“I can look at you, and I know, if I have basic goodness, then so do you.” These words were spoken last night by a man, lets call him James, who just a few weeks before had claimed that he has “zero respect” for sex offenders, to a sex offender in the class. A few weeks earlier, when we were working with the idea that everything anyone does is driven by the desire to make their life better, James shared with the class that he was struggling with this idea, and with the idea of Basic Goodness, in regards to sex offenders – the lowest of the low in the prison hierarchy. He realized that the way he denigrated sex offenders was the exact same way people on the outside had looked down on him for being an addict, for being homeless, but he was not quite able to take the next step of relating to the sex offenders whose crimes he detests. It was amazing to see, on our final night of class, the distance he has come, and the transformation that he has undergone, practicing mindfulness, and looking deeply into the idea of Basic Goodness.
It is impossible to miss the transformation on the men’s faces after twelve weeks of mindfulness class. They are visibly softer, clearer, less defended as they sit in class on week twelve than when they walk in on week one. Last night we had the opportunity to have a graduation ceremony for an amazing group of men, appreciating and bearing witness to the transformative work they have done. John was facilitating, and started off class by offering each of the twenty participants five other facilitators – in attendance as participant observers – a small folded piece of paper with their names written on one side, and something that he appreciated about them on the inside. “As a man,” he said “we don’t often express the things that we appreciate about each other. We don’t often express our gratitude. Since the theme of this class is mindfulness in action, I want to model how I think we can express the results of our practice in the world, by appreciating each other.”
We spent the next hour doing yoga, meditating, and going over memorable and still juicy discussions from past weeks of class. Forgiveness was a topic that had a lot of people still digesting, and one man said that he is now, after 15-20 years of fighting, ready to acknowledge that he has played a big part in the messiness of their relationship. He plans to reach out to him now, coming up on the holidays, to apologize and forgive. Personally, having had a hard day involving heavy rain and extended car troubles, I couldn’t have imagined a better remedy than spending my evening like this – with real conversation, meditation, yoga, and an strong sense of mutual respect among men.
We ended the class portion of the evening early, and called the men up one at a time to receive their certificate of completion and pick something from the pile of meditation related books we brought in as parting gifts. Everyone clapped after each name was read, and the smiles were wide. It feels important to me to make this little ceremony. Even though there was no cake, and no family members in attendance, and no graduation party to go back to, and even though the certificate we is just something we printed up, it means so much in the moment to appreciate each man for his efforts.
Twenty men walk out of class, into the rain gently falling across the yard. We wish them the best.