We're All Doing Time

Book Review

By Eloise Hart

 Bo Lozoff's book, We're All Doing Time [A Guide for Getting Free, Hanuman Foundation, Durham, 430 pages, 1985. We're All Doing Time is provided free to anyone in prison and to other shut-ins who can't afford to pay for it. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to support this free distribution. Write to: Prison-Ashram Project, Rt.1, BOX 201-N, Durham, NC27705. The Prison-Ashram Project is part of Hanuman Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to relieve human suffering.], is addressed to those whose lives are darkened by the loneliness and frustration of confinement, whether within prison walls or caused by the isolation of illness, ignorance, or fear. To them, and to all, it offers the warmth of understanding born from experience.

Lozoff during the '60s had traveled the road of drop-out, activist, revolutionary, outlaw, and hippy, protesting against the establishment and at times experimenting with psychedelic drugs. However, he soon discovered this was a dead-end street. Another road, which offered spiritual attainment, beckoned. He entered an ashram, spent hours daily in meditation and farm work, tried various methods of yoga discipline. After a time he realized that, while these methods may help others, satisfaction for him could come only through karma yoga -- service to others.

This awakening came after he had visited friends recently imprisoned without possibility of parole for smuggling marijuana into Miami. Shocked by their anguish and the conditions inside, he felt an overpowering urge to do something to help prison inmates. Perhaps a little kindness? Perhaps meditation? He applied for a job at the prison and was turned down as unqualified, but an assistant warden, intrigued by his idea of offering yoga/meditation instruction to the prisoners, suggested he submit a plan to federal authorities. This Lozoff did. The idea caught on. He was flown to Washington, interviewed at the Bureau of Prisons, hired as a consultant, and given permission to offer classes in federal institutions.

In the early '70s the need was great. Bo Lozoff was invited to conduct Prison-Ashram classes and workshops not only across the U.S.A. but also abroad. In addition, he and his wife, Sita, sent thousands of letters, books, and tapes to inquiring inmates, their families, prison workers, veterans, the handicapped, and "ordinary" people. Many heartwarming exchanges are included in We're All Doing Time.

The book is divided into three sections. Book One, "The Big View," addresses the challenges of living a fulfilling life whatever one's circumstances; Lozoff reminds us, it's not the external props of our lives that set us free, it's the timeless qualities like kindness, courage, self-honor, and humor. He tells us that we are where we are, and what we are, not because we are "bad," but because we're spiritually clumsy. This, however, can be changed: by understanding the powers of our spiritual Self, by turning both good and bad experiences into lessons by which we can grow, we gain the strength and wisdom to face whatever comes, and thus become wiser, freer, and more helpful to others.

The first step, he feels, is to understand ourselves for, as a medicine chief once said:

If you seek to understand the whole universe,
you will understand nothing at all.
If you seek only to understand your Self,
you will understand the whole universe. -- p. 11

The second step is living "in tune with the house rules of the Universe." This comes from understanding the law of cause and effect -- karma -- that "what comes around goes around," that every thought, word, and deed is not only a seed we sow in the world, but is also the fruit we harvest from previous thoughts, deeds, and works. Some of our "seeds," he explains, ripen quickly, others take longer to mature -- lifetimes perhaps. In that case, by the time they "come around" again we will have forgotten that we ourselves planted and cultivated those seedlings; we blame someone else for taking advantage of us, or accuse the Almighty, when in fact what happens is caused by energy we had set in motion long, long ago. This delayed type of karma gives us time to prepare ourselves to handle the effects of those causes in such a way as to improve our present and future life-condition, and that of those we love.

The next step up the ladder is to let go of excess baggage. To illustrate this Lozoff tells how hunters in India capture wild monkeys. They cut a small hole in a coconut, hollow out the inside, and drop in a few pieces of candy. The monkey, eager for sweets, slips its hand into the opening, grabs a fistful of candy and is trapped -- refusing to let go, its clenched fist is too large to come out. We too are caught by our attachments, especially by our prejudices, fears, loves, feelings of guilt, pride, lusts. These attachments weigh us down and blind us from seeing the big view of life.

Book Two, "Getting Free," gives various methods of achieving spiritual awareness which, Lozoff stresses, cannot be attained overnight. Although he discusses at some length specific yoga methods and disciplines, meditation techniques, and the like, he passes rather too lightly over the potential dangers of indiscriminate practice of breath control and arousal of the chakras. In this section he also offers advice regarding mind control, diet, and the search for a guru. Interestingly, he disagrees with psychologists who recommend either expressing or repressing emotions, believing rather that we should be in control of our lives at all times and handle our thoughts and strong emotions constructively.

Regarding diet: while he admits that prison fare isn't ideal, he feels that by following sensible rules of hygiene and nutrition as far as one is able, and avoiding fad diets that so often are merely ego-trips, we can transform whatever we eat into benefit. "If you can't change your diet, change your attitude. 'Bad' food can be transformed into Spirit-food" (p. 80). Throughout, he cautions moderation, lest one's spiritual journey become a body- or head-trip. After all, it doesn't really matter whether one follows Eastern methods or those recommended by other religions, "the message has always been the same: calm down; be still, turn inward to the one God, who dwells deep inside you, don't get carried away by things that glitter, just love everybody and take courage, for I am always with you" (p. 145).

Lozoffs thoughts on prayer are particularly potent. He includes several pages of handlettered prayers and invocations, drawn from a variety of sources -- Christian, American Indian, Hindu, Persian, Judaic, and others. Prayer, he says, is perhaps the most direct way of getting in touch with the Great Spirit that dwells in every human heart. Yet he warns against deceptions, against the tinsel that some religious people equate with spirituality:

Many of us are religious, but far too few are spiritual. Spirituality is the core of all reality; it's a mysterious but certain essence at the center of everything we see or do. . . . But religion, on the other hand, isn't such a natural part of Creation; it's man-made, and a quick look around suggests that maybe it's not made so well. . . .
There's nothing wrong with religion being a method; a path to the One. Each genuine religion through the ages has begun from the Divine inspiration & authority of a being who knows God, and who tells us various ways to live right & turn inward so that we can become as free as they are. But within a few generations, time and time again we've come to worship the religion itself instead of the One; the body of the messenger instead of the Soul. -- pp. 146-7

Getting in touch with God means living harmoniously with natural law. In so doing we benefit ourselves and, more importantly, we lighten the load of the whole planet -- especially if we offer ourselves in service. This Path of Service -- ever close to Bo Lozoff's heart -- leads directly to the kingdom of heaven, to Christ awareness, to the state of awareness that enabled Mother Teresa to say, when asked about her work with the destitute and dying in Calcutta: "When I look into their eyes, I see the Christ."

Although Bo realizes that only a few of us can assume the burdens Mother Teresa carries, he feels that every one of us can in his own way help others, not because it is a noble and ennobling thing to do, but because it is the only thing we can do when our hearts are moved by their need, and we must do something to help. It is, after all, the doing, not just the knowing that brings benefit to the world. Truth isn't information, it's that "glory within" expressed in action and works, and in caring.

Book Three, "Dear Bo . . .", consists of letters exchanged between Bo and inmates -- "spiritual warriors," he calls them. We hear the desperate cries of souls for light, for hope, for escape from almost unbearable karmic loads. And readers, who at one time or another have cried out in the darkness, may find comfort in Bo's kind and practical wisdom. Following this correspondence which extends over periods of months and years, we rejoice that there are strong and selfless people like the Lozoffs and their associates laboring to aid their brothers "up the mountain."

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)

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