I was really blessed to attend the World Buddhist Conference in Malaysia where I learned more about the Upaya Prison Project. As a teacher I really enjoy looking at curriculum outlines and course objectives. I thought their program outline was structured incredibly well.

Upaya Prison Project Course Objectives and Lessons

Week One:

Introduce ourselves: what would each participant like to say about himself to make himself known?

Introduction to the Council Process and how we will use it in the group

Pre-evaluation: scales rating levels anxiety and anger

Information on stress and how it affects the body; what changes mindfulness can make.

Introduction to simple yoga

Short guided mindfulness practice – 10 minutes

Closing Council

Week Two:

Check in on how the week has gone

Simple yoga

Guided mindfulness practices – 15 minutes (breathing)

Introduction to Tai Chi Chuan

Instruction in 3 breath practice; practice mindfulness at least 3 times in the coming week

Closing Council

Week Three:

Check in on how the mindfulness practice and 3-breath practice have gone during the week.

Simple yoga

Guided mindfulness practice–20 minutes (body scan)

Introduction to walking meditation

Tai Chi Chuan

Choose one time each day to do walking meditation, do body scan at least 4 times during the week

Closing Council

Week Four:

Check in on how walking meditation, 3-breath practice and body scan have gone during the week

Simple yoga

Guided mindfulness practice –25 minutes (body scan and breathing)

Tai Chi Chuan

Choose a daily activity to focus mindfulness on during the coming week; do the body scan at least 5 times during the coming week.

Closing Council

Week Five:

Check in on how the mindfulness and 3 breath practice and the body scan have gone during the week.

Simple yoga

Guided mindfulness practice–30 minutes (body scan and breathing)

Tai Chi Chuan

Choose a daily activity to focus walking or mindfulness practice during the coming week; do this practice at least 6 times during the coming week

Closing Council

Week Six:

Check in on how the practices have gone during the week

Simple yoga

Mindfulness practice of tranquility–30 minutes

Tai Chi Chuan

Choose a daily activity to focus walking or mindfulness practice during the coming week; do this practice at least six times during the coming week

Introduction to anger management

Closing Council

Week Seven:

Check in on how the practices have gone during the week

Simple yoga

Mindfulness practice of tranquility and insight–30 minutes

Tai Chi Chuan

Choose a daily activity to focus walking or mindfulness practice during the coming week; do this practice at least six times during the coming week

Anger management exercises

Closing Council

Week Eight:

Check in on how the practices have gone during the week

Simple yoga

Mindfulness practice of tranquility and insight–30 minutes

Tai Chi Chuan

Choose a daily activity to focus walking or mindfulness practice during the coming week; do this practice at least six times during the coming week

Anger management exercises: conclusion

Post-evaluation: scales rating levels anxiety and anger

Closing Council

Curriculum and Guide for the Teacher (Contemplative Education in Prison: Reaching Inside)

– Class Structure: Class begins with a few moments of silence.

– Each participant states the purpose of this series of classes: i.e. to learn positive values and behaviors

– Then the guidelines for conduct in the class are given by a member: guidelines include truthful, kind and constructive communication, active listening, no cross talk, the value of silence, confidentiality and the value of trust.

– The theme of the particular class is explained by the instructor.

– Members are asked to repeat in their own words what they think the class theme is.

– An exercise is taught that exemplifies or unpacks the class theme.

– Participants are asked to write down briefly three impressions of their experience.

– They are asked to reflect outloud what they have written.

– The instructor gives a summary of the class theme and the participants’ reflections.

– Participants are then asked what they have learned and how they will use what they have learned.

– The class ends with a few moments of quiet, and then the instructor thanks each participant for participating.

The 20 Lessons

Lesson 1: Guidelines for an Ethical Life

Objective: To learn the “golden rule” and the benefits of positive behaviors

The lesson: To explore the ethics of killing, not stealing, not engaging in exploitative behavior, of right speech, and of having a clear mind and not taking intoxicants

The exercise: the instructor reads a guided exercise to the participants on the value of ethical conduct, followed by the participants offering insights of why it is important to be responsible for one’s behavior.

Why this lesson?: A positive code of conduct produces more harmony in the social group and greater mental stability.

Lesson 2: Developing the Ability to Concentrate

Objective: To learn to keep the mind on one thing at a time and not to be dispersed.

The lesson: To explore why it is important to have the ability to concentrate, i.e. for learning, for insight, to reduce stress.

The exercise: The instructor guides participants to put their attention on their breath and challenges the participants to see if they can keep it on just this one thing.

Why this lesson?: Learning to concentrate reduces stress and enhances learning, it also helps the individual not fall prey to negative feelings and situations.

Lesson 3: Developing Mental Stability

Objective: To learn to calm and stabilize the mind.

The lesson: To learn various techniques to stabilize the mind.

The exercise: The instructor teaches participants to move the attention from one body part to another, such as focusing on the hand, or bringing the attention to the forehead.

Why this lesson?: The capacity to shift focus from one thing to another effortlessly helps the mind to stabilize and not to be influences by negative thoughts or negative external conditions.

Lesson 4: Developing a Positive Mental Attitude

Objective: To learn to foster a positive mental attitude.

The lesson: Seeing the value of affirming positive mental states.

