From midwife to monk

CALLING IN LIFE: Former Gisborne woman Marie-ann Quin says she has enjoyed passing on her meditation techniques to the prisoners at Waikeria prison. Picture supplied
Marie-ann Quin

MARIE-ann Quin has found her calling in life, but she hit rock bottom before getting there.

A modern-day monk whose Sanskrit name is Sattwa Devi, she has taken vows to dedicate her life to the teaching of consciousness in the world.

Midwife and self-confessed workaholic, Quin suffered from severe burnout after pushing herself too hard for too long. She was told by medical experts she would never work again. By learning a form of meditation called Ishaya Ascension of the Bright Path she began a five-year journey back to full health.

“I couldn’t get off the couch. My blood pressure was through the roof. It was my daughter who discovered this form of meditation at a music festival and she said it could be just the thing I needed. It was.”

“The thing I love about meditation is that it ticked all the boxes. You didn’t need to subscribe to any belief system and it was joyful.”

After doing an introductory course followed by a week-long retreat in the Waitakeres in 2006, Quin knew she had discovered something that would transform her life. She travelled to Spain twice to train to become a teacher in Ishaya meditation.

Ishaya’s Ascension, as it is also known, is an ancient meditative tradition from the Himalayas, not a religion or New Age technique. Ishaya is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘for expanded consciousness’.

After seeing the work done in a maximum security prison called Apodoca in Mexico, and the remarkable transformative effects it was having on both the guards and inmates, Quin approached the Waikeria prison near her Te Awamutu home and offered to teach meditation to inmates. Her husband works as a prison officer on one of the farms there. It took some time to make it happen but she and co-teacher James Alexander were invited into the prison in February to teach a meditation workshop.

“Going into a prison for the first time can be incredibly daunting. The mind has certain judgements, expectations and fear of the unknown. Even dramas on TV depicting the dynamics of prison life have an influence on our perception of what we are going to encounter.”

Quin and Alexander were vetted by police to make sure they were suitable to enter and teach in a prison. The next stage was an induction where they were prepared for exposure to prison dynamics.

“There can be pitfalls for the unwary.”

Intimidating experience

Even driving into the prison can be intimidating, as there is the possibility a prison officer and drug detector dog might need to check out your vehicle, she said.

“There are double gates with fences as high as a two-storey building with foreboding razor wire coiled at the top. Then you have to sign in at the guard room with many tattooed and unfamiliar prisoners checking you out.

“Outside the room where we teach the inmates to meditate, there are many distractions. In the Maori focus unit there are other activities like kapa haka and waiata happening.

“There is the daily humdrum of other prisoners being organised by prison guards and the dialogue that happens with this. Lawns need to be mowed and classrooms are sometimes changed because of the many events of prison life.

“This then entails a prison officer having to sit in on the meditation session because we are in a room without a camera. This in itself can be very distracting for the participants.”

She began by doing an introductory session in the prison where she talked about what the course would involve. If the prisoners voluntarily came back, they were asked to make a commitment to complete the course.

“There were many different faces staring back at us in the second session.

“We asked what their highest desire was and it was invariably peace, love, joy, knowledge, purpose, value and self-improvement. Voila — we could offer these guys tools for their kete (bag) to achieve any or all of these desires.”

Quin said that after teaching the first technique, there was so much energy-shifting and stress-releasing that she came away feeling “totally spent”.

“These guys had probably tasted true peace for the first time in their lives.”

“One guy, who came in with a full suit of armour that first day, and who struggled with the meanings of big words, went back to his cell that night and looked up the word ‘appreciation’ along with 26 other words starting with the letter ‘A’. He came back so excited with what he had experienced, using this simple tool to peace. He went from sitting in the back of the class, arms folded and eyebrows furrowed, eyes intense with defiance, to sitting right up beside me with so much joy, love and openness to learn more of what we had to offer. He is now the shining light in the unit, gently enticing other inmates to seek what he had found.

“One of the prison guards who has a 30-year reputation for helping the hardest prisoners asked me what I had done to this guy.

Two-day transformation

“She had been trying to turn him around for eight years and I did it in two days.

“My ‘poster boy’ told me he had turned down his parole hearing because he still had work to do on himself to make him worthy to head outside and back to his whanau/family and society. He is a genuine beacon for healthy change.

“One of the other inmates who had been a serious criminal and was a very strong, influential and foreboding person in the unit came to check out the course.

“He had found a key to his internal prison. Before he learned to meditate, he had been very violent and constantly angry. He now allows others to get in front of him in the food line and choose the biggest piece of chicken, an act he would never have previously considered doing.”

Quin recounts many similar stories.

After the third day of the first course she left the prison feeling quite overwhelmed by what she had witnessed.

Prisoners who participate in the meditation courses and feel the benefits are asked to ‘pay it forward’.

“The response to this is phenomenal, as these guys do acts of kindness that surprise even them.”

Here is one prisoner’s testimonial to the positive benefits meditation has brought into his life.

“I can never thank you enough for the keys to my prison. I don’t know any words than can express the value of the gift you teach.

“I don’t know anything about God or religion or that sort of thing, all I can say is you gave me something spiritual. Just know there are other people serving life sentences like me that need this,” the prisoner wrote.

