THOUGHTS VARIOUS AND SUNDRY
There are many ways of providing help and healing for persons who are struggling with issues. Each of these has its benefits and its limitations. Americans are keenly aware of these things. Last year we spent 38 Billion dollars on alternative forms of treatment. People often seek additional resources with which to supplement or in some cases replace familiar forms of treatment. One might say that these things range from acupuncture to Zen.
Traditional forms of psychotherapy have been strong on helping people understand “why it is broken” in dealing with life’s hurts but often less helpful in showing us “how to fix it.” For some people the pursuit of the “why is it broken?” question has led them to face with considerable perplexity the reality that theologians have often called “the human condition.”
Each of us ultimately needs to be able to answer the question “what is the meaning of my life?” Traditionally most of the “why” questions have been left to theologians, philosophers, and other religious teachers and leaders. Every religious tradition attempts to help the disciples of that tradition make sense of their lives, to find meaning and purpose, to articulate a personal ethical perspective, and to shape and energize the living of their lives.
I have provided various dimensions of psychotherapy to individuals and families for the past 25 years. Recently I have become aware of a desire to go beyond the scope of these practices and have been attracted to the emerging concept of life coaching. This process is defined this way by the Harvard Medical School Department of Continuing Education: “Coaching is a change process that mobilizes strengths to realize the potential of individuals and organizations. . . . . coaching has emerged as a competency dedicated to helping people change, develop and meet personal and professional goals, while building self-efficacy, resilience and the capacity for further development.”
In recent time we have seen a coming together of previously rather diverse perspectives on human life. The neuroscientists are beginning to help us see that the brain is designed to love, mystics and theologians from the major religions of the world are finding more and more common ground in articulating an understanding of life, psychology has been impacted by a variety of spiritual practices, and medicine has felt the impact of spiritual perspectives along with a renewed interest in mind-body connections. Seminaries that train Christian clergy have been teaching pastoral psychology for a century; medical schools that train physicians have added courses in spirituality in a major way in the last 20 years. The widespread interest in Eastern religions and philosophies has motivated many Christian thinkers to reclaim the Christian mystic tradition (something that 20th Century rationalism tried to ignore).
Sigmund Freud taught us that the Id, that raging, lustful, angry, subconscious of Freudian theory had to be beaten into submission and controlled or human beings would be awful and impossible to live with. His theory found a ready audience in people soaked in the terrible beliefs associated with the idea of original sin. Both modern psychology and modern Christianity are calling us away from seeing people in such dire perspectives. Matthew Fox, a Christian theologian, has countered the concept of original sin in his seminal book Original Blessing. Contemporary neuroscientists like Daniel Siegel in concert with Buddhist psychology as articulated by Jack Kornfield are helping us to understand the profound positive resources that every human has. The pioneering work of Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard medical school, has led to an integration of mind, body, and spiritual perspectives. The work of Andrew Newberg is helping us see how religious beliefs and practices impact the basic functioning of the human brain.
In order to make even some of these rich resources available to people who are seeking to make changes in their lives, I believe that we must move beyond the traditional practices of counseling and psychotherapy. That has been happening in one corner of the psychological world at the hands of pastoral counselors. The emerging new phenomenon of life coaching (both with and without a spiritual component) suggests ways to integrate these resources.
The concept of coaching is deeply wedded to the commitment to helping people develop their own resources. Whether a coach is helping someone develop their singing voice, improving their golf swing or preparing to run a marathon, that coach is devoted to showing the person how to access and maximize their own resources. Life coaching is similar. It does not impose goals, beliefs, attitudes or perspectives on people. It helps them develop their own goals, more fully articulate their beliefs, develop attitudes that will enhance their innate ability and discover a perspective that will enable positive, creative, and even joyful pursuit of their goals.
With these ideas in mind, I have added coaching concepts and tools to my own skill bank and intend to help people discover and pursue the goals that will enable them to be the people they want to be and help them to answer their own questions about the meaning of their lives.
