you have a strong Controller.  But as with everything else there is a time and place for the Controller.


If we indulge the Controller with too much of our energy we’ll have trouble sleeping, lose our spontaneity, forget how to have fun, and turn our lives into a series of projects to be completed. 


The Controller is a subpersonality we develop from our experience growing up. In school we meet certain expectations–arrive on time, keep our desks neat, hand in homework, and sit quietly when the teacher speaks. We restrain our here-to-fore unrestrained natural enthusiasm in deference to the demands of the world around us. We all need to learn that lesson and to give it priority in many parts of our lives–our work, our responsibilities as citizens and neighbors, our conduct with strangers, and our planning for the future.  We don’t want to live without a Controller.



However, the Controller is not how we heal.  Healing requires vulnerability and an open-ended commitment to be present and to see what happens.  We don’t want to use that presence and vulnerability with the tax collector.  We give the state its due.  But just as we have responsibilities to the outside world we have responsibilities to the inner world, also.  “Why,” you ask, “is it not enough to obey the law, live a decent life, and contribute in our own particular way?”  Certainly no one will criticize you and you will build a comfortable life for yourself.  If you are satisfied with ceasing your questing at that point, OK.


Some of us feel pulled to look more deeply, however.  The death of a child thrusts us into an agony we don’t think we can survive.  An unexpected turn of events leaves us without the future we had counted on.  Or simply living every day pulls us away from the world and into spaces inside which scare us.  For whatever reason, we want more. The surface verities don’t satisfy and our heads can’t answer soulful questions.  Our churches offer comfort and support but this delving to which we are called is so personal that we must set out alone. It would be easier if we could take the latest best seller with us and we could read about our lives but at some point we are confronted with experiencing our lives.  Just experiencing.  Not understanding, not controlling, not directing.  Simply experiencing.  Saying Yes to the moment and experiencing what is at any given second.   At first this exercise may serve to get us through a strained time but eventually it becomes a way of life.  And then we don’t identify with the Controller but with the one caught in the current.  We don’t know where we are being carried and we don’t need to.  We simply say Yes.


On an inner level we practice non-resistance to everything–I won’t fight any feeling which comes up, then acceptance of everything–thank you for this feeling which I don’t like, then trust–I say Yes to this second.  Owning our power includes each of these steps.  Non-resistance challenges those of us who like to act, who judge and want to correct. But as we accept that life is not a problem to be solved and that our minds (our Controllers) don’t know best, we acknowledge the beauty and wisdom in the patterns of our lives which lead us to heal.  Life is for healing through experience. If our Controllers cut off our experience, we can’t heal.  We can’t stay safe, intellectual, above it all, comfortable and still heal.  Healing is messy and sometimes painful and always vulnerable and we’re never in control.  Life knows what experiences we need to heal.  We can go with them or resist and stay in our heads


Owning our power may manifest in our gratitude for every little thing.  “Thank you for my breath today.” “Thank you for that driver cutting me off and taking my parking place.”  “Thank you for the latest disappointment.”  How many times have I heard, “That’s crazy to be thankful for what you don’t like and didn’t choose and don’t want!”  


It is.  But what’s the alternative?  To be angry or hurt and vengeful?  To take it personally and hate others?  I’ve lived that way and it doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t empower me, and I don’t heal.  My life works better when I say, “Yes, thank you, and what’s next?”  I can get very angry and very self righteous and very intellectual when I’m hurt.  I can demolish another with my analysis and words.  But where does it get me?  I’m still in the world and so are they and I’ve just contributed a whole lot of pain that didn’t need to be there.  All because I was insulted, which is to say, not in control.  Control is useful only in circumscribed situations.  With God, the soul, eternity, feelings, or relationships, control is a dirty word.


 Meditation is practice for life.  We practice letting go of our minds, accepting what comes, releasing what we no longer need to hold onto, breathing, trusting, and waiting to be shown the next step.  If we can do that for twenty minutes we can do it throughout the day.  We practice the relationship we want to have with Life in meditation and then we live it all day.  And that’s owning our power.


