Thursday, February 28, 2019

Evocative Coaching

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For years I searched for an alternative to describing my work as "life coaching." There are countless people calling themselves life coaches, some apparent stars. Not that I don't admire success, or scads of money, but I do wonder if the "better" life some coaches promise belongs to the maya category (all is illusion). Efforts, in other words, to satisfy clients' egos.

Then I read about a Clinton Presidential staff retreat whose facilitators included Jean Houston. What struck me at first as hilariously theatrical was Houston's self-description, also shared in an interview with Oprah Winfrey:
"I would call myself an evocateur of the possible, and a midwife of souls." Dr. Jean Houston.
Sometimes my laughter and immediate rejection of an idea are defenses against taking a risk. Sure enough, I couldn't stop thinking about evocateur. Too grandiose, too foreign, too too . . . yet somehow edgy and intriguing. Out of curiosity I played around at the online Thesaurus and Dictionary. 

As expected, life coaches are described as "helping people to make changes in their lives, to learn new ways of coping, and to function at their maximum potential." Ho hum. Some synonyms: expert, consultant, guide, counselor, mentor, partner, confidant... and in a lighter mode, kibitzer. At the more directive end, I like buttinski. 

Evocateur doesn't appear in either source, but I found evocator and this is my synthesis:
"Through artistry and imagination, evocators call forth a vision of transformed reality, elicit passion, and summon others into action."
The synonyms for evocator tend to derive from prophet, including predictor, forecaster, oracle, reader, diviner, clairvoyant, seer, soothsayer, and witch. I admit to all, on occasion.

Following this thread, I googled evocateur. The first hit was Jean Houston's site, where this description expands on my synthesis above:
"The times of great change and remarkable opportunity are upon us... we can no longer go it alone, but must partner... to share innovative and creative ways in which to rethink and restructure our individual existence within the context of our expanding global communities. To do this requires a heightened awareness, an awakened sense of purpose, and a dedicated commitment to actively seek out the possible."
Evocateur went too far for me, but more and more I liked the intimations of evocator and coined (I thought) evocative coaching. I've  found only one use of the term in Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, a "teacher-centered, no-fault, strengths-based approach to performance improvement."

Their principles for school transformation are the same as those I recommend for Enneagram coaching, based on consciousness (self-awareness), connection (high- trust relationships), competence (celebrate clients' abilities), contribution (honor client's input), and creativity (openness to change, in a flow state) as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl: "During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life."

See also:

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

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, like drinking salt water to quench our thirst.

This is a useful analogy for our addictive Enneagram personality patterns. And it won't help anyone to suggest, metaphorically, "You needn't be so hungry" -- or worse -- "You really need to go on a diet."

Instead of theorizing about or labeling clients' behavior, evocative coaching leads them to see the path of their Hungry Ghosts with compassion, not judgment -- to identify, embrace, and learn from the nature of their hungers.

Unfortunately, some coaching programs consider it part of the coach's role, when clients don't do what they said they'd do between sessions, to "promote the client's self-discipline and hold the client accountable for what they say they are going to do...." 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.

Even at the client's request, evocative coaches don't act as enforcers. Instead, pay
attention to what clients DO, not what they DON'T do. Enneagram patterns are deeply embedded and very tricky. One of the best ways to ferret out a pattern is to catch it 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:

Client: 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.

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

Client: 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?"

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

Client: 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 how the above responses evoke curiosity in the client about what there is to be learned. 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
 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Do I Belong?"

I found The Instincts Dialogue at the 2018 Enneagram Global Summit to be the most actionable discussion for coaching, exploring the instinctual aspects of the self-preservation, sexual, and social subtypes--"reptilian, biological, unconscious, automatic impulses to survive" (Bea Chestnut), "drives and also sensation, known to the body and important to know what they feel like" (Russ Hudson). My main takeaway was to pay less attention to subtype descriptions and to ask instead, as Hudson suggested, "What's my habitual relationship with this drive?'" 

I've simplified the subtype distinctions as defined by three key questions:
  • Self-Preservation instinct: "Am I safe?"
  • Sexual or One-to-One instinct: "Am I loved?"
  • Social instinct: "Do I belong?"
In my practice, every coaching call in some way addressed one of these questions. You want your clients to find a YES to all three: "I am safe." "I am loved." "I belong." And deeper understanding of a client's instinctual subtype preference will heighten your effectiveness in helping them answer these questions--not with a series of prescriptions but by encouraging them to ask, "What's my habitual relationship with this drive?"

