Yesterday morning, I led my first “skills of mindfulness” groups at the county jail. (Within the institution, the group meetings are referred to as classes, and I’m considered a teacher; but I think of my role more as that of facilitator, since I’m strictly a volunteer and there to learn from the inmates as well as to relay what I can.) I found the experience so profound that I felt I couldn’t simply return home afterward and instead did something I too rarely do: I went to a park and sat at a picnic table to look at my curriculum and just be with my thoughts under the sun and shifting shade of old trees.
Somehow it surprised me how many other people came to the park and seemed to respect it as a quiet refuge, too. Among them were an older woman, a younger woman, and a boy of perhaps three. They walked down to the edge of the pond and spent a long time there. I was absorbed in my contemplations and didn’t look up all that often, although I noticed the pleasure the boy seemed to take in throwing stones into the water. Finally, I heard them discussing plans to return home, and the boy, with infinite curls, ran ahead of the women. As he passed my picnic table, I offered, “I like your stripes!” He had horizontal stripes on his shirt, vertical stripes on his shorts. He said, “I’m running so fast!” “You are,” I said, “you’re running like the wind!” Up the hill he went, the two women following.
Ten minutes or more later, I glanced up and saw him making his way back down the hill, drawn like a magnet to a utility pole with some fuse boxes on it. He reached up to touch them, and as the women were not yet in sight, I called out, “Hey—you know, I think there’s electricity in those boxes, so it’s probably better not to play with them.” “Oh!” he said, and ran over, directing his curiosity toward the large jar of tea that sat on the table. We had a little chat about my tea, and how much of it there was left to drink, before the women caught up to him, and again they made their way to the water before turning around to head home.
This time, the boy did not run. “You’re walking!” I said. “Before, you were running like the wind. What are you walking like?” He came over and grasped the edge of the table in his small brown hands, seeming to give the matter serious thought. “I walk like a person,” he concluded.
How does this story relate to mindfulness? It’s the fact that we were both so much in the moment. We shared the present moment together. And because of the way he seemed to let his mind rove through the realm of possibilities, in a manner that I imagine would delight Dr. Ellen Langer, before landing on the one that struck him as true and right. The beauty of his free and open mind reinforced the joy I’d felt that morning, sitting in two different rooms, in two different units at the jail, with men and with women who were choosing to try something new. There they were, and there I was, sharing the present. All of us, each of us, being like persons.