Coaching for Consciousness
After an introductory mindful minute, my client remained silent. I waited attentively. Eventually, she said, visibly moved: “I had the most extraordinary vision. A being radiant with white light floated in the sky. It was a beautiful presence of light and wisdom. I noticed the beings’ feet did not touch the ground.”
I felt my chest tightening. I remember thinking “What do I do with THAT?!?” My client and I had contracted to work on her professional advancement – so this vision came rather unexpectedly. Either of us could have decided to ignore it. Social and business convention in the Western World would indeed favor a move to a “safer”, perhaps more “practical” field of discussion, and our coaching contract was made from within this implicit convention. This and other similar cases have led me to question the validity of such conventional framing of coaching conversations. Instead, I would like to make a case as to why we benefit both our clients and ourselves as coaches if we allow ourselves to practice a coaching style that is inclusive of spiritual and mystical experiences.
In the example cited above, I invited the client to explore the vision. She concluded that the angel represented her inner life and that she was not giving her spiritual interests enough room in her daily activities. As a result, a more holistic personal growth plan emerged and she committed to better integrate her inner and outer life. She is now happier and more at peace with herself. This has impacted her behavior in the workplace, where she is now seen as more collaborative and positive, and she has been promoted as a result.
It is a beautiful example of how practical spiritual or mystical experiences can be, if both coach and client are willing to tap into the insights they offer. In this example, I have used my experience with ancient wisdom traditions in a coaching session – something that coaching training had not prepared me for. Over time, I increasingly experimented with ideas that had roots in ancient wisdom traditions – such as breath work, voice dialogue and working with inner images.
In Western culture, it is assumed that spiritual experiences are personal. Much of Western science and psychology has also shunned the spiritual aspect of human experience, to the point where it has become a cultural habit to ignore them, particularly in the workplace. According to William West’s book, “Psychotherapy and Spirituality: crossing the line between therapy and religion,” and contrary to the culturally–sanctioned practice of ignoring mystical experiences, research suggests that up to 60% of us have such experiences throughout our lives. Many keep it to themselves for fear of ridicule. Coaches often collude in that cultural practice by failing to integrate subtle cues to visions, dreams, inner images and inner voices. This selection happens mostly unconsciously – it takes just a millisecond of inattention, and we slip into a long-trained habit of ignoring such a reference.
Ancient wisdom traditions offer strong resources to work with spiritual and mystical experiences. They can also be caught up in dogma and superstition. Additionally, some clients shy away from words such as “spiritual” and “mystical.” Transpersonal psychology offers a way around this dilemma. This field of study that emerged in the late 1960s can be credited to Abraham Maslow – it proposes a psychological model of the human experience that is inclusive of spiritual and mystical experiences. These experiences are said to be “transpersonal” because they include a field beyond the personal. It looks at transpersonal experiences with curiosity as relevant aspects of human life, without getting hung up in dogmatism. In doing so, it can provide a frame for coaches who wish to include their spiritual experience in their coaching work in a grounded, structured and testable way. For clients, it provides a language to talk about values, meaning and purpose, without touching upon the slippery terrains of personal religious beliefs.
If you want to explore transpersonal work, I suggest some simple first steps: Do you sometimes experience inner images or voices? Do you tend to edit or ignore them? Observing your habits will build up your awareness of the transpersonal field. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can start observing your clients. Do they use references to inner voices and images? How do they react to it?
Today, I allow transpersonal experiences to occupy the center stage in a coaching session. It shifts the level of consciousness and can induce deep transformation. Ultimately, the proof lies in the client’s judgment: while only some enjoy the playfulness of exploring an inner image, all enjoy the benefit of a strong, transformational experience and an impactful session. And this is done with more ease if you allow the transpersonal field into your conversations.
© 2021 Dominique Munz