Prisoners in Starbucks

If there was a word that sums up life on earth,  the word would be endlessness.  The vastness of our universe and its unending layers of consciousness can be at time overwhelming.  We encompass one situation only to be confronted by a new one.  Very much as in a high rise building with people sitting on their personal balconies, looking straight out, convinced that what they see in front of them is the only reality there is.  Had they looked sideways or below they would learn of another world. One does not have to look up to the sky in search of a new galaxy. It’s all in front of our nose.

Last week on the way to teach my class at the prison, I met Tilly and his daughter Alabama. Tilly was a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. Last I heard of him was that he had lost his house due to the recession that devastated so many families. We met at a Starbucks café where Dvorit and I usually stop on the way to the prison.  We talked for few minutes, mainly about our children. Tilly seemed to hold on to his very assertive and boisterous behavior. He was a pilot on FedEx cargo planes and the epitome of a successful man at the midst of his life. But the juice was missing. He was going through the motions. Tilly grew heavier and his lovely daughter grew taller and very sweet.  We hugged and parted ways.

I thought of Tilly while driving to Soledad. I just met a free human being who was chained and incarcerated in his own behavior.  This time the hour long drive was a blessing.  I knew I had to surrender all these intelligent observations of mine before I taught my class tonight. Rudi’s words echoed inside me while driving: "Purity sees only purity.”  Looking at people and ‘seeing’ them has a short lived satisfaction and no real growth in it. We become ‘spiritual psychoanalysts’ with the spirit drained out of our observation.

By the time I reached the prison, I felt Tilly in my heart and basked in the love I saw in him while he looked at his daughter.  The class was strong and pure. I had to let go of many of my own limitations and psychic blocks and again this bare room bathed in light.

Later when I heard Benito talk,  I realized how hard these inmates work and what they had to surrender to sit in the class.

“You know,” said Benito, ”looking at your eyes for half an hour is the hardest thing we have had to do.” I thought he referred to the actual focus and concentration entailed but that wasn’t what he meant. ”In prison,"  Benito continued, ”we don’t look at each other’s eyes. Looking at someone’s eyes intently is challenging them. It’s a cry to war.”  I was mildly shocked. That was the last thing I could have imagined. It suddenly struck me the inner barriers these guys had to overcome to sit in this room.  The second class lasted two hours. I have tried to go as deep as I could to nourish these people. Benito’s response put everything into a new perspective.  Again there was laughter and lightness in the class.

One of the new students, who looked like Louis Armstrong and whose name was Up-Church, came to me. “You know, Alik, this work should be mandatory for the guards as well as the inmates.”  He laughed enjoying the secret we just shared.  We looked at the guards. They were busy figuring out the attendance list. “Can you imagine the warden and guards sitting down breathing and opening?”  I replied.

Up-Church was delighted. “I will come next week,” he said and left.

Richardson raised his hand. ”Why are you doing this?” He asked. ”Why do come all this way for us?” There was a genuine curiosity in his voice. “You know, we wait all week for this class”

“Forty years ago,” I said,  ”I was a walking dead. One day I walked into Rudi’s antique store and he saved my life. What I am doing here is repaying a debt. It is my eternal gratitude to him and the only way I know how to express it.”

The quiet kid who started coming every week, raised his hand. ”I am practicing the breathing exercise when I get uptight.” He laughed. “My cellmate laughs at me but I don’t give a shit.”

On the way out Stewart came over to me. He is in prison for major drug crimes and has been there for twenty years. He leans over and whispers in my ear, ”I started smiling again,” he said. He hugged me and left.

Richardson raised his hand again. “Are you Christian?” he asked. “ No,” I said, “though Christ energy is very important in my life. It was very integral part of Rudi’s work."

I recall Rudi telling me once while we were sitting in his store: ”Alik, you need you drink my blood and eat my flesh.”

I remember being shocked into silence. Then moved to tears. No one has ever said such powerful words to me. And really meant them.

I continued: “Incorporating Christ’s message of forgiveness and his unique way of preaching it with Rudi’s very direct and poignant example of life in the forgiveness realm is what I wish to teach. It is ‘Marketplace Yoga’ meets 'Eat my Flesh' Jesus.” Everyone laughed, including me.  I have started noticing the changing energy within me as the weeks pass by. My feeling of detachment increases and I am slowly less and less involved, on a gut wrenching level, with the lives of the inmates.  I am there just for one reason and that is to serve as a vehicle for the higher creative energy.