Teaching meditation always presents a challenge.  Two groups I teach--felons in a men’s state prison and educators in primary and advanced levels share similar styles.  Both value control which proves to be a major impediment to meditating. 

We all develop a Controller to shield us from life’s blows.  The Controller relates to a valued image of ourselves we hold in our mind’s eye.  The Controller tells us how to be OK.  It just requires that we cut off part of ourselves–whatever is unacceptable. The Controller hates vulnerability and tells us not to appear weak or foolish.    The felons “give attitude” to intimidate.  The educators speak from their intellects about what an “expert” writes.  In their own ways these groups avoid being present to themselves.  Just being themselves doesn’t seem safe (to the felons) or good enough  (to the educators).

And yet that is what meditation is about. We don’t meditate to look good or to impress anyone or to pass time pleasantly.  We meditate to experience our own truth at the deepest level of our beings. We meditate to look into the shadows which scare our rational minds but which hold the path to our healing. We meditate to be more sincerely alive than we are if we don’t meditate.

The felons in stress management or anger management or depression management, aka meditation, know what it means when life doesn’t work.  By the time they arrive in prison they have encountered the judicial system repeatedly.  Most have served multiple terms for various offenses, usually related to drug or alcohol addiction.  Now without family support, they believe they are inevitable losers and they hate themselves.  They walk through their days trying to balance their despair with a shaky hope (they don’t dare trust) that maybe life could be different.  On good days they manage to avoid conflict with others or being overwhelmed by their soul-numbing depression.  Other days find them fighting, caught up in a physical struggle to dispel the tension which haunts their hearts.

We talk in class about not taking anything personally.  How is that related to stress management, they want to know.  So we practice detachment, identifying with the Observer, just noticing what is, not judging or changing, just breathing and experiencing the moment.  We look at the Controller messages which say, Don’t let him talk to you that way, or Be a man and defend yourself.  We breathe and we notice the messages but we don’t act.  We stay in the Observer.

They practice being in their Observers when they encounter other inmates but don’t react to them.  They practice owning their power by maintaining their boundaries. This is the only power they have and they assume it by identifying with the Observer.

The educators feel comfortable in their heads.  They have learned that there is a right way to do everything and their job is to teach us how to do things right. When it comes to being themselves, they want to know how to do that right.  Do I breathe through my nose or my mouth?  Do I sit on a cushion and hold my hands like this?  They like to focus on details and they give their authority to me to teach them how to be themselves.

We talk about the Controller but they identify with their Controller.  Isn’t that how I’m supposed to be? It’s challenging to stay in the Observer and look at the Controller because the educators believe their Controller is a voice of wisdom instead of a defense. The Controller is like wallpaper for them.  They take it for granted and don’t easily look behind it. For them intellectual detachment precludes presence to what is this second.  They relate to their image of the Controller more than to the momentary truth in their hearts which exists behind their Controller.

The felons need support to stay in the Observer and not act.  The educators need support to stay in the Observer and not think.  Each group fears simply breathing and being and allowing Life to unfold.  Each needs to let go of its chosen identification and to face Life without preconditions or defenses. Each needs to release its hold on the Controller.

Meditation teaches us to say Yes. No Controller is needed for that. Yes to what we don’t know and don’t understand.  Yes to what is unpredictable.  Yes to this second.  Yes.  I am. I breathe and I be and I say “ Yes.”  And then I do it again.