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SHAPING OUR PRESENCE TO BE MORE SUPPORTIVE

AUGUST 12, 2020

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This article was originally published on the Mindful Leader Blog in June  of 2020.

In these days of heightened anxiety and insecurity, many of us are drawn to be a safe and reassuring space for those who are in crisis and afraid. And, when we’re in that often unavoidable place ourselves, we’re grateful to the folks who can hold that kind of space for us.

What is it about the people by whom we feel most comforted? What is awake in us—consciously or otherwise—when we are feeling truly available to emotionally support others? Sometimes it’s someone saying just the right thing. Often, that right thing is saying nothing at all. As most practitioners of mindfulness know, something is going on around, between, and beneath the words.

What is happening with our bodies on both overt and subtle levels—posture, breathing, gaze, movement/stillness, etc.—has as much to do with how we’re communicating as the words themselves. When our physical state and our words are misaligned, the message may not come across as powerfully—or at all. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of being yelled at to stay calm, or  watching a person speak about something they really want while sitting in a reclined pose. Those are some extreme examples of what we’re pointing toward here.

One of the philosophical underpinnings of Integral Coaching is a focus on somatics, or the body. Part of training to be an Integral Coach is to take up a practice or practices that “build the body of a coach:” developing our physicality in a way that helps us be fully present with others, listen receptively, communicate clearly, and attune closely. This is different for everyone, naturally.

Getting in literal shape: circle, square, triangle

In the Professional Coaching Course, we study the work of Wendy Palmer, a renowned Aikido instructor and author of the books The Intuitive Body and Leadership Embodiment. One of the concepts central to Palmer’s work is our ability to shape our energetic field into a circle, square, or triangle—and the effect that can have on our interactions.

It’s not too difficult to see the moods these different shapes evoke: circles are soft, receptive, and inclusive; squares are grounded, solid, and stable; triangles are forward-focused, intentional, and precise. We all have the shapes we habitually occupy—and it is possible to cultivate the others so that they are available to us when the situation calls for them.

In the world as it is (or, was!), success is associated with being triangular: tunnel-vision focus, sharp, alert, detail oriented, so many of us have taken on this shape. Without awareness, we may bring triangular energy to everything, even when we’re trying to listen or be compassionate—times when a circle or square shape might be more useful. Others of us are naturally more laid-back and receptive and could benefit from being more focused and assertive in our interactions—particularly in times of crisis.

So how to cultivate the qualities we need? One very basic and accessible way is to (1) bring to mind the characteristics each of these shapes evoke, and then (2) find something in the physical world that can show us how to make that shape with our own bodies. Here are some ideas.

Circles

Two qualities of a circular shape are open-heartedness and welcome.

You can physically orient to the shape of a circle or sphere using a prop, like a yoga ball. Bending backward over the ball is one way to physically open the heart space. You can do this for a few minutes each day, holding the position and reflecting inward, noticing with compassion how your heart is receiving the world in all its beauty and pain. It may feel vulnerable or scary. Be gentle with yourself—explore your edge but don’t force yourself to stay longer than you can tolerate.

Wrapping our arms around the ball, as though in an embrace, is another way to orient our bodies into a holding, welcoming shape. Trees work for this too. Especially right now, when opportunities to do this with a human being are rare—or if we’re not yet accustomed to or comfortable with this kind of interaction—the props can be helpful.

Squares

A square presence is one that is calm, stable, and reliable.

As Palmer points out in The Intuitive Body, we all live in squares. Nearly all of our homes and buildings are rectangular. Perhaps you can sit in the middle of a room and orient to the shape of it. Align the spine beneath your skin to the beams behind the drywall. Notice the not-going-anywhere stability of where the walls join the floor, ceiling, and each other. Feel the room holding you. Let yourself dissolve into it, knowing that you are in an immovable structure of support.

You can do the same thing standing outside a building. Noticing (and bringing into yourself) its strong foundation, the solidity of the structure, and its quiet stillness.

Triangles

Triangles are decisive, clear, and forward-moving.

The three warrior poses in yoga are triangles. You might take up a practice of making yourself into a triangle by holding each pose for a few moments, increasing the time as your capacity builds. (If you are a beginner to yoga, Judith Lasater’s 30 Essential Yoga Poses can get you started.)

You can also spend a few minutes each day visualizing yourself as the prow of a ship slicing through water or ice. When engaged with mindfulness, sword-based martial arts, archery, or even throwing darts are all practices that can help us hone this quality.

Practice!

The beauty of playing with shapes is that it is a very simple and low-stakes exercise—and can be profoundly effective. You don’t have to know how to make a perfect circle with your energy before entering into a conversation with someone. You can simply go in with an intention to be more circular, square, or triangular in the interaction. Hold the shape lightly with your attention and stay connected to the person you are supporting. See what happens.

