A Coaching Power Tool Created by Laura Valenti
(Embodiment and Holistic Coach, SPAIN)
I feel that today, more than ever, in the coaching world, it is essential to explore the themes and narratives of connection and separation, also from a systemic point of view.
In the last years, I had the opportunity to support the work of the Pachamama Alliance. It is an association that established a partnership with various indigenous tribes of the Amazon to protect their culture. They wish to create a world that is environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling.
The Achuar and Sapara people of the rainforest invite us – the people of the industrialized countries – to wake up from what they call a ‘collective trance.’ They think that we live in a ‘dream’ and a reality that is based on the unexamined assumptions of separation and individualism. According to their vision, most suffering we experience in the Western world is rooted in our separation from each other and the natural world.
In their worldview and cosmovision, all life is interconnected, interdependent, and related, and they don’t see the world as made up of independent players.1
American philosopher Charles Eisenstein speaks about the ‘Story of Separation,’ which has dominated our collective culture. In this narrative, we are all separated individuals, and we compete with each other. We believe that ‘more for you is less for me;’ that nature is unconscious and doesn’t have any intelligence. We try to dominate other human beings and the natural world.2
We are living a particular, unique, and unprecedented moment in history. Many of us are currently in lockdown in our homes without knowing for how long. We live in a great time of uncertainty. Many people have lost their jobs. Many live in small flats with other family members 24/7. Others cannot spend time out besides what is allowed for shopping (i.e., the law in Spain does not allow them to leave the house for physical exercise).
We see an increase in activities, courses, new initiatives on social media and in the virtual world, while we cannot meet in person, gather in public, hug, or shake hands.
I write this paper, intending to look at how coaching can support people’s resilience, sense of connection, and agency in a moment of collective crisis.
Author, psychologist, and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin has written a brilliant book: ‘Wild Mind.’ I would like to include here a few words from him: ‘Conventional Western psychology has focused on pathology rather than possibility and participation, and this renders it incomplete and in many ways obsolete…psychological symptoms may best be relieved not by directly trying to eradicate them, impede them or mask them but rather by developing our innate resources, the unavailability of which may be the primary reason why these symptoms appeared in the first place. Perhaps we exhibit symptoms not so much because we are disordered but because we are deficient in our embodiment of wellness, health or wholeness. (…) In recent decades we’ve come to the understanding that our psychological health relies profoundly on the health of the world in which we are embedded. (…) Western culture is alienated form the greater Earth community-especially from nature’s untamed powers, qualities, species, and habitats.
(…) Although in everyday life, we might feel cut off from our wild Earthly roots and relationships, it nevertheless remains true that the deep structures of our human psyche have emerged from this living web.’3
There are various levels or areas where people may experience separation, and that includes the feeling of being out of touch with oneself. Many of us may have experienced this, a sense that something is missing or is out of tune, a feeling of unease.
In this critical moment in history, where we talk about social distancing and figure out other ways of connecting online, many people may feel even more isolated, lonely, and separated from themselves and others.
Stephen Porges, a scientist at Indiana University, amongst many others, speaks about the fact that human beings are wired for connection, and our nervous system evolved in this way.
‘The strategy of social distancing creates an amazing paradox for our nervous system and our needs to interact with other people because, as humans, we have a powerful need is to connect and to co-regulate with others, but now we’re being told that this is not the right thing to do. There are priorities, and the top priority is not to get infected, but there’s also a priority of understanding the needs of our nervous system.’4 (Stephen Porges, Ph.D.)
In general, feelings of separation may also trigger harsh comparisons, exacerbate limiting beliefs, and many people may end up labeling themselves in a diminishing way.
Many of us may have known, in various moments in life, these vicious circles and negative thinking patterns that can go in loops in our heads:
- I am alone/I will always be alone
- I have to do it all by myself
- Nobody cares about me/nobody loves me
- I am a failure
- I am not good enough
- He/she is smarter/more capable/more successful than me
- I should do better/do more work/earn more money
- I can’t do this/ I am not capable
- It’s my fault/it’s your fault
Furthermore, feelings of separation – in a context where there is an overload of information – may enhance the temptation to focus on the negative and filter out the positive, to blame the current circumstances on the ‘bad guys’, to expect that the worst will happen. This emotional state may cause additional anxiety, stress, overwhelm, addiction, and ultimately a kind of disempowerment which drives us further away from our true nature. It can ultimately exacerbate the ‘drama triangle’ and the roles that we play as victims, persecutors, and rescuers.
Most likely, when we believe that we are separated, our choices will be rooted in fear; our thoughts will run endlessly comparing and criticizing, and our capacity for empathy, trust, and compassion will be greatly impoverished. From this place, the western mind and its ego-whose task are to be right and exert control- may sprint to judge, separate, compare, put things, or people in a box. As a result, we may feel even more defensive, powerless, stuck, and frustrated.
We are relational beings. We are relationships. If we choose so, if we decide to give attention to it, we can experience more fully the relationship with ourselves and ultimately with all life.
Charles Eisenstein says that ‘the true self is a connected self’ from a metaphysical, philosophical, and biological point of view (i.e., including the trillion cells in our bodies, the genetic information inherited from our ancestors and the bacteria living in our organism).5
There are many different ways to look at ‘connection.’
We can also think about the connection between organs in our bodies and how they communicate, between systems and how they affect each other or solely at the body-mind relationship and the impact that it has on our overall health, well-being, and immune system.
