Now that my hand is recovering from the wrist fracture (thanks to amazing physical terrorist Mary Tyson) it’s time to type about some of the bigger things that have been happening since my return from China. One of them is by far the biggest.
Many years ago I wrote about that thing that seems to happen for people around me. People open up to me quickly and easily. I decided years ago to try to make use of this gift through documentary filmmaking. I wanted to draw people out on camera and capture the essence of their humanity so that I could reveal it to others who, through either fear or opportunity, wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with them.
As I was continuing down this road one of my best friends from college, Steve March, went a different way, taking him from software quality to developing the capacity of human beings and organizations. We’ve talked a lot about it over the years, swapping books and stories. At one point he described the incredible experience he had going through a training program to work with people developmentally. It was a one year intensive program and it sounded like a continuation of what I had been doing, “by accident” all of these years. By asking and listening deeply and curiously to people, I saw that it gave them the opportunity to reflect on themselves in a unique way that allowed them to revisit old habits and make new choices. The program Steve went through went much further. I was excited about looking into this, and doing more with my instinctual gift.
That was so long ago that Steve is now faculty at that school, New Ventures West. When I left for China I had the thought that if I didn’t find my next mission there, I would return to finally immerse in this program and see where it could take me in terms of working with people.
The carbon monoxide poisoning brought me back a little sooner than I had planned. It forced me to do something that people like Leigh Shaw and others have been telling me for years: slow down. Nothing made me more furious and resistant than the idea of slowing down. I never seemed to be able to do enough as it was. It took losing my ability to think fast enough to move a spoon to my mouth to finally experience what they had trying to share with me. That opportunity for slowness gave me a vision of the world that was much deeper and richer moment by moment. I tried to capture a sense of that in a recent blog post, but I know that trying to explain it to who I was before the incident wouldn’t have been all that useful. I can only say that if I had started this training program before my slowdown and year of recovery it would have been a very very different process.
So What Is It?
So what is this training program? The practice has the unfortunate name of, “Integral Life Coaching”. I say, “unfortunate” because most people either haven’t every heard of “Life Coaching” or have some idea of the practice based on one of the thousands of different ways that it’s been tried over the years. Many people think that what I am learning to do is help people set goals or solve problems. Instead, what coaches from New Ventures West do is better described as taking the opportunity brought on by life disruptions to guide people through uncovering their underlying stories and develop their awareness and core capacities. Instead of solving problems, integral coaches develop people. Ultimately, what seemed like a “problem” when they arrived should no longer appear as a problem at all.
In this case the integral nature of the work is in addressing everything that makes a human being. Instead of treating people like brains on sticks, we understand that who we are as humans is also the product of emotional experience, our bodies, our relationships, our sense of what’s bigger than us and how we bring all of those pieces together.
I thought that the deep listening and questioning skills I had when I started the program were half of what I needed to learn. While it is true that it gave me a really good head start, I have been expanding that capacity significantly more than I thought possible and still have quite a ways to go. This program is first and foremost about shaping us as tools to do this work, and secondly about giving us models and structure to work in. The idea, as the founder James Flaherty describes it, is to give us the structures as a ladder that ultimately falls away below us as we continue to climb.
I am now halfway through the program, and have begun to take on clients. I feel like I’m in the deep end, working with just enough to help make some significant shifts for people and yet at times wishing I could still feel the solid bottom of the pool. There is a good deal of support and so I’m getting good advice from my mentors and student groups as we progress. Most significant to me is how the way that I experience people and the world is shifting in fascinating ways as my awareness grows. I’ll write more about this in future posts. It’s quite a adventure and I’m glad I finally stepped onto this train.
My website for this work is called, most brandedly, Your Time as a Human.