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For years, I dallied with meditation, starting and stopping many times, struggling to build a habit. At one point, I even tried my first attempt with a Meditation Teacher Training to kick-start my practice. But, for a variety of reasons, that was a bust too.
It wasn’t until I set a goal to develop a consistent meditation practice, with more determination than before, and with a little help from a device called Muse. Muse is a brain-sensing headband, designed to provide biofeedback to the meditator about their brain activity. When the brain is calm, the meditator is rewarded with the chirp of a bird, letting the meditator know, whatever they are doing (or not doing) is working and the brain is getting calmer. When the brain is active, background sounds selected in advance get louder and louder, letting the meditator know that they are headed off track. (I like the beach background and the rainforest backgrounds best).
The feedback provided by Muse made me curious about what was occurring within me during meditation and how that was affecting my brain. I started journaling after each meditative session, indulging my curiosity, hypothesizing about what aspects of my internal experience were arising to impact my brain activity. That’s when I began to discern distinct parts of me.
Over time, I noticed that five unique aspects of myself were showing up consistently on my meditation journey and they each had a different impact on my brain activity. I began to refer to them as the Five Sojourners.
A sojourner is someone who resides temporarily in one place. Which feels appropriate as one of the things I’m learning through meditation is how very temporary my experience is…and all things are.
The Five Sojourners who accompany me on my meditation journeys are:
1) The Drifter, 2) The Narrator, 3) The Doer 4) The Feeler, and 5) The Observer.
“Wait, who’s picking Cole up from the bus today? Am I?”
“Oh, yeah, Nicole’s birthday is coming up. I wonder what she wants. I’ll ask Mona, Mark won’t know”.
“Alex seems quite unhappy with me. I must have really messed up”.
“When I’m done here, I’ve got to focus on that retreat coming up. I have so much to do.”
“I’m exhausted. I need to plan a vacation. But, when?”The Drifter lacks intention, aimlessly drifting between past and present, riding a wave of thoughts. He is a passenger in a driverless car.
When the Drifter shows up, the background noise grows and grows until another Sojourner shows up to calm things down. While the Drifter dominated early in my meditation experience, his dominance was soon replaced by another, more attentive and well-meaning sojourner, The Narrator.
When the Narrator comes along on my meditation journey, she is conducting a play by play of what’s going on in the moment and preparing to report out about the results. The Narrator is ….well, narrating, saying things like:
When the Narrator shows up, the Muse device detects her, turning up the volume on the background noise, providing me with evidence that my Narrator is creating noise in my brain. But, damn that Narrator!!! The Narrator is WAY more pernicious than the Drifter. My Narrator is like the wallpaper of my experience. Most of the time, I don’t even notice the Narrator because she is so ubiquitous.
The Doer wants to change things to make me more comfortable. The Doer doesn’t think, it just does. The Doer has me sit up straighter, move my feet because they hurt, roll my neck because that would be good for me. The Doer adjusts, moves, and tweaks to change my experience of the situation to be more in line with what I want it to be, think it should be or feels better to me.
Interestingly, to me at least, when the Doer shows up, my brain goes calm. If I want to attract the birds, I know all I need to do is put Doer in charge. This finding has been both surprising and unsurprising to me. I’ve done some form of work out very nearly every day for 35 years, moving my body, putting my Doer in charge, to provide me some relief from my Drifter and my Narrator. But engaging the Doer is not the purpose of meditation.
The Feeler feels what it feels. The Feeler feels tired, bored, sad, defeated, hopeful, encouraged, light, hurt, suspicious, tender, guilty, overwhelmed, engulfed, overcommitted, grateful. The Feeler sits in its feeling. The Feeler is enmeshed with its feeling, without separation or boundary.
The Feeler shows up very, very rarely. Really only making an appearance when all of the other Sojourners are asleep or have passed out. (This realization has made me aware of just how little attention I pay and space I give to my feelings.) My brain is calm to neutral when the Feeler is in charge.
The Observer witnesses it all. The Observer witnesses the Drifter drifting, the Narrator narrating, the Doer doing and the Feeler feeling. The Observer doesn’t try to change things. The Observer accepts all as it is. The Observer doesn’t think. The Observer doesn’t want. The Observer doesn’t feel. The Observer is merely present with what is. The Observer listens, looks, perceives, observes.
When the Observer arrives, the birds come. They chirp joyfully and easily. My brain is quiet, calm, still. And the Observer is the Sojourner who makes the fewest appearances, unfortunately. As I reflect upon why that is, what comes up for me is that my inattention, my efforting, my pursuit of comfort, my loss of boundary, block me from simply being…and letting the Observer emerge. And that’s my work as a meditator.
