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    How to Meditate in Hell | Jarvis Jay Masters

    Embrace all emotions, both positive and negative, to stay grounded. Appreciate blessings, even in tough times. Define freedom for yourself. You can find freedom in any situation while still fighting for traditional freedom.

    enApril 03, 2023

    About this Episode

    Today we have a truly incredible episode about how to meditate in hell. You’re going to meet a man named Jarvis Jay Masters, who I interviewed from his cell on death row at San Quentin prison in California. Any of us who meditate do our best to apply it to life’s ups and downs — but this person has been applying it in some truly extreme circumstances. 


    Jarvis has now spent more than three decades on death row, including more than two decades in solitary confinement. Shortly after Jarvis’s death sentence, he became interested in Buddhism, and started developing a rigorous practice under the tutelage of a Tibetan lama, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. Jarvis has now written and published two books about his life, Finding Freedom and That Bird Has My Wings. Both feature forewords by the renowned meditation teacher Pema Chödrön, who has been on this show, and his second book was endorsed by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and also by Oprah Winfrey, who selected the book for her famous book club last year.


    Jarvis’s current appeal sits before a federal judge as we speak. A decision on his future could be reached any day. 


    Heads up there are frank discussions of suicide and domestic violence in this conversation.


    In this episode we talk about:

    • His childhood
    • His road to prison
    • How he unlearned traditional (and harmful) aspects of masculinity
    • How he began to write, and the impact that had on him and his standing in the prison
    • How he meditates in a noisy prison
    • The details of his meditation practice
    • His off-the-cushion practice of ‘engaged Buddhism’ with his fellow inmates
    • How he prepares for the possibility of release–and for the possibility of execution
    • How he defines freedom


    Full Shownotes: https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/jarvis-jay-masters-579

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    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Meditation and engaged Buddhism can help individuals find inner peace and freedom, regardless of their circumstances. Jarvis J Masters' story is a testament to this, inspiring hope in even the most challenging situations.
    • Engaging in productive activities, like meditation and writing, can help one stay mentally strong in difficult situations. Being open to new opportunities can also provide hope and a path forward.
    • Through a regular meditation practice, one can develop a mindful awareness of oneself and their surroundings, enabling them to navigate challenging environments and avoid dangerous situations.
    • Providing a safe and nurturing family environment is crucial for children to thrive. Institutions and foster care systems must prioritize creating supportive spaces rather than perpetuating cycles of trauma and abuse.
    • By addressing the basic needs of prisoners and encouraging self-reflection, individuals can break free from toxic societal expectations and realize their true identity. Understanding root causes of crime is crucial in reforming justice.
    • Meditation can be done anywhere, even in noisy environments. The important thing is to detach from external stimuli and focus on inner peace for personal growth and freedom.
    • Engaged Buddhism encourages individuals to actively participate in their environment and make a positive difference in the lives of others, as demonstrated by Jarvis Jay Masters' dedication to spreading Buddhist principles in juvenile halls and camps.
    • Being empathetic towards others and building genuine relationships can have a significant impact on someone's life. It's not about preaching a specific ideology, but simply being there for someone can make all the difference.
    • Being authentic, acknowledging our emotions and understanding our source of anger can help us cultivate deeper relationships and work effectively with others. Trust can be built by being real with others and not claiming any religious authority.
    • Anger is normal, but it can become toxic if not managed. Analyze how it affects you and others, and explore both positive and negative outcomes. Strive for balance by adopting a Buddhist practice and building a relationship with all possibilities.
    • Embrace all emotions, both positive and negative, to stay grounded. Appreciate blessings, even in tough times. Define freedom for yourself. You can find freedom in any situation while still fighting for traditional freedom.
    • True freedom is not about physical liberation but removing obstacles hindering inner peace and happiness. Meditate and do the things that make you happy to experience true freedom.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Meditation and Buddhism on Death Row: Jarvis J Masters' story of inner peace in extreme circumstances

    Jarvis J Masters, an inmate on death row at San Quentin Prison, has been applying meditation and Buddhism in extreme circumstances. He shares his difficult upbringing, how he unlearned harmful masculine traits, and his off-the-cushion practice of engaged Buddhism with fellow inmates. He also talks about preparing for the possibility of release or execution and how he defines freedom. Despite being sentenced to death for allegedly being involved in a murder, Jarvis has maintained his innocence and his conviction was marred by prosecutorial misconduct. His case is currently appealed in court. Jarvis' story is a testament to the power of meditation and how it can help individuals find inner peace and freedom, even in the most challenging circumstances.

    How Jarvis Jay Masters survived 22 years in solitary confinement

    Jarvis Jay Masters spent 22 years in solitary confinement, which is extremely detrimental to mental health. He was able to stay sane because he found different things to engage himself with, such as learning how to meditate, writing, and getting visits. Every time he felt depressed and thought about how much more he could take, something came up that allowed him to move forward. Being in the general population of Condemned Road has given him more opportunities and he feels like it is wide open after being in solitary confinement for 22 years.

    How Meditation Helped Jarvis Jay Masters Survive a 22-Year Prison Sentence

    Meditation supported Jarvis Jay Masters to cope with the 22-year sentence in prison. He utilized this time to read books, write, and learn more about himself as a human being. By seeing other inmates committing suicides, he realized the importance of being alive and counted his blessings. His Buddhist practice and meditation motivated him to move away from the dangerous aspects of being locked up for 23 hours a day. His troubled childhood made him end up in a foster home, and he had to deal with poverty and abuse. But he found a way to protect his sisters and himself. He shifted his perspective and learned to check himself to avoid dangerous situations in his life.

