Monday, April 27, 2009

On Self-Compromise

Recently, I have been confronted with quite a few cases of people creating or remaining in comfortable relationships that they are not so crazy about. I hear a lot of, “oh, he really isn’t a jerk”, “he is nice to my kids”, “she is fun to be with”, “neither of us is ready for a commitment”, “I am being realistic, this is as good as anyone has it”, etc. And what is lingering on in the air is this giant BUT… with a huge pause after. Upon further investigation, I find that they are in a comfortable relationship, but that they had hoped for more. It is also a step above their track record, in other words, this relationship is better than the last one they were in. So it feels safe. At this point in the conversation, the energy feels like a wet blanket stifling the people under it.

I have to ask, since when did we get so comfortable with mediocrity? When did we say, that this is good enough? When did we give up on what makes us truly happy? When did so called “reality” take a big bite out of our heart-centered hopes? What are we so afraid of losing? Or should I ask, what are we so afraid of gaining?

Perhaps, it happened one day when the one we thought was the “one”, let us down, when the relationship that we had wanted so badly to work out, did not. Perhaps, it happened when we started doubting ourselves and thinking, maybe it is me. Maybe I want too much. Maybe I should compromise. Perhaps,it happened when we believed that the “right” person does not exist, it is just a fantasy. Perhaps, it happened when we looked at the date on the calendar and realized that we are not 22 anymore and if we keep on saying no to whomever is at the door, the doorbell may not ring again. Perhaps, it happened when we looked at those around us in similar situations being alone and unloved. Perhaps, it happened when we panicked at the thought of dying all alone with no one to love us by our side. Or perhaps, it happened when we listened to and believed those negative voices that tell us we are unlovable and we just have to deal with that.

Once again love, not having it, not recognizing it, and anything related to it has determined the course of our lives. When a coaching client comes to this point in their session, they are usually ready to acknowledge what exactly it is that they do want in a relationship. However, the challenge is: 1) communicating that need or desire to the other person; and 2) Being at peace with the consequence of the communication. Communicating our needs and allowing our partner to see us vulnerable and exposed is not comfortable. Finding the courage and the language to speak of our true desires without blame and expectation is also not easy. Add to that the possibility that you might lose your partner for good if he or she cannot give you what you want, or does not want to, makes the task even more daunting. On the bright side, when you do manage to speak your truth without blame, you are free and not compromised. You are more of yourself, you are more of the person that attracted your partner to you to begin with. This is what we cannot see when we are afraid of speaking our truth, and yet, without it, everything is muddled, unclear, and untrue.

When you make that shift, loving yourself and your partner unconditionally (allowing him or her to react any way they choose to), and communicating from that place, miracles happen. One of the greatest miracles is that you are no longer afraid of showing up in the world being yourself and you will attract the same kind of people in your life. Isn’t that the reason we get into relationships? Aren’t we always attracted to people who are comfortable in their own skin and yet we wonder why they are not attracted to us? Don’t we want to share ourselves and grow together? This can only happen when we stop settling for less than what we want, or when we start getting comfortable in our own skin. The only risk involved is losing someone who cannot or does not want to be with the real you. You alone can decide if that is the risk you are willing to take.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Manifesting Compassion in Coaching

One of the core coaching competencies as defined by the ICF (International Coach Federation) is “coaching presence”. The way I assess myself as a coach for that competency is the degree of compassion I am able to have and demonstrate to the client. My definition of compassion has also changed over the years. According to Wikipedia, “compassion is a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering.” I have learned to place my vigor not in alleviating another’s suffering, but in understanding and facilitating the client’s understanding of their suffering. Once they recognize that they are suffering and that they are choosing to suffer, it is up to them to not experience it anymore. I’d like to share the path that has brought me to this place because I believe this is one of my greatest gifts as a coach.

I used to think that compassion is what most people naturally have and if you don’t, then you must be insensitive. That was back in my judgmental days. These days, I’ve tried to better understand what makes me compassionate, when am I compassionate and when am I not, because I have learned that there are degrees of compassion and we can easily fall out of compassion if we are not careful as coaches. When I step back and look at the grand picture, I realize that the road to compassion is paved with what I refer to as: heart-centered curiosity.

