Research Paper By Qin Xue
(Transformational Coach, CHINA)
The word Dao has many meanings. The Chinese Hanyu Da Zidian, an international standard reference for Chinese characters, defines forty-five meanings for Dao. And John DeFrancis’ exemplary Chinese-English dictionary gives sixteen meanings: twelve for dào, ‘way, path, say’; three for dǎo, ‘guide, lead’; and one for dāo in an ‘odd, bizarre’ idiomatic expression.
The Dao (or Tao), which is discussed in this paper, refers to the Dao wisdom. It is a metaphysical concept originating with the sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, 570-490 BC), who was allegedly the author of the Dao De Jing (or Tao Te Ching), the world’s most translated classic next to the Bible. There are numerous legends about Laozi but it’s hard to pin down a biography of him. One story goes that when Laozi set off to be a hermit, he was asked to record his wisdom before he would be permitted to leave the Kingdom of Chu. This is the origin of the Dao De Jing. Together with the writings of Zhuangzi, these two texts build the philosophical foundation of Taoism, a philosophical, ethical, and religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Dao.
Dao is a peerless word. Laozi starts his very first line in his keynote work with these six characters: 道可道非常道, and the English translation of this statement differs widely.
Here quote a few:
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. (tr. James Legge 1891)
The Tao that can be told of is not the Absolute Tao (tr. Lin Yutang 1942)
Existence is beyond the power of words to define (tr. Witter Bynner 1944)
The truth that may be told is not the everlasting Truth (tr. Cheng Lin 1949)
Tao, the subtle reality of the universe cannot be described (tr. Hua-Ching Ni 1979)
The true Tao escapes definition (tr. Alan B. Taplow 1982)
A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path (tr. Thomas Cleary 1991)
The Tao of words is not the transcendental Tao (tr. Jerry O. Dalton 1994)
The perceived Way is not the eternal Way (tr. Karl Kromal 2002)
The Way — cannot be told (tr. A.S. Kline 2003)
The Cosmic Consciousness described is not quite the timeless Origin (tr. Brian Donohue (2005)
The Flow of the universe is not one you can explain (tr. Sonja Elen Kisa, date unknown)
The list can go very long. In general, words can hardly convey the vital meaning of the word Dao, just as is stated by Laozi in the second line: 名可名非常名.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name (tr. James Legge 1891)
Life is such – united, whole but whenever we try to express in words, something is left out. If the Dao were ‘path’, it would be what the bird makes in the sky. When we visualize this path, there are neither footprints nor boundaries. The Dao is the sky and the path. A path that no other person can create for us – we travel, and as we travel the path is formed. The path is formed but it is not fixed.
This paper aims to delve into some dimensions of the Dao and to explore how Chinese ancient wisdom supports the practice of coaching, an emerging discipline and profession.
Brief History and the Key Features of Coaching
Coaching is a widely-used term with various meanings depending on the situation. It has its roots in the area of sport, dates back as far as ancient Greece, and was called ‘developmental counseling’ performed by organization consultants on organization development (OD) issues. From 1980 to 1994, the field of coaching experienced rapid growth, quickly expanding into many new areas of services. From 1995 to the present, there has been an increase in the number of publications devoted to coaching, in organizations that offer training to coaches, in the establishment of coaching organizations, and in the focus placed on coaching research by academia. Historically the evolution of coaching has been influenced by many other fields of study including those of personal development, adult education, psychology, and other organizational or leadership theories and practices. Since the mid-1990s, coaching has developed into a more independent discipline.
Coaching came under the influence of a range of therapeutic or personal-development approaches, and in many ways is a comparably new profession that blends the concepts from business, psychology, philosophy, sports and spirituality. The term ‘coaching’ is very general. The word coaching in itself is non-specific as regards who does it, to whom, in what situation, and by what arrangement.
Coaching may refer to different situations, notably either:
- coaching within organizations, alongside or equating to training and mentoring; or
- coaching outside of organizations, as a personal private service.
Coaching may refer to different types of personal development delivery, for example:
- the process or augmentation of teaching, training or mentoring within organizations;
- the provision of a specified personal development service.
Coaching may have different degrees of formality and structure, for example:
- coaching can be very informal and very loosely structured, or
- quite formal and heavily structured,
- and anything between these extremes.
A coach may be a person in any of these situations and not limited to:
- a manager or supervisor
- a workmate or ‘buddy’
- a trainer or teacher
- a friend or relative
- an external trainer or consultant working for a small or large company
- a self-employed trainer or consultant
- or a self-employed ‘coach’, specifically operating as a ‘coach’ of one type or another
Like many other emerging disciplines, coaching has struggled with problems of definition, but fundamentally coaching supports meaningful change or transformation, and shares some common features in the coaching practice regardless of the diverse objectives or goals of coaching, models or tools of coaching, framework or approaches of coaching, and numerous prefixes to coaching. Some outstanding features that facilitate the coaching process are revealed to be presence, awareness, and flow.