DENOMINALIZING WHILST THEOLOGIZING
The field of Neurolinguistic Programing (commonly abbreviated as NLP) has made a serious issue out of our tendency, at least in English, to turn verbs into nouns. Thus living becomes life, loving becomes love, creating becomes creator or creation, etc. One of the questions NLP practitioners love to ask is “Can you put that idea in a wheel barrow?” They are correct in that when we nominalize something we start thinking about it and describing it in various objective terms—like length, breadth, depth, height, width, weight, size, etc. There is even some evidence from that modern research phenomenon of brain scanning, that nouns and verbs are processed in different parts of the brain. One question this raises is if the brain processes something naturally in one way e.g., seeing a motion and is forced by changes in language to process it another way describing the ‘motion’ as an event, what kinds of results might be forthcoming? At the very least this could promote confusion; at a deeper level it might interfere with the development of coherence. I ask you to keep this perspective in mind while I talk a bit about the process of doing theology or theologizing.
I also will invite you to wonder with me how the way we think about objects informs a lot of assumptions which we make constantly. Most of the objects in our lives have histories. I can tell you, at least in a general way, when I acquired various books in my library, I can recite with considerable accuracy the list of places I have inhabited in my life. Many objects have a describable life-cycle: I buy a new car and drive it for several years. While I am using it, it suffers wear and requires maintenance as well as fuel and eventually I will decide that it is too worn for me to keep and I’ll then use it as collateral to acquire another car. I am recently had a birthday and this occasion reminds me that I came into existence as a human being at a certain time, place and date. So I assume that objects including the body that I inhabit have a life cycle—a beginning, a middle and an end. In fact, the concept of ‘middle’ here is an assumption that works like this: the current state is neither beginning or end so it must be ‘middle.’ I apply this to all manner of things. I think about the universe this way—it exists therefore it must have had a beginning and will have an end because it had a beginning. A great deal of thinking mythic, theological, philosophical and scientific has gone into speculating about this concept. There have been endless controversies and battles over it. My tendency to think this way leads me to assume that many things are true when they may not be. I get hungry, so I decide to fix some food and have a meal. This process gets started at the beginning. If I am eating and get interrupted by a phone call, I may tell my caller I am in the middle of my meal and eventually I will finish the meal, put the remains away and clean up my mess and thus there is an end. There are enough of these things in my life to encourage me to think that anything that has a beginning will therefore have a middle and an end. I observe that people die. For example, my parents have died. I actually can’t prove my parents had a beginning but I can date the day their lives ended. It seems like I came into their lives in the middle but that’s a hypothesis since I cannot prove they had a beginning. However, I know that they had an end. It is a matter of belief that they had a beginning. As I observe the process of people dying, I assume that is the “way of all flesh” and that I will also die. I can’t prove that and actually, if I do die, I don’t imagine that I’ll be able to prove that I did! I come to speak of my existence as ‘my life’ and I do it in a way that implies it is an object. I don’t ordinarily talk about my living unless I’m using that word as a synonym for my occupation. It might make a lot of difference to talk about how I do my living instead of talking about how I live my life, because it moves me from regarding my life as an object to experiencing it as a process—a process we might call life-ing.
