What if all the questions we ask – all the things we say and do in coaching – are a superficial dance, the impact of which is minute at best?
What if the conversation we think we are having is just ripples on an ocean? What if beneath the surface of our awareness is happening a giant mixing of waters and an interplay of countless beings?
I have always loved the ocean. I remember leaning over the side of my father’s boat and staring down at the water for hours. The focus of my eyes would pull in to my wobbling reflection and then back out through the surface. I would breathe softly and keep my eyes still, looking as far as I could for what was underneath.
When I take clients on coaching intensive day hikes, along the cliffs on the South Downs in England, there is inevitably a moment when we stumble through a crack in our conversation to a place of surprising truth. Our gait slows, we stop and they look out beyond the edge of the cliff to the horizon at the end of the sea. The surface of our thinking, like the surface of the English Channel, is quiet and turning, capped with white water. Beneath, there are many happenings – happenings that will change the surface forever.
Doing the Work
The idea that what I ‘do’ transforms people is very seductive. I like to think that through my clever questions, perspectives and articulation, like a wizard, I cast spells of positive change. This is what appears to happen, and since I often identify with what I do, it feels good too. However, the longer I am involved in this work, and the more I experience the impact of myself on others and others on me, the less convinced I am that what we say or do has much relevance.
First of all, when I speak of transformation in coaching, I am typically not speaking about changing behaviors or habits. I am also usually not speaking about developing new ways of thinking. (Although I do consider the evolution of cognitive complexity another kind of worthwhile growth.) The transformation I am typically speaking of is the removal of fear so that one can live more fully from a place of love and creation.
As we know, fear hides mostly in our unconscious. Indeed, we can do ‘deep coaching’ to explore our shadows one-by-one, bringing the unknown to light and discovering there is nothing to fear. Through philosophical inquiry, we can come to discover all beliefs, and even our identity, are illusory, thus setting ourselves free from the incessant wrangling of our thoughts. These kinds of ‘work’ take patience and persistence, but through them we can individuate ourselves and become fearless.
What I want to discuss here though is an even more accessible path to fearlessness. One that, as coaches, we are well poised to provide.
Closing the Gap
“There is a gap between ‘who you BE’ and ‘who you ARE’.”
When I speak the above words, even without defining the concepts, people inevitably nod in agreement.
Is ‘who we BE’ our habits and routines? Or is it our identity or conscious sense of self? Is ‘who we ARE’ the totality of our unindividuated consciousness and unconscious? Or are we the greater whole from which our individual awareness emerges?
I don’t know. And I don’t think it matters.
What matters is that people experience there to be gap between who they BE and who they ARE.
What people also experience to be true is that the larger this gap, the more fear they feel and the smaller the gap, the more love and fulfillment they experience.
The focus of my work as a coach then, is helping people to close the gap between who they BE and who they really ARE.
Human Beings are Dialogical
In his book ‘The Ethics of Authenticity’, philosopher Charles Taylor explains that human-beings are ‘dialogical’, meaning that who we are (or in our language, ‘who we BE’) is the result of an ongoing dialogue between ourselves and the world. In other words, each and every human-BEing is a dynamic focal point of consciousness that is continually co-created along with the thousands of other focal points of consciousness it comes into contact with. Who we BE is continuously evolving and subject to everyone and everything in the world.
If this is the case, then another path to fearlessness is by coming into contact with fearless people. Through being in dialogue with people who have a smaller gap between who they BE and who they ARE, your gap becomes smaller.
Being the Path
In my experience, the quickest and most effective path to fearlessness, is to simply ‘be’ with someone who is more free, fearless and loving than I am.
The most powerful experience I have had of this in the coaching context was in spending time with The Ultimate Coach, Steve Hardison. (In fact, shortly after being with him, I wrote about the experience on my blog.)
Looking back a year and a half to my time with Steve, I can say that simply ‘being’ with him changed me. Before we met I had some fears around money. Since that time, I no longer have those fears. Sure, there were things he said that I took with me, but I do not believe his words were the thing. His words were alive with being when they left him. His being is what changed me.
“Wands are only as powerful as the Wizards who use them.” – Hermione Granger, Deathly Hallows
In the same way, after spending three years in close dialogue with my coach Rich Litvin, his certainty around the power and impact of coaching and his commitment to serving people bled into me. Yes, he mentored me and coached me and this had significant impact, but I actually believe the greatest impact Rich had on me was through his being-ness bleeding into mine.
