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30 Day Meditation Challenge – 5 Ways Daily Meditation Changed My Life

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I like to think of myself as a healthy person. I exercise regularly, drink infrequently, and prepare plant-based, whole foods-derived meals every day. I also, however, suffer from IBS, and accordingly am no stranger to things like bloating, stomach pains, and infrequent bowel movements. Through trial and error and a great deal of self reflection, I have come to learn which foods trigger these reactions — gluten, dairy, fried foods, sugar — and generally manage the condition quite well. But it is also triggered by stress and lack of sleep (two obviously correlative problems), and thus far in my life I have neglected to include stress management in my health regimen.

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Or rather, up until a couple of months ago, I had. It feels strange to look back now and try to understand why I was so reluctant to try different stress management techniques (other than exercise, which of course is one of the best). I think what it boils down to is something I like to call ‘selective laziness.’ I would not call myself a lazy person by any means, but trying something new and difficult, with no guarantee of success, just, well… seemed like a lot of work.

But I also enjoy a challenge. Or rather, very much dislike the idea of not being able to do something. I took up running at the beginning of the year for the sole reason that I was terrible at it, and couldn’t equate the notion of being fit with being unable to run for more than five minutes without feeling like my chest would cave in. Several months and a lot of effort later, I now run several times a week (and it’s awesome!).

My attitude toward meditation underwent a similar shift. I am surrounded by people who swear by meditation — my coworkers at CE, my loving partner, my friends — and who have been gently (or not so gently) urging me to try it for some time. My previous attempts were half-hearted at best, resulting only in feelings of pent-up energy and frustration. Each time I would find myself suddenly desperate to move my body, to be productive, to be doing anything other than absolutely ‘nothing.’ It was remarkable how fidgety and impatient I would immediately become when trying to quiet my mind.

But a couple of months ago I finally got fed up with trying to manage my IBS symptoms through diet and exercise alone, since despite my best efforts, they still plagued me at seemingly random times. I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying something new, so I set myself a goal of meditating every day for 21 days. I had heard that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, so that seemed a good place to start. If, after 21 days had passed, I still hated meditating and noticed no improvements in my mental or physical well-being, I would decide from there whether to continue or not having made an informed decision.

To help myself along, I turned to an app called Headspace, which features guided meditations on a variety of topics, and a 30 day Foundation Pack to get you started. I don’t want this to turn into a product promotion, but I do highly recommend the program for anyone who is interested in incorporating meditation into their own daily routine. It’s a wonderful resource and you can access some of the content for free. After completing the foundation course I elected to buy a full-year subscription, and absolutely plan to renew when the year ends.

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On their website they offer a comprehensive, easy to understand outline of the scientifically proven benefits of meditation. I won’t go into in detail here, as we have covered this topic extensively, but I encourage you to spend some time with their research section and read some of our articles on the subject.

5 Ways Meditation Has Improved My Life

Stress

As someone who likes to plan (and control) every aspect of her life, it would be a gross understatement to say that stress and I are on familiar terms. I used to wake up every day and jump right into the swing of things, checking work emails and paying bills, catching up on social media, and hopping into the shower without taking the time to really centre myself and relax a little before going about the business of the day. It was always “go go go.”

I’ll admit that urge is still pretty strong some mornings, as I am by nature a busy bee, but setting myself this challenge and seeing the benefits I’ve experienced as a result has made it fairly easy to overcome those urges. Now I start each day feeling calm, relaxed, and happy. I may still wake up with buzzing thoughts, but after I’ve taken the time to meditate everything within me slows — heart rate, thoughts, feelings, worries. It’s like waking up a second time to a day with infinite possibility.

And that wonderful sense of stillness extends its reach across the entirety of the day. I tend not to sweat the small stuff nearly as often, and get over it more quickly when I do.

More importantly, I now have a resource within myself that I can turn to when stress really does take hold. If I find myself getting really worked up about something, I can either close my eyes and take some deep breaths until my heart rate slows, or actually take out my headphones, pop on a guided meditation, and go through the exercise, wherever I am. The crazy thing about the human mind is that you really can “fake it ’till you make it.” If you create the physiological sensations associated with calmness, your brain will begin to feel calm. If you smile for long enough, your body and mind will respond as though you are happy. So rather than giving free reign to your stress, you can actively work to reduce it by tricking your brain into thinking the stressful situation has passed.

Digestion

I spoke about my digestion issues earlier, though I neglected to mention that it was not at all uncommon for me to go two or three (sometimes four or five) days without having a bowel movement, particularly during times of stress or poor sleep, especially when travelling. We spent two months backpacking through Europe last year and I can count on less than my 10 fingers how many times I went to the bathroom during that trip. So I was hoping, quite desperately, that reducing my stress was the thing I needed to do to turn things around, but I’ll admit it felt like a last-ditch effort at helping a hopeless cause. I was, nevertheless, determined to at least try, if only to say that I had.

Prepare yourselves, ladies and gentlemen.

The very first day I meditated I had a bowel movement almost immediately after. Cautiously optimistic, I decided to chalk that one up to coincidence. No point in getting my hopes up this early in the game, right?

