APRIL 4, 2018

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I’m an Integral Coach. I’m also a martial arts instructor, creative director, and workshop leader. I couldn't have imagined even one of these things as a possibility when I embarked on my year of training at New Ventures West.

Many people come into the Professional Coaching Course with particular intentions for what awaits them at the end of the year. Some envision going into private practice as a coach, becoming a better HR professional or manager, adding depth to a role as a therapist or teacher, or in some way building out their professional repertoire and creating more options for themselves.

Sometimes it looks just like the vision. Other times — oftentimes — folks are surprised. Going through the PCC almost always results in a greater sense of freedom and possibility, but not the way we expect. Here’s how it went for me.

Feeling Trapped

I was sitting on a sloping green lawn on the campus of a large university where I was working in fundraising. Far from a pleasant mid-day breather, I had been dragged to this spot – to the ground, really – by the weight of my situation. No aspect of the job I was doing had any meaning for me, except that I could contribute to the mortgage my partner and I had just taken on. We’d moved across the country to start a new life in the bay area. Having worked in a small nonprofit back east, this job was, at the moment, the closest I could find to what I’d done in my previous life. Except it wasn’t close at all.

Feeling more deflated and suffocated with each passing day, it was increasingly evident that I couldn’t stay where I was. Yet I couldn’t perceive a way forward. I was trapped in vapidity, desperate for meaning and connection. I wasn’t exactly positioned on my knees that afternoon, but definitely in a mood of postulation.

Finding the Thread

It suddenly occurred to me to engage in an informal thought experiment around the old question, “if money wasn’t an issue, what would I do?” Immediately what rose to mind was a writing workshop I’d been attending for years: one in which connection and healing are the real takeaways — writing being the vehicle by which this occurs. By diving into personal, sometimes painful stories in a safe, non-critical space, folks mine the depths of their souls and memories, and come out more in touch with themselves and with deep compassion for those around them. No activity had ever been more nourishing and meaningful for me. That, I realized, was what I wanted my life to look like.

I didn’t see a way from here to there. I wasn’t even sure if that’s precisely what I wanted to do, but I was drawn to the essence of the possibility. I loved to write but understood that, to be able to hold a container for a powerful process like what occurred in the workshops, I needed to develop myself in some way I couldn’t yet perceive.

Still, there it was: the whisper of the thread connecting me from hopelessness to possibility.

First Steps

What happened next is both the most inexplicable yet undeniable piece of the whole journey. An inner voice I’d never heard before whispered, “What about life coaching?”

Huh. “What is life coaching?” I wondered. I’d heard of it but had always found the term kind of trite (still do, honestly). And yet, in direct answer to my desperate questioning about the direction of my life, something about this mysterious ‘suggestion’ took hold, moving me to take steps.

The first step was to google “life coach,” find someone local, and book a session with him to see what the voice in my mind was talking about. It was lovely. I felt seen and understood, and came to some big insights about myself. I asked where he trained, and had the experience that (I’ve since discovered) many who wind up at NVW have: he’d trained somewhere else but wished he’d known about NVW because he definitely would have come here. The depth of the learning and transformation, he heard, was unlike any other.

Okay then. A few weeks later I came to an orientation session at NVW and felt immediately clicked into my tribe. My cells seemed to understand that whatever I needed would happen for me here. I cursorily investigated one or two other schools, though I knew this was where I’d end up. (Beyond the physical, intuitive draw, I realized the term “life coaching” tends not to apply.)

Beyond Expectations

As many a PCC graduate will probably attest, the year was a washing machine of transformation. On the very first day I found myself in a room with 19 other vulnerable people bravely sharing their stories: precisely the kind of space that nourished me most. The things I found out about myself throughout the year were staggering in quantity and depth. I discovered those aspects I personally needed to develop, among them groundedness, voice, power, even anger: qualities I’d always resisted and thought I could skirt around (nope, not if I wanted to help anyone else!). I learned why they were important and concrete ways I could cultivate them.

The moorings to my current life slowly began to release as I found hidden pockets of capacity and possibility in myself. A new part-time job, far more aligned with my values, presented itself serendipitously. My partner and I found a way to make the finances work, showing me that I was never as trapped as I thought I was. I watched my external landscape morph as my internal world shifted seismically.

Only the Beginning

This, of course, is only a fraction of what happened, but it was a powerful start to what has now been an eight-year ongoing journey. For instance, once I understood that embodiment and power were important and why, I took up a martial art, Aikido, and am now a second-degree black belt and an instructor at my dojo. I rediscovered a creative side that I had all but buried during my professional life, and now have the privilege of working at NVW sharing this life-changing work with the world in ways that I enjoy. I even lead workshops — not writing ones as I’d originally thought, but in a realm that is nonetheless about healing and compassion. My life fits me now in ways I only ever fantasized about a decade ago. And it continues to deepen and unfold.

Did I see myself ending up here? Of course not; how could I have? But these are the kinds of stories of possibility we hear from graduates all the time. It’s impossible to say how it will go for you; each journey is as unique as the person on it (just as every Integral Coaching® relationship is completely customized for the client). But what will happen is that lost or missing parts of you will be restored, and you will feel more in harmony with your own life — and more equipped to be of service — than you ever have.

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DECEMBER 6, 2017

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What are you doing with your feelings?

Chances are, not enough!

We’re all trained by our culture and family of origin to become “thinking” and “doing” machines and to forget about our feelings as much as possible.

It starts early. As young children, we’re told that we don’t need to feel afraid, that it’s not ok to feel angry, and to pleeeease stop crying when we feel sad. And that's before we're even asked how we're feeling!

