aka Skillful Coaching Flows from Being
I want to share a story about an early experience that shaped my journey toward mindfulness and why it plays a vital role in how we relate to our own internal affairs and those around us. What I learned set me on a path to develop the capacity to pay close attention, on purpose, in the moment—an exceptionally valuable skill for anyone, especially for a mindful coach.
Searching for a Lost Contact Lens at the Bottom of a Large Pool
When I was about 13 years old, I was a young guy who loved summers and spending time outdoors. Back then, contact lenses weren’t as advanced as they are today. They were hard, small, and non-disposable.
One fateful summer day, I made the mistake of swimming in a large pool without removing my lenses. Unaware of the problem, I roamed all over the pool when it occurred to me that I had, in fact, lost one of my expensive, hard-to-replace lenses somewhere in the pool.
I faced the seemingly impossible task of finding a tiny piece of curved, transparent, hard plastic at the bottom of the pool.
Oddly, I remember the sequence of thoughts I had.
“This is impossible!”
“Maybe it’s not.”
“Are you kidding? Look at the size of this pool!”
“Yeah, but no one’s here. And the water is kind of still; perhaps there will be an unusual reflection where it landed?”
“Hmm. Well, OK, because you’re going to be in big trouble otherwise.”
So, I took a big breath and went underwater, one of my favorite places in the world to be.
It was daunting, to be sure.
I started examining the pool floor and quickly scanned sections of its uniformly white and unremarkable bottom. Nothing.
Then, something somewhat unexpected happened.
I had a thought: “Look, REALLY look. USE YOUR EYES.”
So I resumed canvassing, but this time it was as if I made an effort of will to really see exactly what I was looking at.
I began examining smaller segments in a structured way, scanning one small section at a time. I was seeing a LOT more than before, which was encouraging, but it was work.
Then, another thought: “Look for differences in the light.”
Yes, of course. It is a “lens,” after all. So any deviation in the quality of the light might stand out from the uniformity of even lighting on a solid white background.
So, using the same quality of focus, I relaxed a little bit and let my eyes naturally notice, “What looked different?”
No more than 20 seconds later, my eyes were drawn to a slight variation in the light at a spot on the bottom of the pool not more than 10 feet from me.
And that was it.
All I could think was………”WOW.”
I had dodged a lousy outcome for me and learned a lesson that would alter my life. (To this day, I’m the “finder” in my household. If something is lost, the call goes out for me to go to work.)
From Seeing to Listening to Empathy
I began applying this heightened level of attention to many things, especially listening.
I became fascinated with exploring in a serious way, “What can I know about a person just by really looking and listening?”
Often, it was an objective experience. Sometimes I say to coaches in training, “be like Sherlock Holmes. What do you see? What do you notice? USE your eyes!” you can see that a person is a certain age, wears Reeboks, is a certain height, body type, and other physical, easily observable facts that can tell important details about a person.
For example, if your client is exceptionally tall, you know without “making up a story” that your client is walking through a world that is not made for them. They don’t fit in the rooms that fit other people. They hit their heads on door frames. They aren’t comfortable in most chairs. They have a great view when other people can’t see because of the crowd and are an obstacle to the people behind them in the theatre. They have to work to find beds and clothes that fit. I am inclined to wonder about their experience of these things and the impact of it on them.
And you can hear the tone of voice, pacing of words, choice of language, accents, and disposition (humorous, sarcastic, etc.). Also, essential details that announce important details about your client.
But I found that when I lost that razor-sharp focus and tuned in very acutely, but more broadly, something interesting happened. I could pick up on emotional nuances in conversations, uncover hidden storylines, and get an informed sense of what was going on “behind the scenes” with people.
This led me to deeply explore the art of somatic listening and eventually study mindfulness-based somatic psychology, where I was fortunate enough to learn from some incredible teachers.
Now, I had managed, through luck (to find such great trainers) and perseverance (they weren’t all great), a way to combine my passion for paying attention in the moment with a set of powerful somatic skills to use in real-time with clients to. Now I had a way to explore what was going on behind the scenes with people that was powerful and elegant.
This changed a great deal for both my life and my clients.
The Insight that Changed Everything
What Does This Have to Do With Coaching?
Much of what I had learned came from the world of mindfulness-based somatic psychotherapy, as well as mindfulness-based group dynamics – often involving deep work on exceptionally vulnerable and sensitive wounds of the psyche.
But one day, I had an insight that moved me to take what I’d learned and adapt it for coaching.
I was in a training for “Re-Creation of the Self” (RCS) by Jon Eisman, one of the original creators of the Hakomi method for somatic psychology. After decades of deep work with Hakomi, Jon had concluded thatin many cases, you can truly help a client without doing a deep-dive into woundedness. One of the tenets of RCS was this – if faced with an in-session choice to go deeper into woundedness or explore possible resourcefulness, opt for resourcefulness first and see if that is available.
Jon called this the “glass-half-full” orientation and is a key part of The Mindful Coach Method.
Another part of it is educating people about specific techniques for helping them shift. One of them would be anchoring in certain thoughts or bodily experiences. A lot of it is tracking the state that you’re in and then noticing, “Do I like it or don’t I like it? Is it preferred or not?” And if it’s not, then you allow yourself to focus on, “I don’t like feeling this way, I really want it to be different.” Most people, without paying attention, would just slide back to the “but” part which would go like, “Yeah, but I’m still feeling bad and I have to give this speech or whatever it is.” We can train ourselves to say, “Okay, let me sort that out. The “but” part, that’s the half-empty part. Let me stay with, “I want something better for myself.” What’s the implication of that? Well, if I want something better for myself, then I must be valuable, I must be worth that tension, I must be worth asking for that.” [the half-full part] And then, as soon as I start feeling that sense of self-worth – not the idea, but the feeling – I can also feel that I deserve to have something better. All of a sudden, you’re already in a different state and you recognize, “Oh yeah, how does it feel to be someone who believes he deserves this?” You’ve already changed states. Mindfulness itself changes states. You’re not so identified with the habit – you’re looking at the habit instead of looking from the habit. – Jon Eisman*
This is a big deal.
When he explained this, it occurred to me that many of the most powerful skills I had learned, which are so effective in a therapeutic setting, could be applied using the glass-half-full orientation to coaching.**
That’s when I decided to create The Mindful Coach Method. This is important work, and there many coaches whose work would be taken to a new level with these skills. My mission is help those who are called to help others be the best they can be. And this is precisely the work that is our clients need and are asking for in these troubled times.
In Skillful Mindful Coaching – Doing flows from Being
While I talk about skills a lot, and they are important – skills are a part of the answer – not the answer. Skills are like learning to play a scale on a piano. You need to know how, but only the musician in you can make them sing. Skillful coaching flows from being.
An article you might find interesting is “Why Mindfulness Training Alone is Not Enough for Coaches”
**Without a doubt, some clients may not have access to this resourcefulness. If so, they are likely not good candidates for coaching.