The last post included some of the writings of Jimmy Boyle about his experiences as a lifer in the Scottish prison system. I currently support a charity called Prison Phoenix Trust http://www.theppt.org.uk/ which encourages prisoners in the development of their spiritual welfare through yoga and meditation.
I’ve also been involved with Life Lines which is an organisation that supplies pen friends to people on death row in the US. http://www.lifelines-uk.org.uk/ since it was set up in 1988.
The interesting thing about both organisations that offer support and companionship in different ways is that they are also offering a suggestion of freedom. Clearly this is not the freedom of physical release but rather a freeing of the mind and spirit. Both organisations publish newsletters which testify to this from the different experiences of the prisoners.
In the latest winter issue of the Prison Phoenix Trust newsletter the central piece is about Advent and Christmas as being a season of hope, when hope shows up when you regularly allow your mind to become still and focused in meditation and in yoga. As our thinking slows down and reduces so another part of the mind comes forward, and this is the part that is naturally bright and radiant, like the sun, begging to break through the clouds of worry, fear and so on that clouds so much of our waking life.
As the writer says:
‘On the one hand, it doesn’t make sense that you could ever feel hopeful in your own personal winter, when your situation is so bleak and unbearable. But somehow – in a way that’s difficult to describe – things do get easier when you repeatedly bring your attention back to your breath, away from all the mental activity that surrounds your situation… Don’t worry if hope only feels like a weak winter sun right now. You are inviting it in each time you sit down to meditate. It’s here already actually, clouds or no clouds.’
The quote from Desmond Tutu sums all this up:
‘Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.’
I don’t think this is so much to do with the hope … like ‘I hope that I get this job’ or ‘I hope that I can find a parking space’ or ‘that it won’t rain’ or in the context of prison ‘I hope that the parole board will be on my side’ … it’s about a hope beyond and yet immersed in the everyday. It’s about an understanding we are part of something bigger than our own immediate wishes. That in itself is hopeful – as if somewhere we are held and so can let go a bit. It is this hope that we await in Advent, a very slow hint that the light is on its way.