As I started to right this blog to share my meditation experience, I asked myself, “Why should anyone care? Why would a coach be interested in a dissection of my meditation journey?” Then, I realized, that the Sojourners who accompany me in my meditation journey, also accompany me in my coaching. Uh oh.
Yeah, this hit me like static electricity. The Drifter, The Narrator, The Doer, The Feeler and The Observer all show up when I coach. Dang!
It’s true. The Sojourners that accompany me on my meditator journey also accompany me as I coach.
While the Drifter doesn’t dominate my coaching and it still appears more often than I’d like. His experience is something like:
The Drifter disconnects me from my client, myself and the coaching space. The Drifter is a cheat. I allow him to show up when I haven’t sufficiently prepared and created the space for coaching or haven’t tended to my self-care enough to be fully present and energetic for my client.
The Narrator is awake and active during most of my coaching sessions. (Not saying that’s good, it’s just true). The Narrator is narrating what’s going on with the client, within me, with the connection between us.
The Narrator is over-trying. The Narrator is at once both reporting and figuring. I’ve been coaching 15 years now. And the Narrator STILL doesn’t trust me, the coach and the process. Heavy sigh…
The Doer still shows up more often than I’d like during coaching. The Doer wants to DO something and wants the client to DO something because doing something makes everything better. Right? No, of course not and it can give me that illusion. My Doer can get triggered by strong feelings in my client and circumstances that seem hopeless (to my client and to me if I’ve lost my boundary).
I try to catch the Doer before they start doing. I’m successful more of the time now that I know their tendencies. And I’ve learned to keep a watchful eye out for them.
Just as in my meditation, I fear I don’t give my Feeler nearly enough space in my coaching. It’s easy for me to be empathetic with clients, except when it’s not. It’s not so easy for me to be empathetic and feel with them when they aren’t feeling either. Or when they dismiss the acknowledgment of what they might be feeling. And it can be dicey for me to be empathetic when I buy in too fully to how my client is feeling and why they are feeling that way. That’s when the Feeler is a betrayer, causing me to lose my boundary. Maybe that’s why I don’t give my Feeler more space. Definitely a work in progress and something that continues to improve over time.
Engaging the Observer is what coaching invites us to do. Engaging my Observer requires me to trust and let go. She requires me to trust myself, my client and the process. To trust my training, my experience, my ability, my enoughness as a coach. The Observer asks a lot and nothing at all.
It has been easy for me to believe that there is one more training, one more certification, one more coach-approach that I need before I can trust. I need an MCC. I need to know the best, most powerful questions to ask. I need to be creating value for my clients in every coaching session. And it’s just not true. The vast majority of the time, what my clients can best be served by is my engaged Observer.
One of the goals I set for myself is to trust that I can trust. And allow the Observer the space to be present in my coaching.
If this blog isn’t an advertisement for meditation, I don’t know what is. We coaches have a responsibility to observe and be present with our internal experience. Because, whether we know it or not, it IS showing up in our coaching. And better we know what it is and how it shows up than not.
We coaches have a responsibility to observe and be present with our internal experience. Because, whether we know it or not, it IS showing up in our coaching. And better we know what it is and how it shows up than not. Click To Tweet
We have a responsibility to our clients to be aware of how our sojourners might be impacting not only our experience, but theirs. We have enormous influence over our clients, whether we want to, or feel we should. We do. If we have created the level of trust and intimacy needed to do deep work, then we have a great deal of influence over them.
It’s essential that we know what we are bringing to our work. We can learn what we bring through meditation, through assessments like the EQ Profile (which reveals your unconscious internal experience), through journaling, through self-as-coach exercises, through being coached. We coaches can really never stop observing and learning about ourselves if we are going to do our best work.
What about you? What do you do to observe yourself? What has been your most powerful learning about yourself and how has it changed your coaching? Join the conversation and let us know.
Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Mindfulness can set the stage for deeper, more meaningful coaching and sometimes do what coaching can’t. How do you know if your coachees would benefit from mindfulness? And how do you introduce mindfulness to your coachee? And what if they resist it?
Join Alison Whitmire, President of Learning In Action, on April 17th for a free, live interactive podinar (podcast + webinar) when she discusses Integrating Mindfulness Into Coaching.
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Posted in: Coaching|Mindfulness & Meditation
Great insights, Alison!