What if the universe is not an object? What if it is a process? Can we still justify our assumption that it had a beginning and will have an end? What if “universing” is a constant process? If we stop thinking of the universe as an object and talking about it in terms of nouns, then it becomes a verb, an action, a process, a doing. It seems that the universe only needs a beginning and an end in the minds of folks who insist that it is an object even if that is the ultimately spectacular object. It occurs to me to wonder if human awareness of our own life cycle has led us to project that process onto the universing. Perhaps the logic is a bit like ‘well, if we have to die then so does all else.’ It seems to be a well-established understanding or assumption that human beings need to make meaning of events. The objectification of the universe seems to be linked to our need to make meaning. I have even found at least one article about the universe which described it as “our” universe, so there are some who think of the universe as their personal property! Even though we might agree that the universe is unimaginably vast, if we see it as an object with a beginning and an end then it becomes a manipulative in the various schemes that offer explanations that help us to have meaning in events. There are some who believe that the universe is expanding. They seem to ignore Zeno’s paradox: if you go to the edge of the universe and throw your spear, if it either goes somewhere or hits something and bounces back then you’re not at the edge of the universe because the spear you threw proves there is more. [Zeno was a Greek philosopher who lived nearly 500 years before the birth of Jesus.] If we stop seeing the universe as an object, then the notion of a universing that changes, rearranges itself, or looks different from different perspectives doesn’t seem to be nearly the problem that we have with the universe as an expanding object. Even the notion of expanding seems to imply a beginning. Once we have agreed that there is a beginning, then we seem to be stuck with the need to have an end.
We also objectify all sorts of events. We have collections of pictures taken at weddings, graduations, baptism, reunions and holiday feasts. When people graduate they often get a diploma which ‘proves’ that they completed some sort of curriculum. However, when I review my memories of all these events, I find myself caught up in a sea of feelings about the relating with folks that went on at these events. I very seldom recall the menu of the feast but I can have warm, comforting memories of the feasting and who was there to join in the festivities. Mostly these ‘events’ are markers, way-stations in process.
About a year ago, April, 2015, I was in the hospital with a nearly fatal encounter with sepsis. This happened at the most inconvenient time although I don’t know that there is a convenient time for such things. The inconvenience was compounded by the fact that we were in the process at the time of moving from a house where we had lived for more than 20 years to a condominium. We hosted our family at Thanksgiving and Christmas some seven months after the sepsis was defeated and the moving was done. The feasting was really a welcoming of the family to our new home and a celebration that I was indeed still an active participant in that family. I don’t remember the menus in any detail or what kind of wine I drank—but the warm feeling of feasting is in my heart. Would it be better for me to think of such events as a process during which certain dynamics and experiences were integrated into my living (life-ing) and remembering instead of thinking of these events as things?
This objectification of ultimate reality has caused some peculiar manifestations in religious thinking (aka theologizing). When the universe is treated as an object, then Divinity (God) must be beyond that and we ended up with all sorts of imagined answers that might be summed up in the widely purported existence of heaven and therefore, hell, afterlife and all sorts of poetic fictions.
If God is not an object (noun), then we might wonder if the appropriate verbal expression would be Godding? It would be relatively easy to imagine that Godding is creating in the universing always and unendingly since we got rid of the need for an end when we got rid of the objectification. Christian and Jewish scriptures with which I am personally the most familiar do all sorts of linguistic machinations to qualify the objective language so we find lots of use of words like “eternal,” “everlasting”. These things might be seen at efforts to get outside the limitations imposed by nouns. However, it does create a variety of problems because we end up talking about eternal objects and both our experience and our consciousness tell us there are no such things. I suppose that efforts to get around this problem helped to create the poetry about heaven and streets of gold, and gates of pearl. The manifestations of God or Godding as recorded in Hebrew Scriptures most often are portrayed as manifestations of enormous and dangerous energy. Moses is not allowed to see God because no one can see God and live so Moses is allowed only to see God passing by. It appears that ancient people understood God was not an object and could not be seen or encountered as one. God appears as energy—sound and perhaps flashing lights like thunder and lightning or the eruption of a volcano. It seems to make sense to portray Godding as displays of creating energy. Views from the Hubble telescope would seem to be contemporary versions of Godding on display.
