Be your true self and that’s enough… That’s the message I got from a small stand of Birch trees in the mountains of Colorado on the last day of my Coach Training.
Something tells me I should explain a bit more. 🙂
Since October 2013 I have been learning to be a personal/leadership coach through the Newfield Network. I did part one (Foundations for Personal Leadership) of the training @ the University of Calgary but decided to do part two (The Art & Practice of Ontological Coaching – TAPOC) just outside of Colorado Springs at a Leadership Development retreat called The Nature Place. Ontological Coaching is a holistic and effective way to help people discover all that is within themselves and open their view to new ideas and possibilities.
Both Foundations and TAPOC have been transformative experiences and I’ve met some of the most incredible people along the way. TAPOC was especially meaningful as I spent 5 days truly immersed in the work of learning to be a coach. My classmates were some of the most generous,compassionate and caring people I’ve ever known. I’m certain I will know them for a very long time. The Newfield approach of learning is experiential, we don’t just learn how to coach we experience coaching as both coachee and coach. We practice on each other using real breakdowns and genuine conversation. Coaching is to be in service to another person and we learned the humility and compassion required to be in service to our coachee’s. I believe that this style of coaching is more than a profession, it’s a calling.
The Newfield mission sums up the approach to this work:
Julio Olalla, Founder Newfield Network
Our mission is to generate and nurture learning spaces designed to allow the emergence of a new conception and experience of knowing where we learn to live a good life as we contribute to build a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling world.
I am very proud to be a member of the Newfield community and I’m so proud of all the work my classmates did to help me prepare for the journey ahead. They gave of themselves and allowed me to open up in ways I didn’t think I could. For that I am so grateful.
The next step is to get out there and actually coach! I would like to thank my Coachee Guinea pigs in advance 🙂
Oh right I forgot to explain the tree thing! On the last day of the conference Julio talked about being open to different voices when it comes to coaching, our learning can come from so many places, he asked us to go out to the forest and find a tree that appealed to us and ask it one question. The question was “What are the things I can do immediately to create happier and deeper relationships?” I walked into the forest and saw an evergreen tree that looked nice, as I approached it the wind came through and made the leaves rustle on a small stand of Birch trees and that caught my attention so I went and stood in the middle of them instead. I closed my eyes and asked my questions, the answer came through so clearly it was almost overwhelming!
Be your true self and that’s enough…
Pretty smart trees
To start off apologies for the HUGE delay in getting this post up, it took me a while to adjust back to the rhythm of day to day life. There are some other really interesting things happening in my life right now which I will be writing about shortly, but 1st things 1st!
The retreat was really powerful and very tough. The experience surpassed my expectations and has definitely left a permanent imprint on me. I’m not going to go through every day of the retreat but I will do Days 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10 J
Day 0 – Arrival & Registration
I arrived around 4pm on Day 0. After checking in and filling out some paperwork I had time to wander around the Centre. The center itself was great; it reminded me of a very clean, very simple hostel. There was nothing fancy about it but it was very well thought out and very organized. The rooms were very small.
There were 22 men and around 30 women at this retreat (we started with 24 men but 2 left early on). Men and women were separated right at the start, the women registered in a different area. The Centre was designed in such a way that the men and women never crossed paths at all. After arriving and filling out some paperwork there was a big dinner and everyone was chatting nervously about what it was going to be like. There were some students who had done the retreat before so they were being peppered with questions. At 7pm there was 30 minutes orientation, mostly outlining the schedule and the ‘house rules’. Basically rule #1 one was no talking from 8pm that evening until the morning of day 10.
At 7:30 there was a group meditation in the meditation hall. We were each assigned a meditation spot that would be ours until the course was over. Once we were all settled in our spots there was a guided meditation that explained the importance of the ‘Noble Silence’ and talked a little more about what we could expect during the next 10 days.
Once the mediation was over around 9pm pretty much everyone hightailed it to bed right away as the Noble Silence felt so awkward.
The wake up bell is at 4am every day. The schedule said to meditate in your room or in the mediation hall from 4:30-6:30 every morning. These were tough meditations because it was so tempting to just sleep in a bit… On Day 1 I realized that the several weeks of only sitting cross legged at home to “train” for 11 hours of mediating everyday were a huge waste. Within the 1st couple of hours I could tell this was going to be a problem. By the end of day 1 my neck, back, knees, hips and ankles were all killing me (more on that later).
