A Transformative Realization

Sitting still for me was one of the most difficult thlngs I have ever done. Father Flannigan was the one who passed through the segregation block in Walpole and suggested I try Zen meditation. He even gave me a book on the subject. The title of this book escapes me all these years later. I had practiced meditation before in Japan, but I was too young to appreciate the power of sittėng in silence and listening only to the messages of my own being.

Father Flannigan came to visit me on a regular basis, until one day some idiots talked him into taking out a paper bag full of old dynamite that had been stored in the heating duct in the prison gym. He was caught by a guard, and the dynamite was disposed of by the state police. No charges were ever filed against Father Flannigan. He explained that he was trying to save lives on both sides of the wall. He was never to come inside a prison again.

I still had the book he gave me, and I began to read and understand more than I ever dreamed possible about what did and did not matter in my life. As it turned out, after I let go of my ego and was able to embrace the absolute nothingness of my surroundings, I felt at such peace — and more, contentment. Nothing outside of my mind mattered. It was all transient and impermanent.

At first I would sit for moments, and at other times for many hours each day. I had to balance the sitting with the actual living, or more precisely, the existing in my caged environment. I began to meditate while eating my meager meals. I meditated while writing letters home to my mother. I meditated while studying the hundreds of books I got from the prison library and from other prisoners. My cell was jam-packed with books and writing materials. I no longer read books for escape, I read them to learn.

The more I read and the more I learned, the less I knew. For every answer, I found twenty more questions. In the end, it all came back to the same nothingness in the final analysis. I was truly blissfully happy with the balance of facing daily things that did not matter and of the nothingness that did. I did not seek for something besides myself. I found the truth in this world through my difficulties, through my sufferings. Pleasure is no different from difficulty. Good is not different from bad. They are two sides of the same coin.

I did not slight the idea of attaining enlightenment, but the most important thing was this moment, not some day in the future. I had to make my effort in this moment. That was the important thing then, as it is to this very day more than forty years in the future. I transformed from an angry younq man full of confusion and lack of direction to a man who finally came to appreciate the incredible beauty of a mindfullness of peace, beauty, and love.

I never put pictures on my cell wall, but with a black magic marker I wrote something I read in one of my books: "The more we get, the more we want. The better we get at getting what we want, the better we get at wanting. But, the better we get at wanting, the less we want what we get. Those who are suffering provide those more fortunate the precious opportunity to be generous and share what they have."


Joe Labriola

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