Foundations, Possibilities, and Going Deeper, part four (#801)

If you missed parts 1-3, you can read them here

One of my favorite ways of describing Transformative Coaching is this:

“A meaningful conversation about the nature of the human experience.”

Simple though that description is, there are three distinct parts to it, each one an essential contribution to the value of the process…

1. A meaningful conversation…

Lyndon Duke was a researcher into and teacher of what he called The Linguistics of Suicide and The Linguistics of Productivity. Lyndon used to say that the meaning of any event can be measured in the difference that it makes. If it doesn’t make any difference, it doesn’t have any meaning.

So one of the things that sets the transformative conversation apart from what I call a “pub chat” is that philosophical and abstract as it may get, there is intent behind it – the intention to create a useful difference in the lives of the conversationalists by prompting some sort of deeper insight into the nature of what it is to be alive on the planet.

2. …about the nature of…

There was a time in the past where I would have argued that everything is subjective. Given the impossibility of an objective reality, my job, as I saw it, was to come up with the most useful lie. I got to be very good at it, and could spin my personal story and my client’s stories a thousand different ways until we came up with a point of view that freed us up to move forward with a greater degree of success.

But while this seemed a useful skill at the time, it left me with nothing solid to hang on to and a heightened sense of insecurity about pretty much everything. It didn’t occur to me that while our experience of life is indeed subjective, subjectivity itself is an objective fact.

So when we look to “the nature” of something, we are looking to see it not as it appears through our own eyes but as it is before being seen. Or to put it in considerably simpler terms, we are looking to see the truth of it, even as we recognize the inevitability of distorting, deleting, and generalizing that truth the moment we attempt to describe it in language.

The deeper we look in the direction of the truth behind the human experience, the more we are likely to see. And once we see the true nature of something, our behaviors will inevitably change without any effort on our part whatsoever.

By way of example, last week I had a fun conversation with a dynamic woman who was trying to understand why I wasn’t going to offer her any techniques to improve her life during our coaching together.

Our dialogue went a little something like this:

“Imagine somebody gave you an expensive bottle of your absolute favorite wine,” I began. “The only condition was that you had to carry it around with you at all times and under no circumstances were you allowed to actually drink it… could you do it?”

She replied “It would depend on how long for!”

“If you really wanted to succeed”, I continued, “how would you go about doing it?”

She thought for a moment or two and then said “I would probably set up a system of punishment and rewards. I would promise myself some kind of a treat for each day I went without opening the bottle, and threaten myself with some kind of negative consequence if I failed to strengthen my resolve.”

I then asked her to imagine that somebody was able to demonstrate to her beyond a shadow of a doubt that although the bottle looked for all the world like her favorite wine, it was actually filled with rat poison.

“If you knew that for a fact,” I asked, “how long do you think you could go without drinking it?”

She laughed. “That would be easy,” she said. “I wouldn’t need any kind of positive or negative reinforcement at all.”

And that is the power of a deeper understanding of the true nature of something. Once you see it for what it really is, your behavior in response to it becomes automatic, obvious, and effortless.

3.…the human experience.

When we first see the power of a deeper understanding to change our behavior, we naturally gravitate towards the desire to develop a deeper awareness of and understanding of our own individual psychology. And this kind of self-awareness can reveal an extraordinary amount of data and distinctions, as we discover we are introverted or extroverted, have high or low self-esteem, and are more or less honest with ourselves than we had hoped or feared.

But self-awareness can quickly turn to self-consciousness, as each new observation is coupled with a judgement and an attempt to remedy those things we think we should do less of and augment those things we think we should do more of. Before long, we have become hopelessly entangled in a struggle against our own psyche, spending countless hours and endless efforts trying to “become the person we think we ought to be.”

By way of contrast, when we look away from our own unique peccadilloes towards a more impersonal inquiry into the nature of the human experience, we discover a very interesting thing – most of the things we thought were wrong with us are simply a part of the human condition.

Everybody has moods. Everybody does things that seem like a good idea at the time which they regret later. Everybody fails at some things and succeeds at others, and the ratio is usually more a function of what they choose to attempt than any personal genius or lack of potential.

Similarly, when we stop asking “what’s true about me?” and begin asking “what’s true about human beings in general?”, we discover things about our incredible capacity for resilience, and creativity, and hope. People are amazing, a fact that’s much easier to see when we aren’t looking at “them” in some kind of judgmental comparison with “us”.

Here are a few of the things I’ve seen as I’ve had meaningful conversations about the nature of the human experience over the past five years or so:

  • Our thoughts create our experience of life in a closed loop – no external event, person, or circumstance can interfere in the process. In short, we feel our thinking.
  • When we misplace the source of our experience as being outside of our own thinking, we look outside of ourselves to change or “fix” that experience. This is like complaining to your partner about something they did in your dream last night – it’s unlikely to help and depending on your partner’s current state of mind, it might lead to some unwanted consequences.
  • The nature of thought is free-flowing. That is, left to their own devices, thoughts have no more staying power than dandelion seeds. Consequently, we do not need to learn to manage or control them.
  • Life exists beyond our personal experience of it. There is a deeper intelligence behind life that is now and has always been unfolding. As the Beatles once said, “Life goes on within you and without you.”
  • The more aligned we allow ourselves to be with the larger unfolding of life, the more effortless our experience of our own lives will tend to be. Choosing to go against the unfolding of life is always possible and never useful. A pine tree which covers itself up with oak leaves and tapes acorns to its branches is still a pine tree.

I could go on and on, yet I have come to see that sharing what I’ve seen, meaningful as it has been in my own life, is rarely as useful as pointing people towards the place where those insights originate.

So I’ll finish this quartet of tips with one final thought:

We all have access to the same intelligence that has guided the greatest minds and most spiritual of teachers throughout recorded history. This impersonal intelligence is an ever-present field of pure possibility, always accessible and deeply responsive. And if you want to go deeper into the possibility of what it is to be a human being, you need look no further than this infinite resource which we are already a part of.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,
Michael

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