Breakfast was @ 6:30 every day and it was easily my favorite meal. There were always lots of options to choose from. We had 6:30-8:00 off to eat and do whatever. I spent as much time outside as I possibly could. It was the easiest way to avoid the other students. It was so beautiful at the Centre and the weather was almost perfect. There were some walking trails that I think I must have walked 10,000 times over the 10 days.
We meditated from 8am – 11am and then we had 11am -1pm off for lunch and time on our own. The lunches were amazing as well. The food was all really fresh and there was a lot to choose from. One key thing was this was the last time I ate until the next morning @ 6:30am so I did tend to have a pretty big lunch. In a way this was mediation fat camp, I actually lost 9lbs during the 10 days!
In terms of how we mediated we spent the first 3 ½ days focused only on our respiration and the sensations we felt around the area of our upper lip and nose. The goal was to become aware of the most subtle breaths, to the point where you could sense the temperature change of your most subtle breath entering and then leaving your body. We practiced being aware of the most subtle sensation and just being with the sensation. If we felt an itch we would just be aware of it and not do anything. How many of you just got an itch on your nose?
Surprisingly the silence wasn’t that hard to get used to. Everyone took it quite seriously and tried to avoid any eye contact, make any gestures or acknowledge anyone at all. After a few days I actually started to like the silence quite a bit. What I did notice though is my internal voice got a lot louder and was far more distracting than anything else. There were moments where my internal dialogue was so intrusive I was sure other people could hear it. I found as the days passed my mind did slow down and I was able to focus much more but it took time.
Day 1 was all about acclimating to the schedule and the silence. It went pretty well.
Day 2 – The Horror… The Horror
Day 2 was one of the hardest days for me and I actually did think about quitting the course. I woke up with a terrible headache, like one of those headaches where it hurts to be in bright light. I had no appetite and I felt nauseous. My body still hurt from sitting so it was very challenging to sit for mediation. I was so distracted by the physical pain that it was almost impossible to concentrate.
My imagination went into overtime as well. Every time I heard a sound while I was in the meditation hall my mind would conjure up some horrible or weird or bizarre image to match the sound. I kept feeling like someone was standing over me or the ceiling was really low. It was like having fever hallucinations.
It got so bad that I did have to ask the Male Manager (similar to a Dorm Supervisor) for an Advil. He said he would speak with the teacher and let me know. Two hours later @ 7pm he let me know that the Teacher had said no to the Advil because he felt something might be coming up emotionally for me and to just sleep on it. I was feeling so sorry for myself I thought about quitting because there was no way I could endure the pain of the headache plus the physical pain I was feeling. Plus let’s not forget the impending insanity I was sure was taking over. I told myself that if I still felt like this on Day 3 I was going to leave.
Day 3 – Ya better work Bitch!
When I woke up on Day 3 I felt way better! I still had a headache but it was manageable for sure. However I was still feeling pretty sorry for myself. I had not really figured out to sit in a way that was somewhat comfortable for meditating and the pain was distracting. I was still considering quitting the course and actually one of the other guys did leave the morning of Day 3. However, I had a unique experience during group meditation that refocused me on seeing the course through.
We were in the middle of group mediation and I was trying to decide if I should stay or quit. I knew that a lot of people had sacrificed so I could attend the course. Becky was at home looking after the house and the dogs; Laura was covering me at work. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone but I also didn’t want to disappoint myself. Out of the blue I heard a voice give me the exact advice I needed to hear. I heard Britney Spears say as clear as day ‘Ya better work bitch!’ For those who don’t know that’s a line from one of her songs.
I almost laughed out loud! Who would have thought the angel on my shoulder would be Britney Spears 😉
Day 4 – Vipassana for real
Day 4 was the day we learned the actual Vipassana meditation technique. To this point we were learning to sharpen our minds and be ready to perceive the sensations of the more subtle realities. The simplest way to describe Vipassana is to say that it is moving your awareness from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and back again. You do this is in a very specific way and when you notice a sensation you simply be aware of it and notice how it changes and eventually passes.