The second day also saw me gratefully visiting the washroom, and nearly every day after that.

I was completely blown away. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine such a profound, tangible change would occur from doing something so simple. This shift might not sound like much to those of you who have perfectly regular bowels, but for someone who has struggled with incontinence for a great deal of time, let me tell you — what a relief. Since starting this challenge, the only time I’ve had trouble going to the bathroom has been on days when I had to be up incredibly early (and therefore did not leave myself time to meditate, and did not get enough sleep).

Focus

Meditation trains the mind to simultaneously focus and relax, and I have definitely reaped the benefits of this training. I feel more present when participating in day-to-day activities and am less easily distracted while doing work.

More importantly, my strength of will has improved significantly. Just two weeks after starting this meditation challenge, I embarked on another, infinitely more difficult one which, prior to doing this mindfulness work, I never would have imagined attempting.

I decided to quit sugar. As I mentioned before, my diet is quite healthy and clean, but I have always had a love affair with sugar. I was pretty good at avoiding the refined and processed stuff, but definitely enjoyed baking with honey, maple syrup, and dates — all lovely in moderation, but not very beneficial when consumed daily and in large amounts. I had a nagging suspicion that my love for all things sweet was contributing to some of my digestive complaints and hindering my efforts at the gym, but the thought of going without my daily treats was truly terrifying. I attempted it once several months ago and gave up after a week, literally shaking with the effort it took to resist.

I believe meditation helped me develop the mental fortitude required to set a goal, create a plan for realizing it, and then follow through. I believe it strengthened my willpower and improved my confidence, endowing me with the unwavering belief that I could indeed accomplish anything I set my mind to. I believe it fostered a stronger connection between my mind and body, starting me on a path to better wellness which inevitably was going to lead to this necessary lifestyle change.

And so I set myself a 30 day sugar elimination challenge. And it was hard — harder than anything I’ve ever had to do before. But I am here, several weeks later, a changed woman. My cravings are gone, my energy is through the roof, and my post-meal bloating is (almost) non-existent.

Relationships

Meditation has produced a much more subtle effect on my relationships. It isn’t as though I went from having daily arguments with my partner or parents to an idyllic existence with them; my relationships were in good shape to begin with. But my relationship with myself is changing. Meditation is a form of self love, and in practicing this type of kindness, I am learning gratitude and acceptance — acceptance of my strengths and of my weaknesses, gratitude for everything I have been given in life, or achieved, or have yet to achieve. And this attitude towards myself cannot help but extend outward to everyone else in my life.

If I feel happier, so too does my parter, who shares the same space with me. If I judge myself more forgivingly, I will do the same for those around me, and they in turn will feel more comfortable, more accept-able, more loved. And if I focus on gratitude instead of lack, my life will feel more abundant (and perhaps may very well just be), and I will be more inclined to generosity (the practice of which is proven to make people feel good about themselves). It’s like an endless happiness cycle that ripples outwards to everyone I come into contact with. We respond to and are affected by the energies of others, so being healthy and happy truly is the best thing you can do for the people who love you.

Health

I’m not going to belabour this point much. I think the fact that my health has improved is pretty self-evident, given all of the above changes. Meditation, quite literally, improves everything in your life. It effectively improves the well-being of your mind and your body, which then improves your relationships, your creativity, and your work life, all of which work together to create a better, happier, more balanced you.

Take the word of this one-time skeptic and do yourself and your loved ones a favour — give yourself a little headspace!

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Consciousness

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 9: The Beach)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

9. The Beach

One day the jeweler was relaxing under the sun on the sands of the East Beach on the island of Allandon when the banker walked slowly by, joints creaking and breathing heavily. He stopped right in front of the jeweler and looked out onto the ocean. Then he unrolled his large towel and placed it beside the jeweler, who was surprised since there was so much room elsewhere on the beach, and the banker was a man who usually kept to himself.

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“Don’t mind me,” said the banker as he bent down gingerly to sit on his large towel. “It’s just that this was my favorite spot when I was a boy.”

“Really? I came here when I was a boy as well,” said the jeweler.

The banker stretched contentedly on his towel and said, “Oh, it’s been so long, I’d forgotten the feeling. Is there anything better than sitting by the ocean on a sunny day?”

“Nothing better,” agreed the jeweler emphatically.

“It must be almost fifty years since I laid on this spot,” said the banker. “But we all have to go out and make our fortunes, don’t we?”

“I suppose we do,” replied the jeweler.

“And then one day we can do whatever we want,” the banker said proudly as he stretched out on his towel.

The jeweler did not respond, and for a while only the sounds of the seagulls and the rolling waves could be heard as the two men blissfully soaked in the sun’s rays. Later, when the ocean breeze got cooler, the jeweler got up and prepared to leave. While he was brushing off sand and folding his towel the banker looked over and asked, “So, when did you start coming again to the beach, anyway?”

“I never stopped,” replied the jeweler as he walked away.

My parents both believed that money was scarce, and our family’s frugal lifestyle was built on the idea of saving for the future to gain a feeling of security. Yet the most poignant lessons I learned about money from my parents ran smack in the face of this idea, as a result of unfortunate events.

