Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life 101: Freedom



¡Hola! Everybody...
Ever notice how your perception of the passage of time changes? There are times, for example, when “time flies,” usually when we’re busy doing something. We look up and eight hours flashed by! Other times, when we “feel bored” (feeling bored should be considered a cardinal sin, btw), time drags on forever. The minutes feel like hours. Then there are times, mostly when we’re involved in doing something creative, that time seems to “disappear.” You’re so involved in what you’re doing, so in tune with the moment and your creative energy, that time ceases to be and you’re caught in a flow state where you’re fully conscious, fully present, yet fully at one with everything. 


That state, that experience of flow, is the key. It’s your access to healing and everything else.

* * *


Life 101: Applied Philosophy

What good is book learning? Or rather, what good or practical purpose is there in an academic discipline such as psychology or philosophy? It’s all bullshit, right?

Of course not.

The irony is that even those who claim not to like philosophy, psychology, or reading in general -- what some call “book learning -- make assumptions and form opinions and worldviews that guide their actions. The difference being is that those who fully explore knowledge live life in a conscious manner. Those who pursue knowledge are aware of the past and its application to the present. Those who deny knowledge live as pawns.

And my response to those who question the practicality of philosophy is that it is useless if it isn’t being applied. And it is here where philosophy can help us live in a meaningful manner.

So what good is philosophy?

Well, let’s take the philosophy of nonviolence. Many great men and women over the centuries have expounded on the importance of nonviolence. You wouldn’t believe it by the way they advocate war, but even fundamentalist Christians have to admit that at the very foundation of Jesus’ teaching is the notion of nonviolence.

How does this teaching look when applied? More importantly, can it be applied to contemporary life? Is being nonviolent in a violent world even possible? Can ordinary people practice nonviolence as a way of life? I submit that if a teaching isn’t relevant, if it can no longer be applied to life, then it is no longer worthy. If a philosophy has no practical value, then it is obsolete (bullshit) and should be discarded.

I was incarcerated for a while at the maximum security prison known as Sing Sing. My security clearance was deemed minimum, but because I scored high on intelligence tests, I was sent to Sing Sing because they needed someone smart with a minimum security clearance to work with the civilian personnel in administration.

Great.

I cannot think of a more humiliating, more internally and externally violent experience than prison. The prison environment is structured in a way that it exacerbates everything and foments violence. If you were fucked up to begin with, prison will make you worse. Physical and psychological violence was a reality and everyday possibility in Sing Sing. People often ask me, “How did you survive prison,” and I laugh because I know what they’re really asking is how I avoided being raped. After all, I'm not a physically imposing figure: I stand at 5'7" and at the time of my incarceration, I weighed maybe 130lbs.

The fact is I survived prison the way I survived anything else in my life: by using my intelligence. It was at Sing Sing where I learned to be a free man. I broke out of my inner mental prison at Sing Sing. That’s why I have hard time when people assume that I advocate and attempt to live nonviolently because I am na├»ve, that I don’t understand, that it was easy for me, but that their lives and problems are unique, somehow.

Bullshit. If I could do it (be free) in prison, you can do it out here.

My cell was my sanctuary and it is there where I first began a regular meditation practice. My first “meditation retreat” was in solitary confinement, where the oatmeal I was served had maggots in it. Sing Sing was also where I took the basic Buddhist precepts, one of which was non-harming. Yeah, if you know me you might be saying about now: Leave it to Eddie to take a vow of peace in one of the most violent places. What can I say? I’m dense.

One day, I got into an argument with a fellow inmate over a game of dominoes. It was a silly argument, but as I stated before, everything in prison is magnified, intensified. We were separated before it escalated, but his last words to me were that it wasn’t over and that we were going to fix this in the yard.

This was really hard because in prison, appearances are extremely important. I didn’t want to fight because I abhor violence, always have. I also wanted to live differently. I wanted to apply these new principles -- principles I felt were necessary for true freedom -- in my life. But I was faced with the reality that being prison meant that I did not have the luxury of giving the impression of “being soft” because then I would become prey to everyone else. The reality of being in prison meant that I had to man-up and fight this motherfucker because if I refused then I would become everybody's bitch. At least this was the common thought process when I was incarcerated.