Which of these shapes might you need to cultivate to become a more attuned presence for others? What other ideas do you have for doing so?

We start to look at these concepts in Foundations of Coaching, an introduction to the Integral Coaching methodology.

Joy is the Communications Director at New Ventures West.


Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

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CHATTING WITH YOUR INNER CRITIC

JULY 23, 2020

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In a recent post on my blog, I offered some thoughts on how shifting mindset from a place of fear to possibility can help during challenging moments. It certainly helps to approach change and uncertainty with an expansive, adventurous mindset, but doing so doesn't mean that we pretend we’re not scared.

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, "I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life – and I do – then I will have to make space for fear too. Plenty of space… Since it appeared that they would always be together." When Gilbert writes about fear in this passage, she's describing the "inner critic." The little voice that pops up to remind you of all the ways you're about to fail.

Rather than banishing the inner critic, Gilbert invites it along for the ride. But under one condition: it’s not allowed to drive.

Your Inner Critic Was Born From Necessity

I have yet to meet a woman who doesn't have a perfectionist for an inner critic. No matter your culture of origin, you were probably raised with the notion that you're "not enough" in some way. Not sweet enough, pretty enough, thin enough, successful enough. The chances are good that you probably tried to do something that "wasn't allowed" when you were quite young, and someone reminded you of your limitations. Their comment stung, you internalized it as truth, and your inner critic was born.

The best advice that I've ever received from my coach is to remember that my inner critic is always loudest when I'm onto something big. Every time you're ready to make a substantial change, they show up and start screaming. "Remember the last time you tried to do something brave," they ask, right before reminding you that it didn't work out.

When you were five years old, you needed this reminder to stay emotionally safe. But as a grownup, you're capable of making your own decisions and learning from your experiences. Unfortunately, if you tell your inner critic to shut up, they get louder. Why? Because their intent is always to help.

Write Your Inner Critic’s Origin Story

The best approach to handle your inner critic without allowing them to call the shots is to invite them into a dialogue. I recognize the idea of talking to a voice in your head may sound a little out there. Elizabeth Gilbert has a speech she gives every time she's about to embark upon a new project. "If I can relax, fear relaxes too, " she writes. "In fact, I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go."

If the idea of talking to a voice in your head feels too uncomfortable at first, it can help to personify it. Give your inner critic a name, investigate their origin story. Are they a product of your family, friends, culture, or a combination of all three? The more you know about where they came from, the easier it will be to reason with them.

Sometimes, you might sense the critic in your body, rather than hearing a voice. When they show up as a sensation and not words, it can be helpful to express them visually through symbols, color, and pattern. I have an entire journal dedicated to my "army of German garden gnomes." When they get particularly loud, I tell them to go to sleep. I'll wake them when I need them again.

Play Nice with Your Inner Critic

Remember, your inner critic is not your enemy. Their intention has always been to protect you. You can't banish them forever, nor should you. They can still come in handy in certain circumstances. For example, when you live and work outside of your culture or country of origin. I know whenever I go back to Germany, I'm a little less strict with my gnomes! For more on this topic, read this post from last fall.

As an adult, you possess power, knowledge, and skills that you didn't as a child. You're capable of taking on whatever comes towards you - so thank your inner critic for keeping you safe all these years and then put them to bed!

Nicole is a creative leadership coach and speaker who empowers women to transform limiting beliefs and bring their lives and careers to new heights.

Thwarting the Inner CriticLearn other ways of recognizing and working with your critic in NVW's popular workshop, Thwarting the Inner Critic, happening August 11-13. 16 CCEUs.


Photo by Jacques Bopp on Unsplash

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SITTING IN SQUARES

JULY 14, 2020

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I now meditate every morning in a little square, my green meditation cushions backed up against the wall under some forest photos my aunt took. I’m the first up in my house, save for the cat playing with my feet. The same friends I meditated with at work meditate, plus some new people. Now we are together in boxes that stretch across the miles.

This is a journey. When we stop talking and put down our coffee and our matcha to meditate, we cut the video. Sometimes we are black squares with our names across them. Are people and their homes stuffed inside? This part of video chat reminds me of the clairvoyant Eleven from Stranger Things, who sometimes sees people across a vast black emptiness. She catches the outlines of things and people moving within them.

When people turn the video on after an hour, people, bookshelves, chairs, and hardwood floors pop up. Here we are all connected in conversation, meditation, and talk of what was and will be. When we know each other well, we know something of the life behind the outlines. When we don’t, we are inside someone’s home, strangely staring at a live photo of one tiny area of the person’s life and setting.

Some of us have had a talk about what shared work looks like, whether in coaching, wellness, or in the organizations where we now work from home. It’s sometimes a strange talk with us separate but connected by cables. Perhaps it is not unlike the existential questions we have also considered, where all energy is connected and not. Or as U2 would put it, “we’re one, but we’re not the same.”

