Provision #387: Coaching as Spiritual Formation

Laser Provision

When people talk about the business of coaching, they don’t often think of spirituality as a profitable niche. Who would pay for that? Today’s featured client, that’s who. For more than 65 years, she’s been on a spiritual quest. But professional coaching has moved her forward like no other resource. Her story, faith, and self-expression stand as an inspiration to us all.

LifeTrek Provision

I will never forget the day, more than four years ago, when I picked up the phone and the voice on the other end said, “Could you coach me to find God?” Although all coaching touches upon the meaning and measure of life, few clients would identify their goal for coaching in such blatantly spiritual terms. Even fewer would be willing to pay for coaching on such grounds.

This client, however, has been on a spiritual quest for more than six decades, experiencing moments of both great exhilaration and total abandonment along the way. It was only natural, therefore, for her to approach coaching as a spiritual discipline. Especially since she knew of my background and former profession as an ordained minister.

The problem, as she identified it back in the spring of 2000, was that she had reached a plateau where God was neither close at hand nor far away. She was going through the motions without feeling much of anything at all. Could coaching assist her to develop new conceptual frameworks and daily habits that would reinvigorate her spiritual life?

Substitute “passion” for “spiritual life” in that sentence and you come very close to the heart of coaching for every one of our clients. So close, in fact, that we have adopted this as the motto for LifeTrek Coaching: “Celebrate the Best for Exceptional Results.” Only for this client, passion wasthe desired result. The means became the end.

One of the frameworks and resources that we have frequently utilized is the excellent book by L. Robert Keck, Sacred Eyes. The book is written as an invitation to view the entire human journey, and our own individual lives, through sacred eyes instead of cynical eyes. Sacred eyes, Keck writes, “see everything as sacred. Nothing is profane for those who know how to see.”

“Sacred eyes explore the big questions, having to do with the breadth and depth of life: Is there meaning and purpose to the large and long journey of human evolution? Are we going somewhere, or are we just aimlessly wandering around throughout history? Is there something special about this particular time in history? And how do we individually fit into the picture?”

Big questions such as these, and many others, have been the focus for my coaching work with this client. We have been on the lookout for God. Through all the triumphs and tragedies of the past four years, around the world and in her individual life, we have looked for the golden thread that weaves everything together, the pattern that connects all the seemingly disparate realities.

And we have done this not only as an intellectual exercise, talking together on the phone in critical reflection and conversation, but as a daily practice, with my client developing new patterns of behavior to stretch and support her new way of being in the world. My guess is that you too will be surprised and challenged by her story.

Q. How did you first learn about LifeTrek Coaching?

A. I think it was an act of God. I received an e-mail newsletter from a mutual friend who heads up an inner-city ministry in Chicago. I had never received that newsletter before, and I have never received it since. But in that one issue, he mentioned that you had left the pastoral ministry in order to start a professional coaching practice. I read that and thought, “Now perhaps he could help me with my spiritual journey.” I got in touch with you through him, and we have been working together ever since.

Q. When you called, you said that you wanted me to assist you to find God. Can say more about what you were thinking and feeling?

A. I was feeling stale in my spiritual life. Spiritual practices have always been important to me, but when I called I had let things slide. And I was feeling overwhelmed by a number of problems, both personal and around the world. How does one grow spiritually through difficult times? That was on my mind then and has remained an important part of our coaching work.

You immediately made the connection for me between my physical activities and my spiritual life, between my body and soul. Of course, I knew that connection was there. But our work together made it so very real. There was no way to just think about things in order to be revitalized. I had to do things, with my body, in order to experience the breakthroughs I was looking for.

For example, you assisted me to shift the way I went on walks. I had always thought of walks in terms of physical exercise. Thirty minutes a day for health, is what they recommend. You got me to start walking with a larger agenda. I went out looking and listening for signs of God’s presence in the natural world. We called it, “walking with my eyes wide open.” That made a real difference.

