BIG YOGA BLOG
Growth of the Lotus Flower
Sunday, July 29, 2012
by Dan Houston, Big Yoga Teacher
Last Friday marked my second visit to the prison unit in Cleveland, Texas – the future location of my first community yoga program. Once again, my excitement and anxiety upon entering the unit, and hearing the sliding steel doors closing behind me, were palpable.
During my first visit, I had the honor of witnessing a cohort of men graduating from a unique and inspiring entrepreneurship-based program, which was organized and implemented by an equally amazing organization called The Prison Entrepreneur Program (or PEP). So, with a scant understanding of prison life, the organization itself, or the great efforts the men had undertaken, I was privileged enough to meet the men at the end of their PEP journey.
I’ve recently learned that my yoga program will be offered for these new graduates, and will be optional for current program participants. Though I certainly felt a sense of elation and excitement upon hearing this, I admit there was also a latent, selfish feeling of defeat. The misplaced perfectionist in me couldn’t resist the question: “Why not offer the program for ALL prisoners? Surely yoga is beneficial for everyone, right?”
My second visit to the unit presented a completely different set of circumstances and emphatically answered this question. This time I would be meeting and interacting with men at the very beginning of their PEP journey – men who had just arrived to the unit, and who still held a great deal of nervous fear, frustration, and skepticism about both the program and visitors’ motivations for reaching out.
I quickly discovered that the prisoners had a driving question of their own: “Why would you want to visit us, especial knowing that we can’t offer you anything?”
The power and honesty of the question was so incisive that it made my previous disappointment feel juvenile and silly. I quick noticed that, perhaps as a quick remedy to avoid any awkwardness or to reveal any venal characteristics of their person, others offered a rapid-fire response. They’d say, “I come here because I feel so much love,” or “My heart truly loves you!”
While I too hold these sentiments to be true, and attach no judgments to the individuals who offer them, I pray that this truth can serve as a gateway to the deeper elements of my being.
Why then did I return to the unit, and why will I continue to be a “repeat attender”? Again, I admit selfish reasons for visiting the prisoners – namely, they help me understand that all humans are essentially the same; they serve as mirrors into my own humanity, especially the darker areas; and, they encourage humility by forcing me to check my own ego and appreciate my freedom. Amazingly, each of these points was demonstrated through my first conversation with a 28-year-old man named Daniel (who actually looked a lot like me).
The visit to the unit made me soberly aware of the raw and authentic nature of each and every man there. Yet, it was also mentally and emotionally taxing to understand that individuals could know a life of perpetual pain, violence and (in many cases) familial neglect. In trying to formulate and explain my thoughts and experiences of the visit, I became frustrated and saddened. My mind repeatedly ruminated over the great difference between the two cohorts.
Eventually, my wife reminded me of an important symbol in the context of teaching yoga. The Lotus Flower –a beautiful flower grown up out of the mire and mud of the earth – represents the most perfect example that bridged the ground between the transformed PEP graduates and the raw inductees. I’m so thankful that she offered this notion because it helped me to contextualize and dissolve my own angst in dealing with the sadness I had experienced.
More importantly, though, this analogy reminded me of what I’ve always known: It is possible that great beauty can grow up out of great tragedy and pain. I’m so looking forward to creating a space for new seeds to burst up out of the mud of their lives.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
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