This concept of ‘being’ with fearless people as the path to self-liberation is what I believe Marianne Williamson was referring to when she famously wrote:
“As we are liberated by our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
In fact, I often attend Marianne’s Monday night lectures in Los Angeles, not because I want to hear what she has to say, but because while being in her presence, there is an unconscious mixing of her being into mine. I don’t take notes. I don’t even think very much about what she has to say. I just sit there and soak her being in, enjoying the bliss of wholeness as the gap closes. Over the days that follow, especially in working with my own clients, I can feel the difference in how I be with them.
In The Psychology of the Transference, Carl Jung uses the symbol of marriage to show that the force which drives individuation is the tension between unconscious opposites.
Although he speaks primarily of individuating an individual’s unconscious shadow into conscious light, I believe there is also a deeper, more mystical message. In his writing on ‘alchemy’ and the ‘marriage quaternion’, I am reminded of how any two physical systems joined together will find a natural state of equilibrium. Likewise, I believe Jung suggests that the unconsciousness of two human beings, when joined and held in close relationship, will also reach a kind of equilibrium.
As I near my forties, still transcending a life of literalism, I am finding much wisdom and inspiration in myth and religious texts. This same message can be read in Christ’s words:
“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12
In its psycho-spiritual take on Christianity, the book ‘A Course in Miracles’ delivers the message even more directly and simply:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is entered two by two.” – A Course in Miracles
Don’t Walk Your Talk
I’ve heard it said, for two different reasons, that coaches should ‘walk their talk’. I disagree and for both reasons.
1. “You should ‘walk your talk’ because doing so justifies your ask of your client. ‘How can I ask you to do X if I’m not even doing it myself?'”
2. “You should ‘walk your talk’ to ‘set an example’ for your clients.”
What I do believe is that, as a coach, you should ‘talk your walk’.
By ‘talk your walk’, I mean speak what is most true for you. When you are speaking what is most true for you, you are closing the gap between who you BE and who you ARE. By closing this gap, who you BE is fearless and loving.
Be the Source
When you BE fearless and loving, through an unconscious mixing, you are being what will most serve your clients.
This is said most simply in the immortal phrase:
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi did not mean for you to be first to change so that you could then justify asking it of others. He did not mean be the change to set an example for others. Gandhi said ‘be the change’ because he recognized that your BEING is the actual source of the transformation of the world. He got that human beings are ‘dialogical’ – that who we are is part of an undivided whole.
Transforming Gandhi’s words slightly, we can create a clear and simple message for powerful coaching:
“Be the change that you wish to see in your client.”
Be the source of transformation for your client.
Be the fearlessness you wish for your client.
Be the love you wish for your client.
None of this belittles the work we do on the surface. Being the change doesn’t mean we don’t need to ask powerful questions and help our clients to create powerful insights.
I very much believe we should continue this dance and that we should endeavor to dance as beautifully as we can. The dance, after all, is what brings people to the music. In our dancing though, let us remember that the dance is not the thing. The thing is below the surface, under the white water, where the mixing of who we be occurs.
The Call to Greatness
When I realize that my greatest impact on my clients (and on all people for that matter) is not what I say or do, but who I BE, I am immediately called to greatness. When I consider myself to be the source of my client’s growth, I am inspired with a sense of duty and responsibility that drives me to close the gap between who I BE and who I AM.
When I acknowledge myself as a life-giving well, I begin hearing the call to greatness in all aspects of my life. The experience reminds me of when I was a little kid and still believed in a Catholic God and Santa Claus. Even when I was alone with some paper and a book of matches, I knew they were watching me.
The sense of omniscience is the same today, but instead of it coming from an all-powerful being who judges me, the omniscience is a reminder that I am part of a greater whole. Instead of experiencing fear, I experience the capacity to create and to serve.
In following this call, my work takes on a deeply spiritual meaning. Even when I’m alone, outside the sight and earshot of everyone, I am being in service to the greater whole.
When I meditate, it is for All.
When I eat, it is for All.
When I say or do anything, it is for All.
Being the source of transformation is as much a gift to receive as it is to give.
Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself
-What makes up the gap between who I Be and who I Am? Where am I NOT being who I am?
-Where might my ‘being’ be positively impacting my clients?
-Where might my ‘being’ be negatively impacting my clients?
-What do I know is true about who I’m being that is probably impacting my clients negatively, but don’t want to admit?
-If I were to ‘be the change’ I wished to see in client X, who would I need to be? Where, in all aspects of, my life would I need to be this?
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