I also started to write affirmations, poetry, and reflection pieces in a daily journal. By writing these things out, by using my hand to create words on the page, I became more spiritually minded. Journal writing helped me to see God in unexpected places. Instead of looking exclusively for God at church, or in other traditional places, we started to turn over new stones in the river of life. We made the old adage about God “being everywhere” a reality.

Q. So how did things evolve through the coaching process?

A. Well, it’s not like one can ever be done with this project. “Finding God” is not like finding a lost coin, that you can then put away for safe keeping. Finding God is an ongoing discovery process that continues up to and hopefully through the experience of death itself. So I would say my goal is still the same, although we have done many different things in the past few years to make that goal come alive.

We have certainly worked a lot on my morning and evening rituals. You helped me to see the importance of those critical times. Early on you shared with me David Whyte’s poem, “What To Remember When Waking” Click, and that had a big impact on me. I came to bracket my day with habits, rituals, and activities that could assist me to “remember the other world in this world,” as David writes, and to discern “the urgency that calls me to my one love.”

We came up with things that I would have never come up with on my own. For example, I had always thought of spiritual practices as quiet practices, sitting still while reading, writing, breathing, or praying. You encouraged me to get up and moving in my quest for God.

One habit that we developed, for example, was to associate different rooms of my house with different spiritual activities. Similar to the stations of the cross on Good Friday, where pilgrims recreate the final journey of Jesus to Calvary, stopping to remember his suffering along the way, we created a journey that begins at one end of my house and ends in my bedroom.

In each room I engage in a different activity. In one room, I read the Bible. In another, I do breath work. In others, I write in my journal, stretch, say a mantra, or look for an object that is “winking at me” with spiritual significance. By the time I get to my bedroom, I’m relaxed enough to kneel down, say the Lord’s Prayer, and go to sleep.

One of the most interesting rooms on my pilgrimage, which is definitely not quiet, is the utility room. I go in there because I can close the door and not bother my husband with my shouting prayers. This station on my nightly journey through the house emerged out of our discussion of the Lord’s Prayer, which was apparently written in the imperative voice. In other words, it was meant to be prayed with authority. It was meant to be shouted, not mumbled.

The idea that we could shout our praises and petitions to God has been enormously helpful to me. During our time together, I have suffered a lot of health problems and personal setbacks. When I came down with leukemia, I had lots to shout about! But my old understanding of God was too polite, genteel, and quiet for that. Our coaching conversations opened me to the possibility that God was big enough to handle whatever I was thinking and feeling.

So I go into the utility room and shout my prayers to God. If anyone saw me, they would think I was crazy. But the practice has assisted me to grow spiritually and to better handle the events of the day, come what may. It is the most dynamic part of my evening ritual.

Q. How has the experience of coaching impacted you?

A. In addition to broadening my perspective as to who God is and how God works the world, coaching has made me more thankful for the gift of life itself. I no longer think of success just in terms of problem-free living. I think in terms of wonder-full living. Whether an experience is positive or negative, I can now fill the space with wonder over the mysterious ways of God.

We have talked a lot about how life is perfectly designed for our own growth and evolution. That’s hard for me to accept when my health or my marriage is failing. How could such difficult things be a part of my spiritual growth? If God was with me, then wouldn’t I have an abundance of health, money, and love?

That was how I thought about things before I started to see the world through sacred eyes. Sacred eyes help me to see every moment as an opportunity for experiencing God. Even my leukemia has been a blessing, since it has given me an appreciation for the suffering of Christ on the cross. I don’t always claim every experience as a gift, but I do so more often now than before.

Another impact of coaching has been the discovery of new authors and resources for spiritual growth. You are incredibly well read, and have been more than happy to share your discoveries with me. Like Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible, called The Message. I had never really enjoyed Bible reading until you introduced me to Peterson’s work. Now I enjoy it thoroughly, and frequently bring questions that arise from my reading into our coaching sessions. It’s great to have a coach who can explain the things I don’t understand.

