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Isn't All Life Coaching "Spiritual"?, featured as part of SpiritSite.com's "Coaching Corner" column, is Copyright © 2001 by Suzanne Selby Grenager. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
"We as coaches can recognize and reflect back to clients 'the whole and holy' -- the divine -- within them, only if we are learning to see it in ourselves."
Suzanne Selby Grenager, Isn't All Life
Coaching and Spirit
In the business of coaching, there is a niche, recognized by the umbrella International Coaching Federation, called "spirit based" or "spiritual" coaching. But I am coming to understand that to be fully effective, all coaching must be "spirit-based". I include even "corporate coaching." Here’s why.
If it is the coach’s primary job to guide and inspire clients to create a happy, fulfilling life at work and at play, then there is no getting around dealing with spirit, the very essence of our being. Spirit is who and what we all are, from birth to death at least. It is spirit from which all life flows, and (mystics say) to which all life returns. Thus spirit is what we, and our lives, are most fundamentally about.
What we do in the world is experienced from the inside out. Life isn’t much good without our whole-hearted participation in creating and living it. If we are not often touched deep down, where we really "live," then we are not fulfilled, no matter how fabulous the life we are living may look. We all know our share of wildly successful, miserable people!
To create the "life of your dreams" that coaching touts, clients must be crystal clear about who they are and what truly satisfies them, so they’ll be sure to create the "right" life for them. Even more critically, in order to enjoy what they create, they must know how to take life in.
Our clients must become masters at being satisfied by what they have and what they do—and especially by who they are—from moment to rich, unpredictable, moment. Most of us neither know who we are, nor how to take satisfaction in what we get.
And if we don’t know how to savor what’s on our plate right now, what makes us think we’re going to be any better at enjoying the next course?
The Coach’s Two Jobs
As I see it, the life coach has two critical, closely related tasks: first, to show or remind clients constantly who they are—and are not; and second (which goes hand and hand with accomplishing the first task), to help them relax into, and appreciate the Self they are uncovering and the life they are living.
You may notice that I omit what’s normally considered to be a primary province of coaching. And it’s true, I have said nothing about helping clients get clear on what they want to do, let alone having them set and achieve goals. But my apparent oversight is intentional.
First things first: if we as coaches focus on showing clients who they most essentially and powerfully are, we will, incidentally, help them clarify what they’d most love to do, in this moment and the next. What’s more, they’ll be motivated to do it.
Thus, the holding clients "accountable" piece of coaching (with its potentially authoritarian overtones), becomes incidental as well. When we can guide our clients to full Self-awareness, their doing will come from their being. Neither they, nor we, will have to think too much about it.
In touch with their authentic core, they will know, and do, what they love; they’ll also love what they do. If we really knew ourselves, wouldn’t we all do whatever most gladly expresses our authentic Self—and nothing but?
Finding The Client Within
In the coaching relationship I’m describing, coach and client are embarked on a remarkably challenging and rewarding joint venture: an all-out, no-holds-barred search for the client’s core being: the Self that knows who it is, what it wants, and how to embrace and enjoy whatever life offers.
Ancient yogic scriptures call this being "the tiny person within the heart." It’s who we are beyond all the particular beliefs, variable emotions, and habitual behaviors we usually call "me, myself and I." It’s also sometimes called the Universal Self, or Self of All. And we must help clients unearth it, because if we settle for anything less, they—and we––won’t be satisfied.
But how do we hold up what many coaches like to call a "clear mirror" for clients? What helps us create a space vast (even sacred) enough to call forth this essential Self of theirs? What might this process look like, in the context of a coaching relationship, or even a single call?
To begin with, of course, the basic coaching skills apply. These include: listening, discerning, reflecting, questioning, challenging, championing, intuiting, and empathizing, to name several of the most important, along with humor, and, ideally—the greatest and rarest of all coaching skills—unconditional love, and the powerful trust that comes with it.
Given our mission to uncover a whole, and holy, self, how exactly do we apply these skills? What are we listening for, trying to discern, and wanting to reflect back to our clients? When do we question and challenge, where champion? And, the most important question for me: how are we—and our clients—being with our selves, and with each other, as we do the work? What in other words, is the underlying feel, tone or "process," the essence of our experience together?
Perhaps it goes without saying that we as coaches can recognize and reflect back to clients "the whole and holy"—the divine—within them, only if we are learning to see it in ourselves. Thus, whatever we want to do for our clients, we must first do for our own emerging Self.
For it is precisely to the extent that we are clear within ourselves, that we can be clear and present with others. If it’s our job to help clients sort the kernels of what’s true and compelling, from the often addictive, unconscious mix of Self-limiting beliefs and behaviors, we’d better also be doing that for the coach-in-charge. Clarity, like charity, begins at home!
It takes a great deal of clarity, presence and self-trust to listen for, discern, reflect back, ask about, and champion the client’s true Self. Similarly, we must be able to discern, skillfully question, and, if need be, challenge clients, whenever they seem to fall back into old patterns, and away from the emerging Self.