It then comes to mind the work of The Institute of Heart Math has conducted scientific research in the last 25 years on the connection between the heart and the brain and the psychophysiology of stress and emotions.
Furthermore, the HMI is also researching ‘the interconnectivity between human consciousness and Earth’s energetic systems as well as between people and other living systems, such as animals and trees.’6
Many studies have demonstrated that heart patterns have an impact on our cognitive and emotional functions:
‘During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions.
This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes – actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.
In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect. In essence, it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform.’7
The relationship that we cultivate with ourselves and our hearts, also at the physiological level, is a fundamental one. This connection allows us to expand our awareness and experience coherent feelings of interdependence, love, and joy.
I would also like to mention that a few years ago, a British journalist, Johann Hari opened a groundbreaking conversation about the research into the causes of addiction and concluded that the ‘opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.’ In this way, this challenging problem is seen as a social disorder. This conclusion also reinforces Bowlby’s research on the human need for secure attachment, warmth, and trust.8
Similarly, the work of Stephen Porges has created a massive awareness around the fact that our nervous system evolved to detect intonation, facial expressions, body language almost at a primitive level. Depending on how we communicate with one another, we create the process that is defined as self-regulation; that includes mirroring each other, settling, attuning, grounding through each other’s presence.9
In the seventies, rats were put in cages alone, with bottles filled with normal water and with heroin. Rats would get hooked on heroin and overdose.
When a wider cage for many rats was created, with balls, toys, and plenty of food and time for mating, all rats would choose normal water and none was hooked on heroin.
Connection plays a key and pivotal role in developing one’s wholeness, true essence, and wellness. This process entails nurturing a healthy relationship with oneself, others, and the natural world.
When we deepen this sense of connection and our kinship also with the whole web of life, we can become agents of change and develop the resilience that we need in this moment of crisis.
As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, ‘the verb ‘to be’ can be misleading, because we cannot be by ourselves, alone. ‘To be’ is always to ‘inter-be.’ If we combine the prefix ‘inter’ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, ‘inter-be.’ To inter-be and the action of Interbeing reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life. My well-being draws from yours and is related to the well-being of people across the globe, to the rivers, to the oceans and the forests.’10
We can decide to experience and nurture connection and give attention to it. Neuroscience speaks about the importance of giving attention to new experiences, to be able to grow new neural pathways. The more we give attention to it, the more our sense of connection to life will expand.
This choice may lead us also to more creative, imaginative, and cooperative outcomes.
Here below, I have listed some examples and simple ways to explore and deepen a sense of connection to yourself and the web of life:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Breathing exercises
- Playing an instrument
- Writing a journal
- Cultivating the imagination
- Planting seeds
- Growing food
- Supporting a charity that protects trees
- Prayer & spiritual practice
- Gentle exercise
- Time in nature
- Walking in a park Being barefoot
- Contemplating beauty
- Practicing kindness and appreciation
- Nurturing meaningful conversations
- Spending quality times with loved ones
- Writing love letters
- Reading inspiring books
- Joining a community (even if it is online!)
- Learning something new
- Reaching out to a friend.
While we all experience this massive slow down in activities, where so many planes are not flying, transport is reduced, we all have the opportunity to re-think our priorities and tune in more deeply with what truly matters.
What if this forced alone time that is creating multiple paradoxes, becomes an opportunity to rediscover connection, with one’s true nature, with each other and with that which is greater than us?
We can choose whether we want to feel bitter, resentful, and buy into the narrative of separation. Or we can also decide what we want to focus on. Especially in a moment of crisis, where we cannot control the external circumstances, to focus on small steps, on the things we can control in our environment, it becomes a tool for resilience, growth, and ultimately for experiencing connection. This is an opportunity for us all to cultivate being ‘in the zone’ in the present moment and experiencing a higher state of awareness. The ‘flow state’ is described nearly as merging with the activity that one is conducting and as an ‘intense experiential involvement in moment-to-moment activity: it can only be achieved based on an individuals’ effort and creativity.’ (Csikszentmihalyi,1990).11
These are some of the questions that we can use as coaches when a client comes with the ‘story of separation’:
- What do you appreciate the most in yourself and others?
- What is your connection with the natural world?
- What is your relationship with your imagination?
- What is your relationship with your breath?
- What is your relationship with your creativity?
- What is your relationship with the invisible world?
- What does spirituality mean to you?
- What does 'to be whole' mean to you?
- What is the legacy that you want to leave behind you?
- If your ancestors had a message for you, what that would be?
- What do you feel connected to?
- Which are the relationships that you want to strengthen right now?
- How is your life/how do you feel when you experience separation?
- How is your life/how do you feel when you experience a connection?
- If nature was speaking through you, what would she say?
- What is the best outcome you can foresee in your current circumstances?
- What are you grateful for?
- When you feel inspired, in ‘the zone,’ and empowered, what do you do differently?
- When you feel fully connected to yourself, to your community and the web of life, what do you do differently?
- If you recall a time when you felt alive, passionate, vibrant, and connected to the world around you, what is the learning that you can draw from that experience?
- If you imagine yourself in five years, what are the things that you would want to be the most connected to? What needs to happen next?
- If you were to chose some simple actions every day to nourish the connections that matter the most to you, what would you do?
- If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?
- If you imagine your virtuous cycle, what do you see in it?
- If you could approach your current circumstances from a place of play and curiosity, what would you do differently?
References and resources
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