My early client work was fairly therapeutic in nature – people would come to me with panic attacks or phobias and I would help them change their scary thinking until that fear was no longer a factor in their lives. After a few years of doing that kind of work, I realized that while my clients felt better about feeling better, it rarely changed their lives. It was one of the rare exceptions to that rule that persuaded me to not only stay in the game but to make the transition from pure pain-relieving/problem-solving interventions to what I call “the coach approach” – helping people tap into a more powerful part of themselves and falling more deeply in love with their lives.
A young woman was brought to see me by her boyfriend. She was agoraphobic (essentially a fear of open spaces) and had to lie down on the backseat of his car under a pile of coats in order to make the journey across London to our session. When I asked her if she had any insight into the origins of her condition, she told me the story of a bus journey she had taken as a teenage girl where she had a disturbing experience.
“I was on the same bus I always took home from school,” she said, “when I looked at the old woman across the aisle from me and something bizarre happened. It looked like her skin was melting, and then her bones, until all I could see was pure energy. I felt as though there was no separation between her and me, which was both beautiful and horrifying in equal measure.”
“Then I looked at a mother and child a few rows in front of me and had the same experience. Their bodies dissolved and all that was left was raw energy, and I couldn’t tell where they ended and I began. Everywhere I looked on the bus the same thing happened, and then I looked at the people on the street outside and it happened with them too. And that was when I knew that Satan had taken over my body.”
I was initially shocked that she could interpret the experience in that way. After all, I had spent years in meditation trying to have that kind of mini-enlightenment experience – what the Zen Buddhists call “kensho”, which translates fairly literally as “seeing into one’s true nature”. But for her, without any context, she just thought she was going crazy and worse still that Satan was the cause.
When she was done sharing her story, I did a few therapeutic interventions with her relating to her panic attacks, and she felt sufficiently better that she was able to leave with her boyfriend without having to hide under the pile of coats. As she was leaving, it occurred to me to give her a book off my shelf called “What is Enlightenment?” edited by John White, which chronicled a number of similar experiences that people had had of transcending the personal self and dissolving into the oneness of life.
A few years later, I got a voicemail from her asking if I remembered her and if she could take me to lunch. I don’t normally accept those kinds of invitations, but I was curious to see her and to find out what had prompted the call after a couple of years of being out of touch.
When I walked into the café where we’d arranged to meet it was like walking into an intervention. She was there with the same boyfriend (now fiancée), but also with her parents and grandparents. I was equal parts nervous and curious and asked her what had happened.
It turned out that a couple of days after that session she woke up for the first time in years without fear. She’d gone on to do a degree in Psychology and wanted to interview me for her thesis. Her family and fiancée had come along to the lunch to thank me for “giving them their girl back”. And while I had no idea at the time why what little I did had made that big a difference, I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
As I got more and more comfortable working in the context of what I call transformative coaching, I became more and more willing to let the conversation not be problem-based. We didn’t start by looking for a problem to solve; we started with the raw potential of who and what we really are and looked at what we could get created from that place inside us.
For me, this kind of coaching is about unleashing the human potential. But the human potential is not personal, it’s universal. It’s a spiritual potential. So to begin with anything less than the infinite creative potential – our nature as the deeper intelligence of life, the Universal Mind, or as a part of God – is selling ourselves short because that’s the very essence of who we are.
So you’re the infinite creative potential and you want to write a book. You’re the infinite creative potential and you want to win a race. You’re the infinite creative potential and you want to build a business. You’re the infinite creative potential and you want a better marriage. You’re the infinite creative potential and you’d like to go out and make a difference in the world.
The odds are already in your favor because you’re the infinite creative potential of the entire fu*king universe.
It’s not that you have wisdom and common sense; it’s that you are an already always expression of divine wisdom. It’s not that you have access to a Universal Mind that you can bend to your will; it’s that you are an expression of that Universal Mind and can allow it to flow through you and at times even dissolve into it completely.
I have a nutty vision for the future of coaching:
What if coaching isn’t a “get rich quick from the comfort of your own home” scheme, but a legitimate way to awaken humanity? What if coaching is the perfect modality to reignite the divine spark in all of us?
I certainly don’t think everyone needs to do it the way I do it. I don’t even think everyone needs to do it through coaching. But I love that coaching is a legitimate and effective vehicle to point people towards their divine nature and awaken the best they have inside them. And when people light up, they begin to illuminate the world around them.
The Scottish mystic Syd Banks said it beautifully.
“We have the most wonderful job in the world. We find people in various stages of sleep. And then we get to tap them on the shoulder and be with them as they wake up to the full magnificence of life.”
With all my love,