My father was the breadwinner, and my mother handled the household budget. By the time my brother, sister and I were in University, my parents had almost paid off their mortgage and had accumulated a nice nest egg. However my father’s stress and dissatisfaction at work caused him to quit his job. Both he and my mother soon began to feel a new stress – that of no money coming in. After a short time my father started seeking the same kind of job he had just left, including trying to go back to his old job, but he didn’t have any success.

Over the next year, my father’s stress about money surfaced daily and was growing into desperation. His nest egg had been reduced by about ten percent, and he was in a panic about the thought of it all slipping away. He felt he had to do something, and so he made the decision to invest all his money in a business. He became the owner of a stereo shop, and I agreed to be the salesperson.

Business did not go well. I made a big sale the first day, but gave the customer too much of a bargain. My father lambasted me for it because the profit margin was too low. I became scared to offer any kind of deal to customers. My father, on the other hand, was just scared of customers, period. As the days went by, the business only amplified his fear of losing money. We didn’t take any of the risks that might have helped us to become profitable. As we attracted fewer and fewer customers, our stock quickly became outdated. After ten months of pure struggle, we had to give up and close the business. Besides losing his nest egg, my father incurred a huge debt. He had to take out a sizeable second mortgage on his home to pay off all his creditors.

It would be logical to suppose that after the dust had settled, my father would be even more anxious and desperate, or worse, that he would fall into a deep depression. But what actually happened was quite amazing. My father experienced a calm about money that I had never seen before. Perhaps it is because he had gone through his worst-case scenario and had come out the other end alive. He had survived. He had been forced to surrender, to give up his fear-based plans for security, and just confront the fears themselves. The ease of his newly-relaxed disposition was remarkable. He could now stand tall in the face of these fears, and experience, possibly for the first time since he was young, what it felt like to live day by day.

I will never forget the change—the look on his face and the calm in his voice whenever we reflected back on and actually shared some laughs about the ordeal. It struck me in those moments how people who had a lot of money were so much more likely to be paralyzed by the fear of poverty than those who had none.

My mother was born into a poor family. Her mother died when she was young, and they lived on her father’s meager barber’s income. There were times, she would tell me, that they weren’t sure if they would have any food to eat the next day. In her marriage my mother’s fear of not having money was even deeper than my father’s. She lived her adult life as though saving money for the future was unquestionably the most important thing, more important than learning, fulfillment, perhaps even love. As a consequence she focused on developing certain skills: she was expert at putting great inexpensive meals together, she became very good with budgets, and knew how to shop and negotiate for bargains. This all seemed prudent and reasonable, but later in her life, when her material conditions improved, her fear—and consequently her habits—remained. As she neared retirement, much of her daily conversation still related to worries about money and thoughts about saving.

Then one day my mother was diagnosed with cancer. During her long and difficult ordeal, the importance of money, and the fear of not having enough, slowly melted away. My mother was put in a situation where she could not help but see the stark truth that she had always been running away from something she was afraid of rather than towards something she wanted. I had the privilege of many intimate conversations with my mother during her last six months, and besides witnessing the tremendous courage she exhibited in many ways, I felt that I got to know her true self, unfettered by worldly concerns. We found ourselves roaring with laughter when we poked fun together at her penny-pinching ways: the folly of clipping coupons that saved her nickels and the trips to far-away stores to save dimes, the different savings accounts and credit card promotions that she took for the free gifts or reduced fees. All these things seemed to come with the promise that they would help her get to the day when she would have enough abundance to relax. That day never came, at least not the way she had envisioned it. For it was only faced with her own mortality that she realized where true security lies: in living life in the present.

What I learned from my parents is that while the fear of not having enough money might motivate us to work hard or to save, working hard and saving does nothing to alleviate the fear. In the end, this fear denies us the possibility of having a real feeling of abundance in our lives. What we are all seeking in life is the experience of the moment—the moment where we feel joy, we feel we have all we need, that everything is all right in our world. Experiences that point us back to the moment, to the now, help us see how to reconnect with that feeling of joy and the freedom it brings.

I don’t think money itself helps us to be free. The more that accumulating money is used as a cure for our insecurity, the more we become dependent on it. And true freedom cannot be dependent on any thing or circumstance. It is really an internal state of mind. My mother realized this from her hospital bed, during those times of clarity when the contradictions of her lifestyle presented themselves to her. She never got the chance to see what it would feel like to live within her sought-after level of security, but I believe her conclusion would nonetheless have been the same: if one waits for security before one is willing and able to truly live, the window of opportunity closes quickly on an already short and fleeting life. Helen Keller may have explained it best:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

It is only fear that stops us from taking risks that are sometimes necessary to truly live out our dream in the present. When we have a dream and we know what it is we want to do or become, the question is: why are we not actively chasing that dream in the present? When I get out of school, we will say. After I’m married. When we get a house, or when the renovations are done. When the kids are out of diapers. When the kids are out of high school. When the kids are out of the house. When I get my promotion. When I retire. These are the echoes of our fear, which keeps pushing the experience of the moment mercilessly out of our grasp.

