For the past 20+ years I’ve been an avid student of three books. For the past seven years I’ve also been a prison facilitator of the teachings of those same three books. The books came into my life in a most mystical way. Those books are A Course in Miracles (Foundation for Inner Peace), A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson, and The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra. Naturally, I’ve perused other books and teachings but none have altered my life as profoundly and thoroughly.
When I say that they came into my life in a “mystical” way is not to suggest something altogether mysterious. In fact, the teachings in these books make many things in life less mysterious. Everything does happen for a reason and I’ll make that reason clear throughout the course of these blog entries.
The novelty of my approach shouldn’t necessarily be defined by the vastness of my knowledge, nor is my approach original, as there is one base curriculum, one template of understanding, one realm of consciousness that we discover and express at different points in our lives. Rather, it’s more within the context and circumstances of prison that I think make my insights, at least, interesting.
My responsibility as a teacher is simply to remind my students what is truly valuable in life by reawakening their minds to what’s “real.” I do this through demonstrating how important our peace and happiness is because it seems that most of us have forgotten. If I’ve learned one thing besides making my bed and doing laundry for the past twenty-five years, it’s to understand the entreaty made by all great teachers through the centuries: “Know thyself.”
This might be a good time to remind you that by principle, our happiness derives not from having things, but from wanting the things we have. And it follows that our happiness is derived not from the love we get but from the love we give. These are not just platitudes but expressions of the laws of consciousness, of cause and effect, that must be practiced in order to be realized and experienced.
The principles of consciousness I’m referring to fall under the domain of what ACIM (A Course in Miracles) refers to as “spiritual psychotherapy.” I simplify this for my students by explaining it as “my higher mind talking to your higher mind” (which inevitably leads to them joking with me as to whether my mind is actually any “higher” than theirs which I assure them it most certainly is…heh, heh). Or think of it this way: the quieting of the mind through a willing exchange of better ideas to live by. It seems an unavoidable truth that we’re all looking for better ways to live our lives, whether we’re incarcerated or not.
Those of us in prison aren’t necessarily “bad” people but rather we’re ignorant. We are unlearned, unpracticed and unwilling to know, understand and embrace a greater truth. Our inability to handle some of life’s emotional challenges landed us where we are today. Perhaps our parents or society didn’t address these concerns in a way we understood, if at all. Maybe we were told but not taught. Worse yet, maybe we were victimized as a child, leading us to clamber to get back to what we feel we lost. Isn’t this true with everyone at one time or another?
Once you discover where your happiness lies, you will be right. You will be good and you will survive by abiding by a new set of rules and higher set of laws: the laws of the universe, the laws of God, the laws of love. In so doing our lives will begin to take on new meaning. Viewing our life as a prison or from within a prison means we’ve lost meaning.
This might be a good time to mention the name of the class I teach; it’s called “No Such Thing as Time” aptly enough. It’s a double entendre — not only does it reference carceral time but time as the mind’s illusory construct. The title refers to the condition of our current state in terms of our personal happiness, devoid of countless time-related preoccupations.
Unless we come to discover and embrace the things in life that are real (through practice) we’ll never be truly happy in the full sense of the word. Our understanding of the word happiness should not be defined through the absence of it. So part of my first class involves learning to identify things that are real versus things that are not real.
Illusions are not real. They seem real, but that’s what makes them illusions. There’s a deeper truth, though, that better explains what we’re seeing and want to believe is real.
You’ve heard that adage, “money makes the world go ‘round.” Well after years and years of chasing money and material success, people eventually become overwhelmed by depression, boredom and restlessness; they become disillusioned and unhappy. Yes, money is an important tool — a means to sustain lower level needs. But it shouldn’t define who we are or how we feel about ourselves. Money cannot be the measure of ourselves if we’re truly seeking identity, inner peace and happiness.
And then, there are delusions. These are not real; they’re a condition of the mind that produces a vision of the world that is not real and not conducive to our interests or the best interest of others. The difference between illusions and delusions is that while illusions are false interpretations from the outer world, delusions are inner afflictions that cause one to perceive the outer world in a twisted way.
Incidentally, it was at the height of just such a delusion (indeed, an identity crisis of the gravest sort) that I committed my crime (the taking of another man’s life). Fortunately, there is a base reality we can use to anchor our minds, rid ourselves of misperceptions and begin to heal ourselves. This reality is love.