“Please keep teaching those of us who have lost our way to find the path. Even those who are serving life sentences are locked in two prisons and you have given the keys for the one that will enable us to become worthy to step out of the other.”

MARIE-ann Quin has found her calling in life, but she hit rock bottom before getting there.

A modern-day monk whose Sanskrit name is Sattwa Devi, she has taken vows to dedicate her life to the teaching of consciousness in the world.

Midwife and self-confessed workaholic, Quin suffered from severe burnout after pushing herself too hard for too long. She was told by medical experts she would never work again. By learning a form of meditation called Ishaya Ascension of the Bright Path she began a five-year journey back to full health.

“I couldn’t get off the couch. My blood pressure was through the roof. It was my daughter who discovered this form of meditation at a music festival and she said it could be just the thing I needed. It was.”

“The thing I love about meditation is that it ticked all the boxes. You didn’t need to subscribe to any belief system and it was joyful.”

After doing an introductory course followed by a week-long retreat in the Waitakeres in 2006, Quin knew she had discovered something that would transform her life. She travelled to Spain twice to train to become a teacher in Ishaya meditation.

Ishaya’s Ascension, as it is also known, is an ancient meditative tradition from the Himalayas, not a religion or New Age technique. Ishaya is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘for expanded consciousness’.

After seeing the work done in a maximum security prison called Apodoca in Mexico, and the remarkable transformative effects it was having on both the guards and inmates, Quin approached the Waikeria prison near her Te Awamutu home and offered to teach meditation to inmates. Her husband works as a prison officer on one of the farms there. It took some time to make it happen but she and co-teacher James Alexander were invited into the prison in February to teach a meditation workshop.

“Going into a prison for the first time can be incredibly daunting. The mind has certain judgements, expectations and fear of the unknown. Even dramas on TV depicting the dynamics of prison life have an influence on our perception of what we are going to encounter.”

Quin and Alexander were vetted by police to make sure they were suitable to enter and teach in a prison. The next stage was an induction where they were prepared for exposure to prison dynamics.

“There can be pitfalls for the unwary.”

Intimidating experience

Even driving into the prison can be intimidating, as there is the possibility a prison officer and drug detector dog might need to check out your vehicle, she said.

“There are double gates with fences as high as a two-storey building with foreboding razor wire coiled at the top. Then you have to sign in at the guard room with many tattooed and unfamiliar prisoners checking you out.

“Outside the room where we teach the inmates to meditate, there are many distractions. In the Maori focus unit there are other activities like kapa haka and waiata happening.

“There is the daily humdrum of other prisoners being organised by prison guards and the dialogue that happens with this. Lawns need to be mowed and classrooms are sometimes changed because of the many events of prison life.

“This then entails a prison officer having to sit in on the meditation session because we are in a room without a camera. This in itself can be very distracting for the participants.”

She began by doing an introductory session in the prison where she talked about what the course would involve. If the prisoners voluntarily came back, they were asked to make a commitment to complete the course.

“There were many different faces staring back at us in the second session.

“We asked what their highest desire was and it was invariably peace, love, joy, knowledge, purpose, value and self-improvement. Voila — we could offer these guys tools for their kete (bag) to achieve any or all of these desires.”

Quin said that after teaching the first technique, there was so much energy-shifting and stress-releasing that she came away feeling “totally spent”.

“These guys had probably tasted true peace for the first time in their lives.”

“One guy, who came in with a full suit of armour that first day, and who struggled with the meanings of big words, went back to his cell that night and looked up the word ‘appreciation’ along with 26 other words starting with the letter ‘A’. He came back so excited with what he had experienced, using this simple tool to peace. He went from sitting in the back of the class, arms folded and eyebrows furrowed, eyes intense with defiance, to sitting right up beside me with so much joy, love and openness to learn more of what we had to offer. He is now the shining light in the unit, gently enticing other inmates to seek what he had found.

“One of the prison guards who has a 30-year reputation for helping the hardest prisoners asked me what I had done to this guy.

Two-day transformation

“She had been trying to turn him around for eight years and I did it in two days.

“My ‘poster boy’ told me he had turned down his parole hearing because he still had work to do on himself to make him worthy to head outside and back to his whanau/family and society. He is a genuine beacon for healthy change.

“One of the other inmates who had been a serious criminal and was a very strong, influential and foreboding person in the unit came to check out the course.

“He had found a key to his internal prison. Before he learned to meditate, he had been very violent and constantly angry. He now allows others to get in front of him in the food line and choose the biggest piece of chicken, an act he would never have previously considered doing.”

Quin recounts many similar stories.

After the third day of the first course she left the prison feeling quite overwhelmed by what she had witnessed.

Prisoners who participate in the meditation courses and feel the benefits are asked to ‘pay it forward’.

“The response to this is phenomenal, as these guys do acts of kindness that surprise even them.”

Here is one prisoner’s testimonial to the positive benefits meditation has brought into his life.

“I can never thank you enough for the keys to my prison. I don’t know any words than can express the value of the gift you teach.

“I don’t know anything about God or religion or that sort of thing, all I can say is you gave me something spiritual. Just know there are other people serving life sentences like me that need this,” the prisoner wrote.

“Please keep teaching those of us who have lost our way to find the path. Even those who are serving life sentences are locked in two prisons and you have given the keys for the one that will enable us to become worthy to step out of the other.”

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