It’s like it’s only okay to express happiness. Anything else is either not valid or cumbersome to others.

We learn to reject our painful feelings and, in the process, we reinforce the notion within ourselves and in others that only positive feelings are worth being expressed. If we do allow ourselves to express difficult feelings, we take the risk to see our feelings called invalid or getting “fixed” by others who believe it is their duty to “make us feel better.”

It’s an addiction to pleasure and a complete rejection of pain.

 Painful feelings are useful

There is a reason why we feel emotions and feelings, including painful feelings. When we feel a feeling, we’re getting information about ourselves and the environment. If we don't use that emotional information, we lose the crucial insight of one of our major intelligence centers and we jeopardize our ability to take good care of ourselves and our capacity for emotional connection with others.

Feelings are indeed energy that needs to be processed wisely, then cleared from our organism. Repressed feelings fester in our bodies until they become extra weight, physical pain and illnesses, and/or linger in our minds to turn into resentment, chronic anxiety and/or depression. Unconscious rejection of painful feelings is also what leads to all kinds of physical and behavioral addictions.

The way we connect

When we are not aware of our feelings and the feelings of others, the first interpersonal skill that becomes compromised is our communication. Authentic and effective communication is more about taking into account and addressing underlying feelings than understanding and eloquently expressing pure facts. Not taking the emotional dimension into account when communicating affects our relationships with our intimate partner, as well as with people to whom we are less close.

Therefore, the most important inner work that we can do for our self-care and relationship care is reclaiming our ability to be present to each of our feelings. It’s about becoming aware in real time of what we are feeling, deepening our understanding of what triggers our feelings, learning how to express our feelings authentically and respectfully, and finally clearing the energy of our feelings out of our organism to make room for fresh, new feeling experiences.

Journaling Questions:

  • How do I relate to my inner world of emotions and feelings?
  • Do I allow myself to feel fully or do I tend to distract myself from feeling?
  • What feelings am I most willing to express? What feelings do I tend to ignore or resist?
  • How do I process my feelings? What could help me become more intentional in processing my feelings?
  • Who can listen to me expressing my feelings without trying to change them?

Ariane is an Integral Coach specializing in relationships. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more of her writing about self-care and relationship care on her blog.

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NOVEMBER 7, 2017

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We are all broken.

In some circles, this is a radical thing to say (“Hey, some of us are doing just fine, thank you!”); for others, it’s a downer (“That’s a pretty negative view of people”).

But for me, this is an uplifting truth and a fundamental tenant for coaching.

For most of my youth, I experienced life as something that unfolded for me just the way I wanted it to—all according to plan. Sure, I had some romantic heartbreak and some disappointments, but overall things were good. I had two loving parents, a stable, middle-class upbringing, and went to a great high school and four-year college. I got a great job out of college and moved to NYC to live that big life I’d always dreamed of. I moved up the ladder within my chosen profession and eventually moved to San Francisco, where I met and married my husband and we had a child.

Then everything fell apart. When my son was born, I experienced crushing post-partum depression. I was brutal with myself about it, sure that I was a terrible mother who couldn’t love her son. When he was a year old, my reproductive system shut down and I discovered I couldn’t have more children. I struggled with motherhood and my crazy work hours and felt I wasn’t doing either one well, so I stepped down and took a new job with no big title or compensation package.   Eventually, my husband and I separated and divorced.


During this time, I felt all these experiences as “failures.” I felt sadness and loss and pain. Eventually, I came to see that my old life and my old self were actually dying, and I was grieving the loss. I had constructed a life based on what I thought I was supposed to do and want—what was supposed to make me and others happy. I had constructed a sense of self that was based on ideas of achieving and succeeding and getting everything just right. The truth is that, even before my post-partum depression, I was really pretty miserable. My work didn’t have much meaning and I didn’t have much time for relationships or much ability to really be present with others.

Loving what's broken

Many of these realizations began when I entered the Professional Coaching Course at New Ventures West. I came into the class hoping to learn “how to be a coach” so that I could make a career transition. What I learned is that coaching is really not about helping people solve their problems or get their next promotion. In fact, coaching is incredibly powerful because both coach and client can learn to face and love what’s broken in all of us. Without judgment or shame. We can see how we might be living in ways that have us close off parts of ourselves—that have us deny truths or constrict our hearts or bodies. Loving our broken parts helps us to breathe more life into our selves, our endeavors and our relationships.

At this time in our history, it’s quite easy to allow and even to nurture feelings of rage and horror, grief and despair about the state of the world. But what helps me right now is to return to this teaching. There is much brokenness on display in the world. Can we love it and love those who show it to us? Can we look at our culture, our leaders and our decaying systems without judgment or shame? When we do this, can we see the truth of how we are living and face our own contributions to this reality? Most importantly, can we see opportunities to bring our own unique gifts in support of healing?
To me, this is the invitation—no, the promise—of integral coaching. Join us on the path.

Melinda is an Integral Coach and owns the coaching and consulting firm Impact Leadership. 

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JULY 18, 2017

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NVW founder James Flaherty was recently interviewed about his work with the Enneagram Prison Project as part of the Shift Network's 2017 Enneagram Global Summit. He was joined in the session by EPP founder Susan Olesek and program ambassador Alex Senegal.

Inspiring, informative, and deeply moving, this conversation gets to the core of what can happen when we develop our ability to truly see one another.

This interview is part of the Enneagram Global Summit a free online event that helps you discover a powerful personality typing system for understanding yourself, your soul gifts and your relationships.  For more information, please visit This recording is a copyright of The Shift Network. All rights reserved.
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