Integration has been a recurring theme in my life over the past several years. Previously, my attempts to find ‘balance’ involved lurching somewhat wildly between extremes: five years of hard labour in high-rise offices followed by a year or two getting my hippy fix in the Himalayas; draconian detox regimes followed by ecstatic all-night dancing and ‘retox’ in the Thai jungle; phases of exuberant Sex & the City-like social shenanigans followed by deep hibernation on my sofa.
The shifts in direction could be energising, but also jarring. I started to long for a more stable middle range, rather than an averaging-out of polar opposites. And I wanted to integrate the different parts of me so that I could draw on all of my strengths, passions and values together rather than having them take turns.
My route into Zen Life Coaching had a similar motivation. And it did a lot to support my integration process – as a person and as a coach.
THE PITFALLS OF LIFE COACHING AND MINDFULNESS
I still make use of the classic Life Coaching approach that I first learned almost 14 years ago. But more and more, I see its limitations, especially for ‘anxious over-achiever’ types – like many of my former colleagues (and formerly myself too) and many of my coaching clients. They already have a tendency to be very goal-oriented, task-focused and self-disciplined, writing endless to-do lists and constantly pushing themselves to do more and better.
Some Life Coaching techniques can take people deeper into these patterns without thoroughly examining the desirability of their end goals or the process for reaching them. Of course, high-achieving mindsets and behaviours can create success, inner fulfilment and external rewards. But when there’s no ‘off’ switch (or even a dimmer switch), they also cause workaholism, chronic stress, burnout and other dysfunction in our work and personal lives.
From the other direction, more people are turning to meditation or some form of spiritual inquiry to support themselves. These approaches hold the potential to be life-changing, but are more often problematic in terms of how to apply and integrate them in daily life. I’ve come across many meditation and mindfulness aficionados who struggle with their practice due to common misunderstandings, or go through the motions without really deriving their full benefits, or use their practice as a means of evading intense feelings and life issues.
MY ‘PATHLESS PATH’ TO ZEN COACHING
With these extreme examples in mind, I was already feeling my way into a more integrated approach to coaching. I could see that people who are very driven and goal-oriented will benefit from incorporating more mindfulness into their life, and others who have a very free-flowing and intuitive approach will benefit from incorporating a more grounded, practical focus.
In 2009, I was spending a restful summer in the high altitudes of Ladakh, North India – a lot of reading, writing, meditating, walking and generally reflecting… I was reading discourses on Zen by the Indian mystic, Osho, and when I came across the paradoxical ideas of the ‘pathless path’ and ‘effortless effort’, I thought, “Ah, here’s an interesting idea: Zen-style Life Coaching.” I googled it, and was intrigued to see it already existed, with a training course run in Sweden. A few weeks after this discovery, I had a serendipitous meeting with a Swedish guy and mentioned the Zen Coaching course to him. He said, “Ah, I just took that course!” and he shared some of his course notes with me. It took another 7 years, via an unexpected chapter in New York City, before I was sitting in a circle in a Swedish workshop hall, beginning my own training in Zen Coaching*.
LIVING UP TO OUR HIGHEST POTENTIAL
Zen Coaching is founded upon our deep longing – perhaps even a core human drive, the ‘Enlightenment Instinct’ – to be at home in ourselves, to be who we truly are. Its premise is that all our problems in life arise out of a disconnection with our true selves, and that all problems are resolved as we learn to reconnect with ourselves. So Zen Coaching supports us in recognising our true nature and all its inherent qualities, such as inner strength, freedom, clarity, compassion, joy and wisdom. These qualities are always available to us, meaning that, in essence, we are whole, complete, fully healthy and resourced – whatever trauma, dis-ease, conditioning or other life challenges we have experienced.
This much I already recognised from my spiritual path – through meditation, self-inquiry and time spent sitting in Satsang (gathering together for the truth) with enlightened Masters. But Zen Coaching gave me a ready-made, tried-and-tested way to integrate this with a practical, grounded Life Coaching approach. The key is that it moves beyond self-realisation (knowing who we are) into self-actualisation, i.e. living our life in alignment with who we are, acting from our highest potential. It offers tools and techniques for everyday living, working and relating.
EFFORTLESSLY CREATING A LIFE OF FLOW AND ABUNDANCE
In Zen Coaching, we don’t focus our efforts on creating the external life situations we want. We first reconnect with our inner resources and then we find that, as a positive side effect, we are able to deal far more easily with challenging life situations. We act with conscious, mutually-supportive responses rather than automatic triggered reactions. We still work with goals and enjoy their results, but without being stressfully attached to them or linking our happiness to their achievement.
We develop a natural clarity about the best way forward when we are faced with a choice or dilemma. And we start to effortlessly create external lives that simply reflect the peace, freedom, balance and joy we have discovered inside us.
In the second part of this post, we’ll look at how this integrated process works within a ‘typical’ Zen Life Coaching session.
*With thanks to Kåre Landfald and the Zen Coaching approach he has developed. For further details of this approach and its training programme, please see www.zen-coaching.com