Trisha, Alan, and I were in prison for the POF “The Art of Communication” class. Although we didn’t finish the entire lesson plan, it went very well, but we will finish it next Thursday.
We started with a few minutes of mindfulness meditation led by Alan, and then Trisha led the check-in, with Alan and myself chiming in here and there. Many of the guys are now sharing their personal experiences, feelings, and thoughts in a much deep way. There is a much higher level of trust in the developing classroom, and therefore, the class experience is richer, more dynamic, and transformative.
I began to engage the group by discussing the types of listening as a form of communication and then focused on empathetic listening. We had a great discussion with some guys about empathy and how it can deepen beyond the clouds of our habitual surface understanding of ourselves and others. We discussed the meaning of listening or mirroring someone into their own wisdom. It was so gratifying for me to try to find ways for the guys to grasp the meaning of this idea. One guy mentioned the “common ground of our experience.” This led to a discussion about learning to distinguish between the sun shining and the clouds that cover the sun and how we can develop enough vision to see the sun shining all the time. Even though there may still be clouds, we identify with them less, and our allegiance shifts more towards the sun of our basic goodness. I think many of these guys are beginning to get it. They’re listening, they're less distracted and less fidgety, their eyes are open, and so are their minds. It’s truly amazing! I’m tearing up just writing about it now!
I shifted to the “I have a complaint” exercise. This also went well. I only had time to discuss two of the guy's “complaints” and connect them to the “Needs Inventory.” One guy complained that he “feels forgotten.” As I write, my tears roll down my cheek, and I have goosebumps. His description and inner expression of being forgotten by those who he is close to “on the outside” was so moving and powerful that it stopped me (and I think Trisha and Alan) in our tracks. We all identified his “complaint” with the “To Matter” section of the “Needs Inventory” list, which, to name a few include, *appreciation, recognition, love, empathy, respect, acceptance, and being heard/seen/known. In retrospect, I think the way this guy expressed his “complaint” wasn’t completely a complaint on his part. Rather, it was a mindful observation of this condition and the utter isolation and desolation of his experience. He was expressing his complete aloneness, only slightly contaminated by negativity. It was the most moving and powerful moment of the class and communicated a depth of meaning that was hard to bear.
At the beginning of the class, I joked that there was a change in policy and this class would not be included as a “good time” class (some time taken off their sentence for attending the class) as originally advertised. They all laughed, and one guy said, “This may not be a good time but we’re having a great time”… so am I.
*May all beings be free from suffering and the cause of suffering*.
Report by Nealy Zimmerman.