In Part One of this post, I talked about needing more integration in my life and my coaching work – and how Zen Coaching became part of the solution. To show how this approach works in practice, I’m going to describe the arc of a ‘typical’ session. Of course, there’s rarely such a thing as a typical session, but I find it very useful to keep this structure in the back of my mind and use it as guidance when necessary.
I still think of it as ‘the Zen Coaching U-bend’ but if that sounds more like a plumbing structure than an inspirational and transformative coaching process, we can also call it ‘the Unfolding Now’!
1. INTRODUCING AND CLARIFYING THE ISSUE/CHALLENGE:
Coaching sessions generally start with you, the client, describing the particular challenge you would like to work on. Often, there’s an overarching issue or theme that is explored over a number of sessions, and then in each individual session, a particular aspect or update on which we focus. You might talk for a short time about what’s on your mind right now, what’s ‘alive’ for you. In the coaching role, I then help you to clarify your understanding of the core issue and what kind of support you are looking for in this session.
Usually, when you begin to talk about the challenge you are grappling with, there are cogs whirring and churning in your mind: a stream of thoughts and attempts to analyse them, often a sense of confusion and inner conflict, or even a sense of paralysis. What’s going on? What to do? How to solve this problem? Where to start?
A lot of coaching and counselling will stay in that mind-based activity, talking about the issue, analysing it, working through it to find a solution. Clients have sometimes told me that, when they have tried other kinds of coaching or ‘talk therapy’, they tend to get very tired or brew up tension headaches during the sessions. And it’s not uncommon for those coaches or therapists to suffer the same symptoms; it can feel like there’s a lot of effort involved on both sides.
Zen Life Coaching takes a different tack at this point in the process…
2. NOTICING AND ALLOWING PRESENT EXPERIENCE
I might ask you how it feels right now to talk about this issue, and in particular, what you notice in the way of physical sensations in your body, or maybe related to your breath. You are being invited to step out of mind-based activity and to bring your awareness back to the present moment, because that’s where change and transformation happens.
For example, you may notice a kind of tightness in your chest, or some extra warmth in your hands and lower arms, or a hollow feeling in your stomach. You also might notice an emotion that goes with that sensation – perhaps anxiety, irritability or a slight sadness – or a thought or belief that goes with the feeling. You just tune in to any kind of experience that comes to your attention: acknowledge it, describe it and be curious towards it if you can.
This is the essence of mindfulness: “Deliberately paying attention to your experience as it arises, without judgment”. It’s not about the outcome but about practising in a certain kind of way. And there are no right or wrong experiences.
The next part is key. The coach will ask you something like: “Can you allow that experience?”, e.g. the tightness in the chest, or the slight feeling of sadness. We’re not asking you to accept the situation that underlies the experience, simply asking if you can be with that experience as it is, just for now, without needing to change, fix, analyse or act on it. And it’s not about trying to allow it – rather, “is there allowance for the experience?”
‘YES’ TO THE ‘NO’
‘No’ is as valid an answer as ‘yes’. And if it’s a ‘no’ (or perhaps a ‘partly’), if you notice there’s some resistance to the experience, then we explore that feeling too. We see if there’s some allowance for the resistance – or, to put it another way, if we can say ‘yes’ to the ‘no’.
This extra loophole of allowing resistance has been a game-changer for me. On the spiritual path (and personal development path), you often hear: “You need to accept your chronic pain / loss / hurt feelings in order to heal and move on.” And there’s some truth in that. Yes, it’s the resistance to your experience that causes inner conflict and suffering – so when you can allow something, you find inner peace and rest. But if you’re putting yourself under pressure to accept or allow something, there’s even more inner conflict and suffering.
So see if you can allow the resistance – or allow resistance to the resistance! Maybe you’ll encounter several layers of resistance first before finding some allowance for them – some sense of ‘yes’ to all the complexity of your feelings in this moment. Again, no effort is required.
At whatever point you find you can genuinely allow whatever you are feeling, there is usually some kind of shift – it may be just vaguely perceptible, or it may be immediately noticeable to you and the coach. It could take the form of a deep breath, or a release of muscle tension, or perhaps a new, intense sensation, such as pain transforming into sharp tingling, or tightness into slight dizziness. I will ask again, “What are you noticing now?” or “What’s happening in you now?” and the process in this stage is repeated, whereby you describe the feeling, sit with it for a while and see if you can allow it to be there.