For many of us the real desire, the Dream with a capital ‘D’, gets pushed so far back as we get on in life that we may even get cynical about dreaming altogether. And then we get turned off when someone tries to suggest that we are all capable of experiencing our greatest desires in life. My mother would have liked to travel more in her life. But this or any other dream she had tended to take a back seat to paying off the mortgage or increasing her retirement savings. Her fear would not allow her to imagine what life would be like beyond the most practical considerations.

Our society as a whole is in no rush to help alleviate our insecurity. Rather it thrives on it, because it insures that we maintain a constant need to work hard and keep our consumer economy going. It’s why we play dog-eat-dog to get the promotion. It’s why we need to surround ourselves with proof of our abundance, the latest gadgets, the better car, the bigger house. It’s a simple plan, but it keeps our society going. And for the most part it keeps us going too, striving for some fabled glory when we can say we have finally made it. But if and when we do actually ‘arrive’ at the fulfillment of our material goals, do we then live out our lives in perpetual ecstasy? Not likely, not if we are honest with ourselves. We would be more prone to simply sit in the comfort of our luxury recliners nagged by questions like, “Is this it? Is this all there is to life?”

I am not saying that I am against abundance. There is nothing wrong with having money and owning comfortable chairs, big-screen TVs, a country cottage or even a personal jet. Not at all. These objects are neither good nor bad in themselves. The trouble begins when we try to bank on our material abundance to make us happy to be alive. I have many friends around me who have tremendous abundance. Some of them are generally happy, others are constantly plagued by money worries. The happy ones tend to be the same people who, if they were suddenly to lose everything, would be confident that they could carry on and set about rebuilding without much fuss. They have already been able to make the choice to look beyond their abundance when it comes to what is truly important in their lives.

I am grateful for the lessons I learned from my parents, because they helped me see that we often use money to insulate ourselves from our fears, and in the process we get insulated from a real sense of well-being. Had I not come to confront my insecurities, I would probably still be doing something that I didn’t really like just for the money. Today I am clear that real security is not something that can be bought, and we can only feel free when we learn to live in the moment. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. If I would have delayed trying to write a book until it was prudent and safe, I honestly believe that time would never have come. In the eyes of many people around me it certainly hasn’t been the most practical thing to do, and some probably even consider it wildly irresponsible, given that the savings I had carefully built up over the years have quickly evaporated. But I wouldn’t change where I’ve gotten today for a truckload of money. I’m having an experience beyond what money could buy. Every day I get a little closer to fulfilling my long-time dream of getting a book published. This is my marathon, my Mount Everest, my sacred quest, the fulfillment of the highest desire inside me that I know of.

While it might be nice to reach the loftiest financial quotas of our retirement plan, are we compromising a major chunk of our vital lives for it? If indeed money is a means to an end, and that end is happiness and fulfillment in what we are doing in our lives, would it not make more sense just to go straight to the source? Our Ego Self will be quick to dissuade this kind of thinking, and urge us to continue along with prudence and caution. It lives only in the past and in the future, and it would have us believe that our fulfillment will arrive at a later time. But it cannot. When it comes to fulfillment, we can experience it nowhere but in the present.

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Why We Need To Take A Look At The Way We Treat Prisoners And Do It Differently

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The USA locks up more people per capita than any other nation in the world. The rate is 668 per 100,000 people which equals over 2.3 million. There has been an increase of 500% over the last 40 years. Changes in sentencing law and policy - not change

  • Reflect On:

    What really goes on in many prisons? Why does this breed more violence, adds to social disharmony and increases mental illness issues? We also highlight prisons that are a shining example of what can be done to truly rehabilitate people.

“Violent offenders, more often than not, are victims long before they commit their first crime: A former inmate who spent two years in a Boston prison for robbery was given away by his mother, a heroin addict, by the time he was 5 — the same year her boyfriends began beating him up; when he was 8, he watched another kid get shot in the head in his housing project.

Another man, in and out of prison from age 18 to 33 for assaults and drug crimes, grew up getting routinely beaten by his mother and frequently saw neighbors get stabbed and shot in the New York community of his childhood.” (source)

If you had been around violence, crime and poverty all your life, and this was all you had known, would it be any surprise that you too, may also end up committing crimes? Would you think it might be difficult to grow up as a ‘good person’ if all you had seen was the opposite of love?  Would you think that being forced into another repressive life, which was even worse than what you had experienced previously, would be good for you and would somehow turn you into a better person by the time your sentence ended?

No – of course, it wouldn’t.

This is the reality of many prisoners face, that their time spent locked away for their crimes, actually makes them worse.  What does this do to society as a whole?  Do we ever really think about how this impacts all of us?

With the numbers of those incarcerated, increasing all the time, it is not hard to fathom the implications this has on all of us for the future.

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‘Corrections’ Is A Term That Is Not The Reality

Whilst many prisons are called ‘correctional centers’ shouldn’t they be a place of rehabilitation so that the prisoners become better people? So that they don’t commit these crimes again, and instead start to contribute positively to society? The reality of what goes on inside prisons is often the exact opposite.  For those that have spent time in jail, there is a strong chance they will end up re-offending.  Texas for example, incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world, and suffers from a staggering 60% recidivism (re-offending) rate.

