A Coaching Model Created by Qin Xue
(Transformational Coach, CHINA)
There is a story of a young but very earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the ZEN Master: ‘If I work hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen?’
The Master thought about this, then replied, ‘Ten years.’
The student said, ‘What if I work very hard and really apply myself to learn fast, how long then?’
Replied the Master, ‘Well, twenty years.’
‘But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?’ asked the student?
‘Thirty years,’ replied the Master.
‘But, I do not understand,’ said the disappointed student. ‘At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?’
Replied the Master: ‘When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.’
This classic Zen tale well reflects the dilemma that many of us are facing: we are so focused on goals that we are losing our innate ability to grow. We are shocked by the world changing at an exponentially increasing rate. We are propelled toward a more reactive state. We are tossed and turned by the tides of life. We are witnessing what was described by Alvin Toffler in his classic Future Shock (1970) ‘too much change in too short a period of time’.
Our ‘slow’ computer that frustrates us today was considered a ‘fast’ machine just a few years ago. Our modern communication technology, from email message to tweeting or wechatting, has collapsed time and distance. What was an effective way of running a business a few years ago is no longer valid today. Competencies that proved to be highly effective in the past have become outdated, and new competencies are mothballed even more quickly. Working overtime, working weekends and being on call 24 hours a day are standard for employees at many companies. Our traditional nuclear family with dad, mom and kids has been replaced by new configurations, including blended families, single parents and unmarried couples with children. The need to constantly adapt to changing situations can lead to feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, helplessness, depression, anxiety and despair.
In Future Shock, Alvin Toffler wrote that when going through times of rapid change, people need what he calls ‘islands of stability’. Those are things that do not change in life. Those are the sources of security, safe harbors and anchors for the inevitable storms.
How to discover the ‘islands of stability’? Coaching can be one of the many paths. And coaching through ZEN should offer the compass to locate the islands we are seeking.
Zen, shorthand for Zen Buddhism, is a school of Mahayana Buddhism spread from India, and developed in China during the 6th century as Chán (禅). From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan. Neville quotes D.T. Suzuki, who calls chán a ‘natural evolution of Buddhism under Taoist conditions.’
The first Buddhist recruits in China were Taoists. They developed high esteem for the newly introduced Buddhist meditational techniques and blended them with Taoist meditation. The word ‘Zen’ is derived from the Chinese word Chán and the Indian Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning ‘meditation.’ In Sanskrit, the root meaning of ‘dhyana’ is ‘to see, to observe, to look.’
With time, Zen has acquired a ‘colloquial’ meaning in modern life, and rhymes with a whole range of other words making for ever so zingy titles. So, falling into this cliché, the coaching model to be elaborated here, is called ZEN.
Z, for Zest
Invigorating or keen excitement or enjoyment (Collins English Dictionary)
E, for Explore
To examine or investigate, esp. systematically (Collins English Dictionary)
N, for Nurture
To feed, to support, to train (Collins English Dictionary)
Zen is the unity of stillness and movement: stillness by focusing, movement with natural flowing. It’s the moment when the outer world meets our inner world. It’s the moment to investigate the nature and origin of our self. Similarly, ZEN creates a safe space in coaching, and it also serves within the coaching process to support the needs of exploring ‘who I am’, ‘how to do’ and ‘where to go.’
This ZEN model provides a broad spectrum of tools to use to champion personal, professional and organizational development.
ZEN @ work
How does ZEN work? Let’s walk through a case together.
Sandy (name changed for confidentiality) joined the company two years ago. Having neither experience nor solid knowledge of the industry, she was very excited to get this role as a new recruit in Asia, the only region where the company has been investing heavily to expand the business.
Sandy has a desire to learn and is very easy to work with. She supports almost everything which comes her way, no matter what. But, after getting more knowledge of the industry and more experience in the company, her primary passion, enthusiasm and fire are dying out. She no longer feels her current job has any meaning. Her efforts in all sorts of projects, initiated and encouraged by her manager either for team building or her own career development, are not as rewarding as she expected. Her future is ‘blank’ to her.
Sandy wants to stop working for a year to find her lost self, but she has been struggling for months over whether to quit the current job, because no job brings no income. She cannot run the risk of having no money to pay the rental for a place to stay, not to mention other necessities for daily life. She still works as usual, but no other colleagues know her inner struggle, and she is eager to walk out of her dilemma.
Sandy turns to Quinn (name changed for confidentiality), a coach she has met, for consulting. Here is their story.
Phase 1: Leave it to Zen
Hearing Sandy’s description of her feelings, Quinn asks Sandy whether she would like to try coaching, which is about discovery, learning and change in an empowered relationship. Quinn shares with Sandy how a typical coaching session is structured, and what are the common outcomes that she can expect. Sandy is interested and decides to give it a try. Quinn then sends a draft coaching agreement for Sandy to review. After reviewing the coaching agreement and discussing with Quinn some practical details, Sandy signs up for six sessions as a start.
At the very beginning of the first session, Quinn invites Sandy for a two-minute breathing exercise, which causes Sandy to comment ‘what an exercise! It eases my nervousness.’ Quinn encourages Sandy to describe her feeling of relieved ‘nervousness,’ which creates an open and safe space, allowing Sandy to talk more about what’s on her mind at that very moment. The conversation thus goes on naturally, and the focal point of the session is gradually narrowed down to finding Sandy’s passion of life.
Zen is a state of mind. Zen means experiencing fully the present.
