A Multidimensional Experience (#789)

In the opening chapter of Supercoach, I describe the difference between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of coaching as follows:

Traditional coaching takes place primarily on a horizontal dimension – coaches assist their clients in getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Yet lasting, sustainable change nearly always happens in the vertical dimension – a deepening of the ground of being of the client and greater access to inspiration and spiritual wisdom. While this has generally led to an either/or approach to success and personal growth and a sharp division between therapy and coaching, transformative coaching – or, as I like to call it, ‘supercoaching’ – uses the vertical dimensions to create change on the inside while you continue to move forward towards your goals on the outside.

To better understand the difference between these two dimensions, let me share a real-life case study that walked into my office not long ago. A friend’s daughter had just discovered (via text message) that she was not being accepted into the advanced performance group at her dance company. Resplendent in anger and frustration, she laid out the insensitivities, biases, and incompetencies on the part of the decision making panel that had led to her rejection and a detailed list of possible actions to get the decision reversed.  She then asked me for help in three areas:

a. A crash course in effective negotiation and influence strategies to assist her in persuading the panel of their error

b. Designing a backup plan for what to do if she was unsuccessful in her attempts, including a potential smear campaign against the relevant parties so that they would lose their jobs and more sensible and appropriately skilled people would be able to review and assess her potential

c. Brainstorming possible alternative career options if this proved to be indicative of the realities of the industry she was committing her life to.

Now, each one of these interventions would have made perfect sense in the horizontal dimension, where our primary goal is to improve our experience life.  But in the vertical dimension, our primary goal is to gain a deeper understanding of what’s really going on behind our experience of life. While that understanding inevitably leads to clearer thinking, better decisions, and a higher quality of life, it does so indirectly and in ways that are often surprising.

One of the things I’ve come to understand about the nature of emotions and gut reactions to know that when you’re drowning in negative emotion, it’s a terrible time to trust your gut. So I counseled patience in the short term, promising that if she came back later that afternoon, we could revisit her plan after she had allowed a bit of time to regain her bearings and take a look at things with fresh eyes.

While she was initially frustrated by my “unwillingness to help”, a few hours later she returned to tell me, quite sheepishly, that the text message turned out to have been a ruse – a misguided attempt on the part of a well-meaning friend to make her think she hadn’t made it so that she’d be all the more delighted the next day when the head of the company planned to announce her successful “promotion” in front of all of her peers.

On reflection, the head of the company was actually “a very good judge of talent and a very nice person”, dance was “the only thing in the world she wanted to pursue”, and the idea of sitting down to study negotiation, persuasion, and influence was kind of boring and would I mind terribly if we left it to another time?

Now, it’s easy to dismiss this story as the result of an “artistic temperament” and to point out that your problems are real and not the result of a simple misunderstanding. But in my experience, our problems are always the result of a simple yet fundamental misunderstanding:

 

We think we are experiencing reality;
we are actually experiencing our thinking.  

The more time we spend trying to “improve reality”, the more real our thinking appears to us. This is the ultimate dilemma of the horizontal dimension – no matter how many times you tune up the engine of an imaginary car, it’s still not going to get you where you really want to go.

By way of contrast, in the vertical dimension we recognize that we are always already exactly where we need to be. Well-being is right here, right now, and there is nothing you need to do, achieve, or change in order to be happy and at peace in this moment.

The more deeply we understand the nature of thought and the nature of the human experience, the more we experience the deeper feelings which are our birth right and the more we see the world around us with clarity and insight. And all our attempts to improve our lot in life in the horizontal dimension turn out to be little more than a stressful distraction.

Of course, we can no more live purely in the vertical dimension than we could in the horizontal. Life seems designed to be experienced in 3D, and even though we may know at some level it’s just a trick of perception that makes it appear this way, we will still get caught up and at times overwhelmed by the illusion.

But if we can let go of even a little bit of the compulsion to fix our problems and improve our lot, we notice that the edges of the world get a bit softer and life seems a whole lot less frightening. Because there’s less “reality” to fix, there’s less to do and more time to do it in. Which means that when we find a circumstance we actually want to change or create in the world, we have the energy and resources available to do it.

I’ll say it again:

 

We experience our thinking, not our circumstances.

And since in any moment we can have a brand new thought, we are never more than one thought away from a brand new experience of life.

With love,
Michael

 

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