Out of Hell - A Pilgrim's Journey by Brother Bob
Each of us is a voyager in this life, embarked upon a journey. My own journey has been a passage from darkness to light, from reactive impulse & despair to conscious choice, from prison routine to a community of freedom.
In the beginning, I survived years of harmful, nearly fatal, child abuse with troublesome physical and disastrous psychic impairments.
Early childhood taught me to ease my suffering by shrinking into stupefying fantasy.
In mid-childhood, I began scanning for potential danger and pain, warding it off with deception and aggression.
By late childhood, I habitually scanned for potential danger and pain, pursuing the desire to avoid it by running away and hiding. To ease my suffering, I began stealing.
In adolescence, a slave to these impairments, I repeatedly tried to form and cling to supportive relations, only to see them fall into estrangement. In growing isolation and impoverishment, I began pursuing the desire to ease mounting torment by using stupefying drugs and other mind-numbing distractions, and by wandering the streets, lost in the fantasy of being in pleasing relations with those I stealthily watched.
Limping into adulthood, bound to this endless cycle, I sustained myself, physically, with short-term jobs, drug sales, and occasional burglary, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into cold isolation, desperate impoverishment, and overwhelming fear. In time, my sense of humanity gave way, and I lost touch with goodwill, surrendering into craven brutishness. Carelessly determined to survive, I eased my torment opportunistically, seizing the chances that came along.
So it was, while once again engaged in a residential burglary, I was surprised by the return of the homeowner and ran away. Soon arrested, I was eventually convicted of a second burglary of an occupied dwelling and sentenced to up-to-thirty-years in prison. My mind, shrouded in a thick mind-numbing fog, lifted for just one moment as I jolted awake—feeling like I’d been kicked real hard in the guts—when I heard my sentence and imagined dying in prison. In the next moment I shrank back, even deeper, to become like a walking dead man, a zombie, shuffling through the routine of being transported to and entombed in prison.
Sometime during the first year of incarceration, the mental fog lifted enough for me to feel grinding the psychic pain and utter hopelessness. I grabbed for life-saving relief in the form of meditative concentration practice and Chi Kung training. Later I added jogging and weight training to this routine, in order to boost vitality and stave off the suffocating hopelessness. Eventually, I revived enough to engage in competitive sports and table games, along with other “social” activities, which brought me, once again, into disastrous relations. Eventually I shrank back into solitary meditative concentration and Chi Kung practice, weight training and other time-killing distractions like mindless TV watching, listening to loud rock & roll on radio, or losing myself in fiction novels.
Deeply frustrated and weary of the endless rounds of mental torture, I finally faced the critical choice—to truly treat and cure the cause of my torment, or suicide. Choosing treatment, I committed myself to accomplishing all the cognitive self-change training and other conventional treatment methods offered in the prison.
Through years of this training I became aware of my thoughts and feelings and came to understand their power over my behavior. I also learned to restrain my harmful behaviors by “stopping” when I detected dangerous impulses. This training helped ease my pain, a bit, but it wasn’t thorough enough to free me from the root conditioning that enslaved me to the cowardly immoral pursuit of worldly desires that bound me in that endless cycle of self-perpetuated torment.
Seeking further relief, I got the notion that accomplishing the “higher” trainings of Buddhism and Taoism may be the key to reaching the radical treatment and cure I so desired. With this in mind, I dedicated myself to that training. Over time, with the instruction and encouragement of noble friends and teachers, I was taught to face and embrace circumstances—concentrated in mindfulness and mental alertness—with unfaltering resolve, relaxed poise, tranquil tenderness, and unbiased appreciation. I was taught to dance with the circumstances of life—with respect, dignity, love, compassion, and graciousness; and to generously give to others’ benefit rather than take advantage of others.
As this way of relating became more familiar and settled, I began receiving the rewards of growing ease and joy, together with much greater faith in training, and enthusiasm for practice. In time, an intuitive sense of dissonance arose within me, between this balanced way of being with the world, and that old habitual tendency toward immoral pursuit of worldly desires. As this dissonance grew sharper, I imagined it to be the cause of torment itself, and decided to renounce the pursuit of worldly desires altogether. To accomplish this, I determined to refrain from relations based on the pursuit of such desires, in favor of those that fostered what I might recognize as wisdom.
To borrow a phrase: I realized that I was allergic to the pursuit of worldly desires; that when I pursued them, I broke out in spots! Like Hell!!
With this realization, I became wholeheartedly devoted to training and living, for whatever remained of this life, as a “home leaver”. I became wholly identified with those heroic pilgrims who exemplified the way of emancipation through their embodiment of noble wisdom.
Also knowing, from direct experience, just how susceptible I was to relapsing into slavery to the cowardly pursuit of worldly desires, I imagined, upon leaving prison, that I would wear a home leaver’s robe as a reminder of my obligation and opportunity to train and live as a pilgrim voyager, appearing differently from others who don’t live, or need to live, in such tea-totaling renunciation.
Thus it was, at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, May 9, 2008, after seventeen years of incarceration, that I humbly, gratefully, and joyfully traded my prison blues for an outcast’s robe, a home leaver’s robe, a robe of liberation. I appeared, on parole, in the Salem community, wearing the Tathagatas teaching, for the benefit of all beings, with the aspiration to engage in a great experiment to answer this question: ‘How may this justifiably outcast old fool, this madman, this sad impersonation of a Mahayana monk, poorly training to embody noble wisdom, humbly devoted to the Great Mother (Prajna Paramita), continue joyfully coursing toward healing and peace with you, out here in community, for the good of all beings?’
For Goodness Sake! May you be well May you have peace May you realize noble wisdom
Brother Bob (Pilgrim) is engaged in a faith based reentry effort, after over twenty (20) years in prison. He hopes to establish and cultivate relations, grounded in noble wisdom, so that he may share a life, dedicated to healing and peace with others. To contact Brother Bob and receive more information and updates about his journey, he may be reached at [email protected].