It’s a pleasure to offer these excerpts from Inside Out, the journal of the Hanuman Foundation’s prison-ashram project.
The idea behind the project is this: prisons offer remarkable opportunities for inner growth. They are like monasteries, in that regard: you get a cell, and clothes, and food. All your outer needs are provided for, while you’re free to do the inner work.
Towards that end, the project sends yoga teachers into the prisons, provides inmates with literature, answers questions about spiritual practice, and, in general, tries to redefine the opportunities for coming to God even behind steel bars.
The Hanuman Foundation was set up by Ram Dass, the American spiritual teacher and author of Be Here Now, The Only Dance There Is, and Grist For The Mill. The prison-ashram project is one of many activities of the foundation, whose purposes are to further spiritual well-being through education, service, and spiritual training.
Bo Lozoff is the director of the prison-ashram project. He, his wife, Sita, and son, Josh, live in Bahama, N.C.; their home is the project office. Bo travels to different prisons to do workshops and week-end intensives. He also trains those who wish to become teachers. Sita handles much of the correspondence — the project processes about 4,000 letters a year — and office management. Right now, Bo is trying to convince the Federal Bureau of Prisons to endorse an ashram halfway house for federal inmates.
Inside Out is free to all inmates, prison staff and prison yoga instructors. All others who request the magazine are asked to make a contribution to the project. All contributions are tax-deductible and should be sent to The Prison-Ashram Project, Route 1, Box 395, Bahama, N.C. 27503. The first issue of Inside Out was an introduction to the idea of living spiritually in prison; the second (from which we’ve reprinted these excerpts) is a more thorough resource manual of spiritual practices; the third, now being prepared, will be mostly a feedback issue from inmates and staff people.
There is also available a series of nine ninety-minute casettes which include teachings and practices from Ram Dass, Soma Krishna, Lilias Folan, and Bo Lozoff’s own prison classes. There is also one full tape of music and chanting. Prison Yoga: Casettes for the Spiritual Journey is designed to help conduct classes in prison as well as be an “instructor” in places where other teachers are not available. Free to groups in prisons, the set is available for a minimum $20 donation from the prison-ashram project.
Too often, here in prison, we tend to think it does not have a positive side. Consequently, we waste all our time and forces in day-dreaming of a tomorrow that will never match our dreams of it. Perhaps it is only natural to hate the place that isolates you from all your accustomed sources of satisfaction, and quite unnatural to develop new sources of satisfaction. In a sense, we are all monks who have not freely chosen monkhood, and therefore do not wear our robes very gracefully. But, in that respect, I imagine there are very few people anywhere who can cheerfully accept the unpleasant circumstances which their actions or karma have brought them. Still less are they able to grab hold of that slim thread of aspiration and attempt to change the very structure of their lives. We all need a belief, I think — any belief — that will enable us to visualize the divine potentiality which is inherently ours. Too often prison takes away all self-esteem while offering no glimpse of a means to build anything to take its place. The con seldom comes to realize that there is something within him that is better than he is.
I have done much wrong in my life, but nothing so wrong as my ignorant refusal to look at God honestly. It has taken me many years to accept a tapasya, but now it is as though my whole past never existed. All the pains, horrors, deprivations, and losses seem almost insignificant before the possibility of somehow seeing into the heart of existence.
Such a challenge — such a possibility — brings hope even to the negative world of prison. For the spirit, or atman, or purusha, can never be bound even when the body is bound. There has been, actually, only one stumbling-block in my life — and that is within me. And every time I make some little victory over despair, or anger, or negativism, I feel that I have stepped beyond the walls of that personal prison; a prison much more oppressive than any of stone and steel.
What I am trying to face up to now is the simple fact that it does not matter what happens to me personally. There is no situation which cannot be used to effect a change in consciousness — the only thing that really matters. Man’s journey to God — what else has meaning?
First I read many books and studied very hard then I did some poses twisting this way and that way then I sat very still and became a lake then I looked at my nose crossed my eyes and thought and nothing much happened Then I tried doing nothing and just being what I am and everything happened . . .
— Tim Perry
North Soledad Prison
Cut The Cords
Why tie the infinite soul to a bony post of flesh? Let go! Cut the cords of flesh consciousness, attachments to the body, hunger, pleasure, pain, and bodily and mental involvements. Relax. Loosen the soul from the grip of the body. Let not the heaving breath remind you of physical bars. Sit still in breathless silence, expecting every minute to make the dash for freedom into the Infinite. Love not your earthly prison.
Free mind from body with a keen-edged knife of stillness. Cut loose your consciousness from the body. Use it no more as an excuse to accept limitations. Turn away your consciousness from the binding body-post. Rush your consciousness beyond the body, sweeping through the minds, hearts, and souls of others. Switch on your light in all lives. Feel that you are the One Life that shines in all creation.
