Power of Mindfulness

Shawn Putansu

Chowchilla, CA

Coming to this place on the journey has not been easy.  There have been many highs and lows along the way. For once, I am able to sit down and share my thoughts on the power of mindfulness. I spent many years in the world of mindlessness, but today that is no longer my reality. Today I am tasting the beauty of the here and now.

Please allow me to share some of my journey with you. For many years I was blinded by my addictions; drugs, alcohol, food, money, women, you name it and I wanted it. Lots of it. I spent a long time believing that if a little was good then, of course, more must be better. This attitude brought a lot of pain and sorrow to everyone that came into contact with me. I dropped out of high school, I couldn’t keep a job, and I was a convicted felon by the age of 18. Along the way there were many sign posts telling me that I was going the wrong way, but I chose not to heed their warnings, always insisting that I knew what was best for my life. Drugs, booze and crime would rule my world forever, or so I thought.

In May 2005, I committed a senseless act of violence and I needlessly killed an innocent human being. I was 27 years old, newly relocated to California and at the end of my rope. For the next 10 years I lived a lie about what happened in order to hide the truth and keep myself in a morass of self-pity, guilt, shame, and remorse. I continued to live as mindlessly as possible, blotting out the truth with drugs, as I navigated the prison system and tried to comprehend how I was going to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As the years passed, life seemed to become more bearable.  I was social enough to get along and I learned how to make friends by being a chameleon and fitting into any social circle. I didn’t have too much trouble being someone I wasn’t because I hated my true self, and I was sure that if anyone found out who I really was they were sure to hate me too.

In 2014 my cellmate passed away of a heart attack. I was sent to the hole and released 5 days later after the autopsy came back and proved that I wasn’t involved. I had been relapsing on drugs again and I ran into the man who helped me to get free from drugs and alcohol. I got involved in a 12-Step Program and really gave it a chance for once. In 2015, 10 years after my crime, I finally came clean to my sponsor about my involvement in my case. I thought for sure that he would hate me, but instead he hugged me and told me how proud he was that I was able to face such an inner demon. I couldn’t have been more wrong about how I thought he was going to react to the truth. I am blessed to say that I haven’t had a drink or drug since I left the hole, and I have been granted the privilege of serving my sentence at a medium security facility despite my indeterminate sentence.

I had always felt a pull toward the inner path, but when I met a man at the new prison I was at, I could clearly see the power of mindfulness  at work in his life. He sat with me and listened to my story with a heartfelt ear and guided me to the Sunday afternoon Buddhist Group. I have to say that when he mentioned a 20 minute silent meditation I was petrified. I couldn’t sit still for 5 seconds, let alone 20 minutes!  He started me off with a 5 minute morning meditation and the night before the group he asked if I had been practicing throughout the week. I told him I had and he smiled and said, “Well, add up all the 5 minute meditation sessions you’ve already done and it adds up to at least 20 minutes. You’ll be fine tomorrow.”  He was right, I was fine, and as time went on and I kept showing up it got a little easier with each practice.

In the beginning, meditation brought up a lot of emotions that I wasn’t interested in feeling. I had a lot of suppressed pain and it constantly made itself known during the meditation sessions. I was constantly bombarded with memories of my past, my childhood, my life of crime, it was all very painful.  For only a few minutes (5) each morning, I felt like I was being tortured. After about a month or so, a real Buddhist monk came to our Sunday service. I had never met a monk before and I had no idea what to expect. I arrived a little late and the monk was already speaking to the group. I noticed that everyone had a picture of the monk with something written on the back. Each person was reading something the monk had written on the photo and the monk was elaborating on the topic. Many areas of Buddhism were spoken about: spirituality, awareness, impermanence, meditation, and several others. After everyone read their topic, the monk asked if there were any questions. I decided to ask him a question. My hand went up and the monk acknowledged me. My question went something like this:

You mentioned a little about living in the past, mentally, and how it prevents us from being in the here and now. I have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and everyday I wake up in a prison cell and I am bombarded by feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and pain for an act I committed over twelve years ago. How do I go about getting through, or letting go of those emotions and feelings that haven’t gone away even after all this time?

The monk first assured me that he too had been sentenced to life without parole, as a monk, and he would always wear the robe. He also told me that if worrying about the past would help me even a little bit then I should worry 24/7, but if it wouldn’t help, I should realize that I am a fool for thinking that it would. He then asked me if I meditated and I said, “Yes, a little.” “How much?” he asked.  “Five minutes every morning,” I replied. He looked at me and said, “You will meditate for twenty minutes every morning, and in a few months when I come back you will ask me if you can meditate for thirty minutes, but if you should wake up and not feel like meditating, or maybe you are sick, I want you to take all of the pain, guilt, shame, regret, and remorse that you have inside and I want you to feel that for not meditating that day.”  

He also went on to share some parables about how it would be challenging at first, but would get easier over time.  Several months have passed since my encounter with the monk and I have not missed my twenty minute meditation practice in the morning even once, nor do I plan to.

I saw on opportunity to ask for help with my biggest issue - self-forgiveness - and the Buddhist monk has cleared the path to inner peace and freedom through the Power of Mindfulness. Today I am eternally grateful to have experienced such a light of clarity to show me the way down the dark road of prison life. Patanjali speaks of the power of mindfulness in the Yoga-Sutra, “For all others, faith, energy, mindfulness, integration, and wisdom form the path to realization.”  (1,20)

Day to day life has become much more bearable and I approach each moment with a new sense of peace, happiness, contentment and inner freedom. Who would have ever thought that someone like me who spent their whole life looking for the answers on the outside would come to realize that what I had been looking for the whole time had been within me from the start?  When I look back now, all I can see is how each moment was lived so that I could one day wake up to the here and now.