Prison is a State of Mind…

Posts tagged ‘inmates’

When Silence Says it All

I wonder. Do we really need to use so many words to express ourselves or interpret our world?  The question comes to mind as I sit comfortably in a corner chair at the neighborhood coffee shop.  My otherwise peaceful time away from the office is thwarted by my inability to tune out the roar of mindless chatter; people exchanging one set of words for another and most not hearing a word the other is saying.

As I glance up from the screen of my new Mac Book, which is not quite as intuitive as the ads proclaim, it appears as if people are talking, but no one is really listening. They all appear to be on a sort of anticipatory pause waiting for a break in the words so they might cram their words into the open space. It’s more like an intricately timed overlapping of words between sips of overpriced hot water dripped over coffee beans.  From the chair I claim as temporarily mine, it seems as if words are what link us together, connect us, keep us tethered together in some superficial illusion of mutual understanding.

I suppose it is true, words are inescapable in this world where if it is not verbalized, texted, or tweeted it probably does not exist.  I take that back.  I popped into a drop-in massage studio last week and the Thai-looking petite woman who earned $45 an hour for working the knots out of my shoulders did not initiate the lobbying of comments or questions. Maybe she understood any conversation would have been forgotten as soon as the next client walked through the door. Or, maybe she didn’t speak English.  Whatever the reason, it was a sweet reprieve, not to hear words for a full 50 minutes.  Attempting to maximize the experience, I did my best to banish words from my thoughts during that blissful, wordless moment in time. It was truly a glorious escape from the almighty word.

I have been giving serious consideration to living a year of my life in silence. You read that right.  Not speaking for an entire year.  Saying nothing for a full 365 days.  As I seek deeper levels of a spiritual existence while doing my time on our lovely little planet Earth, it seems as if words frequently obstruct the spiritual journey, or, at the very least, slow down its progress.  Absence of words, then, may provide me with a rare opportunity to truly listen to the world around me. It might help me figure out a few lingering issues about life’s purpose and how best to serve others during my tenure here.

Can you imagine how you might perceive your world if you could truly observe all of its nuances while relieved of the obligation of adding your own commentary?  I wonder if those things that consume your thoughts would remain important if you did not empower them with a few paragraphs of opinion.

Listening is most certainly underrated.  Most individuals applaud the skilled wordsmith and orator.  We elect officials by their choice of words, not by a record of their deeds.  We marry and divorce due to words, not on the development of relationships that withstand harsh words.  We buy in to words telling us what we need to own, plunging our families and our entire nation into debt from which we must struggle to recover.

We are missing the fact that the true value of the life experience is found in carefully listening, and paying attention to the words chosen by others.  Listening permits us to learn, to assess and to experience the words of others.  When we speak, we tell the world a great deal about us, like turning over our hand in a critical poker game.  With our word choice, we reveal our limitations, our weaknesses, our preferences, our educational level as well as our interests and desires.  When we listen, however, we can observe and learn those things in others.  The person who speaks is exposed, in a way.  And their intentions will eventually surface if we let them chatter long enough.  Interestingly enough, the person who remains silent is in the optimal place of learning, able to take in all the information and eventually make the most powerful decision.

I remember the first time I instructed an entire module of female inmates held in the Los Angeles County Jail that I wanted them to be completely silent, not to say a word, not utter a peep for 24 hours.  I did this because there was a heightened amount of gossip ripping and the fabric of the therapeutic work I was doing with the women.  Rather than attempt to hold back the tidal wave of cross talk, I silenced them.  That night, as I closed the day with the closing of my eyes, I wondered how my students were doing, wordless for 24 hours, some wordless for the first time in their lives.

The following morning when I entered the silent module I received the requisite reports of minor infractions of “Coach Taylor’s Law,” but I was more surprised by what was shared after all the violations were reported. A majority of the women were grateful, grateful they were relieved of the obligation of communication. They told me they loved the silence, welcomed the disconnection for a period.  It gave them time to reflect on their life choices, to think, to meditate, and to pray.

