In the chaos there is a refuge for meditation – Buddhadoor Global
In the early afternoon of September 20, 2017, seven volunteers from the Sakya Rinchen Ling Center visited the Women’s Penitentiary at Obrajes Prison in La Paz, Bolivia, for the first time, to provide training for a course of meditation. It has been four years since that day.
The site is a dilapidated house guarded by Bolivian police. The entrance is a small area and the check-in and body checks are both detailed and in-depth. There is almost always a long queue that starts at the gates of the establishment and stretches for several meters – mainly relatives and families who want to see their loved ones, for whom they bring food and clothes.
Due to the permission we received to teach the course, our access was a bit quicker – our group of volunteers have training equipment and supplies, which they inspect one by one before each session. We were assigned Wednesday afternoons for practice.
We have finally found the right building. The doors opened and the first thing we saw was a sun-drenched courtyard, then the women deprived of their liberty. Several tables were set up where the women met in small groups. They listened to loud music and sang in a tumultuous cacophony. We could hear screams of excitement coming from a soccer game on a nearby field. Other women who we couldn’t see told us they were taking other classes, mostly on crafts. These women were not satisfied.
Amidst the sound of echoing discussions, music and the football game, we entered a chapel in the middle of the main courtyard. The interior was clean and organized, with rays of light shining through the colorful windows and pretty flowers and plants brightening up the room. The benches were lined up in organized rows. The orderly and cheerful atmosphere seemed to somehow remove the background noise. The chapel was the site assigned to our training courses. On the news of our arrival, the guards left to search for the women who had registered for the course.
Over time, more experienced meditators returned, as well as newly incarcerated women who wanted to try a new experience. We set the mood by arranging the benches and a projector to project the session and practice meditation.
While the activities of these sessions took place in the chapel, we had the unconditional support of Sister Fideliza, who takes care of the small religious refuge. From the start, when we explained our project to her, Sister Fideliza was extremely happy. She said that contemplation is also an essential part of her tradition and that she would be happy for inmates to practice. She has meditated alongside us for many sessions, and her warm presence brightens up the space because she is a generous and good person. She took care of women who lacked resources for personal or legal support such as a mother caring for her daughters. Every day, she tirelessly looks after the activities of the chapel and provides administrative support in the courtrooms.
We started the session. Courageous women who were looking for a change in their lives because they weren’t happy with them took a walk. .
The session began with a presentation. Women were exhausted from being away from loved ones: mothers who couldn’t see their children, strangers who felt like foreigners, women who thought being imprisoned limited their body and mind, difficulty getting along with other women with different habits and customs, competing for a position that would set them apart in prison, and those who do not have the means to better manage their freedom once outside. Overcome by the weight of their torments, some of them had resigned themselves and were passively present, barely there.
Many of them realize that they would be in a different situation if they had taken different paths in life. Some lived in poverty and were mistreated by the guards, doing whatever was necessary to survive. Others explained that bad company led them astray, while others had partners who took advantage of them. The stories showed us that they had not known peace in their lives. We ask them, âWhat do you know about meditation? Most of them thought it was some kind of relaxation therapy.
We started by practicing mindfulness and asked the participants to walk around the yard. When they returned home, we asked them about their experiences. Many said it was nothing fancy, that they were just walking. For the second experiment, we asked them to feel the movement of their body, how their feet support them on the ground, the weight of their body, and to observe their breathing and everything around them. When they returned this time, they were surprised as they noticed objects they had never seen before, that their bodies had a rhythm, and their breathing was still present. . . the experience was like discovering something that had been hidden.
We started our explanation: They should understand that their state of mind is controlled by their thoughts and that actions are in fact an automatic response to habits and customs created in the past. They could see the result of their actions like a wild horse without reins, and under such conditions there is no control over their life or actions. Meditation can allow them to take the reins of this wild and untamed horse. Then they can decide with a calm mind where they want to be, what really is the most suitable place and which direction they want to go.
This is a huge goal because before we can master our mind, we must first calm down and control our body. The body is the vehicle that allows us to access our minds. If the body is out of control, it is extremely difficult to approach our mind. Therefore, the first step is to work on the behavior. We start by being aware of our actions. We start with kindness, because we can all make those who seek happiness smile, just like us. Everyone is looking for happiness, even little insects that you can hardly see. As the great teacher and philosopher ShantidÃ©va said: âOur happiness comes from making others happy and our suffering comes from wanting to seek our own happiness. The great secret behind these words. So we started by assigning them their first task: giving others a big smile.
We followed this up with yoga to relax the body. However, due to the location, we couldn’t sit in the lotus pose, which is ideal, and instead we practiced sitting down. We stressed: âA straight back is very important for a good practice of meditation. “
At first, it was very difficult for women to sit comfortably in the correct posture. Some were overcome with lethargy, while others even fell asleep. Some, who were more distracted, looked around to see what was going on, although eventually some followed the rhythm of the meditation. We explained that the success of meditation is based on daily practice and that improvement and results are only effective with continued practice.
The best ally of meditation is attention. We have directed our attention to the object of our meditation, which is the breath. The breath is our faithful friend because it is always with us. If we follow its flow, it will soothe stressful moments and transport us to a tranquil lake that will bring our whole being to feel peace. We don’t just meditate during a session because we are always meditating: while we are walking, while we are sitting; in every activity we can meditate on. Accompanied by our friends – mindfulness and breathing – we will always be in good hands.
Time has passed and by practicing meditation the woman has made changes. The sessions evolved into more advanced content and many students were extremely motivated. They saw that they could transform themselves and that anyone who was truly motivated and interested could achieve results.
We have had great experiences and we have learned that teachers can also learn details and experiences of their students. We ended up having a little party for the women at the end of one of the sessions. We gave them roses, cakes and drinks. We very rarely realize how much happiness comes from the beauty of a flower, or that an act of caring creates genuine smiles and radiant faces. In the end, all the women left happy. This incredible adventure brings people together on the road and creates better conditions for their destinations. All beings can board the vehicle for liberation.
We would like to thank Lama Rinchen Gyaltsen of the Sakya Spain Foundation, for his constant support, his teachings and his motivation. We hope he can continue to help more sentient beings. This work would not have been possible without the dedication, enthusiasm and hard work of Rosselyn Tamayo, Jhory MontaÃ±o, Sonia Lizaraga, Marta Otazu, MÃ³nica RÃos and Liliana Arias, the female volunteers who lead the meditation classes at the prison. of Obrajes.
Sakya Rinchen Ling – Bolivia (Facebook)
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