This is the primary learning of Vipassana. Dhamma, or the ‘Law of Nature’ says that impermanence is the only constant. This is true for the smallest most subtle realities to the universe itself. Through meditation you can actually begin to notice the subtle realities within our own bodies. By noticing these sensations without any judgment of craving or aversion you can begin to appreciate the present moment and how this moment is unique and will pass to the next which is also unique.
By day 4 I was finally able to sit without much pain. There was also the day that sitting in ‘Strong Determination’ was introduced. This meant that for 5 one hour mediation sittings we would not move at all. These sittings became the most powerful meditations I would have at the retreat.
I also noticed by day 4 my mind was really starting to slow down and focus deeply on the concepts we were practicing. Every evening we would watch a video discourse of the Founder of this program S.N Goenka discussing Dhamma and Vipassanna. These were often the highlights of the day and he is a genuine speaker and quite funny. I would still spend all of my free time outside but I would walk very slowly and contemplate various elements of my life that had come up during mediation.
I was beginning to have a deeper emotional response to the meditations. I also found I was really connecting with nature and would spend so much time observing the tiniest details of an ant colony or watching the drama unfold between birds (so much drama in the bird world… honestly watch a group of birds for even 5 minutes).
Day 7 – Okay this is getting real
By Day 7 I was really in the groove of the retreat. I could sit for an hour with no physical pain but the meditations were becoming very intense. In particular I had one experience that was so intense it almost made me leave the course. During one of the morning meditations I had a vision/hallucination/fantasy that my dog Floyd had passed away. I sincerely believed that he had passed away and I had somehow been made aware of it by a psychic connection. I was overwhelmed with sadness and I could feel tears rolling down my cheeks as I tried not to openly sob. I could picture exactly what had happened and I could see Becky having to handle this on her own. I felt absolutely gutted. I made an appointment to speak with the teacher during the lunch break to discuss this.
I explained to him what I saw and how I felt and he assured me that I had not experienced something that was real. He said that while Floyd could have passed away there was no way for me to know so my emotional reaction could not have been to a real event. He said it’s not possible to have a genuine emotional response to an event that hasn’t happened. What I experienced was an emotional response to the fear I have of Floyd passing away. In Buddhist tradition this is called a Sankara or the attachment we create to either a craving or an aversion. I was afraid of Floyd passing away and by holding that attachment to the fear I’m experiencing suffering over and over again. Through mediation I had shaken that particular Sankara loose and released it, along with the emotion attached to it.
This was a hugely profound moment for me. All at once everything clicked into place and I realized how powerful this mediation practice could be. Over the remaining days I had many more of these intense emotional experiences involving family, work and my own past.
Oh and Floyd is fine 😉
Day 10 – Noble silence becomes Noble Chatter
By the time we got to day 10 I was really ready to get home and begin life with this new found enthusiasm! I was also nervous about talking again. I had spent so much time with these 22 guys and I had no idea who any of them were. We were going to have to go back to small talk and politeness and silence would be awkward again.
When the Noble Silence was ended @ 10:30 on Day 10 it took the men about 20 minutes before anyone said anything. We could hear that the women had started talking almost immediately but I guess we were shy. I actually stayed in the meditation hall until I could hear the guys talking. Once I did I went and joined in the large circle of guys recounting their experiences. It was pretty surprising how similar the course had been for everyone. Everyone hated Day 2 due to physical pain and most of the guys had their emotional epiphanies around day 6 or 7. I couldn’t wait to get home.
Day 11 and beyond – Man the world is loud!
Once I got back to normal life I have to admit I felt pretty overwhelmed. Becky and I went to the Mall and I barely made it 30 minutes before I had to get out of there. It was just so loud and busy I couldn’t take it all in. I felt like I really needed to focus on one thing at a time and with so many things to do some things got delayed (like writing this post). I’m feeling pretty much back to normal now with lots of the good stuff I learned still a part of my daily life. I would definitely do the Retreat again and I would recommend to anyone who wants what is essentially a cleanse of mind, body and spirit to consider it as well. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t relaxing but it was so worthwhile.
I have a bunch of blog ideas that came out of this experience so I will be writing more about it over the coming weeks.