As for my own life, I have maintained silence for a full 72 hour period when completing my ordination as an Interfaith Minister.  I chose 72 hours of silence simply because I did not want to engage in superfluous conversations. I did not want the distraction of words that may have gotten in the way of my ability to focus on my ordination and my commitment to helping people find internal freedom, regardless of where they awake each morning.

Silence is the subtle, and rarely used key to internal freedom. Silence empowers us to turn within for the answers to life’s questions, which are where powerful and life-changing answers reside.

What will I find if I choose a full year of wordless observation of life and the living?  What might happen within my heart and soul if I am not required to verbalize my experience?  Will my life experience be diminished or enhanced if I am unable to label them with a combination of A-Z letters?  What will happen to my feelings and my human emotions?  Emotions often inspire, or require, a litany of words to maintain their strength. Will human emotion diminish in the absence of the word?  Will I be able to hold on to anger if I am not permitted to verbalize my frustration to others? Or will I just LET GO of those experiences that are exacerbated through giving them value through words?

A blind man learns to listen with heightened acuity in the absence of his sight.  A deaf woman learns to watch with keen attention in the absence of hearing.  I wonder.  How will food taste if meals are held in silence rather than hastily inhaled during a chat-fest social occasion?  At the close of the 365th day in the absence of words, will there be a heightened reverence for the words I will first utter?

I will likely choose to live a full year in silence.  Most likely, it will not be this coming year as I am releasing another GOGI book called “How To GOGI” and this book needs my strong voice so it will find it’s way into the hearts and minds of men, women, and children who wish to learn the simple tools to aid them in their efforts to make positive decisions in their lives.

I wonder if anyone in Starbucks has observed my silence. Or am I the invisible the lady in the corner occasionally looking up at the duos and trios huddled over tiny tables?  It seems to me the consumers filling the seats in the coffee shop struggle for connection, struggle to be heard, to be understood, loved and appreciated.  Could they comprehend the concept that their words are actually the very reason their goal remains out of reach?  What might happen if they all chose to be silent, a giant flash mob of silence across our country for a few minutes.  Would the window of opportunity remain open enough for them to actually feel connected in a more powerful, wordless way?

I am coming to appreciate the underutilized power found in empty space; the void.  The void is found in the absence of the spoken word.  It seems as if within the emptiness, the void, in the absence of words, there is ample space for creation to occur.  It is within the void of word that we can engage in the creation of a meaningful connection, of lasting change, of the underutilized potential of the human mind.

Oftentimes we rush to fill the void with words. That is why I wonder what may happen if filling the void with words is not an option for a full year.  I am likely to choose a year of silence in the near future.  Until then, I will begin to practice.  Maybe it is a good time to speak a little less, maybe choose my words more carefully. Maybe it is a good time for our entire nation to speak a little less and listen a little more.

WHAT IF we slowed down the pace of our commentary?  WHAT IF we didn’t rush to fill the silence with hastily chosen words?  WHAT IF we listened for a deeper communication?  Maybe, just maybe, it is within the void, in the absence of words, we find the kind of life that defies all verbal explanation.  Could it be that silence says it all?

The GOGI Way

After answering a barrage of questions at recent prison workshops, I decided to add an introduction chapter to the next GOGI book I am writing.  The contents below make up the contents of that chapter….

Getting Out by Going In (GOGI) is the name for a nonprofit, volunteer-driven group of citizens who believe that humans can, and do, make positive decisions when their desire for change is combined with positive decision making tools. But Getting Out by Going In is not just an organization. Getting Out by Going In is also something you can do; turning inward for your answers and getting out of your old prisons.

The Unlimited Power of the Human Mind

At its very core, when Getting Out by Going In (GOGI) is in action, it acknowledges and supports the unlimited power of the human mind to change, to grow, and to create opportunities as well as create obstacles. GOGI, as an organization, is dedicated and committed to teaching simple tools that help a majority of individuals to make better decisions. That is what GOGI does; helping anyone, anywhere make better decisions through use of the Twelve Tools of GOGI.

