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