Let me share with you three connections I think are invaluable as we look ahead to what is next for our profession. They all relate to insights from my recent solo backpacking trip in the Sierras in California.
1. I was guided by the same topographic map we had used before. However, I soon discovered that many of the trails it depicted were no longer there and others I needed were not on the map. As a result, the hike became much more technical and difficult than I had anticipated in several places. I adopted the simple principle "ease and safety" to stay focused in each moment. The power of zero as an emptying of all that is a distraction. What old maps are you still using to guide your life or practice?
2. My original destination was an alpine lake I had loved as a young person. However, I discovered when I got there that it had largely disappeared. It was now just a small river running through the valley, the victim of a drought that had eroded the glaciers that once fed it. It was an 'empty place' that invited me to seek a new destination and purpose for my trip. And so, the reflective retreat became a powerful vision quest. The power of zero as a pivot between negative and positive, as with numbers. Where do you need to make a pivot in your life or practice?
3. On the last day, I saw this piece of wood. Somehow it reminded me of the cross in the Christian tradition. I was reminded of the great line, "Get off the cross, we need the wood." What I saw in this artifact was a person shedding the burdens they had carried, often on behalf of others. What was being revealed in the process was the deeper core and essence of their unique humanity. The power of zero as freedom to more fully express ourselves. What can you put down so as to travel more lightly?
I returned home a different person than the one who left, largely because I shifted the narrative frame for why I was there. It reminded me yet again about why narrative coaching focuses on what we can subtract from our practice rather than add. Where could you use the zero?
And with Zero, this series comes to an end and creates the space until we start the next one. Enjoy....
Tomorrow I head up to the Sierras (mountains in California) for a five-day solo trek. I look forward to the opportunity to attune to the rhythms of nature and my own authentic desires. It will be a nice re-set before heading into two amazing projects which kick off next month. I take with me this wonderful quote from Patanjali via Graham Williams:
For now, I leave you with this related thought, "You don't need that". It emerged from a retreat with Samir Selmanović, who is partnering with me to build my next business in support of the new projects. I will say more later, but for now take it with you into your day. Where can you release your need for more? Where can you create spaciousness for what brings you alive? Consumerism, in all its forms, has infiltrated so many aspects of our psyches, our societies and our economies. The new business and programs will focus on what is next after coaching—to enable us to do what matters to us and makes a difference for others. It is about keeping close more than keeping up.
I hope that you will join us for these new (ad)ventures in which we take narrative coaching and all it stands for to new places.
Three way to get started . . .
Now, you may ask, "But what about a client's goals?" My observations: Water always finds its way to where it needs to be . . .
Stories are like water in that they are told in hopes of achieving a purpose. Listen closely and you will hear what they are seeking on behalf of the teller. What does this person and this story need most right now to reach its destination?
You can find out more information about our online course on narrative coaching on our website. This will be our last one for 2016, so sign up soon! You will learn how to work with flow and your own presence using simple practices such as pivoting.
Here are three key elements for what could come next for coaching. Which one speaks most to you?
Deepen our relationship with and narratives about fear. Thresholds are not for the faint-hearted or ill-prepared. Be a guardian at those gates so people can embrace their fear and move through it rather than have to project it onto others and move away from it. Create safe places where they freely express their fear, learn to self-regulate, and transmute its energy into something more generative. Bring people into contact with the Unknown so it becomes their ally not their enemy. What is your story about fear?
Deepen our commitment to be proactive not just reactive. Our work as coaches is often about responding to the needs our clients bring to us and in terms that are 'in' at that moment. While this makes for a solid business strategy, it often means we are addressing symptoms not causes and enabling people to merely cope instead of boldly create. For example, rather than making schools more 'positive', why are we not supporting efforts to completely reinvent them? It is about proactively stepping toward the Unknown not just reactively attending to the Known. What is your story about your role?
Deepen our willingness to see our shared humanity. Coaching has largely been about facilitating growth through one to one conversations. It seems time now to move beyond that to see whole organizations or communities as a coachee. Time to move beyond what separates us to focus more on what unites us. It seems now that everything becomes polarized so quickly as expressions of our anxieties about the Unknown future. In response, I've started to focus on compassionately seeing each person first and foremost as a human and each group as part of a shared humanity. What is your story about people?
Surrender seems to be a prerequisite for our growth — a truth that often becomes more available to us when we step away from our 'normal life', but which is present in each and every moment. Much of the work we do in narrative coaching is about inviting ourselves and those with whom we work to:
Who will stand next to you as you head out?
What will become possible for you as a result?
Here's to the power of surrender into the unknown, the richness of 'time on' and the potential across the threshold. What new story awaits you?
The latter, Seung Chan Lim (Slim) wrote: Many of the kinds of things you say are identical to the kinds of things the best art directors would often say to designers when they are helping them resolve the composition. Art directors don't know what design is going to emerge. If they did, what they're doing would not be "creative." They don't direct in the "telling other people what to do," sense, they direct the designer's attentions to what they see, how they feel, etc in relation to the object being designed.
I love this notion of "resolve the composition", especially as it is done through emergence and experimentation. I am increasingly convinced that the resolution to people's issues or questions in coaching is already present. What emerges in coaching is a manifestation of a developmental process that is already underway, not something we need to make happen. It is about letting the proverbial muddy waters clear through our radical presence. As noted above, our role then is to invite people being coached to attend to what they see in new ways, to notice more deeply what they feel, and to make new associations between the pieces of their stories and their desired aspiration.
In this sense, resolution is about bringing what is already there into sharper focus not (re-)solving a problem (though this often happens quite readily as a fortunate byproduct of the process). When people make their way to the crux of the matter this way, they are in a much better position to engage with the other meaning (and pronunciation) of the word, "resolve": "to decide firmly on a course of action." This speaks to the practice of fierce compassion and I find the results from narrative coaching are more lasting often because of the way the process helps people make shifts at their core level.
Questions for today:
• What do you need to resolve by bringing into greater focus?
• What do you need to resolve by bringing closure and letting go?
• What would resolve on its own if you stopped trying so hard?
• What do you want to apply your resolve to in your work/life?
As we say in this work, "Everything you need is right in front of you." "Drop into the experience whilst serving as its most fiercely curious and compassionate advocate. Bring attention to what seems essential."
Here's to your journey to let it be so . . .
When was the last time you experienced utter quiet... even for a few moments? Within yourself? With another? With your environment? There is something quite powerful in silence, a state we often think of as "nothing". Yet it is from this fertile place that we can discern what is most important, return to our essence, tap in to more natural rhythms, and take more conscious actions. Without it we are, over time, worn down by the relentless noise.
I came to appreciate this a few years ago after teaching a graduate class on coaching for a dear colleague in southern Germany. Once we were done we headed into the mountains for a walk in the early winter snow. At one point we found a clump of pine trees on an outcropping and sat there in complete stillness. Resting against each other, everything but our breath and the wind in the trees fell away. The experience was so restorative that there was no need to speak to it when we got up to continue our walk. It reminded me of a line in my book: Think of listening as receiving and noticing what is already present, rather than as something you have to do to make things happen.
As Max Picard (2002) writes, “When language ceases, silence begins. But it does not begin because language ceases. The absence of language simply makes the presence of Silence more apparent” . . . Silence is a place in which your restless mind, internal chatter, and fragmented attention can find the stillness you need to listen well. It is from this stillness within yourself that you can be radically present to the people you coach. When you are still, the non-essential drops away, underlying truths surface and we can more readily move toward right action.
Dr David Drake is the founder of the field of Narrative Coaching.