If anyone wants to learn more about Vipassana or maybe even take a course here’s a link to the main site.
This is a pretty long video but is a good introduction to Vipassana by S.N Goenka
Okay that’s maybe not the best image of My Specific Journey… but I do love the song ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ 🙂
Alright enough monkey business… I’ve been having some really great conversations lately with some really interesting people.
As I move through this process of learning to be an Ontological Coach I have been recruiting potential ‘Coachees’ to volunteer for the final part of my training. So far the people who are interested are amazing to talk to. They are smart, interesting, intuitive people who I can learn so much from. I’m so grateful that they would even consider being a part of this process with me. I still have a couple of months before I will actually do any real coaching but the conversations so far have been so energizing.
I know in my heart this is how I want to spend my time. Building genuine connections with people who are passionate about growth and want to fully step into who they truly are. The holistic approach to these conversations is why they they have the power to be so transformative. Discussing the power of language as a tool for action, the influence of moods and emotions and how they are manifested in our physical self is rich and diverse terrain for discovery.
I already have the opportunity in my day job to build one on one connections with new people all the time, but I’m a Recruiter so there is a defined business motive to these meetings. This means there is a limitation to how deep a conversation can go. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunities I do and I’m grateful to those around me for allowing me to explore this new path.
I’m so excited to be a coach!
I was speaking with someone the other day and we were discussing that since I don’t have kids I will forfeit the experience of helping a person grow and develop into a good person. This experience is unique to parents. However she pointed out that a good coach does exactly that, a coach can help clear away the clutter and enable a person to step into who they truly are. This was an amazing moment for me to consider that.
For me the idea of being a coach is to be in service to other people. To see the light in another person and help them see it in themselves feels like important work. This is my journey and I will work hard and strive to make the world a better place one conversation at a time.
And because I used the picture…
I think most people are familiar with the latin phrase ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ which means ‘I Think Therefore I Am’. It’s from Rene Descartes ‘Discourse on Method’ from 1637.
What very few people would know is that it was also my 1st tattoo. I got it when I was 16 and had just discovered Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre and of course Descartes. In one fragile year of intellectual discovery I effectively shut down my emotional self and discarded any possibility of a spiritual life. I reasoned that all I needed was to trust in myself and my logic and if I couldn’t see it, it wasn’t real. I became one of those very annoying “Bullet Point Atheists”, my arguments were literally only skin deep.
It didn’t take long before I realized that I didn’t have the knowledge to back up my arrogance and I stopped showing people my tattoo. I felt like a fraud to have that phrase on my arm when I didn’t even really understand what it meant. The idea of what it represented was what I was attracted to. I didn’t want to acknowledge my emotional side (too painful) and as far as spirituality went, I felt truly abandoned by any kind of God. That only left logic and reason.
My teen years were challenging, it sucks to be a teenager no matter who you are but I don’t think I had the tools to handle the challenges that came up. My feelings were dark and depressive during that time, I know I retreated into a world of reason & knowledge, not to learn but to hide. I couldn’t handle the loneliness of those years and I reacted to the environment I was in by shutting out anything that could hurt me.
For 13 years that tattoo was a real regret on my part. Whenever anyone saw it I would pray they didn’t know what it meant, I would always make up random meanings for it to change the conversation. I was so embarrassed of what it represented, while I felt like a fraud when I was younger, I felt like an pretentious idiot as I as got older. I realized that trying to live in just one domain (mind) for so long was limiting my growth and joy. If I wanted to really engage with the world I needed to be comfortable in my own skin, and that meant learning to be comfortable with my emotions. It also meant I had to get that damn tattoo covered!
Well the tattoo is long gone, I had it covered by a Japanese pagoda 10 years ago. It took a while to step into my emotional self and feel okay, it’s a work in progress, but the work is really satisfying. In the last 18 months I have really found my spiritual side. Meditation has become a very important part of my life. Through meditation I’m feeling the connections all around me and it’s amazing.
I think about that 16 year old kid who got a dumb tattoo to show the world he didn’t need to be vulnerable or to be protected. I used to feel sorry for him but I don’t feel like that anymore, I’m proud of him. That tattoo was his shield and I‘m proud that he did what he had to do and he made it through.