Most of his adult life, Bo Lozoff has been going into prisons to teach meditation. The idea is that no matter how noisy and ghastly and fearsome --- prisons are a place where one can begin work on one's spiritual life. His first book, We're All Doing Time is a classic of prison literature. Intermixed with techniques for quieting the noisy mind and beginning the journey are letters --- astounding letters, devastating letters, heartfelt letters --- from prisoners. No matter what their crime (and some they describe are stunningly grisly) they come to Lozoff asking how they can start to get out of whatever it was that brought them into prison. His responses are classic: non-judgmental, clear-sighted thoughts on how they can begin to get rid of the chains which, he points out, may well be inside as much as out. Deep & Simple is the newest of his books, and, he tells us, it will be expanded and published by Viking/Penguin. In the meantime, those interested in further communication with him can reach him at
RR1, Box 201-N
Durham NC 27705
he way I responded to a troubled family life was to withdraw and become sullen, closing off not only to everyone else, but to myself as well. I didn't have the slightest idea what I believed in or even what I felt. In fact, I thought I never felt a thing.
By the time I got into college, I was very screwed up and basically numb. I had no thoughts or feelings of my own, I was just running on what everyone else had been planning for my life. At the beginning of my third semester, my girlfriend, who was also very unhappy, said, "Bo, this world is such a horrible place, I'm going to kill myself. I'm serious. I'm going to do it on Saturday night. Will you do it with me?" And, numb as I was, my reply was, "Sure --- I'm not busy Saturday night."
The day came, and we got nineteen bottles of sleeping pills and divided them by our body weight. I took twelve bottles and she took seven. We wrote suicide notes --- pretty much the standard, "It's no one's fault, we just don't fit in here..." We laid down on a bed at a motel out on Ponchartrain Highway in New Orleans, and we both passed out.
Everything went black. The next thing I knew, I was sitting a couple of feet away from some guy, talking to him. I didn't know who he was or what we were talking about. All I knew was how much I didn't like him.
The dislike got stronger and stronger as he droned on about something or other, and it turned into the most intense hatred and loathing I had ever experienced. I hated the way he looked, the way he talked, the way he held himself, his attitude, his expression, the way he dressed --- there wasn't a single thing about this guy that I didn't detest. I hated anybody who could possibly like him! I hated his ancestors! I hated everything he might have stood for! Everything about him disgusted me.
Suddenly, there was a loud sound to my left, and the motel room door came crashing open with a bunch of cops rushing in saying, "There he is, get the stomach pump, get the stomach pump!" As it turned out, I had been sitting on the edge of the motel bed, and as I turned my head towards all the commotion, my eyes caught sight of the edge of the big mirror that I had been looking into. All in an instant my mind was reeling. Oh my god, that's me I hate so much! That obnoxious, arrogant, despicable guy is me!!
So there I was, having the deepest, most painful revelation of my life, and all these cops and paramedics were trying to hold me down and shove a tube down my throat. I'm like, "Hey, guys, I'm having a moment here, can't you see that?" (It's really very funny several decades afterward.)
I spent the flight in a jail cell, screaming and hallucinating the scariest things imaginable. That's how they handled 18-year-old suicidal kids in those days --- throw 'em in jail. It took me many years to heal from that experience and put all that pain to good use. But it's a powerful lesson of how far off we can go when we lose contact with the simple voice of our own hearts. (My girlfriend survived too, by the way, and is still a friend --- and a grandmother now.)
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ne of the most inspiring things about spending a week in Dharamsala was the aliveness of religious practice there. Most of the population are Buddhist monks and nuns, and the Dalai Lama is their one single, uncontested religious leader; he's alive, right there, preaching kindness and joy as the most important duties of life. So even just walking down the street in Dharamsala becomes a very happy experience, bowing almost constantly, exchanging greetings of lovingkindness with nearly everyone.
During our meeting with His Holiness, I put all my attention into being present, open and receptive in the presence of such a great spiritual elder. I tried to look very practically ---"He's got two legs, two arms, a head, a nose. We both wake up in the morning, both go to sleep at night. What is the real functional difference between his experience and mine?"
One of the things I noticed is simply that he's "full-time." You and I may go to a church service or a spiritual retreat, and with enough mutual support and encouragement, we may let down our guard, and be willing to feel the Living Spirit with each other. We'll be open and trusting, experiencing the preciousness of being together and practicing together.
Then the service ends, and on the way home we stop for gas, or a bagel or something. And here is the difference: You and I are then willing to pretend with the gas station attendant, or with the cashier, that life isn't so sacred. We pretend that this is just buying a bagel, this is just getting gas. We won't look in their eyes. We won't be intimate. It's like an unspoken agreement to avoid feeling how precious we are to each other.
The Dalai Lama, and other saints like Mother Teresa and Gandhi, simply don't turn it off! They go into the station and see a Precious Child of God taking their Divine Credit Card for the Sacred Gas, and they don't hide it from that person taking the credit card! Their whole presence says, "It's all equally sacred." Getting gas, praying in church, buying a bagel, are all the same Mysterious Miracle. They live in Love, so of course they are in Love with the gas station attendant. And at the bagel shop, they'll be in Love with the bagel boy.
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anjiro Sensei was once passing through the countryside when he came upon a scene in which a 13-year-old boy and the 4-year-old child he had been carrying on his back had both fallen into the river and were about to drown. Everyone was in a panic and nobody knew what to do. Sensei quickly hiked up his hakama --- the traditional formal pants worn by samurai warriors --- and tucked his leather-soled sandals into his belt. Then he jumped into the river and rescued the children.
The parents of the children were overjoyed when he returned them safely to the shore. As thanks for his courageous deed, they offered him a great basket filled with eggplants, gourds and watermelons. They said, "Please accept these as but a poor token of our gratitude. It is not much, but we are simple farmers and it is all we have at the moment. We certainly intend to call upon you again to thank you more appropriately."
But Hanjiro Sensei handed the basket back and replied, "You are most kind, but I am afraid I cannot accept such gifts."
The couple bowed their heads in shame and began to apologize for giving offense with such poor fare, but Hanjiro Sensei stopped them short, saying: "No, you have misunderstood my intentions. Your gifts are very much appreciated and I did not mean to offend by my refusal. What I meant was that, while I did rescue your children from the river, I am ashamed of the way I went about it.
"Before running into the river, I stopped to pull up my hakama and secure my sandals in my belt. If they had been my own children, I would not have wasted time with such petty preparations. I am deeply ashamed that I allowed this hesitation, as if your children were not as important as my own.
"That is why I am ashamed to receive your thanks and these fine gifts. Still, I would not want to compound the wrong by belittling your intention of gratitude, so with your leave I will accept a few small eggplants."
Hanjiro Sensei returned the rest of the gifts and went on his way, leaving all the farmers deeply moved.--- From Deep & Simple