Recently, I had the incredible privilege of doing something that, before this year, I would have been completely uncomfortable and quite possibly terrified to do. That was before I created a statement of truth that I repeat to myself anytime I'm presented with a new opportunity that brings up some fears: "There's nothing that I can't do and there's no problem that I can't solve." - and this particular experience included going into a prison and doing some life coaching with inmates.
One after one, both men and women (some that were as young as in their early-twenties) sat down in the chair in front of me. When they asked what exactly it is that I do, I replied, "I love helping people improve the quality of their lives." Most of the time I was met with intrigue, interest, a shy smile before receiving a common response, "well you came to the right place, we all have a lot of issues here". One woman stood up immediately and quickly walked away from me, before shyly returning to the chair with some questions.
One of the things I love most about the work that I do is hearing people talk about their story, letting their guard down, opening up, giving themselves permission to be vulnerable and sharing their interests, passions and what makes them feel most alive, and in turn, helping them start to take positive action towards achieving those things.
Like everyone else, every single one of the inmates had things in their life that excited them or made them feel alive. Often times it was spending time with their children, playing sports with their friends, being with loved ones, spending time in nature and helping people. They grew emotional when speaking about spending the holidays away from their loved ones, evident that they were filled with feelings of sadness, longing and regret. They made a small error in judgment (as everyone else in the world does), and unfortunately found themselves locked away from the people and things in life that they loved the most.
All of them, except one.
I felt this particular inmate's presence in the room before he even sat down in the chair across from me. It was a darkness that I couldn't describe. His cheeks were sunken in, his frame was slender and his eyes bore the dark, hollow frames of sleepless nights. His ash-brown hair was wild and unkempt, and the moment he sat in the chair across from me I knew his story wouldn't be like the others. What caught me off guard the most, however, was the fact that he bore a striking resemblance to the photos I had seen of Charles Manson.
He made one brief attempt at making direct eye-contact with me, before his lost, maniacal gaze soon shifted to his surroundings in the room, taking everything in quicker than I could process and leaving me incredibly curious as to what was going on behind those dark, mysterious and intriguing eyes.
At the particular moment that he joined me, I was just in the midst of taking a few moments for myself. Refuelling and recharging if you will. I was rubbing my temples and the back of my neck with some peppermint essential oils and before I stopped to consider what I was saying (and prior to diving into a conversation I was very intrigued to begin), I asked, "Can I interest you in some essential oils? I don't know much about them but I think this one is supposed to calm you."
He replied immediately, without pause and without making direct eye-contact, his maniacal gaze constantly shifting from the walls, to the ceiling, to the floor, rarely pausing for longer the a second, as if he was desperate to be aware of his surroundings at all times.
"I don't mean this to offend you," his gaze never meeting mine - "but I don't want to know about your essential oils, I don't really want to know about you, and I don't want you to know anything about me." Unlike the others, there was zero emotion in his voice as he continued, "I'm sure you're very nice and all, and quite good at your job, but I don't really allow people to get to know me. I have a hard time opening up and letting people in. I have no desire to know your story, and I'm not particularly good at sharing mine with other people. To be honest, it's probably best if you don't waste your time."
Most people would likely stop at this point, listen to the signs, take notice of the darkness or toxic cloud of energy surrounding this fascinating human being and walk away, putting as much distance in between them as possible.
I'm not like most people.
What drove me to do the work that I do is that I have a deep desire to understand what makes people suffer, and an even deeper desire to discover ways to help them. I know from personal experience that we all have dark sides to us, a part of us driven by greed, selfishness, fear, anger, hatred, jealousy and inadequacy. When we operate from these negative emotions, we are operating from a space that is incongruent with our beliefs, our values and our conscious. And ultimately, this form of "self-betrayal" results in the lack of confidence and self-worth that billions of people in the world are suffering from.
So I found myself feeling compassion for the man sitting across from me. A man who made a decision perhaps based out of fear, perhaps based on actions that he modelled from the people around him - doing the best with the hand with which he was dealt, or perhaps even deeper, based from an apparent lack of remorse. It didn't matter and it wasn't my place to judge. But I have an inherent curiosity to learn more about why people suffer and how to help them, regardless of their story. So I pressed on.
I began to ask more questions and, though he did a really great job of avoiding most of them, I started to chip away at the facade he attempted to create. I learned more about him, about his kids, what he does for fun. Though I don't know know his full story, I do know that similar to my new acquaintance, we all have a little Charles Manson inside of us. Not in the serial-killing, zero-remorse kind of way, but in the sense that we all have a darkness inside of us that threatens to come to the surface, tempting us to make decisions and live from that place of fear, greed, selfishness, doubt or inadequacy. What I've learned working with my clients is that every single one of us has moments of weakness, regret, shame and guilt, moments that are incongruent and out of alignment with the compassionate, kind and loving person that we are at our core. And it's my job to help those people reconnect with their humanity, with the person that they truly are and are meant to be so they can develop the confidence to build move forward in a lasting and positive direction.
For those that know me well, know that I am a bit of a Harry Potter fanatic. So I'm going to share a quote that's always stuck with me from one of the Harry Potter books:
"We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are."
We all have both light and dark inside of us. But the mistakes, the moments of regret, the experiences that cause you to carry shame, guilt or remorse does not define you. However, unless you give yourself permission to release it, those past experiences will follow you around like a cloud of darkness that - at a subconscious level - will cause you to feel like you aren't worthy or deserving of the life you want or truly deserve. They can cause you to press pause on your dreams, prevent you from pursuing your goals, your big picture, traveling the world, writing a book, starting your own business, developing deeper and more meaningful connections and relationships or giving yourself permission to work on that exciting new project that's been burning in the back of your mind.
So with the new year upon us, give yourself permission to release those painful, regretful, shameful, guilt-ridden or embarrassing experiences. Your identity is not defined by those past decisions or circumstances - we all have a choice to start fresh, move forward and use each day to get us closer to the life we want and the person we want to be.