Most ancient wisdom as enshrined in the teachings of figures like Buddha and Jesus is about a process called living. These teachers offered us values to manifest in our living. With the NLP folk, I want to say we should refer to “living” as “life-ing” just because it gets us away from the nominalization trap. One of the truly exciting and amazing things about the research going on in the Positive Psychology arena is that time and time again the values of life-ing according to the teachings of the Ancient Ones is getting validated. We are finding that loving, compassioning, forgiving, trusting, inviting and creating are pro-life and help to generate an experience often called ‘flow.’ We have the potential to do our life-ing in a way that is coherent with the flow of Godding’s creating of/in the universing. We can really say we are in the universing at a macro level and the universing is in us at a micro level.
Here is another reflection spurred on by the birthday and my near-miss at dying in the spring of 2015. I know some stories my family told me about my beginning (birth) but I have no memory of the experience. I know that there are a variety of folk in the world who purport to help people remember their birth and I won’t get into an argument with them about that. I’ll just say I have no direct memory/knowledge of mine. I would suppose that those who claim memories of birthing probably don’t have memories of their own conception. All of us have no memory of our beginning; we only have the stories we have been told and which we tell ourselves. Every night I go to sleep by some mysterious process but I am mostly unaware of that happening. Sure I sometime remember dreams and even know that when I am dreaming I am asleep. Sleep is probably the closest analogy we have of death. When I became aware that my disease could kill me and, in fact, that on one particular night I might die I still didn’t have a true death experience. All this is about saying that our knowledge of our own beginning and ending is theoretical. We use this theoretical knowledge to construct our life story and we project it everywhere and assert that everything has a beginning and an end. We often use this story-telling to keep us in a humble frame of mind. But what if: what if I am eternal and what I call my current life-ing is just one manifestation of the fundamental reality of my living in the Godding universing? Jesus seems to speak of the kingdom of God as an always and forever reality. Might he be implying that we live always in the Godding flow?
I am aware that some might interpret what I’m saying here as implying that God = Universe. That seems to be a problem for some because it doesn’t agree with their personal pre-conceptions. It also may seem to be a problem if they insist on continuing the nominalizations. I feel that verbalizing the terminology frees us from a lot of historic philosophical and theological limitations.
Much of the research in the Positive Psychology field as well as the research behind the conceptualizations of the mBraining perspective seems to offer a much more positive view of human nature than many dominant world religions have offered. To those who wish to focus on how awful, sinful and dreadful human beings are by nature, I pose a simple question: why has this dark, derogatory, depressing perspective not resulted in love abounding more, in violence decreasing and in the arrival of what some would call the kingdom of God? We’ve tried it this way since St. Augustine back in the third century of the common era. It’s time for a different perspective. The solid, scientific grounding of much of the positive psychology research would really commend the validity of that perspective.
We are used to the word ‘sin.’ Usually that word links us to tables of behavioral classifications and a lot of other words the purport to describe sin. We are encouraged to avoid doing sin and priest-craft has reaped a ton of power from this word. There are catalogues of sins that would enlighten us as to the seriousness of various behaviors. You might recall the seven deadly sins list. There are prescriptions about how to obtain forgiveness of sin all which benefit the established power of ecclesiastical institutions and their minions. But the word ‘sin’ originates in Greek with an archery term which means ‘to miss the mark.’ Apparently sin began as a verb, has been nominalized and given a whole class of people power over us. Let’s denominalise it and start using it as a verb. Thus sin = missing the mark with regard to keeping my behavior consistent with my value system. This suggests from an mBraining perspective that sin is incoherence. Thinking of it along these lines opens the door to the reminder that there is no failure only feedback and an opportunity to learn, change behavior and move toward coherence.
Here are some thoughts about the ‘faith-friendly’ nature of mBraining.
