This interests me lately, as I watch how long-held truths are being dismantled, how veils are being pulled back, how more and more cracks are opening and truths are being voiced everywhere. As I watch this happening around me, with my clients, in myself. What interests me is this: How we can be immersed in it all and still “retain the ability to function”. How we can allow opposing thoughts and feelings into our awareness without losing our sense of self. How we can, when confronted with deep emotional discomfort, still connect to our centre, in calmness, and continue walking.
The above quote has always inspired me. I believe it’s a test, not necessarily of intelligence, but of courage. Courage to sit with the extreme contradiction of living. And I am convinced that we all have it inside us – courage can be practiced, by allowing what is, over and over. Overcoming our instinct to push away what we deem as painful, and getting acquainted, over and over, with viewing whatever is as a gateway, an opportunity to know something we didn’t yet know. It is, once again, the courage of vulnerability. Or a persistent curiosity for life. Perhaps a daring trust in the not-knowing. Or maybe even a mischievous desire to look where one normally doesn’t want to look.
This is what we do in coaching: we make space for what is, in however form it’s coming to us, with curiosity and over time even with reverence. We allow – or remain aware of our resistance to allowing – whatever contrast, dissonance, opposition and struggles are taking place inside. We just let them occupy the space they’re in, wherever they are. And here is the trick: we realize, in holding this awareness with the attitude of a curious and gentle observer of who we are, that we are able to survive what seemed overwhelming. When we can hold our awareness like this, relax into it, what was maybe an unbearable cacophony in our heads becomes less so. Inevitably. Because we are the container of light and dark, we can embrace it all.
And from that encompassing and compassionate space, we can name what’s true. The naming comes from our centre, the seat of our wisdom, our essence, our ‘higher self’, whatever you want to call it. It is an inspired knowing – the golden nugget of truth that was waiting to be articulated. Beneath all the noise in our heads and hearts there is always a simple truth waiting to be articulated. From there, we can take that next step with conviction, because it came from the place of no doubt.
And this is all we have, really. An intention of practicing not losing our cool in the midst of chaos. An understanding that we can only work with what we have, with what is alive in each moment (Leonard Cohen’s “ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering…”). A dogged determination to continue to stay connected to ourselves, despite what is going on externally, despite the turmoil in our hearts. The knowledge (through experience) that this small next step is all we can decide on right now, with the awareness we have now, with who we are today. And the confirmation, through repetition, that we can contain it all: the wanted feelings and the oh so unwanted ones; the thoughts that are pleasant and those that threaten to derail us, the momentary satisfactions and the deep, raw longings.
This is the first principle of Zen Coaching: we are the holding space for our experience. Let’s make ourselves at home right there.