Wikipedia again states that, “strong curiosity is the main motivation of many scientists. In fact, in its development as wonder or admiration, it is generally curiosity that makes a human being want to become an expert in a field of knowledge.” So, in the case of coaching if we can stay in the curious mood, we are in wonder, admiration and satisfying our desire to know. Satisfying a desire to know can bring us satisfaction in attaining some knowledge, which is what curiosity is about. I’d like to take this a step further, which is why I refer to it as heart-centered curiosity. What if our premise of this desire to understand was not just for seeking knowledge, but also to feel what it is all about. So in the case of coaching: I am curious to understand what the client is feeling and I do this by feeling my way to the place where the client is. It is as if we are going beyond the intellect into an intimate place with the client. This willingness to go there and our ability to demonstrate that we are there, is the case for the power of coaching through creating safe space. No matter what the client is experiencing, when they know that you are there with them, without your own agenda or judgment, you are there only because they are there, is when miracles take place.

Heart-centered curiosity is when you need to understand both mentally and emotionally. In other words, you seek to understand the whole person in front of you and you can only do this, if you are employing your whole self in the process. Some call this active listening. Listening with every cell in your body, but I like to go further, it is also understanding with your whole being fully integrated. We can only achieve this level of understanding, if we are wholly present. It sounds simple, but it is not easy. There are so many distractions, worse of all being the coach’s own judgments, doubts, stories, etc. Being wholly present means that we as the listener have to be accepting of ourselves and where we are on our own journey.

This is precisely why I choose to be a coach. Coaching provides me the opportunity to be kind, patient, accepting and loving towards myself. If I am not kind, patient, accepting, and loving towards myself, I cannot be a highly effective coach. Highly effective coaches are compassionate towards their clients through every turn of the road. They are not busy trying to fix the client or come up with solutions, they are merely holding the space and joining the client on their journey. True compassion, an ingredient necessary for effective “coaching presence” comes from heart-centered curiosity and being present every step of the way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Easter Story In Our Lives

As I sat through our Easter Sunday sermon yesterday and I heard the Easter story once again, I imagined myself in the story and realized how amazing it must have been for the disciples and Mary Magdalene when they found the tomb empty. The juxtaposition of the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross against the disbelief of it all, when he vanished from his tomb caught my attention. I remembered times in my own life when I suffered for something or other, and the suffering seemed outrageous only to be followed by what I can only describe as a “nothingness”. In fact, the nothingness was so vast that it erased the memory of the suffering to the point where I really don’t remember why I was in such agony anymore. And this memory loss isn’t just due to the fact that it happened a long time ago. To me the greatest part of the Easter story is that the horrific cruelty and injustice was followed by something that defies the crucifixion and its reality. The beaten down and torn apart body that seemed so real, is no more. It is not healed, it just isn’t. His “death” gives Christianity its life. The Easter story questions the existence of death. That’s pretty fantastic!

Going back to my own experiences of suffering or memories of them, they seem pretty unreal. In fact, the only real elaborate memories I have, are of times of intense and unadulterated joy. Why is that? It’s like the saying, “you only remember the good”. Is it denial of the bad? Is it a survivor’s mindset, to only remember the good? I’d like to think along the lines of the Easter story, the bad and the ugly are just not real.

But what about when you are actually going through the “suffering”, can you deny it as it is happening? Is that what Jesus did on the cross? Is that something we can do? I gave it a try. This morning was a rough morning and I was feeling physically run down and emotionally drained. As I went for my morning walk, I asked myself and questioned the reality of my negative emotions. I literally asked myself if this is real? The moment I asked myself that question, I realized that it truly wasn’t. I ended up content and forgot why I was unhappy to begin with. Now I know that this is a small example, but it was as the Course In Miracles says, darkness disappeared as soon as I turned on the light. The moment I knew that the light needed to be turned on, I was questioning the validity of the darkness. It had in fact disappeared before the light was turned on. So, I will try it for bigger things and see if I practice seeing the illusion for what it is, will it disappear?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Living In Expanding Circles

How do you go through your day? How do you go through the parts that are not particularly exciting or fun? We all have to get certain things done, and sometimes these chores are not too pleasant. Sometimes, when we really don’t want to do them, we become resentful, negative and even start blaming others for the drudgery that we think we have to go through, e.g., “if everyone was more cooperative and helped out, the house wouldn’t get so messy”. Yet our lives are probably mostly (time wise) made up of all of these things that need to get done. So how can we make it through the day without frustration and negativity?

I decided to take a seemingly insignificant scenario and go through the potential negative possibilities of dealing with it. Let’s pick my kitchen floor that has gotten so dirty from running in and out of the kitchen with our new puppy to go outside in the rain, etc.