For quite a long time in Western societies, there has been a major disconnect between religion and science. We currently confront an amazing anomaly –we have societies which make use of a plethora of high-tech gadgets to the point where we have instant global communication. Obviously these gadgets have come to us as a result of amazing scientific developments over the last half-century. At the same time, we have a rather substantial number of people often using the high-tech gadgets to communicate who, in the name of religion, deny the realities revealed by science. So we have the curiosity of a creation-museum in the United States which features displays which portray a totally unscientific view of the development of the world. These kinds of blatant disregarding of science have encouraged many folks in the scientific field to disregard religion. There is a plethora of risks to life as we know it as a result of this disconnect: we run the risk of science becoming an amoral enterprise—a risk probably most clearly displayed by the development of Artificial Intelligence [check out the movie Ex Machina] and we run the risk of ignorant religionists acting out immoral desecrations—very clearly seen in the carryings-on of the so-called Islamic State with its beheading of infidels and destruction of cultural and historical artifacts.
Onto this stage steps mBraining. Here are researched-based, scientifically validated concepts that are consistent with and supportive of the spiritual teaching of the Ancient Ones exemplified by Buddha and Jesus. [I would commend a little book by Marcus Borg, with an introduction by Jack Kornfield. It is titled Jesus and Buddha and consists of the parallel sayings of these two Teachers.] The mBraining perspective invites a dialog with religion and the spiritual traditions of the world. This rather new development, which integrates the discoveries of positive psychology with ancient wisdom, offers the world a faith-friendly and scientifically verifiable approach to living. When I say ‘dialog,’ I am really talking about a genuine sharing of and exchanging of ideas in a way that would be mutually beneficial. I see religious and spiritual traditions benefiting from the validation of their central concepts by scientific research. This can enhance the ability of these traditions to address modern people’s life involvement. I see mBraining benefitting from the endorsement of its work by representatives of the spiritual/religious traditions. At the same time, the dialog will challenge the way some religions portray human nature. One of the most obvious examples of how this will happen is that those religions who have tended to portray human nature as inherently corrupt, decadent, worthless, etc. will find their concepts challenged. I am thinking here especially although not exclusively of the Christian concept of original sin. Another area where this challenge will be seen is the opposition of mBraining to the notion that certain people, because of their beliefs, are worthy of destruction/execution. mBraining gets into looking at human characteristics which will be apparent in any culture or faith tradition. The notion that there is no such thing as failure but only feedback will probably be difficult for some faith traditions to embrace. mBraining is challenged to examine more of the concepts of the faith traditions. I say this because the research to date has supported the secular reality of an enormous portion of common spiritual perspectives including values like love, forgiveness, compassion, and creativity. This would suggest that mBraining might want to look more deeply into some of the theories and stories offered by religion. mBraining talks about the importance of making meaning which is also something every religion on the planet tries to do. Some deeper research into that process might help everyone. We might explore questions about what components are involved in making meaning, what common elements are found in various explanatory theories, etc. I am aware that there are some commonalities in creation stories. We might wonder what that is about, to what it points, whether it helps to develop concepts about what a theory of meaning needs to contain or address. As I try to construct a meaningful theory about my own life it would be helpful to know what are usually the main ingredients in such efforts.
I find it interesting that mBraining has rather gradually evolved into including consideration of the sex-brain aspect of human life. The fact that mBraining has found other aspects of human life to be primary got us into head, heart and gut before considering the genital-brain and that seems to be contrary to the teachings of Freud and his followers as well as contrary to the fascination by many religions with sexual behavior. I suspect that this unique way of getting to such important dynamics may give mBraining theories the power to help religions be more realistic and helpful in dealing with questions about human sexuality.
If we review Jewish-Christian Scriptures as a series of recitations of the Mighty Acts of God, then we discover that God is really Godding—active, creative, doing.
Consider the doctrine of the Trinity from an mBraining perspective and see Father = Creative, Son = Compassion and Spirit = Acting. Is this a way of saying that compassioning, creating and couraging are essential components of fundamental reality? In other words, is the human experience a mirror of Godding?
A “story” has two components: the value proclaimed and the details of construction. The details are less important than the value. That’s easy to see in things like the birth narratives about Jesus or even in the creation stories. Understanding the issue of value and details makes it possible for Judaism (for example) to embrace the creation stories in their scriptures and the modern theories of evolution.
