David Drake's picture Submitted by David Drake June 30, 2017 - 9:19am

An important kind of healing occurs through meeting and ‘being met’ rather than through insight and analysis. (Martin Buber)

While waiting out a flight delay at the gate recently, the man in the seat next to me struck up a conversation. An older Indian man, he asked about the boarding process. He struggled with his English at times, but his sincerity filled in the gaps such that we had a nice conversation. This was his first trip to the United States and he was headed to San Francisco to see his nephew. As I boarded, he thanked me for helping him and we parted ways. . . . While waiting for my bag on the other end, I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was my new friend. He then found his nephew who had come to pick him up and proudly introduced us. He left with a smile on his face.

This experience came to mind as I reflected on Buber’s quote. I am increasingly finding that my clients, be they individuals or organizations, first and foremost just want to ‘be met’. This is in large part why I have gone back into the attachment theory literature in recent years to find resources we can use to help meet that need. It has taken me in two different but related directions: developing new ways to teach coaches how to increase their radical presence and new ways for clients to extend their uses of mindfulness. It is driven, in part, by a belief that the world needs coaching to evolve so it can do more than just help people cope. It is an invitation to stop trying so hard to make things happen when we coach and, instead, allow ourselves to be courageously human with our clients—so they can do the same. What are you finding?

I see coaching as a safe yet provocative space where people can work with the material in their stories to experiment with new regulatory and narrative strategies and create new options for themselves. This requires that we as coaches do do our own work as well. This is why we are launching a new retreat designed to support what I have called ‘post-professional development’. If we are to show up fully in what Daniel Stern and his colleagues call ‘moments of meeting’ and make the most of their transformative potential, then we need to allow ourselves to change and be changed by them as well. For example, can we allow ourselves to be moved by a client who is grieving, not have any answers when we do not know, or receive a client’s heartfelt gratitude?

The more we can do this, the more we can model and guide for our clients how to live in a less defended, more secure way. For both parties, this frees up more of our respective potential and the precious life energy we currently now spend defending aspects of ourselves around which we feel less secure. The more secure we feel, the more open and able we are to use this energy in more generative ways. It is about becoming what Stephan Aizenstat calls, ‘warriors of the open heart’ who are able to fully engage in the current moment—with our eye on the future that is seeking to emerge not on the past that we are trying to fight against. Attachment theory is helpful here because it gives us the language to describe the progression toward the maturity we need to live and work this way.

To support this effort, I developed a series of practices called “putting mindfulness in motion” as outlined below. I find it creates more sustained impact because it replicates the entire attachment process to help people feel more secure. It can be in used developing coaches and in coaching with clients. It involves providing them with:

  1. A sense of safe haven, which increases their ability to be Authors of their own stories
  2. A sense of secure base, which increases their ability to be Actors in stories with others 
  3. An opportunity to upgrade their working model, which increases their ability to be Agents in narratives around them
  4. An opportunity to re-shape the ‘family’ system(s) in which they operate, which increases their ability to be Activists for better narratives

Taken together, they enable coaches and clients to move beyond merely coping to connect, create and contribute at higher levels that are meaningful for them and others. It reflects the opportunity for coaching to become more aligned with the Buddhist notion of ‘sarvodaya, a Sanskit word meaning "everybody wakes up together." As Joanna Macy wrote recently, “It's hard to wake up alone now. It's scary to see even what is going on. But there is almost no limit, I've come to believe, to . . . what we can do for the sake of each other. . . . There is no private salvation.”

How can you ‘meet’ your clients or others in new ways today? How can you allow yourself to be more fully ‘met’ in the process as well? If you want to join others on that journey, visit my website at www.narrativecoaching.com to learn more about upcoming activities.