There is in Eastern tradition something known as "The walk of a thousand days." In this spiritual cleansing process, someone gives up not only all his (or her) possessions but everything and everyone familiar in life and walks forward into uncharted territory so that he may come to know himself and the true nature of the universe in a much deeper way. When I first heard about this I thought that three years was an awfully long time to be spent in lonely contemplation--and I also thought that very few people have the luxury to be able to walk away from their lives and responsibilities to take on this kind of project of self revelation, or as some might see it, self-indulgence.
Thanks to an unpredictable series of events involving some immensely stupid choices on my part and some turns and twists beyond my control, I've been given a chance to take my own thousand day walk times four. I don't get to do that much walking and the scenery isn't constantly changing, but all the other elements are there and perhaps even intensified. The actor, Robert Downey, Jr., told the Today Show two weeks before his release from Corcoran State Prison, located just down the road from my current place of worship, Pleasant Valley State Prison, that "prison is spiritually debilitating, it's like dying."
I can't say I agree with Downey. Yes, there are many horrible truths about prison--some that would shock even the most ardent supporter of law and order if they became known. But prison also has the capacity to be spiritually strengthening, and it has the power and potential to allow someone to find new meaning and purpose in life, free from many of the distractions and concerns of the outside world. In this, it has much in common with the walk of a thousand days.
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