Research Paper By Cristina Rosu (Transformational & Transitional Coaching, ROMANIA)
Some months ago I was in a Vipassana meditation camp for 10 days. I went there with the great desire to relax my mind and with the hope to make a big change in my life. What I got at the end was a technique to uncover my deepest patterns of the mind and a big lesson that nothing happens overnight but every step made in the right direction is a step that could potentially change your world.
Another big insight that filled my heart with joy was to discover so many similarities between this type of meditation and coaching.
They say that Vipassana meditation is the one that Buddha used when he arrived to enlightenment. It seems that after trying many techniques he stopped at this one. Of course nobody can go back in time and verify this but anybody can try the technique and experience the results.
Vipassana is called the science of the mind and matter and its goal is to lead to self-knowledge or, in other words, to wisdom and to change the habit pattern of the mind from the root level.
There are many similarities between Vipassana meditation and coaching.
I would like to start with the one that incorporates a basic law of both of them: if you want to know if something is useful then experience it; if you want to know if you are practicing it right look into your life and observe if there are any changes for the better. The philosophy of determinism would call this – the law of cause and effect and both, meditation and coaching, are inviting you to take action and to experience the cause and the results.
Coaching could never exist without action. If one would ask me what is the most important characteristic of coaching I would say this one. Of course I will soon add the courage to be honest with oneself and a deep desire to move forward. Moving forward is a tricky concept and this leads me to the next similarity.
They both invite you to sharpen your mind. In order to move forward one first needs to train his/her mind to see things clearly and that engages strong determination. Most of the time strong determination needs to be built and it needs time. If we would want to tame a wild horse we would first need to drain the animal of its energy and then patiently and persistently teach him how to behave the way we need so that we can use its strengths in our benefit.
You have to fight your own battle; nobody can do it for you – neither the meditation teacher, neither the coach, although they are both there to keep you in the right direction.
Observe your reality objectively, accept what is revealed to you (and here is where honesty comes into play) and then choose how to respond. This sentence reveals 3 other main ideas shared between Vipassana and coaching.
Meditation calls it observing and coaching calls it exploring and bringing it into your awareness, but they both say a simple truth: in order to know where you are going you first need to understand where you are.
Coaching challenges you to see things from different perspectives, to explore different angles of viewing your life and meditation challenges you to see things (thoughts, emotions, sensations) as they are.
Acceptance of what is revealed or brought into your awareness is a key factor of this understanding. Either we like or we don’t like what we discovered we need not to generate any abortion or craving towards it. Coaching says not to judge your thoughts or emotions, be compassionate with yourself and in turn build the response that you want to have in your life.
Create an alternative thought, an alternative emotion and replace the ones that don’t help you. What will serve you best is not fighting what is wrong but creating and replacing it with what is right.
You found one of your strengths, something that empowers you; celebrate that by putting more of it into your life.
Both Vipassana and coaching encourage the positive thoughts. In meditation “panna” – the right type of thoughts is the opposite of an agitated mind or a mind full of negative thoughts. This last disturbance doesn’t allow one to take the next step.
Positive psychology is one of the fields that inspired the coaching practice. In coaching building on strengths, concentrating on the opportunities and the positive aspects of one’s life is just as important as building the habit of being happy and maintaining a positive attitude. Negative thoughts such as fear for example can freeze one from taking action while emotions like anger on the other hand can cloud one’s perception and lead to actions with the potential to cause misery for themselves or for others.
Both in meditation and in coaching misery is caused by the impurities of the mind. Cleaning or freeing the mind can only to be done in the depths of it, in the unconscious part.
In his courses Goenka explains how Vipassana is a deep surgery of the mind where profound and complex problems come out: “One has to make his own operation, without anesthesia and one has to be brave and face anything that comes out.” Facing all of it and developing the strengths of the mind is how one starts changing the habit pattern of the mind.
In coaching we work with underlying beliefs that create or sabotage our reality. It is a deep and lengthy process that requires strong determination from both the client and the coach. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy comes in great help with its techniques in this part of the process.
A commitment to work in the depth of the situation as opposed to fixing or helping only at the surface comes from both of these practices: Vipassana meditation and coaching.