Q. How else has coaching moved you forward?

A. First and foremost, it has assisted me to be bold in my spiritual journey. I am no longer timid about the fact that I am on this quest. What other people think is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is my own integrity in the process. So I have enjoyed getting to know myself better and expressing myself more freely.

One way this has come out is through poetry writing. Although I had written some poetry many, many years ago, I had abandoned the process until you pointed out how poetry is a channel for spiritual expression and development. And I was certainly inspired by your own poetry Click. So I signed up for and took a poetry class at a local community college.

I wrote several poems that speak to the need for a spiritual connection, such as one I titled “Compline.”

Spacious windows
Night slithering black vespers
Silence envelops us
Embracing a Higher Power
Flames uniting us into one
Stirrings as embers in a fire
Connection made

It will probably be hard for your readers to grasp how powerful it has been to rediscover my poetic voice. I am a woman in her sixties who has suffered through treatment for two different cancers, whose marriage to an older man is often a struggle, and who at one point even tried to commit suicide. I had no reason to think that there was any life left in me. But our work together, along with my daily exercises, have rekindled the spark of the spirit.

Another way that has come out is through my involvement with the homeless. My spiritual journey is not just about my own private enlightenment. It is about my connection to God, and through God to the whole world • especially with those who suffer. When I volunteer in solidarity with the homeless, it’s not hard to have sacred eyes.

Q. So are you saying that you have finally found God?

A. I am saying that God finally found me. God has been described as the Ground of Being, in which we are created, live, and die. So God was there all along; I just had to show my face and open my eyes in order to see the light. That’s what our coaching work has been all about. Opening me to the possibility of love and forming me with its practices.

Q. What recommendations do you have for others who are considering working with a coach?

A. We are all on a spiritual journey, whether know it or not. And coaching can be a great resource along the way. The name for your newsletter, LifeTrek Provisions, speaks volumes. There’s no way to successfully go on a long journey without taking provisions. Your newsletter is one such provision, but coaching takes that to an entirely different level.

It’s the difference between going on a wilderness excursion with a map and a guide. When all you have is a map, your weekly Provision, you may get lost and you may fail to bring along what you need. When you go with a guide, your personal Coach, you can be confident that you will stay on course and that you will be well equipped for the journey. Everyone does better with a guide.

Coaching Inquiries: Are you on a spiritual journey? Who is your spiritual guide? What daily practices would assist you to become more mindful of the meaning and purpose to life? How could you start looking at life, all of life, through sacred eyes?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I greatly enjoyed reading last week’s interview with the housewife mother. She and I, perhaps, have quite a bit in common. I also home-school my children, but, more importantly, I have TONS of dandelions (which my kids looove • they think it is magic how they come up all over, seemingly overnight AND that they are beautiful AND you can eat them).

Please pass along to your client that there are those of us who would be thrilled to have someone live next door that is not poisoning our drinking water and doesn’t mind the dandelions.

Funny thing too’the neighbors on both sides of me have fancy lawns. For years, I have seen them chatting and shaking their heads at our dandelions • one even gave me the card of his lawn guy. All other things being equal (and they are not, of course), I’d rather not drive all of my neighbors crazy, which I assumed I was doing.

I just recently found out that we have started a revolution of sorts. Several of my “across the street” neighbors quit putting chemicals on their lawns because they felt that it would be okay • inspired by my lawn. So, who knows what she’s started. I do enjoy your newsletters. This one in particular made me smile.

One thing I’ve done to reduce, but not eliminate, my oil consumption is that I put olive oil in a pump spray container. It sprays a very, very fine mist of oil, in fact it is slow and minimal enough to aggravate me. But it does decrease greatly the amount of oil I use.

Will the old method of sending provisions still be used? It appears that the web link version misses the Career Pathways entry? (Ed. Note: Both versions are still being sent out, each week, in order to catch as many subscribers as possible. Last week, as well as this week, Kate did not write a Career Pathway. Look for her to be back in print next week.)

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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