Sunday, July 31, 2011

Up the Hill and Over

"If we truly trust our process, we go where our deep work leads us. We do not predetermine where or what that will be...  If we will not or cannot explore and accept the what is, we are doomed to be stuck." Ann Wilson Schaef, Living in Process.
Unlike a model of coaching where clients set goals and go about achieving them while the coach acts as cheerleader, teacher, and sometimes hall monitor staying fully present to  patterns requires playful surrender. "Playful" in the sense of open curiosity, choosing to enter new arenas without the need to follow old rules or control outcomes. This means observing what shows up without judgment. It also means the coach and the client are willing to follow wherever the process leads.

So I was delighted last week to hear from a client how she used an instance of biking up a hill to learn about her pattern of anger: 
"I'm biking up this hill and I'm so angry, thinking I'm just going to let this anger out. I'm going to sweat, I'm going to ride my bike up this hill. I'm not going to get off and walk, I'm going to bicycle up this hill, exerting myself and thinking what I was angry about, letting that anger push me up the hill. There was even a moment when I was going up the hill that it became so real I started to cry. And I realized, That's my way of not being angry!
I stopped four times because it was a nasty hill. But I didn't give up, because I'm sick of not being in touch with my anger. I don't want to give up on being me, of being present in this relationship with my husband."
Schaef describes dysfunctional relationships as "my mask relating to your mask," whereas in real relationships each partner "mirrors, reflects, and augments our primary relationship with our living process." Among many other qualities of a real relationship, "We recognize that when we have a strong reaction to something our spouse is saying or doing... it may very well be triggering an old deep process in us that is now ready to be worked out."

True to my client's intention to be present in her marriage, she described an interaction with her husband: 
"He said something, I disregarded it, and he pulled me up with, "Fine! Be passive-aggressive toward me!" He was being a smart aleck. But when I said "Oh, I really was! Thank you for showing me," he laughed, said, "You're hilarious," and kissed me.
Do you see the playfulness, the lightness? This is a great reminder that when we truly surrender to learning about ourselves without judgment, we don't need the old defenses anymore, and others respond in kind.