A Coaching Power Tool By Yoky Yu, Life Coach, SPAIN
The Way is always inaction,
But nothing is left undone.
If the rulers could realize it
The people would be themselves transformed. -Tao De Ching.
Youwei vs. Wuwei Are Concepts From Taoism
This article discusses the connection between coaching, Taoism, and philosophies in theatre. The purpose is to review the action, and inaction, for the development of the role of coaches, to sharpen the sensitivity to become aware of the “effort” in a coaching session.
Wuwei (Chinese: 無為; pinyin: wúwéi) means “inaction”, or “effortless action”. It describes a sense of flow regarding the spontaneous inner being, in harmony with the outer environment. The dichotomy is also the key to reaching a sense of balance in a coaching session: Nothing is done but nothing is left undone.
Wuwei, as Beautifully Put By Slingerland:
“…properly refers not to what is happening (or not happening) in the realm of observable action but rather to the state of mind of the actor. That is, it refers not to what is or is not being done but to the phenomenological state of the doer….It describes a state of personal harmony in which actions flow freely and instantly from one’s spontaneous inclinations—without the need for extended deliberation or inner struggle—and yet perfectly accord with the dictates of the situation at hand, display an almost supernatural efficacy…” (P. 300)
Explanation Youwei vs. Wuwei “Action vs. Inaction”
As coaches, we need to center our attention on our clients; at the same time, we need to be mindful of not getting attached to the outcome. We might be able to see the big picture, or simply look at the situation at hand from a different perspective, but we can’t steer the conversation our way, even with the best intention.
Therefore, we serve as honest and compassionate mirrors; we contribute with our presence, critical thinking, listening, and questioning skills; yet the less “effortful effort” we put in, the closer we could be to witness our clients naturally find their way.“From the aristocratic charioteer in the Odes to Zhuangzi’s skillful ex- emplars and Xunzi’s perfected sages, wu-wei is conceived of as a state of “fitting” (yi) with the order of the cosmos.” (Springerland, P. 311)
How shall we educate ourselves to be aware of the quality of the effort in a session? Perhaps we could look into the world of theatre. For example, the Laban Efforts could serve as a point of reference. “Effort, or what Laban sometimes described as dynamics, is a system for understanding the more subtle characteristics about movement concerning inner intention.” (2021, Wikipedia) There are eight kinds of efforts in action: Floating, Dabbing, Wringing, Thrusting, Pressing, Flicking, Slashing, and Gliding.
When we actively listen and observe the “here and now” of our clients, we can develop a level of sensitivity to detect their inner intention. As a result, we may choose to acknowledge via direct feedback, or we may adjust the quality of our questions/ reflection/ silence to complement/mirror their energy. By being conscious of our choices, we empower ourselves and our clients.
This reminds me of the connection to Poor Theatre, where Grotowski pursued the ‘ripening of the actor’, who is meant to make a ‘total gift of himself.’ In his Towards a Poor Theatre, he described it as a technique of the “trance” and of the integration of all the actor’s psychic and bodily powers which emerge from the most intimate layers of his being and his instinct, springing forth in a sort of “transamination.”’ (Grotowski, 1965: p.16)As coaches, aren’t we making ourselves a “total gift” for our clients, by attempting to strip ourselves away from judgment, manipulation, and our limiting beliefs?
Drawing a connection to the Theatre of Cruelty, Antonin Artaud proposed the paradox of theatre’s physical versus psychological nature by attacking the manipulation of the feelings in the west: ‘Any true feeling cannot, in reality, be expressed. To do so is to betray it. To express it, however, is to conceal it. True expression conceals what it exhibits. It pits the mind against nature’s real vacuum, by creating in reaction a kind of fullness of thought. Or rather it creates a vacuum in thought, about the manifest illusion of nature…Hence true beauty never strikes us directly and the setting sun is beautiful because of everything else we lose by it.’ (Artaud, 2010: p.51)
Therefore, we cannot force the transformation of feelings, emotions, and actions to happen, in ourselves and our clients. Although it is tempting to feed our ego and insecurity with a sense of influence and power, we need to be mindful to not let our “power tools” possess us as well.
Youwei vs. Wuwei Regarding Self-Application:
“On self-worth: I’m on my way to visit my friend in Vic when this thought occurred to me: it’s fine to feel worthless. It’s fine to feel completely worthless, and completely worthy. The yin and the yang. There is so much freedom in the fluidity between the two. How amazing that I get to feel unworthy sometimes! How amazing that I’m not stuck! How nice is it to show up at life adventures, new challenges, while allowing myself to feel both unworthy and worthy? I suddenly feel liberated from my need to lift my self-worth, and then, this tension to heal feels less like a burden, pre-requisite, or agenda. And when I’m not obsessed with my aim, I feel free of it. Wow. It’s a magical moment for me to realize that. Taoism…right? The paradox of healing: embrace the unhealed and regard it as something normal, good, and Tao. That’s probably the Wuwei of healing: embrace the yin and yang. -Yoky Yu, 7.11.2021 Spain.”
Sample Questions for Clients in a Session:
- I’m seeing the effort you are putting into finding a solution; I’m wondering…how do you feel about this kind/ amount of effort you are making?