The power of both of them comes from generating an authentic and strong change.
Observing what happens in my coaching sessions or reflecting on my own experience it has become clear to me that many times people tend to run away from their fears, from pain, from any situation that creates discomfort. The meditation shows that you need to develop the capability to experience all of this in order to go further at the cause of the problem. In other words you need to find the courage to face this surface level of reality in order to be able to face the next level of the unconscious mind that is the cause of what happens outside.
For example when negativity gets originated one can easily start multiplying it and get overpowered by it. If we are able to understand how this happened, what is the cause; even if negativity has arisen one will not allow it to multiply or overpower him/her and will soon take the decision to replace it with something else. The catch is that one cannot arrive at the cause without experiencing and observing what is happening at the surface level as he will lack the understanding, the will and the power to go beyond the first perception.
Taking another example from one of my clients: a person can always run away from the fear of being alone, can always choose to stay in the same unfulfilling situation (relation/s in this case) in order to avoid what is perceived as a greater pain – leaving someone behind. It can be a great challenge to step into the suffering of missing someone. It might sound easier to have less pain then greater pain but in reality the obvious is being ignored: pain has set into my client’s life and less pain is not happiness. Not stepping into the first level, not embracing the pain that comes with it doesn’t allow him to go further to the cause that could help him not only heal but be happier that he ever was. What does my client’s reality show him? That he is not happy, he is missing what he needs, he is suffering. What is happening there? He is in a relationship that makes him unhappy; his partner doesn’t share his values or aims. What would be the solution for this? The solution would be to leave that person behind and search for a better match.
But the other person is not the true cause of suffering here, it rarely is.
If my client decides to make the step and end the relationship then he is faced with the next level. Did he experience this type of relationship or suffering before? Are there any commons, or patterns, that repeat here? What type of partners he had in his life? What is common to all of them? Can he take responsibility for choosing “the same person” over and over again?
If yes, then we go even deeper. What makes him choose that type of person? What belief does he need to have in his mind in order for him to take that choice? When we arrived to the underlying belief behind the entire situation, behind all the assumptions, perceptions, emotions, thoughts only then we arrived at the origin of the problem and only then my client can truly heal and make the right choice.
This choice only, rooted in a deep understanding of the reality, will have the power to change his life for the better. All the other before, even leaving that person behind would not truly heal or help him as he would still not have the wisdom to know the right direction.
Another similarity that is very dear to me is fully experiencing the present moment and appreciating life and its time. The discipline of coaching concentrates on what it is in this present moment, what one can do now to make his/her life better in the future:
What is the best use I can make with my time right now?.
Vipassana meditation asks the exact question as a metaphor for wisdom. And wisdom needs to manifest in dealing with ourselves, with people and with situations.
Vipassana is the reality of the present moment as it is not as one would like it to be. If one keeps ignoring the reality and is looking for something that is not there then one is not moving in the direction Vipassana wants him to move as he is not stepping towards discovering the impurities and cleaning the mind from the root level. This meditation keeps the reality as it is by asking the person to objectively observe the finest sensations of his/her body without reacting to it.
Using this technique one will arrive to understand what Vipassana calls the law of nature:
Every moment a change is happening, constantly.
Observing the reality from moment to moment with equanimity (objectively, without reacting to what is there) and with the understanding that everything changes is the base of this meditation.
The only way to truly appreciate time is to live it consciously every moment.
In coaching this translates in being aware, being mindful of what it is and choosing to respond instead of just to react. It translates in taking the courage to uncover one’s underlying beliefs and replacing them with new ones. It translates in taking the time and the patience to move step by step.
The direction that a coach wants his client to move is one of taking responsibility for the present moment, of discovering how to be aligned with one’s true values and how to keep authenticity of his/her true nature. In other words a direction of creating deep rooted happiness and joy.
At the end I will like to leave you with a last reflection that both Vipassana and coaching share:
The largest journey starts with the first step and when you walk the path you get tuned to the vibration of the Universe and support will come …. But still every step of the path you will have to take it (inspired by the teachings of Goenka professor of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin)
Being mindful, meditating, staying in the present, enjoying the journey and live positive there are all tools that a coach uses in his/her profession.