I knew he was quite shy so I smiled at him, and asked him how he was. Loud enough, so that he would know that I was asking him – and not the other guy on my left. I turned my body towards him to indicate that I was here to talk with him, that I had time for him. He quickly looked at me sideways and smiled faintly and immediately proceeded to tell me that he had said a little prayer for me the week previously, for my family and for my friends. He’d remembered from my last visit that I had just been to Paris and that I was French… I looked stunned at him. I knew he was speaking the truth. I believed him. This young man had prayed for my world when he hardly knew me. And I hardly knew him. I had noticed how he had been sitting on the periphery of the chats I had had with the guys during my last couple of prison visits. He had never really engaged in conversation with us. This time, though, I had noticed how he had willingly taken the seat on my right.
So I thanked him, for his prayer. I told him that – as far as I knew – no one I loved and knew had been directly affected by the tragedy that had enfolded so violently in Paris, only a week after my visit there. Then, we chatted. I learnt later, on my way out of the prison, that he rarely talked and that he had attempted to end his life several weeks previously. When I heard this, I only felt gladness and gratitude for having had the opportunity to talk with him, to share that moment with him. I hugged him in my mind. It was my turn to pray for him, for his well being, for his peace of mind, for time to be lighter. I was out of the prison, he wasn’t. He still had to do more time there.
And his story is nothing special or unusual. After many years of sexual abuse as a child, drugs had flooded his world and taken him straight into prison. He was still a teenager. I don’t know what he did to spend the last twenty years of his life in prison. I don’t need to know. What I know is that he has paid for it all in time.
We talked about art, and history. And how much he would like to find a job – one day, when he has done his time – where he would be in contact with nature. He told me about the sights from the first floor of the prison wing he was currently in. The beautiful landscapes ahead. The misty mornings. The rising suns.
I told him about the moon I watched rising into the darkness of the sky all the way on the motorway that evening. It was a full moon that day. And it was very beautiful. That’s when he said that he often wondered who else famous before him, across eras and centuries, had looked at that very same moon. I looked at him in awe and thanked him for the insight. I had never thought of the moon in this way. That the moon was one thing that we had not really been able to control and damage yet. That it was now, as it was seen by Buddha, Nefertiti, St Francis, George Fox, Hermann Hesse, John O’ Donoghue and all other past heroes of mine. I was very much looking at the same moon as them – well, ok, with the abstraction of the remnants of that flag and set of footprints left on it of course. Yes. There was no time, when I, when we all looked at the moon.
And that’s when he said that the last five years in prison had gone past really fast.
I looked at him without saying anything. I was stuck with the thought that it had actually been quite the opposite for me.
The last five years have been really slow, challenging, painful, healing, mesmerising and blissful. And never quite in that order. I feel I can remember every moment of them. The very good moments and the very difficult moments. Equally. I stopped wearing a watch about five years ago. I didn’t need to know about time.
And it’s been four years to this time this year that I went all the way to Boston – Cape Cod to be more exact – to attend the residential foundation course in Theory U with Otto Scharmer and his crew. I had done their online course three years prior to that and had been on the waiting list for two years… I was ecstatic, when I realised my turn had finally come.
For whatever reason – and I am working through it, as I write this – my experience of the course and of my time there has suddenly come alive again in my mind over the last couple of weeks, through different visuals, feelings and memories. This was a very mind-opening course for me, in more ways than words can really share. One of those transformational moments, when your life tips out of time, when you know nothing will ever be the same again, after such moment.
Generative dialogue had become a passion, even an obsession. And being immersed with more than one hundred delegates from many different countries in the world, willing to take on the challenge of sharing from the heart – and to transcend the usual fear triggered by such prospect – and of listening to others – without judgement and cynicism – was well, enchanting. I spent five days there opening my mind, heart and will and learning to accept that this process was tipping me into the unknown. And time neither matters nor counts, when you don’t know, when you accept and surrender to whatever is and whatever is emerging.
On one of our early dialogue walks on the beach, I came across the sight pictured below. Someone walking ahead of us had decided to go “naked”. They’d left their shoes, their words and their drink behind. They didn’t want to think or recollect, or carry anything. Only walk on the sand with bare feet. I could feel the touch of the sand under my own feet, when I saw the footprints they had left behind. The picture epitomised freedom to me in that moment. Stepping out of one’s shoes, stepping out of one’s life, stepping out of one’s – often invisible – prison.
I smiled with envy then. And I kindly smile now. It’s not so easy to step out of one’s established choices, plans and routines. Especially when there is the likelihood of pain involved. And maybe, sometimes it’s easier to stay in one’s prison. Even at the risk of losing hope and dying prematurely there.
How much time do you think you have?