“Can you watch my daughter when I go to prison?”
In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have phrased the question to my mom in this way. As if any mom would plan on their offspring going to prison, a law-abiding, mid-western, suburban mother of three adult children with no criminal history might have an immediate stroke at the image of their beloved going to lock-up. So I quickly backtracked to explain, “Only for one dinner.”
Llama Chuck teaches my Basic of Buddhism class and facilitates Buddhism for prisoners too, once a year he gets to invite others to attend a dinner with the prison participants. He mentioned this outing for several weeks at class and encouraged people to sign up to come. I had considered it, thought it would be an interesting experience, though I wasn’t sure it would fit in my busy schedule of motherhood.
Class seven was about Equanimity and The Eight Worldly Concerns. Equanimity is the power of the mind being able to experience change and remain unmoved. As a mountain remains stable through snow, wind and lightning; equanimity can maintain the mind through trauma, accidents and emotional pain. In the Buddhist perspective it means accepting things as they are and not how you want them to be. In the moment of crisis it would be difficult to engage my Buddha mind even though I understand the concept. What is more challenging for me to grasp is how you can accept circumstances of the world and avoid apathy, indifference or detachment. How do you care, without caring to be truly identifying with equanimity?
The usual rhythm of the class discusses the chapter and then breaks into smaller groups to talk about discussion questions. The question of the day related to situations where equanimity would be best utilized and asked “How do you feel about inviting pain into your life?” No one in our group admitted to masochism and struggled with the term inviting pain. Once we agreed to think in terms of accepting pain as a part of life our group shared different sides of the spectrum, one individual reporting she avoids pain by keeping people at a distance in her life and not maintaining relationships while another woman stated she has noticed being ultra sensitive and feels she is in pain more than necessary. Our discussion turned to opportunities we do “invite pain” when we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations like helping struggling friends or volunteering. Spending time working at a soup kitchen or with hospice patients could be a way to practice equanimity, accepting things as they are without being apathetic.
At the end of class Llama Chuck reiterated his invitation to prison stating it was the last day to sign up. Going to prison sounded like a practice of equanimity for me. I am angered at the prison system in our country and the rate of incarceration for petty and nonviolent crimes, and because of my feelings towards the system I have detached myself in many ways. After his closing people began gathering their belongings. In that moment I knew it would be an opportunity to practice caring without caring. I needed one final push to nudge me all the way in to my decision. I looked forward to a classmate who I had socialized with for the last several weeks, a Spanish teacher at a local college. “Do you want to go to prison with me?” I nonchalantly inquired knowing if she denied I was not signing up alone.
“I don’t have to teach a class that night,” she thought for a second, “Sure.” And within seconds we were jotting our names on the sign-up sheet. (Sorry Mom, I’m locked-in to attend the prison dinner but I am not going to lock-up.)
The prison dinner is later this month and I will try to multiply my meditation practice to prepare to be equanimitable in prison. Afterall I am only going for a few hours as a guest, equanimity as a true prisoner would take much more strength of the mind.