As the day progressed, everything seemed to get quiet and no one would talk to me. There was a buzz in the air, everyone knew we were going to square off as soon as we were let out for recreation in the prison yard. The tension was palpable. One acquaintance came by my and slipped me a shank (a homemade knife), telling me to watch out for the other guy because he had one too. 

Geez!

Here I was, in a maximum security prison, about to go hand-to-hand with an individual who was serving a 25-life sentence for a murder. Great Eddie, you sure know how to fuck shit up, I thought to myself. People, don’t ever tell me that I don’t understand, that my life isn’t or wasn’t as hard or difficult as yours.

What to do? What would a Buddhist, or a Jesus, or anybody else do? On the one hand, I had to fight, there was no way of backing out and still manage to survive prison. On the other hand, if I hurt this man in a knife fight, I could be convicted of new crime and end up in prison for a long time. Or, he could cut my face and I would be scarred for life. I was actually more fearful of losing my looks than anything else, truth be told. I mean, I may not be the prettiest man, but I had grown accustomed to my face and I liked it the way it was. More importantly, I wanted to live life in a principled way. I wanted to stand for something. Engaging in violence meant betraying what I believed, or wanted desperately to believe.

Without knowing what else to do, I sat down in meditation -- practicing the age-old technique of vipassana or insight meditation. The technique of vipassana uses mindfulness to note our mental and physical experience from moment-to-moment, with an unbiased attitude. According to Buddhism, by practicing mindfulness meditation we can see and eventually remove the causes of suffering, which are within ourselves.

As I sat in this way, I noticed the shifting tides within me. I saw how anger morphed to fear and fear morphed self-righteous indignation and watched the whole thing cycle through again. I realized that the fear within me was irrational. I realized that the danger I was about to face was real, but if I faced it by allowing the fear to control me, I was not truly free. I would react from a fear-based perspective and I had been doing that all my life. Finally, the time came to leave for the yard. I looked at the shank and I decided right then to leave it. I made a commitment to live by the principle of nonviolence (even if it killed me). At that moment I didn’t know how I would do it, or if I would even survive. the only certainty I had was that I was going to do it. I remembered hearing somewhere that freedom is facing death and still committing to live.

I walked out in the yard and my former friend, who was now my “enemy” was across the yard, playing handball against the far wall. One of his friends tapped him on the shoulder and pointed my way and he put on his shirt and started walking along the wall toward me. He had a hand in his pocket.

Everyone was watching. 

I took a deep breath and walked along the wall toward him. My mind was racing and now I felt like a stupid jerk for leaving the shank because two things were obvious: 1) he definitely had a shank and, 2) I had no plan. I just kept walking. He was maybe 100 yards away from me and I could see the determination in his eyes. But I also saw something else. I saw another human being who was probably just as scared and conflicted as I was. We had been friends. We had broke bread together and kept each other company, playing dominoes and playing the dozens with one another. And yet here we were, ready to maim or even kill each other. Well, I wasn’t going to do it.

What happened was that when we finally came face-to-face, I refused to fight him. Just like that…

I’m saying, fuck it, I ain’t fighting you, this is stupid. Why are we doing this? And he’s looking around because everyone is looking, hoping for some recreation, and we’re standing there like two fools. He tells me to fight, that he will fight regardless. He says I made him lose face and now I had to pay for it. I tell him to fuck himself that I’ not going to fight. And I begin talking to him, asking him why we’re doing this. I ask him if it’s cool to be entertainment for these other motherfuckers who don’t have anything else to do. I offer my apology and I ask if he could find it within himself, as a man, for us to resolve this differently.

Truth be told, I really don’t remember everything I said that day, all I know is that we didn’t fight. I refused to fight. I know I told him if he really wanted to stab me to go ahead and for a moment, I thought he was.

But he didn’t.

He cursed and I told him to fuck himself, whatever was going to happen that moment, the one thing I knew was that I wasn’t fighting him. I think he was actually really taken by surprise by my refusal. I think he expected anything else but that from me. He just shook his head in disbelief and walked away. I stood there and looked around and checked out the reactions. Some laughed, others didn’t know what to make of of it. Shit, I didn’t know what to make of it.

