On being coached: assumptions, presence and the new way

I was coached for 40 minutes this morning by Leigh Johnson as part of her evaluation in the Integral Coaching Centre’s Diploma in Practitioner Coaching. My own evaluation will happen in May, so this was a great opportunity to view the process from the inside.

My topic for coaching was rife with negative emotions: anger, envy and, because I judge myself for having those emotions, shame too – all complicated by my intellect, which creates watertight storylines and is fascinated by its own logic. So, it was juicy! And it was an excellent session. In only 40 minutes, Leigh’s attention and questioning facilitated at least two significant shifts in the way I relate to those feelings and what they’re about.

I seem to be being forced – by myself! – to encounter viscerally the experience of the transformations I offer to others. Today I felt the tightness and urgency of the "No!" to relaxing and my resistance to being compassionate to myself. Humbling, because relaxation and compassion are stances I strongly believe in and routinely facilitate with clients.

Unconscious assumptions

It turns out I've unconsciously assumed that relaxing means I’ll fail. And I'm scared of failing. But it's absolutely necessary to relax, for two reasons: achievement is worth nothing if I can't relax to enjoy it, and without relaxation the constant effort to achieve becomes unsustainable. For me, the practice is to live into a balance of focused, strategic, results-oriented striving with spacious, light-hearted, open-ended relaxation.

And, perhaps counter-intuitively, it’s harder to relax than to strive, because of my fear of what might result from relaxing. But in the interests of my long-term sustainability, I decided to make this a weekly check-in: How's that balance? And which way is my bias leaning? It’s a simple awareness practice, but it lets me significantly improve how I operate. Without this coaching session, I doubt those false assumptions would have been recognised or that awareness practice devised. I’d still be in the grip of that mistaken fear.

Right now, what is lacking?

Afterwards I was asked how, had I been coaching myself, I might have pushed myself a little. What would I have asked myself?

I said I would have asked me, "Right now, what is lacking?" And the answer is “Nothing”, of course. That brought home to me the profound ability of cutting-through to the present moment (which I do a lot, as a coach) to ground us.

It also demonstrates at least two other things: firstly, that we're already on to ourselves – part of us sees through our own convincing storyline and knows what we need; and secondly, how dense and opaque that storyline is to the one who is trapped and struggling in it.

Presence and the new way

The key word there being “struggling”. The storyline is dense to the degree you struggle with it, spacious to the extent you relax with it.

Dropping the storyline and resting in the present does not solve your problem, because your problem does not exist in the present. Technically, nothing does. What it does ease are the feelings of stuckness, urgency and charge, the feeling that your problem is a big deal.

It brings space, a gap – and it's in the gaps between the opaque planes of our problem's logic that we can see what lies beyond: our new way.