I am in the throes of meaningful upheavals in my life which are both terrifying and beautiful at once. At moments like these, when everything feels uncertain and a sense of stability has gone missing, the world can offer a little piece of ground, just enough to stand on, to keep walking. I was given this gift of ground in one of my weekly mindfulness sessions at Hartford Correctional Center.
The group at HCC is ever-changing and in the latest iteration an intense and rough man entered our circle. He has tattoos all over, one of which reads ‘RELENTLESS’ across his throat, ‘DISTURBED’ on one of his forearms, and ‘FUCK THIS’ across the knuckles on both of his hands. When he first walked into our group his agitation and discomfort was palpable.
We always start with an arrival meditation and then go around the circle checking in with how we are doing, where we are at, and what we are working with. It’s a really incredible space of vulnerability and a call to action for honest sharing and deep listening — a rare space in a correctional environment. When he first shared he said that his mind is always racing and he never feels at ease.
It has been five weeks since he started coming and last week something incredible happened. This is what he shared in circle:
“Just now, when we were meditating I experienced for the first time a quiet mind. For a few moments I was just focusing on my breath, everything else was quiet. I never thought that was possible. I felt so peaceful.”
We all nod and smile at him, encouraging him to continue.
“I was an angry kid. I have been in this place [jail] just for pure violence. This week I was in the dorm [each dorm has 120 men in very close quarters] and I noticed myself getting riled up, feeling the familiar anger start to rise, and then I remembered. I sat back on my bunk, closed my eyes, and started to focus on my breath. I realized that I didn’t have to let the anger control me, I could just watch the anger until it passed. And it did.”
Holding back tears I thanked him and told him that in a time when I needed a little piece of ground, he gave me one. In five short weeks, meeting once a week for a mere hour, this man is starting to transform in front of my very eyes.
This week he shared that he can finally look at himself in the mirror again and the old hate and self-loathing is slowly starting to creep away day-by-day, breath-by-breath.
“Miracles are happening to me. Things that I never thought possible.”
In moments of despair, loss, feeling uprooted, these gifts can come along that remind us that transformation is a breath away and that we only need the ground beneath our feet to keep walking.
by Miranda Chapman, Program Director at Copper Beech Institute
Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.