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Freedom In The Pen 


Then new attendees enter stress management, anger management, or depression management, we breathe.  I facilitate groups for mentally ill inmates at a men’s state penitentiary.  The group members have been diagnosed as having a thought disorder or a feeling disorder. They may have a short prison term or a life term.  Most have substance abuse in their backgrounds. Today they cope with incarceration and its stresses.  They can’t walk 100 yards in a straight line and some never will again.  They eat what is given to them, not what they want.  Privacy is lacking and quiet comes only in the early morning hours.


At the first class I talk about attention and I guide them through a breathing exercise in which we focus on the in-breaths and the out-breaths. We look at the breath. We don’t criticize the breath or change the breath.   We simply practice focusing our attention and the breath is always available so we focus on that. We don’t mention the word meditation and we don’t intellectualize.  We only experience.


I tell them that we are not trying to achieve anything by breathing; we just practice presence in each second. Anything that occurs around us is acceptable. They learn not to be concerned with what isn’t their business. The difference between what they can control and what they cannot control becomes clear.


At the end of class I say that the second daily practice in addition to being Observers inside is to be Observers outside.  We don’t take anything personally. No matter what anyone does or says, it’s not personal to us. It’s personal to the speaker and we don’t have to react. Being in their detached Observer gives them time and space so they don’t get caught up in another inmate’s drama.


At the next few classes we talk about forgiveness.  They say it’s easier to forgive others than to forgive themselves.  They carry significant self-hate and admit that they deserve incarceration even though they suffer.   Keeping their hearts closed promised them safety in a cruel world.  Now, opening those bruised and wounded hearts challenges the inmates.


I encourage them to be their own best friend. I suggest that they pat themselves on the back each night for doing something right that day. Relating to themselves as responsible adults fosters  a  sense of integrity. They learn to refer to themselves for judgment about how they live.  


We practice gratitude.  Many say they are grateful to wake up each day.  I encourage them to give thanks for small things—having fingernails, being able to tie their shoes, and having a bed.  (It’s a relief for many of the mentally ill not to be homeless.) And then I recommend being grateful for what they don’t like and don’t want—saying thank you to themselves for the cell mate who snores, accepting rude words from an officer without responding and blessing him silently, being grateful when no mail arrives.  They learn that their circumstances don’t determine their behavior or their feelings.


After weeks of practice I notice that the committed men are stiller, apparently happier with themselves, more present to the moment with less talk about the future. They are more available to their brothers who need guidance. I’m touched by their patience with the inmate who is developmentally delayed or by their explanation (in street terms) of why we breathe. (“It’s so we don’t hit the guy who pisses us off. I used to just cut anyone who dissed me but now I can wait and see that he’s just a loser who ain’t doing too good himself.”)


Their words are crude but the longer they breathe and practice being in their Observers the more I can feel their gentleness, the part of themselves they tried to destroy decades ago. They remain basically decent humans struggling to climb through layers and layers of hate and guilt and confusion.  They gave up on themselves when everyone else gave up on them.  They didn’t know how they were going to survive the pain and alienation and solitude of their miserable lives.


By breathing and identifying with their Observers, they find a meaning to their existence which they haven’t known. They can’t articulate a philosophy but they wake up each day with some small hope and some willingness to reach out. They don’t necessarily understand why their outlook has changed but without thought they replace their previous addictive behavior with their new-found commitment to breathing and observing.


They find power inside themselves instead of by using their fists.  Their journey all along has been one of warrior but now they see it’s a warrior with their own demons not with others.  In the past it was easier to focus on another man than to face their inner turmoil. With their skills of detached observing and breathing they can process any feeling or thought or impulse without destructive action.  


They say they feel freer practicing breathing and detached observing in prison than they ever felt on the streets. They had imprisoned themselves in their minds years ago when they tried to escape from themselves.  Now when they open to every part of themselves, they resist nothing and resent nothing and accept what exists each second.  They say they have found freedom.


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