More similar than different

By Leela

Today I taught a class of 27 sentenced female offenders. As always, you’re never really sure what you’re going to ‘get’. I have an idea of the sequences I want to teach, the main concepts to impart, but almost 100% of the time this plan is subject to change due to the unpredictability of life!

The women today were focused, engaged and curious, which makes for magic. We laughed a lot whilst trying to balance even though we were wobbly – everyone just tried. The energy was so good, I was aware of how much their presence was refuelling my own low energy levels.

I ended the class telling the story of the Chinese farmer, who experiences loss and gain throughout his life. Whilst his neighbours exclaim, gosh, what a tragedy your horse ran away, or my my, how lucky you are your son wasn’t called up for the army as he is ill, his response is always the same: ‘good experience, bad experience, we’ll see…” After the class I started talking to one of the offenders. I was acutely aware that whilst she engaged with me, she didn’t make eye contact with me once. My mind wondered, does she do this because she doesn’t feel safe, do I make her nervous, does she carry shame? I’ll never know the answer and it isn’t important. But I could relate to her behaviour, to the perceived hiding, or the fear, or the shame, or the protecting oneself. She told me the story had helped her because she was incarcerated for shop lifting, trying to feed a long term heroin addiction. Being in prison is helping her stay clean, but she admitted that if she could walk out right now she’d head straight back to her dealer for the next hit. She’s an only child and knows that she has let her parents down. She feels embarrassed that some of the people she knew on the outside were now prison wardens, telling her what to do and when.

We carry so much on our shoulders, and are SO judgmental and unforgiving of self. I don’t know what she thought of our chat, but I walked away reminded of how similar we all are, how connected to each other we are, not necessarily in life experience but in our feelings, our hopes, our fears, our judgments. I hope I see her again next week to help her connect more with herself and her own unique higher power, which essentially, is what yoga and mindfulness continues to teach me!

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