On Coaching – We are all storytellers, April 2014

Coaching feels so elegant, this idea what we’re looking for is most often within us. I feel that it’s democratic, too, recognising that we are unique in our differences. We have so many hierarchies in our lives that a coaching encounter can be disarming. We pause and make space for magical thinking.

The tools and vocabulary of coaching look forward to what you are going to do next. What outcome do I want? What impact will this have? What will it be like? The experience, however, is something else entirely: respectful silence, generous listening and gentle containment, working with someone to arrive at a clarity that’s theirs to hold.

Much has been made of intentionality, whether it’s to live a wholehearted life, or to form enduring bonds in the relationships that matter to me. If intention is thought, then imagination is felt, and where they meet is where sense is made. What a beautiful space!

The ancient Rabbis believed that each text has four levels of meaning. The Peshat is plain, direct and literal. The Remez is hinted at, or symbolic. The Drash is the story that flows from such inquiry, and the So’d is the secret, hidden or mystical meaning, arrived at through inspiration, or revelation. The four together spell PaRDeS, and ‘pardes’ which means ‘garden’ or ‘orchard’.

I am secular and atheist. I could never understand how stories of talking mountains or wise men in forests or might connect with the business of living as laid out in a religious text. Rules are rules – what’s the point? It’s only recently that I can see how important stories are for fostering empathy and making sense of the world.

The logic that dominates the literal and hinted meanings in our lives gives way to more imagined and felt experience. It’s the distance between events out there and feelings inside. I am swayed by the tide of evidence-based research to show that our feelings drive us and not the other way round. There is playfulness in storytelling, a permission to explore meaning without consequence. And coaching feels to me to be a journey of enquiry. In ancient Hebrew, darash means ‘to search’, while drash means ‘story’. The two are intimately connected.

In other words, what is said in coaching – our plans to making change – these words are literal and symbolic, closer to the Peshat and Remez. What is felt in coaching, through the connection created between coach and client, opens up possibilities for deeper experience.

I believe that the search and the stories are the fulcrum between our selves and the world. In holding the process as coach my role is to accompany my clients down and up the levels of experience as far as they need. Rather than the fear of feeling too high, or of being too deep: through a lightness of touch I aspire to make space for the storytelling, the wanderings in the forest or on the mountain, the magical thinking that can lead to inspiration, clarity or enduring change.

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