A Research Paper Created by Craig Hedge
(Work Life Balance Coaching, AUSTRALIA)
This paper will discuss coaching as a way of life in the context of, and in conjunction with, spiritual and religious structures. It will discuss both the opportunities and the limitations that coaching can create within these structures.
The definition of Coaching according to the ICF (International Coaches Federation) is the following:
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honour the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.
Let us also define what a way of life is to ensure this is clear. Macmillan Dictionary defines it as;
A typical way in which a person or group lives.’ Cambridge Dictionary states that it is; ‘The manner in which a person lives.’ And the Oxford Dictionary defines it as; ‘the typical pattern of behaviour of a person or group.
As for spiritual and religious definitions, it is assumed that the reader has their own understandings of what religion and spirituality means for them.
In simple terms, a way of life is a way of living and behaving
Coaching on the other hand is not a way of life. It is an action or service with a clear start and finish date – at least in the majority of cases. It can help a client reach a certain level of awareness to help them choose and live their way of life, however it is not considered to be a way of life in and of itself.
So generally speaking, unlike many spiritual paths and religious disciplines, coaching is often seen as a service with a use by date. It can help others to become clearer (for example) about their religious or spiritual beliefs or callings, but it is not considered to be a way of life or path in its own right.
As a coach, and knowing the benefits of a coaching ethos and ethic, the question is perhaps, why isn’t coaching seen as a life path or way of life in the same light as other religions and spiritual practices? Is coaching that different?
Whether we look at it from a religious or spiritual perspective, coaching does have a lot of things in common with both of these approaches.
Coaching seeks to help the client align to their best self and to what is really important to them. It helps them move towards their life purpose.
Spirituality, or at least the spiritual path, seeks a similar journey and process. This is particularly evident if the client makes the connection that personal alignment and awareness of self are a necessary part of the spiritual path and lifestyle.
In the religious context, we often see a theme of service and of helping others. All religions have examples of service, and they advocate or promote a right way of living.
It is not the primary intention of this paper to critique the shortcomings or assumptions of certain spiritual practices or religious frameworks – although that is one of the outcomes. It is the intention however, to find commonalities and parallels within them to that of coaching – and to identify the limitations within this approach. So are many of the processes and outcomes of all three similar?
There is a theme of, and a search for meaning in all three. There are rules, laws, and guidelines in all three. They all provide hope for a better life on some level. In all three there is a sense of guidance.
The coach is a guide. A spiritual seeker may be looking for their guide or guru or god perhaps. A religious person sees their god as their guide.
As a coach, and when appropriate, I focus on breaking things down to an energy level. It is my belief and or knowing, that energy permeates and is present in all things. This energy could be defined as spirit, as god, as consciousness, as light, or a host of other possibilities perhaps. Is this energy merely another representation or manifestation of the life force or universal spirit that is within all things?
The above assumes the possible connections of course. The point here is that if we are dealing with energy (the force within the form or physical manifestation) then are we dealing with different things here, or are we merely choosing to put a label on something that is truly a universal force? Is this force divided and defined by those who choose to fit this energy into their religious and spiritual paradigms and structures?
If it is, then how manipulated, diluted and how limited is this force or energy within these structures? And how does it serve those people or followers in a way that truly enables them to reach their full potential?
These questions pose more questions. And to be clear, this is not about what is truth or untruth, or what religious or spiritual structure or belief system is better than another.
In the coaching context here, and as a coach myself, I am more interested in the potential and capability of people – and how that can be expressed and developed in ways that truly support all people.
So let us get back to the main theme of the paper here. This is of course that coaching is a way, or at least could be seen and practiced as a way of life. Not the way, or the only way, but a valid way of life nevertheless.
Coaching need not superimpose itself upon or above existing religious or spiritual beliefs or structures; however it certainly could enhance them. It could be used and approached as a powerful way of living that coexisted with an incumbent or chosen religious or spiritual tradition.
The power of coaching in the context of spiritual and religious practice should not be understated. Coaching seeks to understand, to listen, and to investigate. Coaching is curious. Coaching understands what are long held spiritual traditions and truths. That is that the present moment is truly powerful. Meditation and religious ritual seek to be in that present moment. Prayer seeks guidance and answers. It is in these moments where a person is, or at least endeavours to be, in the moment, and present with their god or their spiritual or religious practice.