Bea Chestnut offers an inspiring personal example on her web site, with a deep look at her Enneagram Two self-preservation instinct. And we learn from her story that growth arises from staying present, observing ourselves without judgment, becoming conscious of what has been unconscious and automatic:
... I felt something sweep through my entire body--an emotional and energetic recognition that told me he was right. I couldn't argue with him, even though my pride wanted to. If I was really honest with myself, I did feel like I needed protection. I wanted to say I could protect him, but I felt, so clearly, in m body, it wasn't true. So, I went and sat in the group with the other Self-Preservation Twos.
Of special interest to me has been the "Do I belong?" question because several of my clients explored how Enneagram patterns help or hinder connection to the world community--mostly through political or environmental concerns. As Bea Chestnut said in The Instincts Dialogue, "We've lost touch with the fact that in primitive people, being part of a tribe was essential to survival."

I'd been reading about the physiological and neurological aspects of our instinct to be part of a tribe (activating social connectivity via the ventral vagal nerve system in The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, and the effects of social connectivity on gene expression in "The Social Life of Genes"). So where does this curiosity lead me? As did Bea Chestnut in her story above, I have typically explored the practical aspects of a concept through self-observation:
  • Historically, my one-to-one instinct had been the strongest influence on my Enneagram style Nine patterns ["At Best, bonds with others, supportive of their ideas, gets buy-in through consensus; At Worst, lives too much through another (parent, spouse, boss, friend, client)"].
  • I'd developed some fairly deep self-awareness and found my own agenda in relationships to a much greater degree than previously. Then my aging mother's need for help gave me an advanced course in staying present. During the 17 years of caring for her, our early life relationship dynamics threatened to define the two of us again. Exploring those triggers helped me further loosen the unconscious hold of my one-to-one instinct. 
  • At the same time, my least-preferred social instinct was being further compromised--by increasing responsibilities for Mom (she lived to be 104!), my natural introversion, and--with the burgeoning of the internet--the opportunity to maintain all my interests (phone coaching, reading/writing, painting) almost exclusively within these four walls. 
  • So, I've felt the pinch of a lack of social connectivity, wanting to be part of a tribe, wanting to feel in my bones, "Yes, I belong," yet also asking What's my habitual relationship with this drive? Noticing when I've stopped myself, and also noticing circumstances that help me to connect--groups of moderate size, groups where the discussion is centered on something I want to learn, groups where there's no pressure to speak but interaction is facilitated, groups whose members share my most fervent beliefs.
  • One step at a time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Being Within Love

"...wisdom and compassion can join hands in finding a Spirit that both transcends and includes this world, a Spirit eternally prior to this world and yet embracing this world and all its beings with infinite love and compassion, and care and concern, and the tenderest of mercies..." Ken Wilber,A Brief History of Everything.
A colleague asked me about self-managing feelings of compassion, fondness, and attraction with clients. Therapists refer to these phenomena as transference and counter-transference. I prefer a less clinical explanation of what happens in a profoundly compassionate coaching relationship. We simply experience love--at its best, what Ken Wilber described as infinite love--an important component of transpersonal change.

Spontaneous change can happen in unconditionally loving personal relationships. In effective coaching relationships, as well, the emotional connection is one of unconditional, caring support. This is especially true when your clients have powerful insights, access a deep sense of their true worth, or realize how radically they've changed as a result of working with you.

My first experience of this felt a bit like falling in love with a client, but much more encompassing, more transcendent. I was grateful it happened when coaching a man to whom I couldn't possibly be attracted--so I wasn't confused about the source, only curious about how or why it was happening. At the moment this profoundly warm feeling swept over me, I'd been pondering how to frame the feedback from others in a way that he could hear without defensiveness. At the same moment, I found out in our meeting, he'd been praying I'd be shown the words that would help him.

It is, indeed, a kind of love we share at times like these, but it's bigger than everyday love. Instead of being "in" love, we're being "within" love, both coach and client lucky enough to have been present to a special kind of healing.

When your client's gender is not your romantic preference, this isn't confusing or threatening to either coach or client. For example, a female client sent me this email after a very powerful coaching session: "Dear Mary, Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think it might not be too soon to say, I love you." She typically expressed her emotions openly, and we both understood she was feeling deeply loved and loving.

But I have been within love with clients who weren't so openly expressive. A happily married, tough-nosed male CEO of a consulting firm, after several months of coaching, would respond to a particularly unexpected insight by saying, I love you!" It was clear he meant this not a romantic utterance, but a way to share his excitement, a feeling bigger than personal love.

