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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."


Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

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IN OUR EYES

JULY 2, 2020

An image highlighting one of our fascinating blog posts

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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BALANCING OURSELVES USING THE SIX STREAMS OF COMPETENCE

JUNE 25, 2020

An image highlighting one of our fascinating blog posts

This post was originally published on the Mindful Leader blog in April 2020.


In these times of massive change and disruption, many of us are looking inward to see how we can be of greater support to our communities and the world. Integral Coaching, which is a sustainable, self-generating framework for developing ourselves and others, offers several practical ways to take up this inquiry.

One of the assessment models we use to help us in this is called the Six Streams of Competence. This model serves to give us a snapshot of where our client might be out of balance, and where it would serve them to develop greater competence. It is also a handy way to assess ourselves. (In fact, the essay portion of the Professional Coaching Course application invites prospective students to assess themselves in each of these areas. It explicitly invites the applicant not to prove they are competent in each stream, but rather assess themselves honestly to begin to glimpse their areas of development.)

The Six Streams are:

  1. Cognitive
  2. Emotional
  3. Relational
  4. Somatic
  5. Spiritual
  6. Integrating

Let’s explore each stream—its value in our lives and the world, where we might be out of balance, and what we can do to deepen our competence in each area.

The Cognitive Stream

Not surprisingly, this is the most developed (but not balanced) stream for most people in Western culture. Though it has begun to shift, cognitive intelligence is by far the one that is most valued and attended to, often to the detriment of the other streams. Individually and collectively, it is overdeveloped.

In times like the present, this imbalance can send our intellect into overdrive attempting to solve problems. And there are problems to be solved, no doubt! Thank goodness for vital progress being made in science, economics, and thought leadership now. But the intellect is also a space of fear, anxiety, and other automatic and unhelpful behavior. Generally speaking, attending less to this stream and more to the others will serve us well.

That said, there are some who are more developed in the other streams and actually could benefit from deepening in this area. Exercises like planning and follow-through, mindfulness meditation, and even a regular reading practice can strengthen this stream in ways that are helpful.

The Emotional Stream

Emotional intelligence has been making its way into the cultural lexicon more and more in recent years. Teams and organizations are beginning to recognize it as an essential skill. This is the area where competencies like empathy, compassion, and heart connection reside. It is hard to argue that the world would benefit from lots more development in this direction.

When the emotional stream is overbalanced, though, it can cause difficulty. There are those who suffer from exhaustion and burnout through a compulsion to love and care for others at the expense of themselves. “Out of balance” can mean too much or too little.

Where do you fall along this continuum?

Practices to develop deeper emotional intelligence include metta meditation, HeartMath, and self-observations around empathy, compassion, and boundaries.

The Relational Stream

This stream is not simply about having a lot of friends or steering clear of conflict. Competence in this area includes being able to communicate with a wide range of people, to see from different points of view, and to set aside one’s own desires for the sake of a relationship while maintaining a sense of one’s own worth and dignity (1).

A complex topic in the best of times, we are now compelled to examine it when relationships are being redefined by necessity, and when effective speaking and listening are some of the few tools left to us to express ourselves. In many ways we are all being called to develop our relational competency. How do we start?

You may do some self-observation to see where the imbalance lies. Is it in speaking? Listening? Are there particular kinds of people with whom you have more difficult relationships? Is some softening and receptivity warranted in your way of being, or do you need to bring your voice forward more assertively? Once you’ve discovered a particular aspect of relational competence you wish to develop, you can look to exercises to cultivate it—exercises that likely live in the Somatic Stream.

The Somatic Stream

If the cognitive stream is the most overdeveloped in our culture, the somatic stream is arguably the least developed. Our bodies tell us every day what we need to stay well, give us subtle signals that can influence our decisions and actions, and show us what it feels like to be connected to someone else. However, most of us were taught not to feel, sense, and discern at this level, but rather to think hard and figure things out. This has rendered us disconnected from our bodies and the wisdom that lives there.

Moreover, if we are disembodied (i.e., if our attention is entirely in our heads or floating outside of ourselves completely) we are subject to the prevailing currents of thought and emotion in the world, which right now consist largely of anxiety and fear. Being grounded in our bodies makes us less subject to overwhelm and, therefore, more supportive to others.