There are many other questions that I may ask in this phase of the session, but they all carry the same purpose: supporting you to be more aware of and present with your experience; guiding you home to yourself. As this process continues and deepens, there’s a sense of ‘letting go’ of the mind’s habitual activity and protections. There’s a deeper sense of relaxation.
3. RELAXING AND EXPANDING INTO BEING
The process of ‘relaxing into being’ is similar to what people experience during meditation or mindfulness exercises. Or you might recognise it as something like the ‘flow state’ we sometimes access during intense, in-the-moment activities like competitive sport, rock-climbing, intricate arts and crafts, listening to music or just walking in nature: heightened senses along with a concentrated focus, a perception of time slowing down, and of calm, effortless balance, clarity, connectedness… A state of grace, some might call it.
Those are the kinds of words that people spontaneously use to describe their experience at this stage of the Zen Coaching process. They notice a greater sense of stillness, expansiveness, peace, compassion, joy and trust – and that this is not only their experience, but the very essence of who they really are. It’s like being reminded that the blue sky is always there above us, even when dark clouds are covering it. Whatever challenges or painful experiences we’re experiencing in life, in reality we already have – and are – all the qualities and resources we are needing. We just lose sight of this when we become identified with our thoughts and feelings.
Some people are able to ‘relax into being’ very quickly, almost instantly, if they say ‘yes’ to their experience and come fully into presence. For others, it takes a lot more practice and letting go before they get there because they’re more used to controlling their experience or being consumed by it; they try to dissociate from uncomfortable experiences, or they may not allow themselves to open up to a pleasant experience because they don’t trust it or don’t feel they deserve it. Many more people simply find it very difficult to notice and describe their physical experience because they spend most of their time ‘in their head’ and are somewhat numbed or unattuned to other subtle feelings.
It’s perfectly OK if that’s the case for you. Just practise Stage Two with an open mind and heart. At some point, you will begin to move naturally into Stage 3 and to notice the positive effects of that in your life.
4. REVISITING AND RESOLVING THE ISSUE/CHALLENGE
Now that you’ve reconnected with the true essence of yourself, you could just hang out there for a while and also adopt this as a regular practice. It’s very restful and will pay dividends over time, bringing more calmness, clarity and ease into your life.
But in a Zen Life Coaching session, we have the option of stepping into a further stage, in which we look again at the challenge which you described in Stage One. Importantly, we’re not just reverting to Stage One, we’re revisiting it from this space of relaxed being, of calmness, clarity, compassion, inner strength, trust and all those other qualities and resources you have now accessed. From that space tends to come a much clearer perspective on the real nature of the challenge and what it requires. There may be an ‘aha’ moment: “Ah, this is what’s really going on underneath the surface. This is why I’ve been feeling this way, or why my friend/partner/colleague has reacted this way. And this is what needs to happen now for everyone to get what they’re needing!”
The deep insight, intuition and creative solutions just come to us spontaneously at this stage, rather than being actively sought or analysed into existence. Sometimes, the initial problem you were grappling with just seems to dissolve into nothing. You realise that you created a ‘story’ out of it in your head, or built it into something significant through a misunderstanding, and that it’s actually not such a big deal after all. And you end up laughing about how you managed to get so agitated about something that now seems quite trivial.
This is the alchemy of Zen Coaching: effortless transformation, as opposed to the tiring process and less insightful conclusion we would probably have reached if we’d jumped here straight from Stage One.
5. COMMITTING AND MOVING FORWARD TO ACTION
The final stage is again, a recognisable part of the classic Life Coaching process. Now that you have uncovered these insights and new ways to resolve your situation, what needs to happen next? What are you actually going to do / change / begin? How, where, with whom? When will you start? How will you know it’s working?
You’re still letting the answers ‘come to you’ as much as possible rather than digging around in your mind for them. You are acting from being, in a way that integrates the clarity, wisdom and ease of the previous stages, but also completes the process with commitment and momentum in order to reap its full rewards.
And now you’re a clear step closer to creating the life you’ve always yearned for.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO INTEGRATE AND TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE – EFFORTLESSLY! – PLEASE CONTACT ME TO ARRANGE AN INTRODUCTORY SESSION OR TO ASK ANY QUESTIONS.