    The Importance of a Stable Family Environment for Positive Growth and Development

    Experiencing a structured and caring family environment was crucial for Jarvis Jay Masters to grow and transition from surviving to living. However, being placed in bad foster homes and violent institutions had a negative impact on his well-being. The lack of structure and support in his natural family led him to engage in delinquent behaviors. The importance of a stable and nurturing family environment cannot be overstated in promoting positive growth and development in children. Foster care systems and institutions should prioritize creating safe and supportive environments to improve outcomes for youth in their care, rather than perpetuating cycles of trauma and abuse.

    The Power of Reflecting on One's Life in Prison

    Many prisoners are products of a system that fails to address their basic needs such as food and shelter, leading to criminal activities as a means of survival. However, by reflecting on their lives and questioning their societal roles, prisoners can grow spiritually and realize their true identity, shedding off societal expectations of toxic masculinity and violence. By sharing their stories, they realize that they are not alone and that their struggles are shared among many prisoners who end up in San Quentin prison. Overall, the need to understand the root causes of criminal activities and reform the justice system to address them is vital in reducing the number of people in prisons.

    Finding Inner Peace through Meditation

    Learning how to be quiet and find one's own space is crucial to meditation. Even in noisy environments, it's possible to ground oneself and detach from the noise, as noise is not something that needs to dictate one's internal state. In prison, meditation and reading Buddhist materials helped Jarvis Jay Masters break down the tough exterior he had built and find freedom in his writing. Being in solitary confinement provided an opportunity for introspection and growth. Meditation can be practiced anywhere, even in noisy environments like airports. It's important to remember that one doesn't need to completely silence external stimuli, but rather find a way to peacefully coexist with them while focusing on inner peace.

    Engaged Buddhism and Jarvis Jay Masters

    Engaged Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that emphasizes on being a productive and constructive player in the environment. Jarvis Jay Masters is an engaged Buddhist who wants to reach out to people who have never heard of Buddhism. He believes that he can make a difference in the lives of people around him. He meditates in the evenings and recites the red tar practice with dedication to benefit the people around him. He considers that his Buddhist practice has given him the opportunity to speak directly to people and help them. His aim is to go to juvenile halls and camps to reach out to those who have never heard of Buddhism as a concept.

    True Compassion and Understanding Can Make a Bigger Impact Than Any Belief or Philosophy

    Being real and empathetic towards others can make a significant difference in their lives. Jarvis Jay Masters learned the importance of listening to a fellow inmate who was contemplating taking his own life. He didn't judge or try to persuade him otherwise, but instead, he encouraged him to wait and offered him support. His genuine concern and relationship with the fellow inmate made all the difference when he noticed a significant change in the person's behavior later. Sometimes, it is not about preaching or following a specific ideology or belief, but merely being there for someone. True compassion and understanding can make a more significant impact than any philosophical quotes or literature.

    Cultivating Relationships and Acknowledging Emotions in Buddhism

    Cultivating relationships and acknowledging one's own emotions, like anger, are important aspects of Buddhism. Being real with others and not claiming any religious authority can help build trust and work with others effectively. Acknowledging the existence of anger and understanding its source can help one deal with it in a healthier way. Also, being aware that life is a lot more serious than what we often write about, can help us in cultivating relationships that can go deeper than just surface-level interactions. Finally, being more authentic and acknowledging our own emotions can help us be more at ease with ourselves and free up more mental space for others.

    The Importance of Mindful Anger Management and Embracing All Possible Outcomes

    Acknowledge and accept your anger as it is a normal human emotion. However, it is important to be mindful of its potential to become poisonous. Take a step back and analyze how anger affects you and those around you. Rather than just focusing on positive outcomes, it can be beneficial to accept and explore both positive and negative possibilities when facing uncertain situations. The fear of losing and the fear of getting out can both share the same conclusion and emotion. Adopt a Buddhist practice to find balance and acceptance in the middle ground instead of leaning towards one extreme or the other. Embrace and develop a relationship with all possible outcomes to become better prepared for what comes next.

    The Importance of Feeling All Emotions and Finding Freedom in Any Circumstance

    Feeling all emotions, including fears, is necessary to be real and true to oneself. Having both positive and negative emotions at the same time helps to stay grounded and not be hoodwinked by one or the other. Being blessed by life and having a lot to be grateful for, even in difficult circumstances like being in prison, can bring a sense of peace and relaxation. Freedom is a complex concept that needs to be defined individually, and it may not necessarily mean being physically free from prison. It is possible to find freedom in any circumstance and still fight for conventional freedom.

    True freedom lies in removing obstacles.

    Freedom is not just about being physically free, it is about finding a way to move obstacles out of the way. Jarvis Jay Masters believes that by making peace with both outcomes, he can experience true freedom. He feels that even people outside of prisons have obstacles that keep them bound up and miserable. Instead of trying to knock the bars down, a better way to experience freedom is to move the obstacles out of the way. This can be achieved by meditating and doing the things that make one happy. Having a perfect home or material possessions does not necessarily guarantee true freedom. Therefore, it is essential to remove the obstacles to feel true freedom.

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