Doing Time, Doing Vipassana
During my travels in 2016, I was fortunate to spend two weeks at Purple Valley, a magical yoga retreat in Goa, India. On one of our movie nights at Purple Valley, we watched the documentary: Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. It shows a breakthrough in prison reform in 1993 when Kiran Bedi strove to turn Tihar Jail in New Delhi, notorious for its inhuman conditions and one of the largest high-security prison complexes in the world, into a peaceful ashram. A Vipassana course was held inside the jail, with over one hundred prisoners and officers participating. Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique meaning to see things as they really are in their true nature, in which the students live in silence for the duration of the ten day course, meditating from early morning until night.
I hadn’t heard of this technique before then and it was the first time I was given such a powerful glimpse into the world of prisoners and the journey they have the potential to take to find freedom within their jail cells. It had a profound effect on me and stirred something very deep. To see these human beings in an inhumane environment being seen, respected and given the opportunity for healing, gave me great hope. These are human rights, the removal of which has never made sense to me. Without the label ‘criminal’ or ‘prisoner’, what I see is human beings who are being consistently dehumanized in order to be punished for the harm they once brought to someone else, who rejoin society more damaged than when they went in. Yes they should be punished, but what happens after punishment? Providing inmates with access to tools to heal their wounds, which drove them to commit their crimes in the first place, just as every person beyond the prison walls has, allows them to approach their time as an opportunity for rehabilitation, which is a responsibility that I feel to be very important.
“We are all prisoners undergoing a life sentence, imprisoned by our own minds. We are all seeking parole, being hostages of our fear, anger, desire.”
The prison is not the physical jail cell, it is the wall that surrounds the physical heart, locking in its arrows of past hurt, the pain-body trap that grows stronger with every wound, feeding on the pain and growing taller, making it impossible to perceive the spiritual heart on the other side.
Two years after seeing Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, I am about to leave for my first Vipassana course. It begins at the Spring Equinox, a powerful energy of transition from an internal state to an external way of being. As I start to shift from the last couple months of deep inward reflection into the spring time of rebirth, I pause in this ripe time of transformation for deeper investigation. Dark meets light. Old shadows surface so that I may shine my light of consciousness on them, to discover that the perceived duality of light and dark is my greatest reminder of wholeness, my biggest opportunity to find balance. I need both light and dark, the understanding of which is requiring that I step into a tremendously unfamiliar level of self-acceptance.
When I read the Power of Now a couple of years ago, Eckhart Tolle’s description of the pain-body felt very powerful but I did not fully understand it because I was not yet friends with mine. I had not yet reached a level of presence or sense of my true Self to be able to experience that I am not the pain-body, I am not the identity that has been masquerading as me. By peeling away layers this winter, this awareness is what I have been cultivating: watering my soils, nourishing my seed in the darkness until it is ready to break through the ground and emerge into the light.
Presence must not attempt to pin down the pain-body, it cannot be held down. Pushing it down creates great inner turmoil and illness, without an outlet for the energy. This I have found the most difficult, for when the heart palpitations, sweating and contracting body sneak in, it seems unfathomable not to run away. But then I remember that I possess the most powerful weapon I could ever imagine, a sledgehammer of pure light, my presence immediately dissolving the prison wall within. When I step out of my phantom self and I watch my pain-body with presence, I can feel my heart release from its clutches and the energy that was trapped there begins to dissipate and vibrate throughout my body. I say ahhh there is the parasite that has been consuming all of my energy and life-force and I feel a surge of powerfully renewed vitality. The very thing that has been holding me down, because I held it down, becomes the energy of transformation and healing. It just takes light, because that is what I AM.
I feel immense gratitude in this moment for the intensity of my pain-body for it has become my greatest spiritual teacher, for I could no longer live with her anymore, with the emotional pain that was my greatest sense of who I was. She is no longer lurking in the shadows, pretending to be me. She is something I can see in myself, something separate that is not separate at all. The great paradox.
Attending the Vipassana course scares me, but if the last couple of months have taught me one thing, it is to go towards the fear, walk straight towards my prison wall, bringing my effervescent light, where true freedom resides. I will see you all on the other side.
In the mean time…here is a link to the documentary ‘Doing Time Doing Vipassana’: https://www.mahi.dhamma.org/videos/doing-time-doing-vipassana/