The Armor Of St. Patrick
I Establish Myself Today In: The Power of God to guide me. The Might of God to uphold me. The wisdom of God to teach me. The Eye of God to watch over me. The Ear of God to hear me. The Word of God to speak for me. The Hand of God to protect me. The Way of God to lie before me. The Shield of God to shelter me. The Host of God to defend me. Christ with me, Christ before me. Christ behind me, Christ within me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me. Christ at my right, Christ at my left. Christ in breadth, in length, in height. Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me. Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me. Christ in the eye of every man who sees me. Christ in the ear of every man who hears me.
At this early stage of higher consciousness, if someone comes up to me for instruction on the Path, can I teach them by following my intuition about enlightenment, or should I wait until I understand more myself?
It’s important to simply share your journey without teaching. You can share your books, your practices, experiences, insights, without coming on like a teacher. When you begin to see yourself as a teacher and someone else as a student, then you begin to lock yourself into false spaces that get stickier as time goes by.
The journey demands total honesty; you have to play it very straight. If you’re laying out teachings that are higher than you are, everyone around you will eventually feel it. On the other hand, if you’re always just relating openly and giving of yourself with no big hoop-de-la, others will get very high from your sharing. Maharaji used to say, “When you’re a candle, all you have to do is shine.”
I want to offer a constructive criticism of Inside Out: The journal sort of says that prison is not such a bad place to be and compares prisons to monasteries and ashrams. Well, in all my experience, prison is the worst place to be — period! It is the last place in the world that I would like to be. Prison by definition is the opposite condition of freedom and supportive growth situations. OK?
I agree that no one should frivolously say that prisons are great places to be, or that you should purposely do something to get yourself into prison. At the same time, I can’t get lost with you in the melodrama that prisons are the worst places to be when one begins to awaken to the Spirit.
What we’re saying is that if you are in prison now, and you’re reading these words, you’re actually in a fine place to begin transforming yourself spiritually. Your freedom can’t be taken from you by anyone; you’re the one who gives it up, all the time. There isn’t a cell on this earth, nor a prison, nor a guard nor a warden nor a system, which is not totally within God’s view. And there hasn’t been a moment of your life which has not been within the lawful workings of karma and grace. No accidents, no obstacles, no interruptions; just continuous opportunities to suffer further or to lay your burdens at God’s feet. Most of us choose the suffering again and again. Here we are, always here; the trappings fade into the background after a while.
I don’t eat any meat (as a result of Be Here Now), and it is hard to eat at the prison mess hall here, as most everything they serve is cooked in grease.
Be Here Now was taken from talks which Ram Dass gave to people outside of prison, who had free choice of what to eat. In your situation, there is no “yoga diet.” If not eating meat seems to help your energies, and there’s plenty of other balanced food, that’s fine; but if you’re doing this at any expense to your health or ease of mind, don’t.
Look again at the eating meditation described in the first Inside Out. As it turns out, many people on the street are so neurotic about following a “yoga diet” that whatever they eat just feeds the neurosis and guilt anyway. All disciplines must be done with lightness and humor.
I’ve been here almost a year on a ten year sentence. I’ve never been in an enclosed environment before and it’s nearly suffocating. I’m a person who is used to the outdoors; to have the sun and stars over my head. Here I have the sun some of the time, but I haven’t seen the stars in 18 months. I’m almost wondering if there are any left.
You are right about emotions, but what do you do when you look around you and see three stone walls and one of steel. I’m not used to being in a cage.
There certainly are things that you can do for yourself to ease the suffering, and they’re not very hard to learn. But they require a lot of energy — constantly looking into yourself rather than “out there” for the seed of your problem. Are you really ready to give up the delicious quality of the suffering you feel? Think about it, really. There’s something that all of us dig about suffering — that’s why sad songs and books and movies are so popular! In order to overcome suffering, first we have to realize that we suffer by choice, and that it has nothing to do with what other people do to us; second, we have to really decide to give it up and stop being sufferers.” Yoga is simply the process of getting down to seeing reality as it is, rather than as we would like it to be. Once we stop fighting, fighting, fighting the way things already are, we begin to have a great positive effect on the way things become in the future. To be a warrior is to live in the present — no looking back, no self-pity, no dreams of the future, no regrets. And only warriors have peace of mind. Because the battlefield in this case is all the melodrama which tries to keep us suffering and craving all our lives. Believe me, there is no joy in that sort of living. The key is to stop seeking so much what is not already here, and then you realize that peace of mind always is here — because that very peace is simply the state of not seeking anything at all; just using whatever we’ve got at hand.
Stone walls do not a prison make Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take that for a hermitage; If I have freedom in my love, And in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above Enjoy such liberty.
— Richard Lovelace