Here is an interesting quote from Bishop Spong about the Matthean birth-narrative of Jesus: “Hidden in this boring genealogy, however, is, I believe, the clue that unlocks the meaning of the story of the virgin birth, so we turn to these verses in search of that vital clue. Matthew includes in the line that produced Jesus, four ancestral mothers. It was quite unusual in that day to place women into any genealogical line, for women were thought of more as incubators than as co-creators of the life of the unborn child. In addition to that, each of the women named was well known to Jewish readers, for their stories were told in the scriptures with which Matthew’s Jewish readers would have been quite familiar. The first of these women was named Tamar. Her story is found in Genesis 38. She is the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Tamar was pregnant by Judah, which would have been called incest in Jewish society. She bears twins, Perez and Zerah. The line that produced Jesus flowed through Perez, a product of incest, Matthew asserts. The second ancestral mother was Rahab and her story is told in the book of Joshua (see chapters 2 and 6). She is a prostitute, who runs a brothel located inside the walls of the city of Jericho. She entertains and protects Joshua’s spies and apparently later marries one of them. The third ancestral mother mentioned is Ruth. Her story is told in the book that bears her name. After her husband has died, she seduces his kinsman, a man named Boaz, as he was sleeping on the floor after drinking too much wine and she forces him to marry and thus to protect her. The final ancestral mother in the genealogy is “the wife of Uriah.” We know from other sources that her name is Bathsheba. Her story is told in chapter 11 of II Samuel. She is the woman whose adulterous affair with King David led not only to her pregnancy, but also to the calculated murder of her husband, Uriah, while he served in King David’s army.
“Does it not strike you as strange that Matthew, who was the first to relate the narrative of the virgin birth, chose to introduce that narrative by saying that the line that produced Jesus flowed through the incest of Tamar, the prostitution of Rahab, the seduction of Ruth and the adultery of Bathsheba? Is this not an unusual way to defend your founder against the charge of illegitimacy? Was Matthew saying that if a convicted felon, executed in a public place, can be the life in which God is best seen in human history, would it also not be possible to proclaim that a child called “illegitimate,” could also be the life in whom God was met in a new way? I think these possibilities need to be taken seriously. In the virgin birth story Matthew will claim a holy origin for Jesus, but then he seems to say that no matter what his origins God can raise up a holy life even through incest, prostitution, seduction and adultery. I submit this is a powerful witness!” [e-Newsletter, “Charting the New Reformation,” April 7, 2016]
Spong is also showing us how certain components of the “story” are hidden in plain sight. This makes me wonder what else about human nature is hidden in plain sight. I think mBraining is getting at some of these things. mBraining talks about three brains (head, heart and gut). Common language references all three of these things: we have gut feelings about things (both positive and negative), we all want to get to the heart of the matter and there are things I have trouble getting through my head. There is an enormous number of common saying referencing these three brains which have been abundantly documented by Soosalu. But for a very long time (at least 100 years) in Western science we have ignored the heart and gut brains. Yet their reality and truth is hiding in plain sight.
Here is some material of a more speculative nature, so please bear with me. The website www.physicscentral.com tells us that “the exploded remains of a supernova [or imploded star] travel throughout the universe only to clump together with other stardust and give birth to a new star.” This same website says “We can conclude that 93% of the mass in our body is stardust.”
