We are happy to share an article from our friend Zette Harbour, award-winning professional storyteller, transition & performance coach, narrative advisor, writer, and speaker, titled Successful Awakenings of Awareness.
Successful Awakenings of Awareness
In my work as a professional coach, the first and most vital step necessary for clients to expand and shift their perspective is to create the conditions within which they are able to grow their awareness. This includes awareness of what they want to focus on, becoming conscious and able to articulate why this is important to them, and what the outcome will look like when we’ve reached it. The miraculous power of awareness sets the stage for everything that comes next. Without it, not much, if anything, can happen.
My client, Alicia (not her real name) comes to our session feeling pain and resentment as the result of being excluded from her family’s annual gathering. She’s included in all the group texts to prepare, just not invited to attend. This is a completely confusing experience because at the same time that she feels hurt at being left out, she’s totally grateful not to have to be in, what for her, is a toxic environment.
There’s an old story in this family that she’s overly sensitive and ‘feels too much.’ Of course, being excluded stirs up painful feelings for her. Therefore, anything she might want to tell them about how she’s feeling will be met with judgment. This set of conditions is a perfect storm for her to be swept away by self-criticism and doubt.
How does she expand and shift her perspective in order to move through this potentially crushing event?
The initial doorway into transformation is awareness. Simply by becoming aware of how and why this situation causes pain and distress begins to shift her perspective. Like someone tossed about in the stormy seas being air-lifted above the clouds, Alicia is now relieved of the immediate suffering and has the space to begin to see the full landscape within which this story is unfolding.
In order to become aware of the how and why she’s hurting, I ask her to use her expanded point of view, up above the storm, to identify the various pressure points. She identifies the characters who have been a part of this hurtful story for nearly her entire life. We check what they have to say against what she knows to be true. This is where she’ll find the vulnerable, wounded part of herself that can be acknowledged and validated, by me and even more importantly, by her.
As Alicia makes the choice to see herself as she truly is, in this moment, against the backdrop of her distressing family story, suddenly she feels free of the forces threatening to pull her under. No longer is she a helpless victim of the crashing waves created by the words and actions of unloving family members. She has accepted her power to move to higher ground and view the storm from a powerful vantage point.
The most important awareness is that she has this power and now knows that she can use it at any time. And, the shift in her perspective created by claiming the truth of who she knows herself to be will serve her in any future distressing situations.
The gift of presence
Presence is an essential ingredient for witnessing and facilitating this expansion and shift in a client’s perspective. Being a compassionate, accepting, non-judgemental presence combined with one hundred percent certainty of her innate and genuine strength and wholeness enables me to create the safety and the space within which she makes her own discovery of who she truly is. This allows her to be at choice about whether or not to continue letting those unhappy stories drive the emotions and conditions of her life.
My presence expresses to her that she is trusted and trustworthy. As her coach, I’m letting her know that I have unwavering faith in her ability to shift and expand her own perspective. By relying on the power of presence, I model confidence in her which she will eventually effortlessly mirror toward herself. As I model this compassionate, trusting presence, she will connect with and deepen her own ability to be that for herself.
Centering and clearing the way for presence
As professionals, it can be tempting to imagine that being a compassionate, impartial presence means not having any feelings about your client’s story. To deny our feelings creates what Carl Jung called the shadow. It doesn’t matter if the denial is enacted in the interest of being an excellent coach. Unfortunately, the residual debris will build up if not tended to by the practitioner and subsequently have a negative effect on the client’s ability to expand their own awareness.
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”
Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion” (1938)
I rely upon physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual habits in order to offer the steady, compassionate, non-judgemental presence and support needed to support Alicia and my other clients in moving through their inner obstacles. Acknowledging and validating my own needs, strengths, and weaknesses in these four areas makes it possible for me to see the client’s situation clearly and without bias. Dedication to cultivating balance in all of these areas is key to being able to hold space, be present, and draw upon the appropriate tools and techniques for the ultimate benefit of the client. Imbalance in any of these areas will create a filter that will likely be invisible to me. This would impair my ability to ensure that Alicia has the greatest opportunity for self-discovery and self-empowerment.
One simple tool that I rely on to nourish each of these aspects is meditation. Any type of centering that nurtures a quiet, coherent mind will support the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being of a coach. For example, it reduces the physical load of stress chemicals, thereby benefiting the whole person on all levels. Centering clears inner static and confusion allowing me to be genuinely and effortlessly present.
Feel all the feels
There are times when the story my client is living out resonates with one of my own. I’ve found that it’s also essential to acknowledge this as it is happening, to tend to my own shadow. In that moment, I choose to see, embrace, appreciate, and love that tender place within me in order to clear my own filter and remain present for my client. It’s a process I call S.E.A.L.
I see you.
I embrace you.
I appreciate you.
I love you.
It’s a technique that enables me to honor the place in me that feels vulnerable and tender in the moment while also continuing to hold the space for my client, rather than try to deny or stuff down the feelings that have just shown up within me. It acknowledges and validates my feelings and assures them that they are not being ignored or denied. In this way, I also communicate to myself that I will do my own work outside of the session. By clearing my own filters and tending to my vulnerable places, I ensure that I have the capacity to be present to and to serve my client as they embark on their journey of discovery, awakening, and awareness.
How does it apply to you in your life?
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