The idea that we are Whole and Free holds great potential to impact the way we experience our own lives and the lives of others. In thinking about the coaching profession, and its potential to support others in living creative and resourceful lives, we can benefit by considering the idea that freedom and wholeness are our birthrights waiting to be fully realized and put into action.
When we look at the world, or at our own lives, we often label what we see as good or bad. In doing so, we avoid parts of ourselves, endlessly trying to change to make things better. Drawing this hard line between good and bad is dualistic thinking. It pits me against you, me against parts of myself. In this article we will explore another way of looking at ourselves and the world and its implications for how we can actually affect the change we are seeking.
The first core principle of Coaching for Transformation* is Wholeness. People are whole and simultaneously moving toward a fuller experience of wholeness. The questions become: What is wholeness? How do we experience it? What about the principle of wholeness is useful?
The fifth principle of Coaching for Transformation is Freedom. People are inherently free and always have the power to choose. Here the opportunity is to explore: How do we live from that freedom? Where is our freedom when we are feeling stuck?
While science, the arts, spirituality, psychology and awareness in daily life all give us insight into these two principles, I would like to focus on a perspective from a great and realized spiritual master on these principles.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda came from India and spoke at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. It was one of the seminal moments initiating East meeting West that has had a profound impact on our lifestyles and culture over the past hundred years. I first read the writings of Swami Vivekananda when I began practicing yoga in the early 70’s, and recently had the joy of revisiting some of those speeches and writings, which introduced yoga, on a grand scale, to the United States and Europe. I particularly want to visit what he has to say on wholeness and freedom as we embark on 2011. They are clearly as relevant today as the day he uttered them.
“One curious fact in the midst of all our joys and sorrows, difficulties and struggles, is that we are surely journeying towards freedom… your actions, your very lives will be lost without it. Every moment nature is proving us to be slaves and not free. Yet simultaneously arises the other idea, that still we are free. At every step we are knocked down, as it were, by maya** and shown that we are bound; yet at the same moment, together with this feeling that we are bound, comes the other feeling that we are free. Some inner voice tells us that we are free.
…in some form or other, that voice calling for freedom has been with us. Yes, we are born here on account of that voice; every one of our movements is towards that end. We are all rushing towards freedom, we are all following that voice, whether we know it or not.
…All human life, all nature, therefore, is struggling to attain freedom. The sun is moving towards the goal; so is the earth in circling round the sun; so is the moon in circling around the earth. To that goal the planets are moving and the air is blowing. Everything is struggling towards that. The saint is going towards that voice…so is the sinner. The charitable man is going straight towards that voice and cannot be hindered. The miser is also going towards the same destination. The greatest worker of good hears the same voice within; he cannot resist it; he must go towards the voice. So is the most arrant idler. One stumbles more than another; he who stumbles we call bad and he who stumbles less we call good. Good and bad are never two different things; they are one and the same. The difference is not one of kind, but of degree.”
So, as I put down the book, VIVEKANANDA: The Yogas and Other Works, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York, I think of our work in the world as coaches. It brings to mind a client who had been working and struggling with the various parts of her life: how to find work that was meaningful; how to deal with her finances; how to redefine her relationship with money; how to work through a growing gap in her marriage and the need to change her relationship with her husband and last, how to face the fear of heart surgery.
As the surgery date drew near, it became clear in our coaching what she had been working on all along -- how to “piece together her life” – in effect how to find her sense of wholeness. And it became clear that she needed to see this as whole, not just various pieces that needed to be fixed individually. As a result of facing the discomfort of what was happening without judging it, she allowed her heart to lead the way, literally and metaphorically, to open itself to transformation. It was then that she began to see what was keeping her stuck, enslaved, shut down and how she could become free by engaging with her choices.
In looking for translating this transformation into action, her first choice was to invite her husband to help her sort out the medical bills and insurance issues that had been piling up for 18 months. In taking this first step she sent me an e-mail that describes the transformation that began that moment.
Subject: Took the next step!!
So we set the timer for 60 minutes and dug into a box of clutter – medical bills, old receipts, old flyers bidding discounts for shopping, articles clipped out and read or not etc. We sorted and shredded our way through an entire box!!!! The buzzer went off just as we reached the bottom of the box.
We are planning the next step – focus on the pile of medical bills - organize them first so I can do battle with the insurance company. AH HA! That will be tomorrow morning.
Anyway.... As a reward, I made dinner – totally an improv from whatever was in the fridge and pantry. Joe thought it rivaled any restaurant we’ve had the pleasure to dine in. At the risk of sounding smug, it definitely was one of my better efforts; in fact I’d go so far to say it was a winner – simple, visually beautiful and a great mix of tastes and texture.
As a bonus, we sat after dinner with our wine and talked about what we had just accomplished TOGETHER. For the first time in 21 years we were able to talk about our fears around money and how isolated each of us felt. We both felt ashamed and it was good to just say it. I think we started a new relationship with each other and with our money and our lives.
As coaches, and as other helping professionals we partner with people in the process of uncovering the wholeness and freedom that are not only their birthright, but the imperative that is always moving to make itself known. More than helpers we are mid-wife’s to this process of awakening. It is a process each of us is in, as each of our clients is also engaged in.
Throughout this and other coaching sessions with this client, we did not avoid the hard places. I saw my client’s past successes, her passion and vision. And it was also clear to me that the way to realize those visions was to create space and explore and respect the messages of those parts of her that were holding her back, as well as those parts impassioned to move ahead. In creating the space to hear both, her self-awareness popped with unforeseen confidence and solutions.
In my own life I, of course, sometimes remember this freedom and wholeness, and I also often forget it. I remember it when I choose to face what is happening within me; both the inspiration and what I am avoiding. I am grateful to walk with others on this journey into experiencing our wholeness and freedom. I am grateful for the clients and coaches who help me to see myself more clearly, learning to listen and live according to the voice in our hearts and minds. In those moments that a colleague or a coach, or a client sees me as whole; I learn to more deeply open to the moment and experience myself as whole.
So we grow together. We move forward and also move, apparently backward, ultimately to move onward in this journey. It is a journey that paradoxically takes our full effort and also takes our surrendering to the flow. Distinguishing the difference, as knowing when to accelerate in your car and when to brake, is our work, when working with others and when working with our own bodies and minds. The principles of Wholeness and Freedom, have value when we sense them in ourselves and when we open to the fact that they are present in our clients, in the dog on the street and the flowering tree and the sunset.
The process of coaching is one way into the experience of that wholeness and freedom. With its focus on the here and now; on self-awareness and action, we are reminded that we can see above the labels of good and bad, and support others in listening and connecting to the great potentials pushing to be born within us. In this way our journey may be very individual, and at the same time very related. As you step into 2011, may it be an adventurous new year in the freedom and wholeness you experience and listen for in others.
*Coaching for Transformation is a holistically and multi-culturally oriented coaching school accredited by the International Coaching Federation, ICF, with current and/or upcoming programs in New York, Toronto, and San Francisco. See www.leadershipthatworks.com
** Maya is defined as the illusory nature of life in which things appear to be one thing but constantly change and are not as this appearance tells us they are. Maya is said to arise from the changeless essence, spirit, or oneness from which all things come.