The exercise: Considering one’s relationship to family, children, and grandparents as a potential model of caring.

Why this lesson?: To reduce feelings of alienation.

Lesson 5: Working with Forgiveness

Objective: To learn the value of forgiving oneself and others.

The lesson: Recognizing that self-forgiveness is related to the forgiveness of others.

The exercise: Exploring through phrases on forgiveness how we respond to forgiveness of self and other.

Why this lesson?: Forgiveness is a key mental process that resolves anger and alienation.

Lesson 6: Cultivating Kindness in Stressful Situations

Objectives: To explore the effects of kindness toward oneself and others.

The lesson: Recognizing that kindness is intelligent behavior.

The exercise: Practicing kindness toward oneself and others through the use of affirmations that reinforce kind thoughts and behaviors.

Why this lesson?: To discover the interpersonal and internal benefits of kindness.

Lesson 7: Cultivating Compassion in Stressful Situations

Objective: To learn the value and intelligence of compassion.

The lesson: Discovering that compassion also includes compassion for oneself.

The exercise: Doing the exercise of sending wellbeing to others and receiving others suffering.

Why this lesson?: Compassion is a basic human emotion that gives meaning to life.

Lesson 8: Cultivating Altruism in Stressful Situations

Objective: to define altruism as an experience of benefiting others.

The lesson: Learning to wish the best for others, thus transforming selfishness.

The exercise: Through a guided exercise, considering loved ones’ well being.

Why this lesson?: To develop unselfishness and the value of altruism.

Lesson 9: Cultivating Mental Balance in Stressful Situations

Objective: To learn the value of equanimity.

The lesson: To develop emotional balance and resiliency when facing difficulties.

The exercise: Working with practical phrases that foster balance.

Why this exercise?: To engender emotional resiliency.

Lesson 10: Cultivating Generosity, Ethicality, Patience, Enthusiasm, Mindfulness, Wisdom

Objective: To develop superior human qualities.

The lesson: To see how it is possible to change our lives in the direction of sanity.

The exercise: Brief discussion of each of the above topics and how they affect our lives and the lives of others.

Why this exercise?: To demonstrate the value of strengthening superior human qualities.

Lesson 11: Working With Physical Pain

Objective: To give techniques for working with physical pain

The lesson: Physical pain does not have to debilitate us.

The exercise: A guided exercise on accepting and transforming pain.

Why this exercise?: Pain is part of life and we need to find ways to be with it.

Lesson 12: Working With Mental Pain

Objective: To give techniques for working with negative mental experiences.

The lesson: Negative mental states can teach us compassion and kindness if worked with skillfully.

The exercise: A guided exercise in being with difficulties.

Why this exercise?: Learning to recognize, accept, and then transform negative mental states and destructive emotions.

Lesson 13: Exploring Self-Responsibility and Interconnectedness

Objective; To see how our own behavior and choices affect others.

The lesson: We are responsible for our lives.

The exercise: A discussion of responsibility and interconnectedness.

Why this exercise?: To engender greater respect for others and our relationships.

Lesson 14: Learning the Relationship Between Cause and Effect

Objective: To discover that we are responsible for our choices, and our choices affect us.

The lesson: To see the benefit of thinking and considering outcomes before we act.

The exercise: A discussion of the nature of outcomes.

Why this lesson?: To teach the importance of patience and thinking clearly and responsibly.

Lesson 15:  Working with Inclusiveness, Dealing With Prejudice

Objective: To explore the value of an open, tolerant, inclusive mental state.

The lesson: To have respect for differences.

The exercise: An exercise using imagination on seeing someone really different from ourselves as an innocent child; participants write reflections.

Why this lesson?: To discover compassion toward others who are different than ourselves.

Lesson 16: Transforming Fear

Objective: To explore how fear drives our behavior.

The lesson: To see the value of facing fear.

The exercise: Writing down our fears, and what is behind them.

Why this exercise?: To learn that our lives are often driven by fear and need not be.

Lesson 17:  Discovering the Relationship between the Relative and Absolute

Objective: To learn not to be caught in the drama of our lives.

The lesson: To see the relationship between the relative aspect of our life experience and the ultimate or absolute aspect.

The exercise: Seeing another’s good heart; and bearing witness to their suffering.

Why this exercise?: To develop strength to be fully present for others and not caught in the drama.

Lesson 18: Building Trust in Yourself

Objective: To work on issues of distrust.

The lesson: To discover one’s natural self-trust.

The exercise: To bear witness to experiences of trust and distrust as participants sit in council and listen to each other explore this topic.

Why this exercise?: To strengthen the natural wisdom and ease of each individual.

Lesson 19: Developing the Inquiring Mind

Objective: To develop an open and interested mental attitude.

The lesson: To discover the value of inquiry.

The exercise: Teaching participants to ask questions of value.

Why this exercise?: Openness to and interest in life relieves one of despair and alienation.

Lesson 20:  Learning Nonviolent Communication

Objective: To develop ways to listen and communicate clearly about issues.

The lesson: The importance of understanding one’s needs and the needs of others.

The exercise: An exercise of active listening; an exercise of clear communication.

Why this lesson?:  Distorted, judgmental, and blame ridden communication can destroy trust and relationships.