I don’t know what collaboration looks like for us in this black space, where outside masks cover faces with eyes, only eyes, peering out. On screens that type out our names like reminders, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to say.

Someone says they limit their e-communication, which is something I have said in the past. Now it’s hard to say how much non e-communication there is, outside a household.

Where are you? Where are you now? I have written and spoken in multiple places about how my grandmother used to say that whenever someone in the family traveled, whether down the street or across the world. Where are we now, in the outlined spaces for meditation, coaching, yoga, and calls to friends?

I open a black box so you can see me, and I might as well be anywhere. Earlier in a work meeting, someone desperately wanted to be seen. He put on a virtual space alien mask and put the galaxy behind him while someone else talked. He covered himself in fake layers to be seen. How often do we do that when we don’t need computers to light us up? How often do we learn our layers when we pick the perfect lighting in the only room that’s clean and take a video for a friend? It’s quite a while, weeks of meditating, maybe, before we let our hair stand up and let people see that our pants are pajamas.

Where are you? Where are you now? I’m not housed within a tiny square, and neither are the rest of you. I am here, right now, like a mantra on the meditation cushions or the writing I told you I would do. And you are right there, on the other side of a perfect circle, just outside the square.

Christina uses her Integral Coach training in higher education. Her writing has appeared in several journals and anthologies including Crab Fat, BioStories, Big Muddy,  Sinister Wisdom, Hashtag Queer, Volume 3 and Is it Hot in Here, or Is It Just Me? 

Read Christina's previous post, "Sitting."


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IN OUR EYES

JULY 2, 2020

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I had been staying with my mom for a month, nursing her 98-year-old body back to a relative state of health after a downturn.

I am not sure what really happened prior to me getting there, but I think she had kind of thrown in the towel.  For almost every moment of her life, she has been incredibly strong, incredibly willful.  And she was always so determined to be independent and not interfere with her children’s lives.  Her favorite expression,“I can do it,” used to apply to working three jobs to make ends meet, but recently it applied to the three stairs she needed to climb.

After 98 years, the last four alone after her second husband, her beloved Bill, died, she was just too lonely and too tired, the gap between what she wanted to be able to do and what she was capable of doing was too great, navigating with a walker and the effort to feed herself and drink properly was too much.  She just sat on the couch and stopped everything.  Had her neighbors not found her, I think she would have slipped her skin.

A short hospital visit, some fluid and nutrition and she was well enough to go home.  But it was obvious she could no longer be alone.  My brothers and I decided to set up month long rotations to have someone stay with her.  I had the first shift.

Being in the middle of nowhere Tennessee was painful beyond words for about 27 entitled reasons I won’t bore you with, but my mom and I had a great month together. Yes, she slept a lot.  But we shared meals, had our little repartee, and laughed a lot.  I am not religious, but she is and so I prayed with her at night and read my incredible teenage son’s beautiful letter that he wrote to her when he thought he was going to lose his Grandma.

She had such a tough life and yet, every night, she thanked God for all the blessings in her life: her Bill, her family, her experiences, her friends and neighbors.  I would tell her that it was really good to be with her and also how beautiful she still was in my eyes. Despite her protests, I meant both.

On my last night, as I said good night, I also said goodbye because I was leaving early.  I told her that I would probably see her again in a few months when it was my turn to comeback out, but I also said that God could take her anytime and that was out of our hands.  She agreed.

I told her how much I loved her, what a great teacher and role model she was to me and how lucky I felt I was to have her as a mom and to have had her for so many years. She told me she was really glad I felt that way that she had worked so hard to be a good mom and would hate thinking she had fallen short.  I was going to ask her if there was any last thing she wanted to say to me, but decided not to.

I was leaving early for the airport and I had thought I was not going to wake her.  But for some reason I did.  She said to me, “Thank you so much for coming to be with me.”  And then she looked at me in a way that I don’t ever consciously recall seeing.  Maybe because it was morning and she was not so exhausted, but something shone through: so much love, so much gratitude. Time seemed to slow down, as if to allow something more to pass through her gaze.  Eternity.  The Mystery. Right there.  In her eyes.

As I was flying home, I had this thought: my Mom had given me the only thing that I think children really want from their parents:  to be blessed. Not just a blessing of words like over a plate of food, though many hunger for that too, but the blessing that comes from being seen, being reflected in loving eyes.

That thought came later. In the moment with her, I was certain that feeling would remain in my body until my own bones turn to dust.

And I am now left with this: there is more in our eyes than the images they see. There is the reflection...what others see in them.

Dennis is an executive coach and consultant based in the San Francisco bay area. More by and about him on his website.


Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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