In the moment while in jail

by Frank Pauc

“As horrible as jail was, there were some first-rate guys in there.” – Scott Weiland

A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to spend twelve hours of quality time in the Clark County Detention Center. On Wednesday, April 26th, at about 7:00 AM, I got busted, along with six other people, for an act of civil disobedience at Creech AFB in Nevada. We blocked the entrance to the air base, and refused to move when ordered to do so by the Las Vegas police. The cops arrested us and life got really interesting.

What does this have to do with Zen? I think it has quite a bit to do with it. I am almost certain that, if I had not been sitting on a cushion on a regular basis for a period of years, I would probably never have been involved in this situation, and if I had been, I would have dealt with it much differently than I did.

First of all, the decision to allow myself to be arrested came purely from the gut. It was not a rational decision, not at all. I had never been busted before in my life. I had rejected the idea of getting arrested before the protest started, and then, literally one minute before the cops came, I decided to stay with the other demonstrators and block the entrance to the base. “Fuck it, I’m not moving.” After that, I didn’t check myself. I let events take their course. I truly doubt that I would have brave enough (or stupid enough) to get myself arrested if I hadn’t been doing some meditation. It was like diving into the deep end of a pool for the first time.

I am not saying that sitting Zen necessarily encourages a person to do crazy things. I’m saying that it helped me to see the rightness of a particular action without excessive analysis. I had definitely weighed the pros and cons of the action prior to making a decision, but all that thinking meant very little in the end. All my fears and worries and calculations were cast aside. It all came together in the moment when the guy standing next to me took my hand and said, “Frank, I’m glad you’re here.” Done.

As I look back at the subsequent twelve hours in custody, I know I felt anxiety, confusion, and pain at times. However, it never seemed overwhelming. I never felt resentment or anger at anybody. Mostly, everything seemed interesting. Even when I was sitting around in handcuffs, I could mentally take a step back and just observe what was happening. I had no idea at all when I would get released, or even if I would get released. Somehow that didn’t bother me that much. My main concern was contacting my wife. Otherwise, I was just there.

Sitting in the holding cell with seventeen other guys was a bit like a good Zen practice. I was in the moment. My mind did not wander. Everything was very real and very immediate. I was focused on the experience. It was intense, but it was okay.

I am not suggesting time in jail as a substitute for sitting Zen, but I think there are some odd similarities. The time in the slammer was a kong-an. It opened my mind to a number of things.