I first noticed years ago that there are two kinds of conversations about life that seem to truly impact people on a profound level. The first is an attempt to answer the question “who am I?” This is an inherently meta-physical conversation – in other words, a conversation about what’s really going on at a level beyond or even before the physical. In order to answer the question in a meaningful way, we need to look for universal principles – those things that are true for all people at all times, regardless of the idiosyncrasies of their circumstances.
As Aristotle said:
“In every systematic inquiry where there are first principles, or causes, or elements, knowledge and science result from acquiring knowledge of these… It is clear, then, that in the science of nature as elsewhere, we should try first to determine questions about the first principles.”
I call this the transformative conversation, because as we see more about who we are and how life works, it alters the way we experience ourselves and the world around us. In a sense, nothing changes directly as a result of this conversation, but everything is different after than before. The foundations on which we build our lives become more solid, as they are now rooted in an unshifting reality before the formation of our own individual experiences. It is inherently exploratory conversation – a journey of discovery of a pre-existing, already present truth waiting to be uncovered.
The second conversation, and the one the world seems to engage in most gleefully, is an attempt to answer the question “how shall I live?” This is the realm of ethics and morality, and of teachings about happiness and success. There have been tens of thousands of books written over the past five thousand years or so which attempt to answer the question definitively. The problem is that this is an inherently creative conversation – there are no singular right answers in a world of infinite possibility.
It’s also where the “coaching” part of transformative coaching kicks in. As transformative coaches, we assist our clients in both waking up to their deeper potential and expressing that potential in the world. While it’s true that you need to be at least somewhat awake to truly experience life, if you’re not going to do anything with that life, what’s the point of waking up?
Lest you use this to beat yourself up about the inherent meaningless of your existence (or is that just me? :-), let me give you an example of how these two conversations might play out in a coaching conversation:
A quick aside – as my work has grown more public, it’s gotten more difficult to share case studies anonymously. The following example is a hybrid – everything in it really happened, but I’ve combined the experience of several different clients to give you a sense of how things can work without violating any confidentialities…
Trevor was the CEO of a lawn and fertilizer company. His company were one of the first to develop organic alternatives to chemical based lawn treatments and mass market them. Unfortunately, he was also completely burned out and ready to do whatever it took to get out of the business. Before taking the first offer to come along and cashing out, he decided to come see me to 1) find better ways of coping with his anxiety and 2) explore possible alternatives to selling the company for a loss.
As I got to know him a bit, I realized that he was exceptionally bright and personable, and could see why he’d been successful up to that point. I could also see that if he kept trying to move forward from a foundation of insecurity and overwhelm, he was extremely unlikely to get very far.
We talked about the nature of mind – how we live 100% of the time in an experience of thought in the moment. Since thought, by its very nature is continually changing, our experience should continually be changing as well. When our experience gets “stuck”, that lets us know that we’ve gotten bogged down in habitual and usually invisible to us thinking. We’ve gone from “acute stress”, which is an in the moment experience of freaking out that seems to just be a normal part of life, to “chronic stress”, which can manifest as exhaustion, illness, and burnout.
We also talked about how much unnecessary attention we pay to the details of our thinking. I shared the story of one of my best friends at university who was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He thought all the songs on the radio were secret messages being crafted especially for him. His code name, as he disclosed to us in a moment of friendly indiscretion, was “baby”, which as you can imagine meant that he was receiving an inordinate amount of “important messages” each time he turned on the radio.
In the same way, the vast majority of thoughts in our head are just the generic entrails of things we’ve picked up along the way in our lives. Nobody really knows exactly where they come from, but they come and go at a remarkable pace and with an arbitrariness that makes hacking the details of your own psychology virtually impossible.
Fortunately, we don’t need to know where thought comes from to navigate our lives effectively. As we see that the only source of our experience is thought in the moment, our interest in the details of those thoughts begins to wane and we wake up to a deeper level of the mind – a universal energy and intelligence at work behind the scenes. Rather than attempt to get better at thinking, we get better at listening. We find the quiet underneath the noise, and through that quiet a steady stream of insight and knowing starts to flow.
In Trevor’s case, this came with a sense of calm and resilience that meant he didn’t need to sell his company in order to be OK. When we explored other options from this deeper place inside him, he quickly saw a number of alternatives to a short sale. If the offer was above a certain amount, he would take it as a matter of best practice; if it wasn’t, he would continue to evolve and grow the business from a place of well-being and possibility. Less than two months later, he sold the company for a multi-million dollar profit and has moved on to his next project.
The point of this story, at least in the context of today’s musings, is that the transformative conversation was the foundation for the coaching conversation. Before we spoke, he was attempting to solve an inside-out problem (his high levels of chronic stress and anxiety) with an outside-in solution (selling his company at any price). Once he saw the truth of where his experience was coming from and the deeper intelligence available to him when he wasn’t caught up in his own habitual thinking, what to do with his company became a simple matter of common sense.
In that sense, sharing the principles was a means to an end – a way of shifting his foundations to solid ground that would support him in creating more of what he wanted to see manifest in the world.
So what about you – what are you up to in the world? What would you like to be up to? What stops you?
With all my love,