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Mindful : October 2018
our ideas, self-images, and opinions even when doing so hurts us and the people around us? What is at stake here? It turns out that everything is at stake. We are biologically wired for survival, and as humans we have developed a belief that our survival is contingent upon this thing called “me” at the center of our world. To sustain our sense of self, get the love we want, and succeed in our vocations, we engineer all kinds of crafty ways to keep our self-image not only intact, but impervious to attack. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s natural...except that it’s also not natural because we’re defending an idea instead of something real. To make matters even more interesting, we develop lifelong beliefs that keep us from seeing any of this, including those beliefs. If what we want is to be accepted and loved, and to flourish, this doesn’t work. I spent a few years teaching a meditation class at San Quentin State Prison. My favorite thing about going there was the kinship I shared with the people inside. As I walked across the prison yard among inmates jogging the track or crouched along the concrete perimeter in the California sun, I felt a sense of heightened alert- ness, but I was not scared to be there. That’s because I have been on the receiving end of violence and have firsthand experience with its dimensions and contours, which we all carry in some form inside ourselves, whether it’s acted upon or not. And I know I can show up with a fierce heart and compassionate boundaries. Some of these prisoners were the hyperbolic and unfortunate perpetrators of that shadow of hatred and anger, and some were the reflection of a racially divided, punitive system serving the privileged and punishing the innocent. Most of the folks I worked with—lifers with the possibility of parole—were incarcerated for acting out of a blind spot. Often, the con- sequences were deadly. Most of the inmates I spoke with shared that the act that brought them to prison happened in mere seconds, with almost no forethought. When I asked a large circle of men to add up the length of their sen- tences, it totaled hundreds of years. The crimes that got them there? The total was minutes. Blind spots, as I define them, are unconscious impulses, fueled by emotions and beliefs, that cre- ate habit-building patterns in relationship to our- selves and others. For instance, an inmate who can’t quite understand how his self-victimizing behavior keeps landing him behind bars and → October 2018 mindful 73 psychology