If we haven’t closely examined our own self-defeating behaviors, and gotten pretty comfortable with our humanness, we won’t be comfortable with theirs.
Offering Consciousness, Compassion and Courage
So, as important as coaching tools are in helping clients sort wheat from chaff, it is ultimately the quality of being (mine and theirs) that matters most to the client’s transformation. But as the coach, I set the tone. Much as I’d sometimes like to, there’s no getting around it. I polish the mirror and hold the space for clients to be aware, loving, and fiercely true to themselves most effectively, by being that way myself. That’s primarily because energy is infectious, and love, inspiring.
What’s more, since being aware, loving, and true to ourselves is our essential nature, and thus very integral and attractive to us, such authentic behavior is practically impossible to resist.
Clients catch the "bugs" of consciousness, compassion and courage—my "3 C’s" of invaluable coaching—best by observing (listening, on the phone), and even just by being in our presence; they get it by osmosis. But we can help it along.
"What is true for you?" is the sort of question we cannot too often ask, for instance.
Many clients claim they don’t know what they want in a particular situation. They’re right, if they mean their minds don’t know the way to go.
When faced with a choice, the mind will refer us to what we’ve done before, and to what others might do, or might want us to do. And thanks to any unexamined beliefs we still hold about human behavior, mind is especially enamored of what it thinks we should do. What it cannot easily tell us is what we want to do. Unless it’s free and illumined, it simply doesn’t know.
For that knowledge, we must check in with the body and its swarm of (often unwelcome) emotions. To uncover our heart’s desire, we must look to…well, our hearts, or for that matter, to our guts, throats, or practically anywhere but our heads! It’s through the body that Self-awareness comes.
While fickle mind’s messages may or may not have much to do with who we are, and what we really want, the body cannot lie. We can try to mask its signals certainly. Most of us learn to drown them out, and we can ignore bodily sensations altogether—at least to a point. But they’re there anyway, below the surface—a wealth of feelings, ready to mirror our soul.
Putting Clients in Touch
When we are willing to tune into what we feel, our emotions offer the most reliable and trustworthy barometer I know of. We may not like what we learn. But when we let it, the body will flood us with sensations of unadulterated truth about our most compelling, soulful wants and needs.
Like words to the mind, feelings are the voice of the soul. If we wish to know ourselves better, and help our clients do this, then we’d best learn to uncover, listen to and trust our emotions, and teach clients what we learn.
When my clients tell me they don’t know what they want, I say I don’t believe them. Thanks to decades of experience as a yoga teacher, holistic therapist, coach, and curious human being, I’ve come to trust that those of us who are "sane" know exactly what we do and don’t want. Though sometimes, we don’t want to know. (Those who really don’t want to know are probably not ready for coaching!)
When clients ask me, "what should I do?" I toss the ball right back to them. "How would it be," I might say, "if we checked in with your body? Let’s see what you didn’t know you knew, okay?"
We grow quiet. I may give a bit of meditative guidance, to help us both get out of our heads and down into those sentient bodies of ours. In this simple but powerful way, we create time and space, and plenty of permission, for clients to feel their feelings, to begin to know their hearts. That’s often all that’s needed for them to recognize, and be willing to want what they want, at least for the time being. (Making this a habit takes practice.)
If clients resist relaxing, I suggest they put one hand over the heart, the other over the stomach. We both take a few deep breaths. The idea, of course, is to have them connect, through touch, with that inspired, gutsy person they intrinsically are. We’re doing all this over the phone, remember, and perhaps because they can’t see me, it’s surprisingly effective.
I have not yet met the client who doesn’t dip into body’s consciousness and soon get remarkably clear—about who they are, and what they want to do right now. Usually too, at some point in this "feeling" space we create, clients come to tears. These may first be of sorrow, but are followed often by tears of natural joy the grief has been masking. People are touched, as I am, by the gentle, compassionate promptings of their own awakening hearts.
It’s a huge relief to leave the head. The quiet joy of our heart’s desires—and even the authenticity of our deepest sorrows and fears—are compelling and inspiring beyond words. They show us what we are made of, the humanity in which our divinity lives.
But when clients tune deep in, they not only get to feel who they are and to know what they want, they also find and take courage (in French, the heart’s called "coeur")—to do what wants to be done.
What’s more, by delving down for the Self who they most fundamentally are, clients learn to open their hearts wide enough to let the lovely new life they’re creating rush in!
Suzanne Selby Grenager is a long-time student, teacher, writer and mentor about the art of living truly. Her diverse background includes selection as NBC's Scholar at Penn's Annenberg School; a Philadelphia Inquirer education column; and experience with management, P.R. and small business startup. To this worldly mix she brings the wisdom of 25 years of spiritual practice. She taught yoga to thousands, was an award-winning Regional Leader for the Kripalu Center, and has practiced the holistic therapy called Rubenfeld Synergy. Her current coaching practice attracts coaches, therapists and others who long to live and work from a powerful, illumined awareness of who they are. If this article speaks to you, Suzanne would like to speak with you, about you! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 717-938-3257.