Step 1: Identification
I am not happy with the way the kitchen is a mess all the time and never stays clean.
Step 2: Evaluate and Label
The kitchen is dirty.
Step 3: Judgment
I am a slob and I am not a good dog owner.
Step 4: Condemn
I’ll never be able to have a clean house, might as well get used to it. My life, the way it was is over.

In this process, the steps follow each other rather quickly and once you get to step 4, you can’t get out. It is all very logical and methodical.

Now let’s play out this scenario with a different set of steps:
Step 1: Observe
I am not happy, why is that?
Step 2: Notice
I am unhappy because my kitchen floors are always dirty these days.
Step 3: Allow
Wow, this is really bothering me. I wonder if it is because we are having a party this weekend, or am I judging myself, or am I worried the dog will never be house trained, etc. I’ll sit with this for a little bit. It feels really sucky. Do I need to do something, or do I wait?
Step 4: Choose
I’ll clean my kitchen floors.

What is different in the second process, is the amount of time spent in step 3 or in allowing. You might hit some judgments there, but since you’re allowing them to hang out, you don’t have to do anything or stay in that space for too long. Just the word, allow, itself is liberating as opposed to judgment which is restricting. In the second process, judge if you must, but then observe yourself after you’ve judged yourself. Does it feel good? How could or would you feel good? Once you recognize judgment for what it is, it won’t stick.

Also, you can go back to step 1 and observe some more. This process is not logical, it is free and there are no rules. When we allow ourselves to feel and be whatever we are feeling at the moment, it won’t stick. When we judge unconsciously, condemnation is the next logical step. Once you forget what you were just doing (judging yourself), you’ve fallen in its trap. The trick here is to stay awake and aware the whole time. And believe me, I know it is hard when you have 25,000 things to do in one day.

So here are your choices of processing in any situation: identify, evaluate and label, judge, and condemn. This is what I call “living in small and restrictive boxes”. Or: Observe, notice, allow and choose. The second process, what I call “living in expanding circles” is flowing, open, and empowering. Notice what process you are using with yourself in your life, with others, what are others doing and what might they, or you do, to make life more liberating and expanding?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Obama: The World’s Coach

As coaches we have all at one point or another, found it challenging to explain what it is that we do to people who do not know about coaching. Some, who know Tony Robbins, the famous self-help writer and motivational speaker, think coaching is about motivating others. Some, who are familiar with psychology, think that we are therapists. Some, in the business world, think of corporate coaches as business consultants, and some who work with life coaches on a deep, personal level think of us as ministers. I was so excited to hear and watch both President and Mrs. Obama in Europe during the G20 Summit. When the president was addressing a question in Strasbourg, France, he was part Tony Robbins, part Mahatma Gandhi, part Mother Theresa and part Clark Gable in “Gone With The Wind”. What was astounding was the reaction of the audience. People were loving every second of it. It occurred to me that he is indeed the world’s coach. Hearing Mrs. Obama addressing school children in London, I saw the same transformation in her and her audience. They both have what we in the coaching world call, a coaching presence.

They both speak and act as if they know that they are global role models. They do not come off as typical politicians, because they do not seem to have a personal agenda. Their mission is to lift us all up and now they are singing that out to Europeans, who like us here in the U.S. are touched by his presence and his message. In fact, I think the effect that this president has and will have on the world might be even greater than his effect on us Americans. The world is eating his message and wants more. The world is looking for hope and significance. We all want to make a difference, relate to each other with respect, bridge our differences, and leave the world a better place for our children. This is such a different path than just wanting to make more money to buy more stuff which seemed to be the center of our existence. Finally, it is cool to care. Our consciousness is shifting and we are looking for leaders that can help show us the way. In Barack and Michelle Obama we see that getting involved, doing good, helping others, speaking up, and courage all pay off. And in some ways this is an even more important message for the rest of the world, where coming from very humble beginnings and rising to the position of president of a country is not even imaginable.

Once again though, I find myself at a loss like others who speak about Obama. What is it about him, what is it about what he says, how he shows up that make him be the way he is? How can you capture what he offers in mere words? And just as in the definition of coaching, words cannot capture the experience. I’ll try anyway: A coach allows you and gives you the permission to be who you want to be, no strings attached. A coach sees only the possibilities and none of the obstacles. A coach believes in the unlimited ability and potential of each client without any reservations. A coach has no agenda and sees only love and endless possibilities. And in every interaction with a client we are part Tony Robbins, part Mahatma Gandhi, part Mother Theresa, and part Clark Gable… I guess we’ll do and be anything and anyone in the moment, to help the client feel supported and heard, so they can be and do what they want to.