A Geek in Prison — Part 12— Progressive Relaxation by Charlie Shrem: Mindfulness Meditation in Prison & Everyday Life

A Geek in Prison is Bitcoin Pioneer Charlie Shrem’s account of his experience going from being a force for increasing adoption of Bitcoin before the world had heard of cryptocurrency to a 15-month stint in federal prison for selling it to the wrong people. In his excitement to spread the word about Bitcoin, Charlie fell afoul of the law and acknowledges that he committed the crime. He has since gone on to found Crypto.IQ, an educational and investment firm.

I had the good fortune of making friends with long bid inmates who taught me how to deal with my anxiety in prison. One of the first books recommended to me was “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This book is about staying mindful in our everyday lives. Anxiety is just fear of the future and for me this book helped me understand that if I focus on the now I won’t be afraid of the future.

A while back I had a lot of anxiety when I was asked to go for a random urine test. I knew I’d done nothing wrong, but I was suffering from assumed guilt. I was worried about the future and the unknown. I started awfulizing, which is when you assume a catastrophic outcome in every situation.

A fellow inmate and the book recommended I try meditation. The first thing that came to mind was sitting on the floor and entering some spiritual realm that I could never achieve. I was wrong.

When we speak of meditation, it is important for you to know that this is not some weird cryptic activity, as our popular culture might have it. It does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed narcissist, navel-gazer, “space cadet,” cultist, devotee, mystic, or Eastern philosopher. Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is. It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path that is your life. Meditation may help us see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.

Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannize us. This process doesn’t magically happen by itself. It takes energy. We call the effort to cultivate our ability to be in the present moment “practice” or “meditation practice.”

So how can you start practicing basic meditation? I like to call this method Progressive Relaxation:

Get in a comfortable position, close your eyes and begin feeling the sense of relaxation.

Take in a big breath and bring your shoulders up towards your ears.

Now drop your shoulders and release your breathe.

Breathe fresh air into your lungs, squeeze your shoulders up towards your ears and hold. Now, let your shoulders drop and relax as you release your breath. Let the tension dissolve away.

Now clench your right fist, tighter and tighter, studying the tension as you do so. Notice the tension in your fist, hand, and forearm.

Relax. Let go of the tension. Feel the looseness in your hand and forearm, and noticed the contrast with the tension. You are relaxed.

Now clench your right fist tighter and tighter, studying the tension. As you do so, notice the tension in your face, hand, and forearm.

Relax. Let go of the tension. Feel the looseness in your hand and forearm, and notice the contrast with the tension. You are relaxed.

Another meditation I like to practice is deep breathing.

Although this exercise can be practiced in a variety of poses, the following is recommended: lie down on a blanket or rug on the floor. Bend your knees, with your feet on the floor, and move your feet about 8 inches apart with your toes turned slightly outward. Make sure your spine is straight.

Scan your body for tension.

Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.

Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into your abdomen to push up your hand as much as it feels comfortable. Your chest should move only a little and only with your abdomen.

When you feel at ease with step 4, smile slightly and inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Make a quiet, relaxing, wooshing sound like the wind as you gently blow out. Your mouth, tongue, and jaw will be relaxed. Take long, though, you press that raise and lower your abdomen. Focus on the sound and feeling of breathing as you become more and more relaxed.

Continue deep breathing for about 5 or 10 minutes out of time, once or twice a day for a couple of weeks. Then if you like, extended to 20 minutes.

One of my favorite chapters in this book taught me that we can’t stop the waves of life, but we can learn to surf. There are many things in life over which we have little or no control. Stress is part of life, part of being human. That does not mean we have to be victims. We can learn to work with the things over which we have little or no control, find meaning in them, and make critical choices. We can use them to grow our strength, wisdom, and compassion.

Imagine our minds as the surface of a lake or ocean. There are always waves on the water. Waves come from wind, which ranges in intensity, just as the winds of stress can change and cause waves in our minds. We can’t fight the waves, but we can learn how to surf on them.

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with stress and anxiety? Do you awfulize situations?

-Charlie

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