I often emphasize the present moment as a way to get clients away from the worries of tomorrow and the misfortunes of yesterday. However, sometimes there’s too much pain in the present to tell anyone to be mindful of the “now.” Sometimes, there’s too much pain to paint anyone a pretty picture… it invalidates the experience and you render yourself useless no matter how good your intentions may be. Any variation of getting people to look on the bright side of their circumstances can broaden the gap of what stands between their surrounding darkness and hope.
A person who has lost the will to live cannot be coerced to reframe or alter the narrative of the crisis. The crisis, be it the loss of freedom, a child, an illness, or abuse, is remedied through a rigorous validation and honesty. Both the sufferer and helper must bring forth an honesty of the situation that conveys the present reality for what it is- painful and seemingly intolerable. Yet, the future must always be accounted for with just as much honesty and responsibility as the present. While the moment may prove harsh, the future provides an infinite amount of possibilities-hope reigns abundantly in the future- hope of less pain and more peace, hope of reconciling the worst acts, the healing of deep wounds, the regaining of freedom, and the refining of one’s character made possible by difficult times.
“I know you won’t understand but in my lifetime I’ve seen the most beautiful thing life has to offer. I’ve seen the priceless battle of broken people creatively changing and overcoming toxic patterns. So beautiful and it’s costs me nothing” -Unknown
They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I believe everyone we encounter is our greatest teacher. The world serves as a mirror in which through experiences and interactions we learn more about the undesirable parts of ourselves we tend to overlook. The people we dislike or disagree with often reveal the characteristics within us we need to change. I’ve often become easily hurt at the indifference and aloofness of others, later taking an honest inventory of my own indifferences, that fearful part that would rather avoid social responsibility. There are people who just won’t change, a world that just won’t relent, and many breaks we just can’t catch… and yet they are all so charitable in giving us the knowledge of what needs to change within us. The world is a vast educational platform and its people are the mentors by which we discover who we want or don’t want to be. Most of us have been hurt beyond reconciliation by the people we love most. But if there’s any good that comes of it, may it be discovering parts of ourselves in others that we vow to change and never repeat.
In jail food is a high commodity- the currency that defines an inmate’s status. Due to the scarcity and restricted variety, the accessibility of food is based on the level of outside support or cunning ability to persuade or take from others. Food is prisoner’s gold. It is no wonder the the amount of bricks (sandwiches) or dollars in a commissary account greatly impacts the mood and mental health of the inmate. Jail is similar to outside society where power and status are of great value, except in jail, possession and rank is brought to the forefront due to scarcity and deprivation. It was here that I learned deprivation is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it may be beneficial.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned was in simply observing an inmate eat an orange. He was given an extra orange for lunch by a correctional officer. He looked at it and held it alternately with both hands. It was the same way a jeweler would handle an expensive gold necklace or a miner would examine a diamond. He smiled, peeled it slowly, separated it into pieces, laid it into a paper napkin, smiled again, and finally began to eat it. There was a level of gratitude in the process that I had never witnessed before. The inmate and his gold, an orange, submerged completely in the moment-something most of take for granted because we become accustomed to always having. And this applies to most things- our friendships, family, love, our possessions, our health, internal and external freedoms, etc. I have to admit, there was a sense of envy as I watched someone appreciate the very little, grasping to the moment, touching every bit of the orange from its outer texture to the sweetness of taste. I couldn’t remember the last time I had appreciated the little things, the many that I had take for granted. Because of deprivation, this inmate was given the gift of gratitude in which he could touch life and experience the moment at its fullest vitality. He was alive and free. “Who are the real prisoners?”, I asked myself. Most of us have plenty and yet most of us never experience a genuine level of gratitude for what we have. We’re taught to write a gratitude list or recite a few affirmations to boost our levels of gratitude but rarely is it suggested to reach out to a life who is far more deprived than we are. This is the best way to acquire gratitude- to learn it from those who have less. Often, it’s those that suffer greatly that touch life the deepest. It’s those who are deprived that can relish and appreciate without reservation when they finally attain something. Watch and learn through them, because if it’s anything that we more fortunate individuals lack, it might just be the greatest commodity of all- Gratitude.