As much as GOGI is a set of twelve simple tools for positive decision making, GOGI is also a perspective and very much a way to look at your life. The GOGI Way is one which has the ability to empower you to Getting Out of old behavior by Going In for the solutions. GOGI believes that if you take your focus off the problems around you and focus you efforts to fixing the problems within you, you will magically realize there are fewer external problems. By turning your focus inward, you will also identify simple solutions to those seemingly out-of-control problems which once kept you up at night or caused worry during the day.

The GOGI Way empowers you; it creates an opportunity for you to experience freedom, regardless of where you awake each morning. The GOGI perspective is about seeing the world with the knowledge that you can always make a positive decision, even in the most negative of circumstances.

What IS The GOGI Way?

This idea of “The GOGI Way” has people confused. They question if GOGI is a “program” or a “religion” or a twelve step or a club of some sort. GOGI is none of those things. Rather, GOGI is a way of seeing the world in which you live. Just like there can be negative people who go to your church, there can be positive people who go to your church. GOGI helps negative people be more positive, irrespective of their church affiliation. Just like there can be people who succeed in programs and others who fail programs again and again, people who learn the GOGI tools seem to do a better job in their programs. Just like there can be anxious people and relaxed people, GOGI is helpful in getting people to relax.

GOGI is a way of looking at life which helps anyone be better at anything they choose to do. GOGI is similar to, and is consistent with, core human values which are at the foundation of all religions and efforts aiding in the improvement of the human condition. The simple tools taught by GOGI are intended to permit you to do your religion more fully, excel more completely in your programs, and positively unite members of your clubs or organization with a simple language to promote increased levels of positive decision making. GOGI is for anyone, anytime, anyplace, at any age.

WHAT IF The GOGI Way was taught to kids?

If taught to our school children, we are certain there would be more relaxed, positive, and productive citizens as these simple tools are the foundation of positively functioning in society. If each and every child was taught LET GO, FORGIVE, CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY, there would be less dropouts and childhood drug use. If each child was taught BOSS OF MY BRAIN, BELLY BREATHING and FIVE SECOND LIGHTSWITCH, we would have an increased number of children smiling as they sat in overcrowded classrooms. If each child was taught POSITIVE THOUGHTS, POSITIVE WORDS and POSITIVE ACTIONS we would have less bullying of our school children. If we empowered our youngsters with WHAT IF, REALITY CHECK and ULTIMATE FREEDOM, it is likely we would be turning our prisons into colleges and universities because we would be reducing our inmate population so drastically.

It is our belief at GOGI that simple tools for positive decision making are not to be withheld from anyone for any reason. All humans could have the ability to learn simple tools for positive decision making. That is what the organization Getting Out by Going In has set out to do; provide every living human being with the Twelve Tools of GOGI to increase their ability to make positive decisions. We began our work with the incarcerated men, women and children in the United States of America and we are expanding to include every man, woman and child before they create the prison which limits their life experience.

It is said that people who follow The GOGI Way seem to look happier, seem to have a glow about them and that they exude a happiness which comes from within. That is true. Happiness on the inside eventually finds its way outward. GOGI helps people be better people and the internal happiness this creates is inescapable. GOGI is not about polishing the outside, but, rather, empowering the individual to do a reconstruction project from the inside out. This internal happiness is true and right, and is not limited to a select group of individuals. You, too, can include GOGI into your daily life and being to reap the benefits of living your life The GOGI Way.

Can Something So Simple Really Work?

It’s curious to me that something as simple as a set of positive decision making tools can make such a profound difference in the lives of millions of individuals, but that is the fact. The GOGI Way is value added to your life, a way which values life and living and understands that much of your life experience is created within your mind. Through your use of the Twelve Tools of GOGI, you may find the ability to change your world, from the inside out. The best part of all of it is that The GOGI Way is just the way you need it to be to fortify you to become more than you could possibly imagine.

