From Wikipedia: Vipassana is a practice often taken up in prison, especially in Burma. In 1993, Kiran Bedi, a reformist Inspector General of India’s prisons, learned of the success of Vipassanā in a jail in Jainpur, Rajasthan. A 10-day course involved officials and inmates alike. In India’s largest prison, Tihar Jail, near New Delhi, another attempt was made. This program was said to have dramatically changed the behavior of inmates and jailers alike. It was actually found that inmates who completed the 10-day course were less violent and had a lower recidivism rate than other inmates. This project was documented in the television documentary, Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. So successful was this program that it was adopted by correctional facilities in the United States and other countries as well. Unfortunately, the prisoners involved in the study were a biased sample, however, due to the fact that they volunteered for the program, while many who were told they would miss the Super-Bowl if they joined the program chose not to participate. Therefore, it is possible that only prisoners who were willing to make a significant personal sacrifice to “improve” themselves participated in the study. A less biased study would have taken this self-electing prisoner pool and randomly assigned them to either Vipassana training or a “placebo” meditation training and evaluated the results according to a double blind protocol.
I am always excited by the amount of spiritual practice thrown in the face of those ‘in the need’, very usually with (un)surprisingly positive results. While I do not disagree that some people who have crossed the edge are more needy of such treatment, I do not hold the belief that ‘normal’ people can not significantly benefit from following the same instructions and modes of practice. This prison story strongly reminds me of dialectic behavioural therapy, a therapeutic system used to alleviate and cure Borderline Personality Disorder.
From Wikipedia: The treatment itself is based largely in behaviorist theory with some cognitive therapy elements as well. Unlike cognitive therapy it incorporates mindfulness practice as a central component of the therapy.
Anyone who has spent some time in self-observation has probably come to a very similar conclusion as G.I.Gurdjieff, that is that people are robots, controlled by their conditioning, triggers and wishes (reactions) mostly based on their current emotional state. Gurdjieff’s answer was to come up with his own system of self-observation (based on Sufi teachings, sacred dances, Christian mysticism and numerous other sources), but as time went on other systems from around the world became available to the contemporary experimenter – be it Aleister Crowley’s exercises, Osho’s dynamic meditation, mindfulness, or vipassana.
This week I have added to my daily practice of mindfulness a reversal practice as well – doing as many physical tasks in reverse (using the opposite limb) as I can. The immediate effect is the availability to stay mindful for longer periods of time. There also seems to be a peculiar effect on my body (some new unexpected pains, mainly in the lower back and the disappearance of some psychosomatic baggage).
Some of the practical exercises: wearing my bag on the opposite shoulder, crossing my legs in reverse, opening doors with my left hand and so on are particularly effective. This obviously necessitates the ability to be mindful of how your body is acting right now. I have also found the physical centering of my body to be fairly practical in deconstructing past physical difficulties, sleeping without crossing my legs, sitting straight (without crossing my legs), walking slowly and with straight back, while not looking down. Anything that challenges the conditioned physical routines that I have built for myself seems to be equally effective.
Whatever you do, practice every day.