I have come to see that most of my life I have been a “fixer”. No, correct that, I have thought that I was a “fixer”. That somehow it was my duty to fix problems for those in trouble, especially when it comes to the ones I love. The stronger the love, the more powerful my drive has always been to help find a solution. A way to make things OK, make my loved one peaceful and happy.
Slowly but surely, my practice, along with many lessons in this regard from dear Bhikkhuni Vimala, have opened my eyes to this unskilful and ignorant behavior. I have spent so much time in my life making things mine that were not mine, with the false illusion that this was all in the name of love and compassion. And this lesson has never been demonstratively made more clear than in my recent visit to a beloved friend in jail.
As a young man in the Navy, I got myself into trouble on more than one occasion. The worst penalty for those actions earned me thirty days in the hole. Well, not the hole exactly, but the naval brig. Behind bars for the first time in my life, I was a terrified young man who realized I had gone a step too far and realized it a step too late. Far from home, with no Family or friends, and surrounded by a mix of people like me and some that were far more dangerous. This was not where I wished to be.
But this story is not about me, only to share that I have a tiny bit of first-hand experience with incarceration.
As I drove to visit my friend, my mind was filled with a sadness and love for him. Knowing that unique loneliness that a jail cell offers someone. I had no expectations of the visit, or even if he would agree to see me. But my intention was to let him know that he was loved and he was not alone.
He thankfully agreed to see me, and I have to admit I was a little surprised at how unhealthy he looked. Malnourished, understandably sad, morose, and stunned by my appearance. You see, we are not close friends in the normal sense. We are spiritual friends (kalyana mitta), and in that sense I feel that we are very close. We have not seen each other in probably six months or more, and I have no idea about his personal life or what has been happening. And while I know that this was a large part of his surprise in seeing me, I came to find out it was far deeper than that.
My friend proceeded to tell me that because of his past actions that all of his Family and friends have abandoned him. He has been left with no one. Now homeless, without Family, friends, pets, he has become destitute. And if that weren’t the bottom already, he now is living behind bars and wearing an orange jumpsuit.
So his stunned expression, was far more than just seeing that I had come, but that in fact anyone at all had come.
As we sat and talked, we took our turns crying. Both of us being touched in different ways and I’m sure for different reasons. But somehow those tears broke through the glass that separated us, and we wept with love for one another. And this is when I noticed the “fixer” began fighting to take over. Thinking that there must be something I can do to help him. He is my friend, he is helpless, he is in desperate need, so what can I do? And then it came to me. Not just that there truly is nothing I can do, but that I am doing everything already. The simple act of presence, with great compassion and loving-kindness was all that was needed. My desire to do more, to help more, to fix the problem, had to be let go of.
And once this was realized, I immediately saw that the gift was being given to me by my friend. He was my teacher today. With the gratitude in his eyes, the softness in his voice, his words and tears, he was blessing me over and over again.
Our visit ended with him talking about the opportunity to work on himself and get back to his practice. He also spoke about the possibility of starting a meditation group in that jail so that he may recommit to his practice and share this with others as well.
I am so grateful for my friend, and I offer him my unconditional love and blessings that he may be well, happy and peaceful. That he may be free of suffering and all causes of suffering. That he may know in his heart how his true nature is indeed one of such immense kindness and love. And he has truly shown me all of that today.