Shouldn’t we take look at why this is so, and try and stop it from happening?

Hurt People, Hurt People

I know, you may be thinking that if a person has committed serious offenses, they deserve to be locked away, to do ‘time’ to pay for their sins? Yes – that is true.  However, what we don’t often realize is that the way prisoners are treated in the majority of prisons often makes them worse, and they become even more broken, as prison life encourages more violence and increases mental instability.

If someone is never shown any kindness and compassion, will they ever become an example of this themselves?

The causes of crime are complex. Poverty, parental neglect, low self-esteem, alcohol and drug abuse can be connected to why people break the law. Some are at greater risk of becoming offenders because of the circumstances into which they are born. (source)

For the innocent victims of a false sentence – which you will always find in any jail –  can you imagine what these harsh and cruel environments would do to their own spirit?

With over 2 million people incarcerated just in the USA alone, there are over 11 million prisoners worldwide (source).  These are astronomical numbers and it is clear that there is indeed, a very big – and growing – problem, particularly in America.

This subject has so many layers that it is impossible to give them all the focus they need, and I do understand the reaction many people have to this subject; those that do the crime should pay the time. However, as a concerned citizen who believes that we are all actually spiritually connected to each other, I think it’s important to highlight these issues.

The number of women in prison has been increasing at twice the rate of growth for men since 1980. Women in prison often have significant histories of physical and sexual abuse, high rates of HIV, and substance abuse problems. Women’s imprisonment in femaleled households leads to children who suffer from their mother’s absence and breaks in family ties. (source)

To become more aware of this problem, Netflix and Youtube have many eye-opening documentaries that highlight issues that I want to bring attention to, which are all mentioned below.

Another huge layer to all of this is, how many innocent people are actually in jails? Is the system breaking good, innocent people that were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and are in fact, terribly unfortunate victims of a failing ‘justice’ system?

Prisons Should Not Be ‘For Profit’

USA prisons (and others around the world) are often run ‘for profit’, so the increasing numbers and overcrowded jails, may in fact, actually be all by design to line the pockets of powerful people and companies.

Because of this reach, the market for privatized services dwarfs that of privatized facilities. The private-prison industry’s annual revenues total $4 billion. By comparison, the correctional food-service industry alone provides the equivalent of $4 billion worth of food each year, according to Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. Corrections departments spend at least $12.3 billion on health care, about half of which is provided by private companies. Telephone companies, which can charge up to $25 for a 15-minute call, rake in $1.3 billion annually. The range of for-profit services is extensive, from transport vans to halfway houses, from video visitations to e-mail, from ankle monitors to care packages. To many companies, the roughly $80 billion that the United States spends on corrections each year is not a national embarrassment but a gold mine.

Today, a handful of privately held companies dominate the correctional-services market, many with troubling records of price gouging some of the poorest families and violating the human rights of prisoners. But the problem doesn’t end there. These companies are often controlled by private-equity firms, which through financial alchemy transform the prison-industrial complex into lavish returns for pensions, endowments, and charitable foundations. And, as successive administrations have ramped up immigration enforcement, they’ve also squeezed money out of immigrant detention. (source)

It begs the question, Is the prison system actually a legal human trafficking industry? Is it in their interests to keep them at overcapacity?

Coloured People Incarcerated In Higher Numbers

There is also a very high disproportionate amount of people of color compared to white in USA jails, which is of huge concern by itself.

The reality of what is going on inside the prison system makes for indeed, truly brutal viewing, but it is very important for us all, to beware of the reality. It is another part of our society that desperately requires great change because it does truly impact us all.

The USA, and other countries lock up many people for what are seemingly minor crimes. Some, as you will learn below, are almost unbelievable.

What impact does this have on the families who are left behind: a young child’s father or mother taken away, leaving them for years, without that important role model in their lives.  What psychological damage does this do to them, what impact does this have on society,  and how will it impact their own futures?  Will they too, resort to crime, or drugs and alcohol one day?

On a positive note, I also show you what good is being done in some prisons around the world that are actually able to rehabilitate people in a way that is truly transformative. This is what we need to do for broken and hurt people, we need to help give them a purpose for taking control of their lives and making amends of the mistakes they once made.  Only then, will this help society.

13th

This documentary, available on Netflix is the best place to start if you are interested in looking at how the justice system became such a mess, you will see why it became an industry for profit, and why there are far more colored people incarcerated.

You will discover the very shocking untold history lesson about slavery and how it never really left the USA, coloured people were instead moved into the prison system for very petty crimes at an ever-increasing rate.

13th, a film by American Ava DuVernay, explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States. It was named 13th after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States except as a punishment for conviction of a crime. 

Prisons that are run for-profit, mean that some people may go to jail for a long time, despite their offense being quite minor.  This also means that there are now many young people in adult jails.

In the USA it seems that it’s very easy to be put in detention centers for seemingly minor crimes.  This robbing of their childhoods can ruin their entire lives which we will cover below when we discuss the documentary Kids For Cash.

DuVernay shows that slavery has been increasingly perpetuated since the end of the American Civil War through criminalizing behavior and enabling police to arrest poor men and force them to work for the state under what is known as ‘convict leasing’  This factual documentary shows eye-opening statistics about the huge increase in prison numbers that are of colored people.

