I feel my heart chakra
shut down on the drive from Portland to Salem. All of the unhealed places
in me rise to my awareness. I feel like a con. Prison represents my darkness.
It activates my shadow self. I am afraid. My heart races and I feel myself
holding my breath. The memories of my past flood me. I'm haunted by the
memories of my days in jails and 45 days in Dammasch State Hospital. This
experience of my actually doing something sacred brought back the memories
of my active alcoholism and the nights behind bars and in mental institution
I shutter at the memories of
my alcoholic craziness. The memories of my hopelessness, terror, frustration
and despair. I feel the armor that I construct around myself to protect
me. There is no protection. I feel a deep sadness and the terror of entering
the world that I am only one drink or drug away from. I need to protect
myself. I am afraid of being exposed as a con. I am afraid of being laughed
at, attacked. The more fear I feel, the more I want to control. It had
been years since I have done service work in prison.
A short time ago, a friend
asked me to bring 35 drums into a prison program in Salem, Oregon called
"Cornerstone 9. I said yes and it turned out to be one of the most powerful
experiences in my life. Coincidentally, it was the evening that operation
"Desert Storm" was initiated and this added to my existing anxiety concerning
I have always believed that
some of the most talented men and women are behind bars, and that there
was a great need for sacredness in this environment. Now those fears revisited
me, like the ghost of Christmas past. I felt all the painful years of growth
blowing away like sand in the desert. I had been asked to drum by Steve
who is a counselor in the prison program.
I was to be the partial fulfillment of a gift that he wanted to give the residents. The gift he offered was to help them create a sacred space on the prison unit, and drumming. Steve had been attending the men's Wisdom Circles in Portland. He felt the power and healing of drumming. Now he wanted to share this experience.
Steve and I had agreed to meet
for coffee prior to going to the unit. I found myself wanting to know exactly
what he wanted me to do. Who are these residents? Why are they in jail?
What is the prevailing attitude? I wanted control of the situation. Panic
was driving me. He kept telling me to just be spontaneous and trust that
what was supposed to happen would happen. I felt about as spontaneous as
a digital clock. I felt my body tense as we drove to the unit. The words
of my Native American teacher kept echoing in my ears, “just stay within
yourself". I prayed for the courage to speak my truth. There was an air
of tension on the unit because one of the elders had just been sent back
to the main prison. Steve had alerted me to this growing anger and tension
in the unit As we entered, almost everyone was watching the news coverage
on the war. A few of the men helped me unload the drums and bring them
to the unit. Almost all ethnic groups were represented on the unit, African
Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Whites. Both men and women were
in the circle that we formed.
I was introduced by Steve and
I took a few minutes to breathe deeply to attempt to calm my shaky knees
and racing heart. I noticed a Native American watching me and I felt even
more uncomfortable. I had planned to explain some medicine wheel teachings
and altar building to the group, and although I am one sixteenth Mingo
Indian, I felt I had no right to do so. I began by telling my story of
recovery, what it was like, what happened, and what it was like now. I
felt transparent I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. I acknowledged
verbally my fear and tension. I shared that I could have been a resident
in that unit but for the grace of God. I said the words we are all one
and spirit runs through all things. The words lacked life. They were shallow
and forced. I said their wounds and pain were also mine. I felt disjointed.
I invited every group member
to choose a drum and beater. After each, had done so, I began with a beat
that reflected my rhythm of the moment. Some of my tension eased. We continued
that for about 5 minutes and stopped. I then asked each member to go within
and get in touch with whatever they felt was their own rhythm and to let
that rhythm express itself through the drum. I told them not to worry about
doing is "right" or how they fit in, just to honor their own rhythm. For
the next 45 minutes we drummed.
We started out with a very
chaotic beat that gradually transformed itself into a wonderful blending.
I had explained the principal of entrainment earlier to the group that
things strive to be in harmony. The drumming manifested that principal.
We made a transition into a beautiful and haunting beat/rhythm. It was
rhythm with rhythm. I could see the eyes and faces of the residents shift
during the drumming. The drumming softened and ended spontaneously. There
was a stillness in the room. They had touched themselves and each other
in a very special way that many had never experienced before.
After the drumming it seemed appropriate to have a talking circle, I invited each to share their experience of the drumming and what they wanted to create in this sacred space. Each member of the circle shared from the heart. The common theme of the sharing was a sense of peacefulness. Some commented that their anger was lifted or pushed down. others reported a sense of serenity that they had never felt before. I felt honored to sit in that circle. My tension had eased and I felt at one with the group. I offered a closing prayer to adjourn the circle. The residents lined up and nurtured Steve and I with hugs and expressions of gratitude. Steve suggested that they keep the silence for the rest of the evening. Together, the drumming circle had indeed created a sacred space. The ride home was more like a "float" home. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and rebirth of the joy I used to feel in the early sobriety that came from working with others. The joy I felt was of the same intensity as fear I had felt on the drive home. For the next few weeks I talked about the experience. I felt the universe had affirmed to he power of the drum and drumming. What had made a difference is that I showed up and walked through my fears. I connected in a new way. I gave of myself selflessly for that two hour period. Now I was at peace. There are so many opportunities for mentorship.
Creating sacred space and ritual
and ceremony is desperately needed all around us. The youth gangs are nothing
more than young people trying to create rites of passage without the wisdom
of elders. The cycle of dysfunction needs intervention by warriors who
offer youth examples of rites of passage into adulthood. Those behind bars
and in youth gangs provide rich areas for service work. As Alcoholics Anonymous
has exemplified for years, all spiritual growth begins with surrender and
the admission of powerlessness. This population is closest to that surrender.
It is full of misdirected warriors who are potentially our greatest leaders.
Few things are scarier or more rewarding than prison work. I encourage
people to get involved in carrying our healing to the wounded and to share
our rituals and sense of the sacred. It comes back many fold. I believe
there is a great need to nourish the sacredness of those behind bars. Philosophically,
I believe prisons are part of our national denial system and part of the
"punishing God" beliefs. We fix and label these people as "bad", and create
a self fulfilling prophesy by enabling their badness to manifest.
I believe we need new models of mentorship. Rather than putting people in a toxic environment, we need to create nourishing environments and healthy role models for lasting rehabilitation to occur. I invite you, the reader, to look within to see if you are called to be one of the leaders in prisons, business, or your own home.
Copyright (c) by Patrick
Pinson, all rights reserved. Patrick Pinson is 1/16 Mingo Indian and is
president of Cedar Mountain Drums in Portland, Oregon. The company evolved
out of his love for drums and drum making He holds a in Masters degree
in Counseling and Rehabilitation and has been active in men’s support groups
in the Portland area for years. You can contact Patrick at: Cedar Mountain
Drums, 2800 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR. 97232
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