The “Secret Ingredient” in Transformative Change (#917)

When I first began learning about the Zen tradition in Buddhism, I was quickly captivated by the idea of “direct transmission”, where the wordless teachings of the Buddha are said to be transmitted from master to student. This always sounded incredibly cool and just a little bit magical to me, and when I had a chance a few years back to sit down with a modern-day zen master, one of the first things I asked him was how direct transmission actually worked.

He explained it like this:

“There is something awake in me which lies dormant in most people. When they spend time with me, that thing wakes up, and they experience a greater sense of peace and relief from their suffering. When they leave, what is inside them often goes back to sleep. But the more time they spend in presence and practice, the more awakened they become.

At some point, by grace, that essential thing inside them may become fully awakened. In that moment, transmission is said to have taken place. Contrary to the way it sounds, nothing ever passed directly from master to student. Rather, what is fully awakened in me is now fully awakened in them.”

I am neither enlightened nor “fully awakened”, but this experience of being with a client as they wake up to the deeper potential inside them during our time together is an essential part of my work as a transformative coach. In my teaching, we often call it “transformative presence”, and it is the invisible “secret ingredient” that explains why a relatively untrained coach can at times have a more profound impact on their clients than far more experienced and skilled professional coaches.

On our most recent Time to Thrive small group coaching intensive, I presented a simple analogy for the relationship between transformative presence and coaching skill – that of the power of the sun and the value of a skilled gardener.

A coach’s skill and knowledge is like that of a skilled and knowledgeable gardener. A gardener can optimize the soil, keeping it watered and nourished, clear of weeds and protected from predators.

But what causes a flower to grow is built in to the seed. When a seed is exposed to water, soil, and sun, that which is hidden in the seed literally comes to light. What actually grows the flower is the nature of the seed interacting with Nature itself.

So while I always encourage coaches to develop their craft through practice, reflection, and continued learning, the “secret ingredient” in transformative coaching is “being the sun” – the ever-deepening connection of the coach to his or her own inner light. As we wake up more and more to our true nature, the light of our presence reveals the light in others, and we becomes a healing force in the world.

This may sound grandiose or even a bit precious, but anyone who has had their life touched by the presence of a loving friend, parent, or helping professional knows that the difference that made the difference was rarely what was said or done. What changes lives is the awareness of all being well, something that seems easiest to see when we are being held in the light of genuine loving presence.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may you awaken to the infinite creative potential inside you!

With all my love,


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Waking Up (#715)

Nina and I are enjoying our second honeymoon in the Tahitian islands this week, and the dream like setting has inspired me to think about the difference between conventional life coaching and transformative or “super” coaching.