Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hungry Ghosts

In Buddhism the Hungry Ghosts are depicted as teardrop shaped, with bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food—representing our futile attempts to feed ego patterns. We can never find satisfaction. It is like drinking salt water to quench our thirst.

We all learned early in life to avoid pain by developing strategies that served us, to a point. But from those strategies we formed a false identity and buried our true selves. We can begin to release those strategies and free ourselves from programmed responses by observing without judgment how the automatic responses play out. The question of how is elemental. Why can be interesting, especially as you and your clients try to understand the early precursors of their personality patterns. However, to promote transpersonal change (transcending the "personality") be present now to patterned behavior.

This level of observation is similar to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Your fundamental task is to help clients hold full awareness in the present, notice their flow of thoughts, their emotions, their kinesthetic responses, and accept these experiences without judgment, without attempts to control. Instead of theorizing about or labeling their behavior, coach them to identify, embrace, and learn from their patterns. A typical pattern (with a variety of motivations and manifestations) is to agree to some experiments between coaching sessions, only to admit in the following session they didn't do what they agreed to do.

Unfortunately, some coaching programs consider it part of the coach's role to "promote the client's self-discipline and hold the client accountable for what they say they are going to do, for the results of an intended action, or for a specific plan with related time frames."

There's a place for this approach, of course, but coaches who adhere strictly to that premise may unwittingly reinforce superficial change and miss opportunities for clients to learn about patterns that have blocked them lifelong.

Other coaches may act as enforcers at the client's request. Don't let that be you.
Pay attention to what clients DO, not what they DON'T do. Personality patterns are deeply embedded and very tricky. One of the best ways to ferret them out is to catch them in action. If clients show the same "bad" behavior they've wanted to stop, that behavior is now in the room with you, ready to be explored.

Here's an example, the second session with a client whose Enneagram style had not yet been determined:

I thought about what to talk about today, remembering what I said I'd do. I haven't done as much as I'd like to. And I've been beating myself up about that.

You wanted to do more. How did you beat yourself up? What did that look like?  

Feeling uncomfortable, anxious, telling myself I'm lazy, I should have done more, feeling disappointed in myself. Also some victimizing, asking myself "Why isn't all this networking I'm doing coming to fruition?"

So that's been a pattern--creating an intention, not doing it as much as you'd like, then beating yourself up. Anything else?  

I feel lost in a way, like there's no structure, no clear path for me to follow. I've always felt a little uneasy when I've only had myself to rely on.

Are you beginning to identify the hungry ghosts this client's been trying to feed? And notice the lack of judgment in the coach's responses, implicitly modeling for the client that whatever comes up is a useful source of learning. Exploring what your clients do, not what they don't do, will encourage them to unveil more, bring the past into the present, and release attachments to outmoded, unnecessary patterns.

Tormented by unfulfilled cravings and insatiably demanding of impossible satisfactions, the Hungry Ghosts are searching for gratification for old unfulfilled needs whose time has passed. Mark Epstein, Thoughts Without a Thinker