The Moment I Knew
In sophomore year of college, while studying Taoism, I was introduced to Meditation. I was instantly intrigued. My 19 year old self began meditating because it seemed so different, interesting, exotic and cool. I was a Philosophy Minor precisely for that reason, to bring new and different ideas about Life and Living into my life.
I meditated all through College, Law School, relationships and backpacking around the world (check out my bio). It was a great hobby, a great conversation opener at parties and a great way to make myself feel special and unique.
Fast forward a few years. I was an Assistant Public Defender assigned to a client. Nothing special about that, until I met him just a few hours after his arrest. I had glanced at his arrest record and knew that this was not his first (or second or third) time in the system. He had been getting into trouble since his teen years. He was a big and fierce looking man but something about him instantly appealed to me and we spent just a few minutes together. As I was leaving the interview room, he pointed to my necklace and asked what it meant. I was wearing a necklace that I had bought in Tibet. It was the Sanskrit letters for the word “Aum” (or Om). It was not something that I could explain in a minute, so I came back into the room and explained it the best way that I could. He listened. He nodded. He thanked me. I left.
A few days later, he was back in court for his arraignment. We spoke again for a few minutes and he shyly asked me another question about the word Aum (or Om). I sensed his interest and I shyly asked him if he was interested in learning how to use the word and his breath in Meditation.
He said No. (a bit aggressively)
I left. (strangely disappointed)
Weeks later, in the normal course of working on his case, I went to interview him in Jail. A regular Lawyer/Client interview. He was nervous and jumpy and refused eye contact. I tried to get information from him but the interview just wasn’t working.
Now, remember... I wasn’t a Meditation teacher yet. I had never taught anyone before. It was just a cool hobby and an excuse to travel to exotic places.
Without really thinking about what I was doing, I asked him to close his eyes. Surprisingly, he did.
I taught him a breathing technique. He breathed.
I asked him a question from my list. He answered.
THAT was the moment that I knew that I wanted to share “this”
that I wanted to teach “this”
that I could teach “this”
that “this” was something beyond intellectual curiosity and coolness. So much more than just an idea.
I stayed an extra hour with him and without asking, began to teach him the fundamentals of meditation.
As I was leaving, he looked away and asked if I would come back and continue.
I said Yes.
I did go back. A few times a week. It was amazing. I loved every minute of it.
This story doesn't end here. It gets better. So much better.
This man stayed in Jail until his trial months later. He could not make bail. So we worked together for months.
A few weeks before his trial, I went to visit him after work for our lesson. He was led into the interview room in handcuffs with a black eye and a busted lip.
I asked the guard to remove the handcuffs.
The guard said No. He had been in a fight. Procedure was that he now needed to be cuffed. I could see that the guard wanted to say more but he didn’t. (I knew this guard to be a decent and good guy)
When the guard left, I asked him about the fight. He refused to talk about it but there was this strange look on his face. I couldn’t really figure it out. We had our lesson as normal.
As I was leaving, the guard came up to me and asked me why I came to see this particular Inmate so often. I told him the truth. He looked confused and proceeded to tell me the following story:
The day before, there had been some tension in the cafeteria. Loud rumblings and a sense of unease. Suddenly one inmate took his tray and bashed it across another inmate's face. The entire cafeteria erupted with chants of “fight him” “fight him”. Guards leaped into readiness but there was no need. The inmate that had been attacked just stood there, breathing heavily. Not moving. He then did the strangest thing. He closed his eyes. (writing this 30 years later, I have tears in my eyes). He turned to the closest guard and calmly said that he was ready to go back to his cell now.
Knowing that my inmate was still sitting cuffed in the interview room. I asked if I could go back in.
I went back in.
I told the inmate that I knew what had happened and asked him to tell me about it.
This was his story:
He and the other inmate knew each other from the Streets. Never got along. Something about a woman. (super cliche, I know). Tensions had been rising between them as soon as they saw each other in Jail. They both knew that eventually something would happen. Honor and Street Cred (whatever that means) were at stake. But because they both knew that getting into a fight while waiting for trial was a dumb move, they warily stayed away from each other. Tension grew, words were exchanged. Something happened in the cafeteria that lit a match and the other guy lost control and hit “My” guy. My guy was just about to throw himself into it when he remembered our lessons. He stopped, closed his eyes, breathed, felt his feelings (anger, frustration, pain), connected with himself and decided that he could manage these uncomfortable feelings without destroying his life and future.
He breathed his way into walking away.
THAT was the moment I knew that “this” was real and valuable and precious, not just a cool thing to do.
THAT “this “had the power to change lives.
THAT “this” had practical Life implications.
THAT was the moment that I knew that “this” was part of me forever.
I want it to be part of you as well.
P.s. Just in case you are interested. The whole Public Defender’s Office fought like crazy for this client. He technically did not qualify for a drug program but with the help and advocacy of some good and caring people, we got him into a residential drug program. He was confined to House Arrest for 5 years after in lieu of Prison time. I am still grateful to a decent State’s Attorney and a compassionate Judge who heard our argument and gave him a chance. He not only graduated from the Drug Program but began to work there. He began to help me advocate for other clients. He continued meditating. We kept in touch for years. He made it.