I will NEVER forget the power of this and I STILL, so many years later, ponder why it worked! This is me and the then Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill, presenting a hugely transformational & successful photography project I ran with a group of women some years ago, some of whom had traumatic life stories & some of whom struggled with drugs, alcohol, and crime.
Initially intended as a creative add-on to a 1-week personal development wilderness journey run by a Scottish Charity, it grew into a 9-month project that was so hugely transformational and moving -and thus impressive- that an event was specifically hosted at the Scottish Parliament where it was presented to a select audience of MPs, journalists & criminal justice professionals.
This event impacted the debate about women's needs within the criminal justice system.
This was YEARS before I had any formal qualifications as a coach.
Why am I sharing this today? Because back then I touched on something that is still at the very heart of the work I do as a coach today.
Here's what today I know made this project so powerful:
1. THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY Blissfully ignorant of any health & safety regulations and professional standards, I did stuff like swim in the sea & rivers with the women and shared my private phone number & home address with them. Today I know that it was exactly the fact that I did NOT put up ANY GUARDS and did not presuppose any risks, that allowed us to build trust and connect on a deep level.
2. THE POWER OF TRUST Each woman was given a high-quality camera worth £500 to document their life & development. This gesture of trust set the tone and CREATED trust that was the foundation for deep inner work.
3. THE POWER OF PRESUPPOSING WHOLENESS I believe that within each human being is a core that is WHOLE, that -no matter what happens to us- cannot be damaged; nothing can be added or taken away & it does NOT need fixing. When we presuppose & focus on uncovering THIS, we WILL get back to it & when we do, our lives change. Labels such as 'addicts' or 'offenders' did not enter my mind. Instead, I focused on filtering for this core & mirrored this back to them. This helped to change their self-beliefs which in turn enabled them to make positive life choices.
4. THE POWER OF EQUALITY Beyond our vastly different life experiences and backgrounds as women we touched deep common ground. I experienced on a visceral level how that which unites us is always far more essential than the superficial stuff that appears to divide us.
4. THE POWER OF NOT-KNOWING We did not set out to end up in Parliament. The political success of this project was a by-product and expression of the quality of the relationships we built and the inner work the women did.
Any attempts to replicate it and roll it out nationwide were going to be futile as it was the completely UNPLANNED & WILD NATURE & SPIRIT of this project that birthed its raw power. True transformation is like this: unpredictable, fresh, wild, unique and emergent from within.
5. THE POWER OF LOVE One of the women afterward commented: "THEY LOVED US" - and she meant it in the LITERAL sense of the word.
Whereas the criminal justice system meets people with harsh judgment and treats people as damaged, here the women were seen as whole and met with LOVE. LOVE is the essence that CHANGES EVERYTHING.
I did not know back then just how deep an imprint this project would leave not only in their lives but also in mine.
Precious memories that I will never forget and that still inform my work today!