Jeremy England is a physicist who has derived a mathematical formula which he claims demonstrates how inanimate matter under certain conditions becomes life. This would be how Godding universing links to us at the micro level. The supposedly inanimate collections of stardust, under certain conditions would, according to Mr. England, give rise to life and start an evolving life-chain. If we discover, as it appears we are, that elements like loving, compassioning, forgiving are inherent aspects of human nature which we ignore to our detriment and if that human nature is mostly stardust, does it seem too much to wonder if Godding universing is indeed loving in essence. Ancient Ones have taught that God is love and we are discovering that we are at our best when we are loving in altruistic ways. Is compassion part of the basic nature of reality? Is love inherent in ultimate reality?
mBraining shows us how coherence amongst our component brains is desirable, important and indeed essential. I have raised the question if sin is incoherence or a form of incoherence. Does the reality of stardust, which is one of the ways we are demonstrably part of the universing, suggest that coherence of all reality is desirable and possible?
It seems to me that one of the impediments to making personal change is a failure to appreciate how vulnerable we are when we are making transitions. The decision to make an important change in our lives is a decision to introduce instability into situations which, regardless of their positive or negative qualities, are stable. I may have a bad habit that I want to change but the fact that I can describe it as a habit suggests that it is a stable characteristic of my normal life style. That stable characteristic may be linked to other aspects of my life and I may not always be consciously aware of that link. So if I decide to change this habit, I will destabilize a part of my life and may also destabilize other unexpected dynamics. If I do this, then those forces inherent within my personality that strive to keep me more or less stable will come into play to frustrate my desire for change. Suppose, for example, that I eat too much candy and it threatens my weight and perhaps threatens to make me diabetic. If I start changing my consumption of candy in a major way, it just might be that I would be messing with a habit that also calms my anxiety in difficult situations. In order to prevent my need for stability for messing with my desire to change, I will need to take special care of myself during periods of transition. I need to acknowledge that I am flirting with some level of instability and pace my change process so that my system can absorb the change without setting off a panic in the name of returning to stability. When we’re going to make changes, let's factor in the reality that we are deciding to create instability and use temporary instability as a means of obtaining healthier stability.
I recently read an interesting story told by Richard Bandler (who practices and teaches hypnosis). Here is the story: a woman came to see him. She had been married a long time (about 25 years); the first year she was married she had lost her wedding ring. Her husband insisted on making an issue of this every time the couple had a disagreement. Bandler put her into a hypnotic trance and invited her to remember what happened to the ring. She sat in his office in a trance for three hours but finally she remembered. When she came out of the trance she told Bandler that she had dropped the ring on the basement floor and it had rolled under the hot water heater. She even remembered hearing the sound of the ring striking the floor. Bandler telephoned the husband who looked under the water heater and found the ring! Two important points stand out for me in this story: (1) the brain remembers and knows much more than we think it does and (2) we often prevent ourselves from being aware of what we know.
One of the ways we block access to our own resources is the way we talk to ourselves. The woman told herself that she had lost the ring and didn’t know where it was. That was the end of the matter. She believed what she told herself and that prevented her from realizing what she actually knew. Our whole body (brain and all) hears everything we say to ourselves. When we talk negatively to ourselves about ourselves we are doing a “snow job” on the conscious mind. If I tell myself I am stupid and allow myself to believe that assessment, then I’ll start acting stupid and stop acting smart and stop thinking that I might be smart. What changes would appear in our own lives if we started talking to ourselves about ourselves in positive, hopeful and even visionary ways? There is great power “lurking” within us just waiting for the invitation to get loose in the world.
It is interesting to reflect on the question “what sort of life script am I following?” We might imagine that our life is staged in a theater. Of course, we might play several roles in the drama, but we might ask some questions about the play itself. Is it a tragedy, a play with a difficult or depressing conclusion? Is it a comedy, which originally was a play with a happy ending and not just a funny production? Is it a combination of tragedy and comedy (which is sometimes called a tragicomedy), which has tough, sad parts but some pleasure or joy to lighten the mood? Regardless of what sort of drama we imagine our lives to be, a very important question to ask is “who is writing the script?” Are we the authors of our own life or are we acting out a script someone else is writing? Or to put it a bit more starkly, are we the authors of our life script or are we the victims of our life script? Authors have power to create, empower, facilitate, and implement; victims are puppets of other people’s manipulations, values, agendas, priorities, and wishes. An author might begin working by creating a vision of the play about to be written. A victim is more likely to wonder who is going to do what to me when? Coaching is about creating visions and developing the processes necessary to making that vision real. We might call coaching a process to facilitate “realizing the vision.” In this context, “realizing” would refer to “making real.” Making real entails discovering resources, implementing change, dealing with roadblocks, and overcoming resistance.
