Yesterday, I had intense, meaningful pastoral visits in Oshkosh prison. I listen deeply to the inmates, asking questions when needed, but mostly I bear witness. Then I bring our conversation back to meditation—mindfulness tools with which they can practice. Though we’re not friends, I care about these guys in important, real, and heartfelt ways. I see them. I know and understand them. At the end of the visit, I tell each person what inspires me about their practice and their insight. I remind them that they are good; that they are worthy. I encourage them to stay on this path; to keep showing up.
Each time they hear that they’re good, wise, and inspiring, there’s a pause. Many are brought to tears. If not tears, then a flash of understanding and receiving. The men and women I see in prison have experienced trauma, abuse, poverty, injustice, and addiction. Rarely have they been told what’s good, wise, and beautiful within them. Words have a powerful impact. Presence and listening have a powerful impact.
Our lives are busy. We’re stressed and tired. We’re overscheduled. And in this cycle, we forget to be present and to listen. We forget the power of our words. Yet it takes 30 seconds to pause, breathe, and share with someone why and how we love them. We can enforce negative or cultivate positive. Each moment is a choice. We need to be honest—the prisoners have committed a crime and they must take responsibility—yet we also need to be kind and compassionate (there’s goodness within us all).
With our kids, friends, family, coworkers, students, and neighbors, we can listen; we can be kind; we can be mirrors for each other. There’s goodness within each of us. They’re flaws, too. When we’re honest, kind, brave, and true, we see each other (and ourselves) in new ways.
We can propagate anger, blame, and judgment. Or we can cultivate love, understanding, and compassion. Each moment is a choice. Our words have powerful impact. How can we remind each other that we are good, worthy, and lovable? There are copious ways, which needn't be grand. A few moments to be present, listen, and see anew; to express why and how we love each other.