What’s Your Personal Prison?

As GOGI continues to expand and earn credibility as the cost-effective and replicable solution to the failure of our jails and prisons to “correct” the behavior of 2.3 million law-breaking citizens, I am being asked to expand the GOGI message beyond prison cells into the boardrooms of our Nation’s leaders.  This coming month, as the founder of Getting Out by Going In (GOGI), I will speak to hundreds of inmates one week and have the opportunity to address an equal number of tuxedo-clad men with their sequined-adorned counterparts the following.

Speaking to prisoners is easy and natural for me.  I have done it for a decade; choosing only to speak after sufficiently listening to their needs and combining their desire for information with my studies in psychology and spirituality.  As I prepare for the task of sharing the “GOGI phenomenon” with those gathered over a chef-prepared meal delivered by underpaid waiters, the question arose in my mind, what could these very different audiences possibly have in common?

The prisoners are individuals tucked away by the courts for not playing nicely on the playground of society.  The other audience has full advantage of all that society offers and can be found tucked away in trendy vacation spots, adorned with expensive clothes and jewelry as they temporarily get  away from their finely appointed hilltop homes. How could these two audiences have anything in common? And what could I possibly say which might touch the hearts and souls of both groups of individuals?

For the answer, I consider the obvious.  Prisoners are oftentimes poor, undereducated or inadequately raised. Each of these men, women and children behind bars seek their physical freedom, as if walking beyond the wall would eliminate every problem they had ever experienced.  On the other side of society are those individuals with their physical and financial freedom intact who seek a different kind of life experience, one which they believe comes through their careers, their increasing number of possessions or prescription drugs and a 5 o’clock drink.   As diametrically opposed as they may seem, both groups of individuals are laboring with the same prison, the external search for internal freedom.

In a very real way, each of us suffers from our own self-imposed prison.  I say self-imposed because how we respond to life’s inevitable unfairness, inequity and misfortune is the determining factor in our level of personal imprisonment.  And it is through my work with tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals over the past decade, I have come to realize that prison is very much a state of mind, rather than a place, a situation, or a condition imposed upon us by any person other than ourselves.  What’s more, the personal prisons created by physically free individuals are oftentimes as debilitating as those created by someone behind bars.

The Twelve Tools of GOGI were created over the period of a decade through listening to the incarcerated; listening to their life experiences, their excuses, their reasons and eventually their resolutions to create something better for themselves and their families.  Through many pat-downs and countless trips behind the heavy prison doors, the Twelve Tools of GOGI were developed by me and the inmates to aid any individual willing to explore a new kind of freedom; GOGI’s path toward internal freedom.

The Twelve Tools of GOGI are: LET GO, FORGIVE, CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY, BOSS OF MY BRAIN, BELLY BREATHING, FIVE SECOND LIGHTSWITCH, POSITIVE THOUGHTS, POSITIVE WORDS, POSITIVE ACTIONS, WHAT IF, REALITY CHECK and ULTIMATE FREEDOM. It is through the application of these inmate-developed tools that I have personally witnessed the lasting transformation in the lives of individuals who had given up all hope of living a “normal” life.  The freedom now experienced by Teri, a GOGI Graduate and certified GOGI Coach who once lived under a freeway in a drug-induced stupor, far exceeds the illusion of freedom of some of my most financially successful private practice clients.

As I prepare to be heard by the tuxedo-filled rooms of our Nation, I realize the message I offer to the elegantly-dressed is the same message I offer individuals wearing State-issued blues.  We all seek a freedom which is only found within.  What we wear, what we drive and where we wake up each morning is insignificant if we do not have the ability to turn within to realize our freedom.

As GOGI continues to prove that even the most difficult changes are possible, it is my prayer that this positive culture, this organic self-help virus called GOGI can spread out beyond the cells of our prisons into our Nation’s board rooms as well as our children’s classrooms, creating the possibility of internal freedom in the lives of all men, women and children… incarcerated or not.

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