George Santayana, the American philosopher, (1863-1952), is perhaps most famously remembered for his quotation “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It has been adapted by various writers and thinkers, some who equate it with society wide issues and make it a call for the study of history; some who focus on the individual and urge us to understand our mistakes less we repeat them; and some who urge us to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors.
In my own work as a psychotherapist, I have tended to encourage people to identify their previous unproductive and even destructive patterns so that they might be free of past habits and not continue to repeat themselves. But Santayana also reminds us of something else: “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.” At the personal level this fanaticism often gets expressed with “try harder” attempts. Santayana suggests that such fanaticism arises when we forget our aim. Coaching is about helping people commit or recommit to an aim. Coaching invites us to set goals, develop detailed plans for achieving those goals, and to devise ways of working around obstacles and roadblocks that we might find in the process.
Allowing ourselves to become personal fanatics trying to make our lives better by trying harder is a huge waste of time, effort, and even (sometimes) money; not to mention that it isn’t much fun either. When people allow themselves to pursue coaching with spiritual concerns in mind, they will articulate “aims” that are rooted in their personal value systems and thus finding themselves living an increasingly authentic life. The more we are in tune with our own inner being, the more authentic our lives are and the more effective we can be in using our energy, wisdom and personal resources.
Soren Kierkegaard said: “Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Our society spends enormous amounts of time and energy on trying to address the “understanding backwards” process. Unfortunately, very frequently once some sort of meaning has been constructed using the backwards analysis process, we often stop there. Andrew Newberg, does a lot of brain research using various brain imaging techniques, claims that there is a part of our brain that wants to make sense of things and will push us to create explanations. However, it appears that that same part of the brain doesn’t care whether the explanation makes any sense in the real world. So the backwards-looking efforts to explain things can enable us to concoct concepts which, although of little value in the real world, shut down the inquisitive drive to explain things. Thus having obtained a theory that we think explains things by looking backwards, we are tempted, perhaps even drawn, to let go of the motivation that got us going on this quest in the first place.
Coaching is a forward looking process. Coaching asks us to envision where we want to be, what we want to be, and what we want to accomplish. Coaching challenges us to create goals that incorporate our resources and our dreams. These goals need to be realistic in terms of our resources but still challenge us to expand the repertory of our skills and knowledge.
Life Coaching is a natural adjunct to many of the traditional psycho-therapy theories. Once a person has worked through issues using psychotherapy [which is essentially an effort to make meaning by looking backwards], that person is ready to take their new understanding into a process of creating goals and envisioning their future. There is a slogan “well begun is half done.” Successful psychotherapy is indeed “well begun.” But without the perspective and process coaching brings, the psychotherapy may well leave the person feeling like they are only half-done.
Many religious traditions honor a process known as spiritual direction. Many spiritual seekers have had a teacher or master or person sometimes called a Guru. Those traditions go back many centuries. The Spiritual Life Coach stands within those traditions as he or she helps people develop spiritual goals and acquire the tools needed to work toward them. However, the Spiritual Life Coach also stands outside the religious traditions in that he or she does not advocate for a particular set of beliefs or allegiance to a certain faith system. The Spiritual Life Coach understands that a primary value of a spiritual quest is to infuse the lives we live with meaning. In other words, a Spiritual Life Coach will help people discover how they can feel that their life matters. When we incorporate the values to which we adhere into our daily living, then our life has meaning. A life that has meaning feels like it is worth living and that feeling can empower us to take care of ourselves and our relationships.