- What kind of effort are you looking for?
- On the scale of Youwei to Wuwei, where are you right now?
- How could this new kind of effort serve you to reach your goal?
- What are your needs behind such an effort?
- What do you gain from this effort?
- What do you lose by this effort?
- What needs to happen for you to experience your desired kind of effort?
- What’s in your way?
- Who are you when you practice Youwei (Wuwei)?
- What’s within your power, in terms ofYouwei (Wuwei)?
- What if we looked at this situation with a pair of Wuwei (Youwei) glasses, what do you see?
- What would happen if you practiced Youwei (Wuwei)?
- What do you believe when you embody more/ less or Youwei (Wuwei)?
- What does your intuition tell you?
Sample Questions for the Coach to Self-Reflect:
- Am I making too much effort in this session?
- How is the quality of the effort from both parties right now?
- How do I experience my action and inaction?
- Am I being overly passive or active?
- Where is the Qi of the conversation flowing towards?
- What belief am I holding to feel this way about my role in this coaching session?
- What belief would I like to try on to feel more effortless effort?
- What is a risk that I’m not taking?
- How do I experience efforts from my client in this session?
- What if I tried Youwei (Wuwei) right now?
- How is the effort shown in our session contributing to the goal of the client?
- Where is the direction of the joint effort headed?
- What does it look like if I made a “total gift” out of me as a coach, with no self-interest?
- What is my breathing showing me about my effort at this moment?
- What is my body language, and the client’s body language, telling me?
Youwei vs. Wuwei Regarding Using the Laban Efforts
When the Conversation Lacks Focus:
- I’m noticing floating energy so far in our session. How would you like us to re-focus on our original goal?
When the Conversation Feels Stuck and Heavy:
- I’m experiencing a sense of weight in our conversation at this moment. I wanted to check in with you and see how you might be feeling?
- I’m hearing the dilemma in your situation. What would you need to see the change that you described to the current dynamic?
What came up to you while describing it to me?
When the Client Jumps to a Solution/Action Prematurely:
- I noticed how fast we have arrived at the action plan…how does the timing feel to you?
- What else are you curious about regarding this challenge?
- I’m noticing a sudden shift of energy in our conversation. What might you have noticed?
- How is this action serving you, moving to your goal?
When the Client Relies on the Coach to Do the Heavy-Lifting:
- I’m sensing some degree of inertia in our conversation. What do you notice?
- What’s holding us back?
- If we switched roles for a second, what question would you like to ask?
*All the questions above are meant to be utilized based on the evolving need from the client in one session. They are not meant to be used out of context. The coach shall reach towards one’s intuition first, before making relevant, authentic observations/ questions.
Youwei vs. Wuwei a Marriage Between Spontaneity and Discipline
Awareness is the foundation of an effortless coaching session that flows naturally, supporting our clients to explore their way. Youwei and Wuwei form a spectrum of effort that would bring instant meta-awareness to the coach and the client. A sense of adventurous synchronization might emerge when the coach fully embraces, while fully letting go, the creative tension in a session.
Using a metaphor from Zhuangzi, this is the “fasting of the mind…a process in which one stops listening with the senses and the mind and begins to listen with the qi, thereby ultimately rendering the mind “tenuous” (xu) and receptive to the Way as it is manifested in things.” (Slingerland, P. 309) In principle, beauty comes from a commitment to cultivating the Qi related to the client’s direction, which would serendipitously occur once we fully trust, and allow it to grow on its own. We could never fully define what exactly is the “perfect” state that Taoism proposes, therefore, consciously learning by doing with a “via negativa” approach, might just be the way to practice this power tool.
At the end of the day, a sense of balance between two extremes is always useful. Again, relating to the world of theatre, according to Dibia and Ballinger (2004) as cited by C. Gillit (2020), the interaction between the seen and unseen is contained within the Balinese philosophy of rwabhineda (two differences), or “the principle of balance in the world: male/female, day/night, good/evil, right/left” (p.8–9). May we call the contradictions in coaching, poetry. The coach, therefore, serves as a poet in the maze of the subconscious, which ‘preserves a magical relationship with all the objective stages of universal mesmerism.’ (Artaud, 2010: p.52)
Therefore, shall we advocate for structured improvisation? A marriage between spontaneity and discipline. Drawing the connection with Poor Theatre again, ‘It is the true lesson of the sacred theatre…spontaneity and discipline, far from weakening each other, mutually reinforce themselves; that what is elementary feeds what is constructed and vice versa, to become the real source of a kind of acting that glows.’’ (Grotowski, 1968: p.121)
With this power tool, let us be the coach that glows with our clients, in this selfless and self-full, inner alchemy.
A Legacy of Theatricality: Antonin Artaud’s Encounter with Balinese Gamelan Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double. Translated by V. Corti. The UK. Alma Classics LTD.
Grotowski. Towards a Poor Theatre. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Laban Movement Analysis. Wikipedia.Com.
Edward Slingerland. “Effortless Action: The Chinese Spiritual Ideal of Wu-Wei.” ResearchGate, Brill.