Ava examines the prison-industrial complex and the emerging detention-industrial complex, discussing how much money is actually being made by corporations from such incarcerations.

Kids For Cash

This is a great one to watch after viewing 13th, because it then brings attention to the concern regarding young children being put in detention centers, also for very petty crimes. These centers, are again, mostly run for profit.

The kids for cash scandal centered on two judges at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In 2008, two judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were accused of accepting money in return for imposing harsh sentences on juveniles simply to increase occupancy at for-profit detention centers.

This documentary shows the damage this can do to the individual, quite often exposing a typical ‘naughty’ pre-teen to horrific and frightening treatment which goes on in ‘kid’ jails, that they really aren’t mentally able to cope with.

This, of course, can impact them for life, because of the trauma (imagine being 12 and not able to see your parents for months at a time, whilst being involved in, or witness to many extremely violent acts) they may themselves end up turning to violence in there just to survive, which then means they likely will end up staying imprisoned much longer.

Judge Mark Ciavarella was found to have forced thousands of children to have ‘extended stays’ in youth centers for offenses as trivial as mocking a school staff member on Myspace or trespassing in a vacant building.  How utterly ridiculous, and a crime in itself, that so many kids have been put away for these kinds of silly things.

This incarceration of minor offenses has led to permanent emotional trauma, and some victims have ended up committing suicide or becoming drug and alcohol addicts. This is what psychological trauma does.  A life, and families ruined because of money-hungry people in positions of power.

Thankfully, Judge Ciavarella was convicted on 12 of 39 counts and sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.

Whilst it is great that he has been locked away himself, it does not mean that the youth prison system is now a good one, they are still being run for profit.

Time: The Kalief Browder Story

This documentary series found on Netflix is an absolutely harrowing and gut-wrenching story of what goes on in many prisons around the world.  It is hard not to feel your own heart break after witnessing this horrific account of what maximum security prisons did to an innocent, young and good man who had a promising future ahead of him.

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder, from The Bronx NYC, whilst walking home from a party, was accused of stealing a backpack by police, and not only was he thrown in jail without a trial, but he was sent to one of the toughest adult prisons in NYC, Rikers Island.  If convicted, Kaleif faced up to 15 years in prison – for stealing a backpack no less.

This lengthy sentence seems unbelievable, yet this is how punishment is dealt out in the USA.  They are incredibly tough on minor crimes. It seems like any of us could be easily accused of something, thrown in jail, and unless we had money to pay for bail, we also may have to wait a very long time to have our case heard.  This is very wrong, and once again, the vulnerable, and impoverished people have to pay a price whilst those with money will have a much easier time dealing with the justice system.  When we look into the ‘for profit’ prison industry, could this be why they are so tough on crimes, and quick to send people to prison?

Sadly, Kalief’s family were not able to afford his $3000 bail, so Kalief went straight to Rikers Island, a jail notorious for it’s violent criminals and for being very poorly managed.  It is widely known as ‘hell on earth’ and somewhere no teenager should be found in.

Whilst waiting to have his hearing on the alleged crime, Kalief ended up spending an astronomical 3 years in jail experiencing what can only be described as completely disturbing and ongoing violent, physical and mental abuse.

Kalief, slight in stature and still a teenager, was regularly attacked by dangerous and much older gang members, and was thrown in solitary confinement for months at a time.  He often had food withheld from him, and never had any access to mental health programs.  Kalief was also often violently attacked by cruel prison guards.

Due to this ongoing inhumane treatment, and, not surprisingly, feeling so hopeless, Kalief tried to commit suicide under the watch of prison guards – who were later found to have cruelly taunted Kalief whilst he was doing this –  they took him down from the noose just as he was about to pass out, then they proceeded to violently beat him. This was not the last time he tried to take his own life in jail, yet nobody of authority helped him with his mental health issues.

This gruesome footage of what happened to Kalief was released to the public and is also shown in the documentary, and it indeed displayed this sickening and cruel treatment by the hands of the prison guards. This is the reality of many prisons, where the guards commit despicable crimes themselves.

Those guards, to this day, have never been held accountable for their own disgusting behavior against this innocent, young man.

Kalief never had his case go to trial, the ‘witness’ disappeared to Mexico, and after an unfathomable 30 separate visits to court to see if his case would, at last, be heard by the court, Kalief eventually was released.

Whilst Kalief was now a free man after 3 years of mental and physical torture, his mind was anything but, and his story does not have a happy eneding. After his release, and when the trial against the city began to try and receive compensation for his time in jail, Kalief wrote this:

“People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not all right. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.” He also said, “Before I went to jail, I didn’t know about a lot of stuff, and, now that I’m aware, I’m paranoid. I feel like I was robbed of my happiness.”

Kalief’s unforgettable and deeply traumatic experiences caused such everlasting damage to his health and well-being. His time in jail crushed his spirit and most tragically, he wasn’t able to cope with his haunting memories and how his mind had now become.