Later, a group of mutual friends invited us both to the dominoes table and eventually we became good friends. I even taught him to meditate, but he said that shit was crazy. The day I left prison for the last time, that man was my friend. Many years later, I returned to Sing Sing to tell my story of life on the outside to the men I left behind, many of who will never see the light of a free day. 

When I stood up there in Sing Sing to tell my story as a free man, many of the men I did time with, hardened men -- men who had harmed and been harmed -- cried openly. My friend came up to me after and told me these words, “Today we live freedom through you, Eddie. We used to laugh at you because you liked to say you escaped from prison when you were here. But you have gone out there and shown us that freedom is something in here,” he said as he pointed to his heart. “You represent all of us here who may never be free and that’s your responsibility because you have been given another chance.”

Freedom is a state of mind.

Today, his words are just as powerful and they serve to remind me that freedom begins here in this very moment. Philosophy is not merely mental masturbation for college kids debating in class, it has practical value. It’s what separates us from being animals ruled by mere instincts.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I genuinely
    enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author. I will make certain to bookmark your blog and
    will come back down the road. I want to encourage that
    you continue your great writing, have a nice evening!


    Feel free to surf to my web page - http://teengangbangs.net

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you happen to be
    a great author. I will make certain to bookmark your blog and will come back down
    the road. I want to encourage that you continue your great writing, have a nice evening!


    Also visit my web page: http://teengangbangs.net
    My web site :: http://teengangbangs.net

    ReplyDelete
  3. The fitness tips for motivation we've been discussing can be very powerful if you use them. This means you have to answer to all these people when they ask for a report. This can be achieved by adding more weight, increasing the number of repetitions, or by adding on additional sets.

    Also visit my homepage http://www.neuesbuch.de/forum/pg/forum/topic/119204/recommendations-and-tricks-for-the-grocery-store-when-you-are-acquiring-healthy

    ReplyDelete
  4. 1- Number your curse words and call out a number when stress strikes.
    There are many people out there that are getting bored and most of the
    times when we get bored and we have nothing to do, we would mostly
    go on the internet and watch some funny pictures. Recent research found that
    stressfull life can increase the speed of progression of AIDS in HIV- positive patients.


    Also visit my web page ... very funny pictures and cartoons
    my page > icehill.cc

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all
    folks you really recognize what you're speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also seek advice from my website =). We will have a link alternate contract between us

    Stop by my page linked resource site

    ReplyDelete
  6. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article!
    It's the little changes that will make the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!

    Look at my web site ... Visit Website

    ReplyDelete
  7. For example, I want to lose 5 pounds of fat by February 25th.

    Skiing and snowboarding are strenuous sports
    which demand a lot of endurance, so your usual set of ten to
    fifteen reps really isn''. This can be achieved by adding more weight,
    increasing the number of repetitions, or by adding on additional sets.



    Also visit my web-site: relevant resource site

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ahaa, its pleasant conversation on the topic of this article at
    this place at this weblog, I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting at this place.


    Feel free to surf to my webpage ... visit website

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging
    for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website
    is excellent, as well as the content!

    Feel free to visit my page - more

    ReplyDelete
  10. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the
    images aren't loading correctly. I'm not sure why but I
    think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

    Here is my webpage http://roughteenanal.com/index.php?own=2098142

    ReplyDelete
  11. Wonderful article! This is the type of info that are supposed to be shared around the web.
    Disgrace on the seek engines for now not positioning this put up higher!
    Come on over and consult with my web site .
    Thanks =)

    Also visit my web-site ... click here

    ReplyDelete
  12. I get pleasure from, lead to I found exactly what I was looking for.
    You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man.
    Have a great day. Bye

    Stop by my page; http://veryhelpful.info/SJPoF/pg/profile/TeresitaV

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent weblog here! Also your site a lot up very fast!
    What web host are you the use of? Can I am getting your associate hyperlink to your host?
    I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

    Also visit my site - hip to waist ratio calculator

    ReplyDelete

What say you?

Headlines

[un]Common Sense