Sunday, June 19, 2011

On the Level

In AA the concept “one day at a time” means much more than “I won’t take a drink for the next 24 hours.” Gradually the intention to live one day at a time evolves into the intention to live one day at a time, as if you only have this one day to live. Behind all our attempts to change lies the one fundamental truth – if we live one day at a time, if we are fully present, our habitual reaction to the world can no longer play out automatically. 

Many models for presence are founded in meditation. Certainly, learning to be present in meditation can transfer to greater awareness in everyday life. As J. Krishnamurti said, however: For many of us... the steady and consistent practice of sitting meditation can be elusive.  

Luckily, meditation is not the only way to learn presence. We also become more present when we listen deeply. Most coaching schools emphasize a level of listening that goes beyond the obvious. Co-Active Coaching lists three levels of listening: 
Level I (Internal Listening) “We listen to the words of the other person but the focus is on what it means to us.”
Level II (Dialogue) “There is a sharp focus on the other person.” This is what is typically meant by “active listening.” 
Level III (Global Listening), “You listen at 360 degrees… as though you and the client were at the center of the universe receiving information from everywhere at once… as though you’re surrounded by a force field that contains you, the client, and a space of knowing… The key to  Level III listening is simply to take in the information and play with it and see what emerges.”
Otto Sharmer (Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges) offers similar but slightly more differentiated levels of listening: 
Listening 1 (from habits) – habits of judgment that lead to reconfirming old opinions and judgments, 
Listening 2 (from outside) – factual listening and noticing differences that lead to new data;

Listening 3 (from within) – empathic listening that leads to seeing through another’s eyes and emotional connection; and
Listening 4 (from Source) – generative listening that connects us with an emerging future and shifts our identity/self.”
The following example shows how greater self-awareness can move clients from habitual/internal listening to generative/global listening.

Jane, a widow (Enneagram style Seven) is in love with Bob (style Nine), who’s compassionate, loving, and helpful with her son and daughter. He supports Jane’s parenting approach and also engages her two teenagers in activities that take the burden of full responsibility from her shoulders. Bob has been single for some time and his sisters in a large family have come to depend on him for help with repairs and other problems. One weekend, Jane and Bob carve out two hours alone together. Just as they’re starting out on a long walk, Bob’s cell phone rings with a desperate call from one of his sisters that her heat is off and she’s freezing. 
  1. Although Jane agrees to go with Bob to help his sister, she listens to herself at level 1, “What does this mean for me?” and thinks, “This was supposed to be our time together. He has all these other demands on him. There will never be enough time for me.”
  2. Instead of reacting from this level, however, she stays with it and listens to herself at level 2. (“What can I learn from the facts?”) as Bob explains his sister Maggie’s desperate financial straits and adds that he’d like to check in quickly, have Jane meet Maggie, and then he and Jane can continue their walk.
  3. At Maggie’s small house Jane talks with Maggie while Bob checks on the heating problem. Jane now listens to herself at level 3 (“What do I see when I look through their eyes?”) and notices how affectionately Bob and his sister treat each other. She empathizes with both of them and realizes that Bob’s behavior with his sister comes from the same fountain of compassion Jane experiences from him.
  4. She continues to stay present, now listening at level 4 (“What is there to know that’s beyond what I presently know?”). In this place of full presence, she sees that her initial, habitual reaction came from a fundamental, patterned belief: “There will never be enough for me.” She shifts to a different sense of identity—”I am not my pattern”—and its hold on her is released.