For some people, deepening somatic intelligence is a matter of recognizing we have a body at all, perhaps by paying attention to our feet on the ground several times a day. For others, it is developing habits of responding to the body’s requests for food, rest, movement, and other basic needs. Those at more practiced levels of embodiment may take up practices that deepen our intuition or balance the direction of our energy (e.g., becoming more receptive, assertive, flexible, etc).

Every student in the Professional Coaching Course spends their year “building the body of a coach:” engaging practices that get them in shape to hold their clients in a place of grounded spaciousness. What qualities might you need to develop to help you do this now?

The Spiritual Stream

This area may involve religious beliefs or practices, but usually extends far beyond them. In Integral Coaching, we view this stream as the ability to create a life dedicated to the benefit of everyone, strengthening our bond to the wide web of life, and being an active member in communities dedicated to compassion, wisdom, and service to others (2).

Can you feel how being connected to the wider web of life can aid our world right now? How, in fact, most of humanity is being compelled to reckon with this connection? It’s become undeniably clear that none of our lives are occurring in a vacuum.

What can you do to cultivate your connection to the wider web? What communities are you a part of—or have thought about becoming part of? Most spiritual communities have found a way to get their offerings online, so now is a wonderful time to check out one or two.

And what supports your feeling of connection? For many, it is time in nature, listening to music, or making art. We also have the literal world wide web offering infinite ways to connect in unprecedented ways. Orchestras are playing symphonies from their individual homes, tapping straight into the well of the love and possibility available to all of us. What could be more spiritual?

However you can attune to this connection, it seems essential that we all turn up the volume on it now.

The Integrating Stream

As the name suggests, this is where it all comes together. This stream is about bringing our authentic response to whatever is unfolding. It’s moving away from compartmentalization, knowing who we are at our core, and coming to each area of our lives as a more unified human being. It is where we contact our genuine expression and bring our essence and our values to everything we do.

A tall order—and an important one. Being integrated is essential to being of real support to others. Perhaps you’ve worked with a practitioner who is passionate about their modality, but it’s clear they’re carrying some resentment or insecurity just below the surface. Likely it doesn’t take much to throw them off balance. It’s difficult to trust and achieve any real healing in the presence of such folks, well-meaning though they are. Above all, Integral Coaches are dedicated to being an integrated presence for their clients.

We come to balance in the Integrating stream by looking at the parts of ourselves that might be in the shadow—pieces about which we feel shame or fear. This doesn’t have to be the terrifying experience it sounds like. Approaches including the Enneagram personality type indicator give us windows into aspects of ourselves that we habitually either lean into or deny.

How will you take this forward?

Can you identify one or two streams in which you’d like to develop deeper competency? Which ones? Why do they feel important, and how are they off balance? How might you begin to work in these areas to increase your capacity to support others and help the world?

Please don’t try to work with more than one or two—for one thing, it will split your attention and dilute your efforts. Plus, it is very rare that all six streams need attention at once. Surely there are streams in which you are strong—which are those? How can you use your competency in these areas to support others?

The world is calling on us each to shift and come into alignment with our purpose. We hope this is a useful tool in discovering how to do that.

Join New Ventures West for a free event where you can see how this and other models inform how Integral Coaches approach all their interactions.

(1), (2), Professional Coaching Course student manual, ©2020 James Flaherty

Joy is the Communications Director at New Ventures West.


Photo by Dan A. Cardoza on Unsplash

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OUR COMMITMENT TO ANTI-RACISM

JUNE 3, 2020

An image highlighting one of our fascinating blog posts

Dear friends,

We live in a society plagued by injustice. The past several days have shone a bright spotlight on just how insidious, systemic, historical, evil and dehumanizing many of these injustices are for the black community. As an organization whose purpose is the flourishing of life, we stand for the flourishing of black lives. We are resolute in our commitment to take action for this to be true. This work began before the most recent illustrations of injustice, and we are ever more sober about their importance.

Specifically, we are:

  • Listening to those in our community who have expertise in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion on what to do
  • Examining and making adjustments to the pedagogy of our curriculum to have it be more inclusive and anti-racist
  • Building cultural competency in our method, faculty, staff and institutional practices, including hiring

Here are a few ways you can stand in allyship:

There are deep wounds and trauma as a result of the racism in our society which beckon to be met with potent love. The core of our work is cultivating ourselves in order to be of service to the world—allowing this love to manifest. May we all do what is ours to do so this love translates into equity for all.

In solidarity & love,

Sahar, Suzanne, Cynthia & Adam
The NVW Leadership Team

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