As many of you know, I volunteer 10 hours a week in prison, teaching meditation and mindfulness; bearing witness to deep suffering and powerful insight; widening my circle of compassion and understanding.
Yesterday, at the end of our opening meditation, I asked everyone to consider qualities about themselves that they like and respect; to honor their strengths; to see their own goodness. These guys have been abused, ignored, and mistreated. From a young age, they’ve been told they’re not good enough. Even now, they’re told by society that they’re bad and disposable.
I changed our group check-in to be more specific: say your name and describe one quality that you like about yourself.
My kind heart; the compassion I feel for others.
My drive; the effort I put into being my best self and doing my best work.
My resilience; knowing that nothing can keep me down.
My ability to forgive.
My ability to see all sides of a situation.
Then I asked them to notice: How does it feel to share your good qualities with each other? Some responses: “I struggle with being kind to myself, but as I listened to everyone, I recognized those same qualities in me, too.” “I noticed people smile and their body language changed; it felt good to share the good in us.” “There’s so much negativity in prison, but just now we filled the room with positive intention and love.” “At first, I didn’t know what to say about myself, but when others spoke, they articulated what I couldn’t say about myself; I could see more good in me.”
I felt a shaft of light burst through the ceiling of Oshkosh Correctional and pour into the world. After group, G stayed to speak with me: “Joy, this is what real rehabilitation looks like. This group lets us be ourselves while finding our path. And it changes us. Yesterday was the worst day I’ve had in prison. A year ago, I would’ve done something that sent me to the hole [solitary confinement]. But now, I make different choices. I feel more peace.”
Whether I’m in prison, a workplace, a school, or community classes, I see similar patterns. We’re hard on ourselves. We judge ourselves more harshly than others. It’s important to name and celebrate our good qualities. Not in an egotistical way, but in a spacious, kind way. When we honor the goodness inside us, it develops and grows; we live more moments from wholehearted intention. I often ask myself and others to embrace our darkness. Tonight, I ask us to embrace our light. Consider the good qualities about yourself. How can you nurture and cultivate these qualities? How can you step into your own light? May we all take one small step that honors our goodness and ripples out into the world.