Frank Berry’s award winning Irish film Michael Inside, released just this year, tells the story of a young man, Michael, who gets into trouble by doing seemingly petty jobs for drug dealers in his neighbourhood. Sent to prison to learn through ‘a short, sharp shock’ about the error of the choices he has made, he quickly gets caught up in the drug-gangs within the prison. Through a series of circumstances he becomes beholden to one of the leaders to ensure his own continued safety. The film does not flinch from Michael’s own tendency to violence, born of frustration, fear and anger. He makes choices. Or does he? He is caught in a series of dilemmas: if he doesn’t do one gang leader’s bidding, he will get beaten up by another would-be contender for the top-dog slot.
There’s a moment of relief when he gets early release. There’s hope that he can escape the cycle. Outside, other gangs hold sway, threatening his elderly grandfather with retribution for Michael’s ‘crime’ of having the illegal drugs he was hiding seized by police. Michael takes violent action against his family’s attackers and is back in prison. Now, what are the choices open to him? With subtlety and pathos, the plot points in only one direction: one gang leader still holds sway inside and Michael is inexorably heading towards a life of crime and prison, crime and prison. The centre cannot hold. Earlier choices have set in motion their own tragic trajectory that Michael seems powerless to stop. It’s a powerful story, beautifully told with great sensitivity, despite its theme and suggestions of more trouble for Michael – and our whole society – ahead.
In mindfulness practice, there is much emphasis on choice. We can, with practice, choose where to put our attention. We can pause, sense what is there and choose to dwell on it with awareness, act on it or let it go. We may say, ‘we have no choice’. And maybe, like Michael in our story, making choices is difficult. Circumstances may imprison us. We see no way except in one direction. We may have to accept that and weave the consequences into our lives.
That’s why exploring choice is such a powerful aspect of mindfulness. We have more power than we consider at times. We do, in fact, have a lot of choice. Some of the scariest words are ‘it’s up to you…’It’s not always easy to see that, but creating awareness around the choices we do have can make all the difference to the way our lives unfold. Mindfulness can help us with that life-affirming task: it’s your choice.
Author: Mary Jennings
Mary Jennings is a MBSR facilitator, she is running an 8-week MBSR course in The Sanctuary, starting on May 8th