Akeem Browder, a prison reform campaigner, is the truly inspiring, fiercely intelligent, brave, older brother of Kalief, and has since started the Kalief Browder Foundation in honor of his brother’s life:

The KBF strategies support youth and young adults, typically in middle/ high school and college, who were negatively impacted by the incarceration system and the school to prison pipeline particularly and labeled “At Risk Youth”. We aim to enhance their social emotional learning skills through critical thinking exercises, relationship building lessons, mentoring through narrative change and skill building. The KBF has engaged the youth impacted by the incarceration system to shift into the role of leaders for systems change through its work in New York within it’s legislative body. Listening to the community and its needs allowed us to develop a curriculum that speaks directly to the necessities that our youth and young adults face day to day. The criminalization of poverty, race and trauma has held our poor communities in its grips far too long for us to not find a way out.

Akeem has since been campaigning to get Rikers Island shut down. The documentary received much press and celebrity attention after it’s release, but sadly whilst there has been a lot of ‘talk’ about Kalief’s story, to date, no one has helped much financially to get the foundation seriously off the ground.  To make real changes, to hire staff and to run a foundation properly, funds are needed.

You can help keep Kalief’s memory alive, and to support the foundation which strives to bring about much-needed change to the justice system.

PLEASE Donate here

Kalief’s story deserves to be heard, in the hope that something good can one day come out of it.

When They See Us

When They See Us is a 2019 American miniseries which was created, co-written, and directed also by 13th director Ava DuVernay for Netflix. It premiered on May 31, 2019 and is a four-part series. It is based on the highly publicized 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects who were prosecuted on charges related to the brutal rape and assault of a woman in Central Park, New York City.

The series explores the shocking way that 5 innocent young males who were targeted for committing this crime against a young white woman in Central Park, just because they were black, and were in the park that night.  The film shows they were coerced into a false confession and there was actually never any solid evidence that they did it, yet the prosecution was still able to pin the crimes on all 5 boys.

After spending years in jail, they later ended up being exonerated, what they all experienced whilst in prison was truly horrific, especially Korey Wise, who having been beaten many times in jail – sometimes almost to his death – was often placed in solitary confinement for long periods at a time.

A truly harrowing scene in the film is of Korey (played by the brilliant Emmy Award-winning actor Jharrel Jerome) shouting ‘Why doesn’t anyone care about me?’.

This, I think sums up the prison system and how many inmates feel, innocent or not.

Whilst DNA evidence ended up clearing their names (how this came to be, is an extraordinary story in itself) and they are all now out of jail, their lives of course, have been forever turned upside down.  How can you get back that time, or how can you ever erase all of those horrific experiences? How can your brain ever really recover from that?

Whilst the exonerated 5 have been able to seek financial compensation, it took a whopping 11 years of fighting in court to be eventually given to them, and the money of course, does not make up for the time and the destruction of their health and mental well-being that they lost in prison due to a justice system that can often be anything but.

Many victims of false incarceration do not ever win any financial justice for their time spent in prison.

Those who targeted these boys, have not been punished for their own despicable behavior, which is another example of how the system gets away with their own criminal activity.

Happy Jail

I am now able to share with you now some more positive stories about what can be done in jails.

Happy Jail is a documentary that is currently streaming on Netflix. The story revolves around Marco O Toral, who became the manager of the Philippine jail known as CPDRC in Cebu province, known for a Michael Jackson dance video that went viral in 2007.  What is immediately fascinating is that Marco was a previous inmate of this exact jail for seven years.

I highly recommend watching this 5 part series as it is very heartwarming and inspiring in that you see for your own eyes, what compassion, kindness, fun, and joy can do for people who have ended up in jail due to the crimes they commit.  Marco Toral, is I think, an extraordinary human being, who was able to keep violence and drug use at a minimum, due to the way he treated the inmates.

Marco would meet every new inmate and treat them with kindness, often giving them money to use at the jail shop.  He would, of course, lay down the rules, and the punishment for breaking them was a painful paddle on the bottom, as a last resort.

Whilst watching Happy Jail, I was struck by how the prisoners were constantly smiling, seemingly enjoying their time, and this is because Marco allowed them to dance, play music, play games, and have their family members not only visit them each week but that it would be in close contact where they would come inside the prison.

I personally feel that perhaps it is enough punishment simply being locked away in the same building for years at a time, never being allowed out until their time is served.  Surely, during this time we can then work on encouraging people to learn from their own mistakes from a spiritual level? 

Marco received harsh criticism by the media and some government members as he was seen as being ‘not tough enough’ on the prisoners, but you perhaps you will see for yourself if you think this was the case.

Bastoy – Norway

Bastoy, which sits on an island in Norway, is quite an incredible place that is doing a remarkable job to rehabilitate prisoners. Inmates, who live in small houses, not cells, are required to look after the island, (which also has its own small shop) have work duties and responsibilities that require them to get close to nature and to work with others.   They learn to also look after themselves and learn to interact well with other people.   There are animals to look after and they can play music, learn cooking and study.

A Governor was interviewed for this short documentary (below) and I think what he said should be how all Governors look at their own prisons.