Sometimes, though, social conditioning and role expectations can kick in and clients may define their feelings of shared compassion and gratitude as "infatuation" or "falling in love." When that happens, remember that you're in a special position as companion on a difficult and life-changing journey. Create appropriate boundaries so they feel safe enough to stay open and explore new territory, at the same time redefining this joy they're feeling as infinite love, not personal love.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Reframing Spiritual Emergency as Positive Change

So if you're experiencing psychospiritual/ transformational crisis, don't assume you're crazy. Tell your story to someone who will listen, an experienced coach or counselor who understands the nature of spiritual transformation. ("Spiritual Emergency: When 911 Can't Help")
In the post from my Evocative Enneagram Self-Coaching Tips blog where the above is cited, I encourage anyone on a path of deepening self-awareness to reframe a rapid, forceful shift in perception as a "good" thing, so it doesn't necessarily become destabilizing.

Anyone helping clients loosen ego bonds, personality patterns, and defenses also needs to be on the alert for spiritual emergencies that may turn us upside down, but also lead to deep, positive change.

These major shifts from "normal" reality may appear in a variety of forms, many of which I've experienced in myself and/or seen in some of my own clients.

Becoming more familiar with the deep changes that are possible can help you hold steady when your clients describe one or more of the following:
  1. Powerful sensations of heat and/or energy pulsing through the spine, sometimes accompanied by an embodied sense that "something big is happening -- I don't know what!"
  2. A peak experience, mystical sense of awe, or feeling within profound love.
  3. Awakening of extrasensory perception, including precognition and telepathy, increased occasions of synchronicity or more than usual "coincidences."
  4. Feeling "possessed" by an archetype, a heretofore unknown and unfamiliar persona.
  5. An initiatory crisis, the sense of self as a "wounded healer" -- facing into our deepest wound to receive its blessing.
  6. Experiencing what we commonly know as "the dark night of the soul," a sense of something dying and not knowing what's on the "other side," even questioning one's own sanity.
  7. Similar to a peak experience but a more profound feeling of being at the center of or part of the cosmos.
What first brings confusion and fear can lead to profound healing. Spiritual emergency "shatters your entire world only to rebuild it again. It occurs because it is time for the individual to awaken."

If you're interested in a personal assessment or to delve further into these concepts, check out The Questionnaire Measurement of Spiritual Emergency (scroll through to Appendix).

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Evoking Change

Unlike a model of coaching where clients set behavioral goals and go about achieving them -- while the coach acts as cheerleader, guide, and sometimes hall monitor -- evocative coaching involves playful surrender, staying present to patterns with open curiosity, observing what shows up without judgment. The coach and the client go wherever the process leads without the need to follow rules or control outcomes.

We find our authentic selves by becoming mindful of the layers of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that make up personality--the idealized self
Style 1: "I'm right and can fix it."
Style 2: "I'm helpful, intuit your needs."
Style 3: "I'm successful, make things happen."
Style 4: "I'm unique, appreciate aesthetics."
Style 5: "I'm perceptive, seek knowledge."
Style 6: "I'm loyal, the glue that holds the team together."
Style 7: "I'm fun, always see the bright side."
Style 8: "I'm powerful and responsible."
Style 9: "I'm easygoing, get along with others."
When these fixations become the standard for measuring self, emphasis shifts from being to appearing, filtering in only what is congruent with the image. Our primary concern becomes not what we feel, but whether we're safe. Overriding genuine feelings, wishes, and thoughts, we must instead:
Style 1: ". . . correct what's wrong."
Style 1: ". . . take care of others."
Style 3: ". . . keep busy and get results."
Style 4: ". . . point out what's missing."
Style 5: ". . . stand back, observe, understand."
Style 6: ". . . uncover potential problems."
Style 7: ". . . accentuate the positive."
Style 8: ". . . take charge and seek control."
Style 9: ". . . merge with others' agendas, forget my own."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Coaching: An Inside Job

Take this to heart as a coach: change always occurs. You can influence and accelerate that process. Give yourself time and appreciation as you try out the practices below--and remember to have fun.

My approach to coaching is not always linear. I've used examples, stories, symbolic behaviors, and metaphors. The following three principles can inform your work no matter what coaching model you follow:
Acknowledge and Validate the Client's Worldview: Transpersonal change is more likely to occur in a coaching relationship where there's deep rapport--where clients feel known. Accessing their inner worlds gives you both insight and compassion. Paradoxically, they'll be more open to change when they feel accepted exactly as they are. Once they have that assurance, you can help them recognize and change patterns of behavior based on subconscious, outmoded beliefs.

Help Shift that Worldview: Most people will come to you having tried to avoid or overcome something they don't like about themselves. That approach tends to block positive energy. In contrast, your clients will release energy for change when they learn to observe their patterns of thought and behavior without judgment. Such compassionate self-awareness may be enough to support spontaneous changes. In addition, there are many inventive, even playful ways to help them alter the patterns they observe.

