Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Taste of Sadness

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
               Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
                 John Keats, Ode on Melancholy
“As a matter of interest,” announced an Enneagram Four client, “I now know the difference between depression and melancholy. Melancholy is a sweet sadness I don’t mind. Depression is a much darker place, a deeper pit of despair and hopelessness.”  

This level of attention to the nuances of anguish doesn’t make me uneasy. Indeed, it attracts me. In 2000, I began an ill-fated love affair that took me to ecstatic highs and tragic lows. In spite of the great pain I suffered, I always think of that lost relationship with joy. The reason? I thought I’d experienced the full range of feelings, and I had. But I hadn’t yet experienced the full intensity of feelings, an intensity that’s now more available to me. I find this to be especially true when I’m coaching someone with more mercurial moods than typical of my quieter, Enneagram style Nine personality.

It’s easier now for me to establish rapport with clients in pain, to tap into my previous experiences with symphonic overtones and authentically affirm the heartbreak they're enduring. 

But something else may happen that I need to attend to – I can sometimes merge so much I begin to lose my objectivity as a coach, showing too much empathy, indulging in the thrill of feeling what clients are feeling. This won’t help them move from being stuck in their emotions to becoming effective in the external world.  
Some years ago I left a workshop with the commitment to “live life with passion.” After my roller-coaster love affair I renewed that commitment, but reworded it slightly: “to live my own life with passion.” 

I encourage you to think about what clients you’re drawn to and why, and to notice when your own personality patterns may help or hinder the coaching relationship.