The following letter was written by Jared Seide, director of the Center for Council,¬†to Roshi Bernie Glassman.¬† In it Jared shares the impact that Bernie and the Three Tenets have had on his work.
I was thinking it’s been a little while since we’ve talked. I was feeling to reach out and let you know that you are so with me and so present in all we are doing here at Center for Council, as our work deepens and expands. I am so grateful for you – and for the powerful and dynamic teachings that are so much a part of the work of council in the world. I know that most of our recent conversations have been focused on Bearing Witness Retreats, and I really wanted you to know that the teachings are so alive for us in so many other ways.¬† And while we haven’t yet found a way to collaborate with Greyston as we’d hoped, we sure have been busy out here on the west coast!
Wanted you to know that our council programs for inmates have grown to twenty-two prisons in California, each with a large circle of incarcerated facilitators practicing not knowing and bearing witness as a foundation for skillful facilitation of council with their peers. Hearing these tough guys articulate the three tenets in a deeply grounded and clear way is so inspiring. “I used to have everybody figured out before they said a word,” one inmate council facilitator and ex-gang member told me recently. “Now I just don’t know – and I love that I get surprised almost every time we sit down and people start opening up – I feel like I’m hearing things I would’ve never heard before.¬† Like things before they’re even said, you know? It’s changing me, man. I listen differently now and I can hear what’s up.”
Our trainers are working with dozens of schools and community groups (like Homeboy Industries), and we are now training police officers from LAPD, as well as prison guards. Tricky community issues like bias and use of force are being addressed upstream in these amazing circles. We did a program recently where a prison guard got very emotional and talked about his uniform being his mask and armor, and the fear that if anyone saw him without it they wouldn’t be able to tell him apart from the inmates. “It’s me locked up inside there and that breaks my heart. I know I have a job to do, but sometimes I feel like I’m handcuffing my own hands, pepper-spraying my own face.”¬† Other officers listened with a sort of amazement that the undeniable truths of interconnectedness and of the “one body” were okay to say out loud.
We’re starting a program with prosecutors and judges who are really willing to practice the Three Tenets internally and in meting out justice with low-level offenders‚Äď breaking down old stories of “right and wrong,” “us and them” ‚Äď it’s amazing and beautiful. We did a council in judges’ chambers where colleagues brought forward stories of moral distress and sleepless nights.¬† “[Of accused people one judge said,] this is giving them a chance to create their own story, rather than the story that we make up for them…It’s like they get a chance to flip the script…And they deserve it. They are so much more than my story about them.”
So many doors are opening to this transformative work now, and I’m so grateful for the teachings that undergird this practice, that enable us to meet this moment with compassion, humility and care.¬† Integrating the Three Tenets has amplified the impact and clarity of the work of council immeasurably.¬† Through all of these new council programs bubbling up I hear your words and feel your teachings so strongly.¬† Really wanted to share some of this with you. I feel so humbled by the impact that the work of council continues to have, and so grateful to you for adding so much to our understanding of the ground from which to train and practice, the view through which to grow and serve.
Sending much love and appreciation,
At the Police Academy with LAPD Officers and the NBC nightly news crew capturing moments from a Wellness and Resiliency Skills Training.
Jared Seide¬†is the Director of¬†Center for Council.¬† He has designed and coordinated Council-based programs in prisons, assisted living facilities, youth groups and at a variety of non-profit and faith-based organizations. He is a member of the¬†Zen Center of Los Angeles¬†and a sixth cohort graduate of the Chaplaincy Program of Upaya Institute, under the direction of Roshi Joan Halifax.