Focus on Solutions, Tapping Their Resources, Experience, and Ideas: Sometimes a solution focus means merely encouraging more of what works. It can also mean reframing--problem in the past and solution in the present or future. Change occurs when a problem is specific enough that it can be solved, when it's seen as a positive vision for the future.
As I mentored coaches over the years, I also found it helps to have a concrete how-to summary. The skills below will help you evoke transpersonal change:
  1. Develop rapport: Acknowledge and validate client's worldview without judgment or prescription; share human to human responses.
  2. Hold a vision of what's possible: Reflect second-order changes that occur in interaction with you.
  3. Presuppose positive outcomes: Make statements that embed a positive expectation and assume a desired change. 
  4. Teach Clients Self-Observation: Show them how to observe patterns without judgment; reinforce evidence of neutrality and change.
  5. Use Possibility Language: Restate problems in the past, solutions in the present and/or future.
  6. Focus on Solutions: Elicit brief problem description; ask how solution will look (videospeak); discover how they behaved in exceptions to the problem and encourage doing more of what works; if no exceptions, co-create achievable steps as fieldwork.
  7. Help Shift from Either/Or to Both/And Thinking: Identify the "X" and "Y" that are apparently incompatible. Explore existing parameters. Ask "How can you do both X and Y?"
  8. Honor Resistance as Energy for Change; Stay in Flow: Use everything that happens as grist for the mill, including all blocks, tasks not done, relapses, etc.
  9. Use Evocative Tactics: Engage clients through stories, metaphors, humor, spontaneity, inventiveness, playfulness; bypass logic's censors.
  10. Co-Invent Transformative Fieldwork: Co-create fieldwork that breaks old patterns with new responses; take them to their edge (doing anything different, however small, can promote significant change).
  11. Make Process Observations: Comment on interactions with you as a source of learning about patterns.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A "Clean" Sweep

Over a period of years David Grove identified questions that would least influence clients in their metaphorical journey, hence the term "Clean Language." Carol Wilson, "Metaphor and Symbolic Modelling for Coaches."
Even though metaphors are commonplace in everyday language, we sometimes miss their potential to open doors that logic and its accompanying censors keep firmly locked. Think about it. If logic ruled the day, you could simply say, "I'm going to stop feeling defensive when someone criticizes me" or "I want to lose 15 pounds," and voila! It's done. 

Just as our unconscious patterns and resistances defy logic, they can be accessed and transformed with metaphor. It's really fun to follow a client's metaphor and see where it leads. And I've found they'll accept suggestions that might otherwise seem strange or silly, if presented with confidence. 

So, for example, when I asked a client about her loneliness, she said it was like being stranded on a desert island. Dropping assumptions about my role as helper, I followed her into her own metaphor, trusting that her internal resources would lead us somewhere healing. 

(It's a long story, but a key player was a talking bird, a guide neither of us could have anticipated.)

If coaches comes into metaphor play with their own worldview, make assumptions about what clients see in their own metaphors, and take them where the coach thinks they should go, this negates clients' experience and dismisses the potential for their own solutions. Psychologist David Grove suggested that metaphors are not only symbolic of a problem but also contain clues to solutions. He developed questions he called clean, meaning they don't engage a cognitive process but rather keep clients in relationship with their own metaphors.

Angela Dunbar's article "Using Metaphors with Coaching" will give you a good start with Clean Language. The first question is always, "What would you like to have happen?" and clients are typically in a logical, left-brain mode, as my client was when she said she wanted to feel connection instead of lonely. So it may take a while for a metaphor to arise, but soon, as you follow the client's lead, a whole metaphorical landscape begins to appear.

Here are a few examples of clean questions and content taken from a session of about 30 minutes. I'll use the word bird to represent my client's metaphor (one of many before she became aware of a voice, which then became a talking bird):
  1. To develop awareness: "What kind of voice is that voice? or "Whereabouts is that voice?" or "Is there anything else about that voice?" (She sees a bird landing next to her.)
  2. To understand the bigger picture: "Then what happens?" or "What happens just before?" or "Where could that bird have come from?" (She says it's a talking bird that comes from a ship she sees in the distance."
  3. To explore relationships and connections: "And is there a relationship between that talking bird and feeling connected?" or "And when the bird talks to you, what happens to feeling connected?" (She says when she reaches the ship she'll be connected, and the bird is telling her how to reach the ship.)
  4. To find out how the goal can be reached: "What needs to happen for you to feel connected?" or "And can that connection happen?" (The client at first says she has no way to get to the ship, she can't swim that far, but eventually the bird tells her how to build a raft and she is able to do that.)
A complete session is very much in flow and may move between questions, as new metaphors and even new goals appear.

It's important to hold a playful attitude as a coach. Even if you've never done this kind of work before, you'll be surprised how freeing the process can be for both you and your clients.