When entering a coaching session, the coachee has different feelings and anticipations. It’s important to identify goals that the coachee wants to achieve through the coaching experience, but it’s more important not to be too goal oriented. To set up a safe space for the coachee, and to establish together a trusting relationship, are the first and foremost steps. By inviting the coachee into a state of Zen, the coach is experiencing the reality fully with the coachee, without any personal agenda or distractions. Let the conversation flow naturally into an amazing experience. Let the amazing conversation reveal insights and opportunities that couldn’t have been foreseen if a desired outcome had been predetermined.
Phase 2: Discover the Zest
‘My job is a job. Nothing I love, and nothing I hate. People need to do something.’ This is Sandy’s response to the question of “What do you like in your current job, compared with your previous one?”
‘What do you want to achieve with your career?’ asks Quinn.
‘I don’t know. I have no intention to chase high status. I’m not greedy for money. I feel like I need something interesting and meaningful, but I have no idea of what it exactly is,’ says Sandy.
How to activate Sandy’s enthusiasm and ignite her inner fire lies in finding what she values most. A value clarification exercise introduced to Sandy identifies the top three values she holds. They are adventure, fun and truth, which indicate that she may enjoy work that offers the chance to explore, do new and exciting things, challenge her physical and mental limits, take risks, and experience a sense of excitement, in an environment where people strive to remain free from emotional biases, and to attain fair and equitable solutions that benefit all parties.
Zest is the inner fire. It’s the desire to grow, not growing out of intellectual beliefs but out of love, as Sir Laurence Olivier says:
Life is enthusiasm, zest.
Identifying personal values with the coachee is a powerful process of self-discovery of zest. Values help uncover what is important for the coachee, and help decode what he or she craves. By working on the zest for life, the coachee is able to talk to his or her soul, and choose the path already present in his or her heart.
Phase 3: Explore the anchors
In order to get the zest to build up inspiration, excitement and a surging depth of joy, Quinn invites Sandy to take a deep look at the three core values she holds.
After the honeymoon stage, Sandy finds out that her job role is to react according to the preset guidelines which do not support short time notices or last minute changes from either clients or other business functions. She gets complaints and pushes, but she is not empowered to amend the existing processes. Her adventurous spirit does not align with the lukewarm working environment.
Sandy further shares that new ideas to improve work efficiency and effectiveness are welcome in the company, but the managers usually pay lip service to the proposals from the junior staff. From Sandy’s perspective, this is insincere and demotivational.
When talking about what could be the dream job for her, Sandy visualizes a beautiful picture and her voice becomes cheerful, a picture of self-autonomy, taking full responsibility, and forming intimate personal relationships.
Being asked how to get such a wonderful job, Sandy doesn’t think there is an existing one for her at the moment because she needs to have more knowledge, skills and credibility. But, later conversations on knowledge, skills and credibility become the turning point. Sandy becomes excited and leaves behind her dissatisfaction of the job and the puzzle of how to make the next move.
Identifying zest is like creating anchors. Exploring the energies that zest sparks is like doing a geographic profiling of the anchors.
In a coaching relationship, it’s crucial for both coach and coachee to explore together where the zest can lead. Visualization, appreciative inquiry and powerful questions, not limited to these three, are all useful tools to assist the coachee to awaken the inner true self. After the awakening, the awareness of true aspirations, resources and challenges unfolds naturally.
Phase 4: Nurture the awareness
With the awakened awareness, Sandy is able to examine the status quo objectively. As a junior staff member, her voice may be too weak to be heard, and her good-will is easily neglected in a large company. Bearing in mind the fact that she has knowledge to learn, skills to develop, and credibility to build in order to live her values, Sandy comes up with some ideas and plans to create a dream job for herself.
Sandy decides to stay with the current company. She will learn and improve her influencing skills and keep voicing her thoughts tactically. She will be more active in communicating with colleagues and managers to win their respect and trust by achieving high performance under pressure. In her spare time, Sandy will engage in social activities for networking. Sandy believes her efforts will pay off. Once her talents are recognized, her dream of living an adventurous and fun life will come true.
Annie Leibovitz says:
My hope is that we continue to nurture the places that we love, but that we also look outside our immediate worlds.
Nurture is the process of caring for and encouraging growth or development. And awareness is presence; it’s recognition of what is unfolding, and it draws attention to the power of now. By nurturing the awakened awareness, a coach is supporting the coachee to walk away from the illusion of helplessness or separateness, to be alive, to respect his or her own intuition, to look within and examine his or her own self, to tend the garden of the heart, and let it bloom with hundreds of flowers.
Zen is a path to fully awaken our original nature, which is present right here, right now. Zen is being more aware of our thoughts and actions, and what our senses bring in. Zen is not about never feeling sad, angry, joyful, or having fun, but about the understanding that by not clinging or attaching ourselves to these feelings, we can free ourselves from them, and enjoy life to the fullest.
Zen is about transcending ourselves. It is about allowing us to take our self out of ourselves, so we can see ourselves from another perspective.
When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are, and that helps us when we face challenging situations. The coaching model of ZEN is a process to guide us ‘to see, to observe, to look’, and to find our ‘islands of stability’.
A Zen student once asked his teacher,
“Master, what is enlightenment?”
The master replied, “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.”
Zen stories, http://spiritual-minds.com/stories/zen.htm
Article by Becky Sweat, How Can We Cope in a World of Rapid Change?
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, Random House (1970)
Zen, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen
Mahayana, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana
Definitions of words by Collins English Dictionary, http://www.collinsdictionary.com/
Blog by Sandra Pawula, The True Meaning of Zen
Zen-Sational Living Blog
Article by Seiju, Bringing Zen Practice into Everyday Life, Newsletter of Albuquerque Zen Center (Spring 2012)