If we look at coaching and its focus and intention at being in the moment and being present with people – and ourselves, we see both a powerful acknowledgement and an agreement with key fundamental truths in spiritual and religious tradition.
Religious and spiritual traditions also advocate a right way of living and being of service to others. Coaching promotes this as well. Coaching encourages a person to align to who it is they are and what they want. On the surface this may appear to be heavily focused on the individual; however this overlooks the intention and the outcomes that often manifest and present themselves to a person who truly seeks their own truth.
Could it be feasible to suggest iconic individuals and religious figures such as Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Buddha reached out and touched so many lives because they were able to be truly present and aligned to who they were themselves? The irony of their personal journeys and their way of life in turn ended up culminating in the largest religious traditions we now experience today.
Can coaches learn from, or draw from those earlier sages and the way they were able to not only change their own world and generation, but also of those thousands of years following them?
Whilst I am not suggesting these men were coaches, I am suggesting that the processes they used perhaps to get to their level of personal understanding and awareness was by relying on what was inherently within themselves. The irony is perhaps that those that followed attempted to recreate structures and traditions to replicate what could only be sourced from within each individual person to truly understand any teachings or scriptures anyway.
And that brings us back to the power of coaching as a way of life. If the answers are truly within us, and if we are able to connect to those answers or that guidance, then is that worth further exploration?
Could a coach, or could the coaching process more to the point, be a way for individuals to in turn find and connect to themselves? Does this process in and of itself, achieve the desired results of those who seek answers and guidance from various spiritual and religious traditions? If it does, then does coaching in real terms do what was indeed intended perhaps by those earlier sages mentioned in this paper?
In other words, does coaching connect people to themselves and in turn connect them to others? If it does then it clearly has some claim at least to being an effective way of life for those who choose to experience its power and the results they achieve from it in their own lives.
Importantly, coaching is presented here as a possible way of life – not the way of life. As a coach, and as a person who truly values the importance of freedom of speech, belief and choice, I am not advocating that coaching superimpose itself above all others. History demonstrates without any need for further commentary, what this approach has achieved over the course of human history.
The potential for coaching as a way of life however, is in its ability to seamlessly calibrate itself and complement perhaps, any framework no matter how fundamental or dogmatic it might be. It is this ability and potential that clearly indicates the applications that coaching can have.
What it also demonstrates is the non-judgemental and non-confrontational presence that coaching potentially has in working in all structures and with all types of people. Its power as a way of life perhaps then, is its ability to work in conjunction with, and alongside people with clear ideas about what life already means to them. We can apply this to any methodology or dogma as well, as coaching does not advocate that it is truth or that it is the way.
It is this ability that demonstrates the true power and efficacy of coaching. It builds bridges. It seeks to align people and structures. The fact that coaching can do this so well is that it is not coming from a position or assumption of ultimate truth or importance over anything or anyone else. Coaching does not seek to advocate or promote the truth – it seeks to help those who seek it to understand what it is for them. There is a distinct lack of ego in the pure sense of what coaching is. Its intention is to coach, guide and facilitate the understandings and knowing’s of the people it works with. There is no information or agenda push – coaching is a movement and process concerned with a client’s own level of awareness and alignment to themselves.
The coaching intention is not to give you the truth. Its mission is to merely help you find what truth is for you in your own life.
Albert Einstein once said;
I am not a genius, I am just curious. I ask many questions. And when the answer is simple, then God is answering.
As a coach I find that statement both fascinating and revealing. Who was Albert posing the questions to, and what was his interpretation of God?
Coaches are curious. Coaches ask questions. Coaches know the answers are somewhere within or around the clients own level of understanding and awareness.
Are there some parallels between what Einstein did, and what coaches endeavour to do? Do coaches follow a similar process? We may never know.
One of the fundamental differences between coaching and religion and spirituality, is in the delivery or appreciation of the source of wisdom or understanding.
Religious traditions generally have a father or mother figure. These figures are either god in some manifestation or form, or they are a way to god. Spiritual traditions, and this includes many that come under the umbrella of new age practices, do exactly the same thing on an energy level. Many merely change the title or the form of that which is the way to enlightenment or a sense of a higher self or purpose. This demonstrates the need to go through a medium or a person or form outside of yourself to reach the intended outcome or destination.