‘I think my job as a Governer at Bastoy Prison is if I can put a person back into society who has actually been trained to be a good member of society’

Another guard said this:

“We punish them them by taking away their freedom, but we don’t take away their life”

Halden Prison – Norway

Also in Norway, Halden Prison is known as the worlds most ‘humane’ prison.  It is designed with an architecture that takes into account it’s surrounding nature, where prisoners have access to beautiful views of the land, because connecting with nature is good for the human spirit.  The warden’s of Halden state that ‘being imprisoned’ is enough punishment.

Punta de Rieles – Urugay

Located in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, Punta de Rieles is known as “the prison from which nobody wants to escape”.  It is set on a 100-acre property which has lots of outdoor space where inmates can live, work, do yoga, have pets, and play music. At Punta de Rieles, the focus is on helping prisoners prepare to go back into society after they leave.

The prison’s director shared that their focus is to help the inmates be ‘better’ people than when they first arrived. Using ‘repression’ won’t rehabilitate people. They allow their inmates to study and also teach them how to start up a business. The funds earned enable the inmates to purchase things from the prison shop, or they can save up for when they leave.  Punta De Rieles has a bakery, restaurant, brick factory, barbers, carpentry, and grocery stores.

Rehabilitation IS Possible

It seems very clear that the common way people are incarcerated today is simply not helping them become better people.

However, rehabilitation IS possible, and the way we can actually do this is seen in the last few documentaries above.

They all have a common theme, allow the inmates to have access to nature, to not be ‘locked up’ in ugly and depressing surroundings, give them responsibilities, encourage them to learn skills, have a purpose and above all, to be treated with compassion.

Whilst it must be said, that rehabilitating serial killers and very violent gang members might not be an easy task, it is something that must be attempted. Violence breeds violence so if we want to put an end to it, we have to see all people as human beings that may have had a very damaging upbringing which has affected their behavior.

Read More:

Research Shows That Time In Prison Does Not Successfully “Rehabilitate” Most Inmates

How Shelter Cats Are Changing Prisoners Lives In Indiana

Why Brazil Gives Ayahuasca To Prison Inmates On Their Path To Redemption

The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States

Jennifer Gonnermans Interviews With Kalief Browder

The Business Model Of Private Prisons

Global Prison Population Soars

kaliefbrowderfoundation.com

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Monkey Sharpens Rock & Uses It To Smash Through Glass Enclosure At Zoo

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    At a zoo in China, a monkey uses a rock to smash its glass enclosure in what appears to be an attempted escape.

  • Reflect On:

    Are we treating animals on this planet in a way that we would want to be treated? If not, why? How does it feel to know we impede on the freedoms of living beings on a mass scale, and they don't like it?

Intriguing footage shows a Colombian white-faced capuchin at a zoo in China using a rock to smash through a glass enclosure in what appears to look like an attempted escape. The incident took place at the Zhengzhou Zoo in Central China’s Henan Province on the 20th of August 2019. Was it an actual escape? It’s hard to say, the monkey was surely surprised by the shattering of the glass, but why else would they be doing this if getting out wasn’t on their mind? Something to ponder.

In the video below you can see the monkey next to the glass, with a rock in its hand,  examining the glass before hitting it multiple times with a rock before finally shattering it.

According to Metro UK,  a bystander by the name of Mr. Wang told reporters that the monkey was actually sharpening the stone prior to hitting the glass. If this is the case, the attempted escape idea becomes much more likely.

‘The monkey was sharpening the stone, then it started hitting it on the glass. The monkey scared itself away, but it came back to take another look and even touched it,” Mr. Wang said.

Zhengzhou Zoo staff member Tian Shuliao said that this monkey actually knows how to use tools.

“This monkey is unlike other monkeys. This one knows how to use tools to break walnuts. When we feed walnuts to other monkeys, they only know to bite it. But it had never hit the glass before though. This is the first time. It’s toughened glass, so it would never have got out,[…]After it happened, we picked up all the rocks and took away all its ‘weapons’,” Shuliao said.

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Monkey begins hitting the glass with a rock.

Glass is now smashed as a result of multiple hits with a rock.

Why it matters: If this monkey is indeed attempting to escape, perhaps it doesn’t want to be in captivity. There are certainly times when humans intervene in nature to help animals who are hurt or cannot survive in the wild. Providing them with humane and expansive natural, yet safe, environments to live in can be helpful. But how often is this really the case when so much of what we do to animals is abuse and murder?

Perhaps humanity is at a time where we must reflect on whether using animals or entertainment and profit is not in alignment with a heart centred humanity.

The conscious takeaway: When it comes to the CE Protocol, looking at step 4, Living Aligned, is key because it points to being connecting with our true authentic self, beyond programmings of societal norms, but instead focused and being from a space of the heart. In this space and state of being, we are living from our authentic self and make decisions from that state of being.

From that space, how do we feel about animal captivity and the way we treat animals? This isn’t a question of belief systems, rather it’s a matter of first getting connected with your true authentic self and asking yourself how you truly wish to act in relation to animals and nature. This is why our focus is on the protocol and using the 5 Days of You Challenge to learn connection. It’s through this practice that truths and decisions become self-evident, not based on what someone else tells you or what you have to believe.

You can learn more about the protocol here, it’s how we structure all of our CE news and video content on CETV.

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