What happens when we let go of hope altogether?

“I killed my boyfriend.”

“I’m never getting out.”

RB walked into class and said this matter of fact.

The cavernous room with the untiled floor and walls painted bugger green was 65 degrees. The tropical South Florida heat outside was at least 95. The contrast in temperature somehow paralleled the experience of hearing RB.

I’m a teacher of sorts.

For 30+ years I’ve taught in many settings and groups. I’ve taught students with powerful intellectual capacities and adults with severe intellectual disabilities.

Over the past three years, I’ve been taking my classroom behind bars. I’ve taught at both a men’s and women’s prison.

RB was at the women’s prison. She’d been there over 20 years. She seemed agitated when I walked in to the classroom. I think she was testing me to see what I would say to her, if my attitude toward her would change.

I say I’m a teacher, but really I’m more of a learner than anything else. I find that having the role of teacher allows me to learn things I would otherwise miss. RB has been one of my main teachers this year.

In prison I teach mindfulness meditation. It’s a simple practice that draws one’s awareness to the present moment by allowing one’s focus to rest on the breath all the while allowing some awareness of the body and environment. The practice is simple, but it is far from tame.

Thoughts never stop. And, in fact, when we start focusing on the breath, they storm in, sometimes leaving wreckage that is hard to process.

“I’m never getting out.”

Her words sunk into my heart. I had just a second to respond.

I looked at her and without any thought said, “Let’s start. This is a good moment to practice.” Without many words, I let her know that her words registered but they did not change anything about our work together. She was there and I was there and we were all there to do something important.

We sat. We drew our awareness to our breath. Our minds wondered. When we noticed we were deep in our thoughts, we labeled the thoughts as “thinking,” we did this for 20 minutes until our timer went off.

After class, after going back out through the barbed wire fences and gate, I sat in my car and thought about hope. What happens when we let go of hope altogether? How do we do this? What is there beyond hope? Can we live fully without it?

Categorized as Healing

By Carlos Gonzalez

Carlos Gonzalez teaches English at Miami Dade College and yoga and wellness in the community through Miami Firm Body, the company he co-founded with his wife, Maribel. He works with words, movement, and the body. His calling is to invite others to join him in the joy of searching within and finding the strength and courage to walk toward wholeness. Carlos is a spell caster, an educational trickster whose core mission is to transform grief into a source of possible beauty, vulnerability into strength, and fear into wonder.

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