Is coaching any different to that? After all, a client works with a coach right? Not exactly. A coach makes the connection, and works on the connection that the client has with themselves. The client may choose to frame this within the context or channel of their beliefs or world view, however the coach sees the client as being the source of their own evolution. In other words, there is no detour to a third party or a need to run the program or the session by somebody else. Nor is there a need to give that power away or devalue it by getting it appraised or rubber stamped by a higher authority. In the coaches eyes, the client is the higher authority in their own life. A coach may encourage and acknowledge a client, however a coach does not direct or validate a client.
The intention here is to not devalue any spiritual or religious practice or tradition. Nor is it necessarily about placing coaching on a pedestal above the two. There is an intention however to identify some of the basic processes that are involved in seeking to find oneself or seeking to align to a higher power or purpose.
Why? Because coaching can clearly be of assistance here and play a major role in helping a client reach these objectives or aspirations with or without those structures in place – or in tow. Coaching can enable a person to either stay within, or reach beyond their own limiting beliefs (and as coaches we need to be aware that what we call a limiting belief in a client’s life, they might see it as an incredibly empowering one).
The coach’s value then is in assisting the client to become aware and to be cognisant of their own life within the confines and structures of their belief systems – if they choose to do that of course.
This paper has spoken about coaching in the context of comparison to, and with, spiritual and religious practice. It has set out to demonstrate the spiritual and religious opportunities that coaching can contribute to, and how it can further complement the clients own religious and spiritual practices. But can it undermine existing practices or beliefs about them?
This is indeed possible, and for those clients that are struggling on some level, perhaps the coaching process may help them come to terms with their own limiting beliefs and world view in direct relation to their chosen religious or spiritual practice.
It is in this context or approach then, that coaching could be seen as a spiritual and religious threat – at least to structures that are more concerned with themselves than the individual. Of course some might not see it like this as there may be a genuine concern that a follower has lost their way so to speak. The question is what definition of lost their way are we talking about – the clients or the structure/s involved?
Clearly then a conflict of interest may arise if coaching was to be fully embraced as a way of life within a dogma or a religious or spiritual practice. It is not hard to envisage perhaps that a Christian (for example) may seek coaching to get clarity on their religious or life struggles and in turn move away from the very structure that sought to support the client. This might come about as coaching may have identified limiting beliefs perhaps or identified sticking points and a clear non alignment with personal vs. religious values.
So the very act of coaching may impede or undermine the Christian view. This may lead to less followers as people become clearer about what really is important to them.
Another side of this could be where the client as a Christian seeks to get coached within a structure and a coaching process that is fully supportive of whatever outcome eventuates. A Christian coach for example might genuinely seek to coach Christian clients towards a stronger faith perhaps and get a completely opposite result.
Would the coach be as conflicted as the client? Would the coach’s true convictions be expressed or demonstrated in their reaction of coaching in this situation?
There are many ways of looking at both the opportunities and limitations of coaching within a clear spiritual or religious model or paradigm. Just as there are laws and rules and guidelines in religious and spiritual structures, so too are there in coaching.
Does this mean they are incompatible or unable to work together? This clearly depends on the people within these structures, their interpretations of their dogma and their beliefs, and how the individual fits into them.
Since coaching places importance upon the individual, this may be in conflict to some religious structures for example, which place ultimate emphasis and belief on a higher power outside of, or superior to an individual.
This can also relate to various spiritual structures. Many place an emphasis on a deity or guru for example. Whilst they might appear to be more focused on individual enlightenment, there is still a power base and structure that is primarily super imposed or evident in front of the needs of the individual.
The Dalai Lama perhaps says it best when he stated that;
All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.
The opportunity to see coaching as a way of life in the context of the Dalai Lamas comments is perhaps not quite as fanciful then as it might appear.
This paper has discussed the opportunities, the limitations and the complexities of comparing and contrasting the paradigms of coaching, spirituality and religion. It further adds to ‘the larger body of coaching work in some way’ by looking to expand the reach and the understanding of coaching application within existing religious and spiritual structures.