Reflections is a regular column published six times a year in Coaching at Work magazine www.coaching-at-work.com
The article below is an additional article in the series, published immediately given the topical nature of its content
By Jane Brendgen
“In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity”
I’ve noticed I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to the filing of this reflective piece because the only topic that my heart wants to explore is the monumental human tragedy that is unfolding in the Middle East at the time of writing. Rather than explicitly sharing my perspective, which feels inappropriate here, I feel drawn to reflecting on my process of gathering threads of meaning and weaving them together into a coherent narrative that is congruent with my heart, body and mind. In closing, I will reflect on the implications for us as coaches.
I pause now, to ground in a sense of my feet touching the earth and my body resting in the chair…… I feel my simple breath and connect with a heaviness in my chest. I sense a visceral vulnerability as these words begin to lead me gently into the grief, pain, outrage, horror, helplessness and overwhelm that is reverberating throughout the world.
When the news first broke of the acts of violence inflicted on innocent people at a festival in Israel, I decided to stay connected to the unfolding story through the eyes of as many different perspective-holders as possible. My intention was to attempt to comprehend as much of the complexity as was accessible to my left-brain abstract capacities of reasoning and rationality. And then, to feel my way into a perspective that resonated with the wisdom of my heart. And finally, to translate this courageously and compassionately into the spoken word.
I’ve been listening to a range of online media outlets, each offering a different perspective with contrasting feeling tones. I’ve also been intentionally seeking extreme points of view to cultivate a more nuanced and inclusive understanding. One particular television personality and journalist offers a platform to the full spectrum of voices, which, in principle, I applaud. However, the interviewer is mostly unable to hold the space for the impassioned words of the interviewees and the conversations quickly escalate to the point where any real contact, clarity and understanding is lost to the turbulent noise of constant interruption.
I came across an independent platform which seemed to offer the opportunity for a more balanced and grounded reception of experiences and information. One particular conversation stayed with me. The person being interviewed had chosen to resign from a position of seniority in the White House because he witnessed what he saw as an unprecedented unilateral bypassing of rigorous protocols regarding the sales of arms. I was touched by this man’s courage to stand firm in his values.
The most recent interview I listened to was with Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician and author of best-selling books on trauma, on Science and Nonduality’s online platform (Maté, 2023). He shared a little of his personal history as a Jew including that his grandparents were killed in Auschwitz. He offered a viewpoint informed by his extensive research into the geopolitical history that has arguably led to the tragedies of these past weeks. Having been met with both praise and harsh condemnation from his followers worldwide, Maté said it ultimately comes down to this: do I want to belong or do I want to be true to myself? There is unavoidable pain in either choice and he chose to remain true to the wisdom of his heart.
Unlike the first interviewer that I mentioned, Maté was clearly self-reflective and openly took responsibility for his interiority. He recognised that if we have the capacity to communicate from a place of balance and calm and share the facts of our perspective, our listeners may still be triggered by the content but will not be caught in the emotional contagion that happens when we are speaking from reactivity. The clear implication here is that we need to turn our attention inward to notice what is being triggered in us and how we are relating to any fragmented parts within us.
Talking of parts, I’m currently exploring with colleagues the application of Internal Family Systems (IFS) in coaching. Alongside this, I’m working with an IFS therapist to deepen my personal understanding of the territory. In the session last week, the conditions ripened for a traumatised part to reveal herself. The rage that had been lying dormant, unexpressed for 45 years, had finally found her way into the light of the therapist’s tender holding and my compassionate Self. The seeing, hearing, acknowledging and feeling of this rage and the underlying pain and helplessness associated with the violation of boundaries was an unburdening of the weight of history. A fluid-like benevolent warmth spread into my chest followed by a stillness.
IFS can be a powerful vehicle for generating embodied insights in support of a return to our innate wholeness. It reveals the inner conflicts between those unintegrated parts of us which have sought to keep the traumatic overwhelming experiences of the fragmented little ones out of reach of consciousness. Sometimes the energy of our protector parts is so powerful, that when unleashed, they annihilate perspective and express externally through violence and destruction. Our internal wars are reflected in the conflicts we see in the world. When there is healing within there can be healing without. I recognise the veracity of Maté’s (Maté, 2023) words – “when we are at peace with ourselves, we will feel the interconnection with everyone.”
Interconnection is the core theme of a profound online course that I’m attending at this time, based on Jeremy Lent’s book, The web of meaning. We’re engaged in a deep inquiry process which is creating the conditions for the possibility of an intellectual understanding of the over-arching principle in nature, that of the interconnectedness of everything. It’s also potentiating the embodied experiencing of this. This past week’s teaching focused on the universal values that organically emerge from the foundational principle of interconnectedness: relationship, a kinship obligation recognising value in all our relations with all life forms; responsibility, the obligation as community to nurture and care for these relations, reciprocity, to balance what is given and taken and redistribution, to share our wealth, skills, time and energy (Lent, 2021). These values need to be lived in the world for all life forms on our precious Mother Earth to flourish.
The suffering or well-being of any sentient being cannot be isolated from what is happening elsewhere in the web of existence. Sustained flourishing can only exist when it is in harmony with the whole (Lent, 2021). This leads me to Amnesty International’s Declaration of Human Rights. Founded on our shared humanity, this set of values continues to form the basis for all international human rights law. We humans are all born equal. We all have the same inalienable rights. There can be no distinction of any kind. Universal means everyone, everywhere. We all have the right to life and to live in safety, dignity and freedom.
Implications for us as coaches
Simon Western, a leading academic in coaching and leadership posted an emboldened short reflective essay on LinkedIn entitled: “What canst thou say? Israel and Palestine” (Western, November 2023). One of his central questions is “what is our moral duty?”
What is our responsibility as coaches? Where does our moral duty begin in relation to our clients? Perhaps it lies in our ongoing commitment to cultivating an interiority of psychological safety, where we are able to recognise the value of any fragmented parts within us and meet these with gentle curiosity, kindness and compassion. Through this process we’re creating the conditions for sustained inner flourishing where all parts are in harmony with the whole. We’re also building our capacity to hold space for dialogue and communicate with our clients from a place of balance and calm. It’s in this climate where they can turn their attention inwards to their emotional, spiritual and moral selves, connect with their deepest values and act courageously for change in the contexts of their personal and professional lives.
As I move to conclude this tender piece, I offer three further questions for reflection:
- What’s being triggered in us as a result of this unfolding tragedy that may be calling for our compassionate attention?
- What might we do as coaches to take more of an active role in contributing to systemic change, reducing polarisation and hate in the world?
- How can we actively cultivate love, in our relationships to ourselves, our clients, others in our life and the world around us?
- A Einstein: A-Z quotes. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/894807
- J Lent, 2021, The Web of Meaning: Integrating science and traditional wisdom to find our place in the universe”, Profile Books
- Roots run deep: Collective and individual trauma in Palestine / Israel. A conversation with Dr. Gabor Maté. Science and Nonduality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGC_UKDhU-s. October 2023
- S Western, November 2023. `What canst thou say? Israel and Palestine’. A short reflective essay published on LinkedIn