Dao and Presence
Coaching is a relationship between the coach and the coachee, in which the two collaborate to explore new possibilities. International Coach Federation (ICF) defines ‘coaching presence’ as one of the core competences of a coach; however, Marcia Reynolds, the former president of ICF remarked that ‘presence is the most important yet least understood coaching competency.
What is presence?
Malcolm Forbes says ‘Presence is more than just being there.’ Presence, as Harrison Owen puts, is ‘complete focus and totally connected’, ‘essential for the accomplishment of any critical task’. Doug Silsbee in his book Presence-Based Coaching (2008) points out that ‘presence is a way in which our nervous system becomes neutral and relatively free of habit drivers’. Presence is a state available to all of us at any moment. In this state, we are much more able to imagine new actions, to change behaviors, and to respond creatively to whatever is going on in our environment. When we are present, we are maximally resourceful and responsive to what our circumstances require of us.
Dao is presence.
Laozi says that presence should not be felt at all, and the mode of being present is being absent, “Open, like a mountain valley” (Laozi, Verse 15, tr. Brian Donohue). This sounds paradoxical, but just imagine wherever there are mountains, there are bound to be valleys. A mountain is the presence of something; a valley is the absence. A valley does not exist, only appears between two mountains, and only disappear once the mountains are no more. Being present is being in emptiness, where there is no ego, nor violence, and where ‘I’ is completely extinct.
Every act of violence backfires.
The Masters do what needs doing
and that’s all they do.
Do what you have to do
without arrogance or pride.
Do what you have to do,
not for your own benefit,
but because it needs to be done.
And don’t do it the way
you think it should be done,
do it the way it needs to be done.
— Laozi (Verse 30, tr. Ron Hogan)
When one person decides to change another, no matter how good the intention is, violence begins, because the idea of changing another is the idea of destroying him by depriving him of his independence, and ‘the harvest of violence is misery’ (Laozi, Verse 30, tr. Brian Donohue).
Guard the openings of speech and outer sensation,
And your life will be serene.
But if your life is spent
In expansive oration
And the compulsion to intervene,
Your heart will be in torment
Unto your very last breath.
Microscopic discernment within
Is the path of clarity.
The tenderest embrace is the strongest.
Let your own true radiance guide you,
For inner clarity is return to the Origin,
Where one’s true self finds protection.
— Laozi (Verse 52, tr. Brian Donohue)
‘Return to the Origin’ is to allow our natural being to guide us. All that is needed is the presence of the true self.
How can we learn to use the gifts of Nature,
Amid this grasping world?
Let the Tao guide you:
Your true self gives, and claims no credit.
Its work furthers all, without attaching to the results.
It conceals its worth,
Which is therefore felt by all.
— Laozi (Verse 77, tr. Brian Donohue)
Our nature is pure and open presence. When we are able to enjoy the emptiness by inviting our true self in and letting go of our ego, we become aware of the totality of our presence; we learn to appreciate the moment when our presence offers more than we present, and we start to understand ‘developing presence is the most important work we can do as a human being’ (Doug Silsbee).
This is the beauty of Dao. It makes ‘presence’ possible through void openness in the coach-coachee relationship.
Dao and Awareness
In a coaching conversation, it’s crucial for the coach to play an important role in creating the conditions for awareness to emerge, so the coachee can explore and uncover what he may not have conscious access to about himself, his work, or some other aspect of his lives. Bill George describes such coaching relationship as ‘We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speaking the story of our lives to those we trust’ in an open, intimate and ‘safe place’. Supporting the coachee to develop awareness is what makes coaching a unique service.
What is awareness?
Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, or sensory patterns. It is the ability of our mind to monitor and analyze our inner being and external environment; it gives us a deep knowledge of ourselves, and helps us gain a full control of our thoughts and emotions, and make reasonable choice of our life.
Stanley Milgram suggests our awareness be ‘the first step to our liberation’. Jiddu Krishnamurti states awareness is ‘silent observation without choice, condemnation, or justification’. Deepak Chopra perceives there are three levels of awareness for every challenge in life: ‘contracted awareness’, the level of problem; ‘expanded awareness’, the level where solutions begin to appear; and ‘pure awareness’, the level where no problems exist. When we are able to take our awareness outside the place where struggle is ever-present, our awareness expands and new answers begin to appear; then every challenge turns out a creative opportunity.
Dao is awareness.
Laozi asserts in Dao De Jing that the most important thing people can do in life is to gain a state of silent awareness, to open the mind to its root.
Return to the root, to the primal nature,
Is the way of all beings.
Let your awareness contemplate
The eternal cycle of return,
And your insight will deepen in this.
— Laozi (Verse 16, tr. Brian Donohue)
‘Returning to the root’ is returning to nature, to the origin, where everything flourishes. ‘Returning to the root’ is reaching tranquility, the ultimate emptiness.
Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.
Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.
— Laozi (Verse 14, tr. Stephen Mitchell)