I have never liked the word ‘coach.’ It brings with it too many associations of school gym classes, where I flailed about in non-athletic misery. For me, coaches offered only an exasperated and pitying judgment upon my inadequacies as a competitor, and corroborated in my exclusion from the other kids who belonged on various teams. As I grew up, coaches were in fact the least encouraging adults in my life and in my mind ‘coaching’ equated with belittlement.
So how is it that I now find myself in the Foundations module of the Animas Coaching course here in Edinburgh, embarking upon the training that will lead me to call myself by that dreaded word? Even six months ago I didn’t see this coming. Yet it also feels inevitable, something that falls into place naturally with my aspirations and gifts. I may not be athletic but I am certainly brave, even adventurous, willing to step into the unknown and explore what may be learned from it. At the same time I am compassionate – able and willing to support others in their unknowings and explorations. I have survived travels into some seriously dark places, and understand well that discomfort and uncertainty are part of the learning process, with real pay-offs. I love working with people one-to-one and I love transformative conversations and I love it when my contribution has made an impact: and so, ergo, I love coaching! It appeals to my sense of irony, and humour too: me, a coach?! Well alright then.
My touchstones are women. Three women have led me to coaching; let me tell you about them. The first is Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. This book gave me a very tangible experience of transformation in my writing practice. I have kept a private journal for over thirty years but through The Artist’s Way I learned to bring my voice out of the private realm, into the public. I wouldn’t be writing for you right now in this Animas blog post, were it not for the lessons of The Artist’s Way. Cameron taught me about the usefulness of creating a growing space, a concept I had not really considered before in a meaningful way. The space in The Artist’s Way explores the processes by which we close and open ourselves to our innate creativity – but what grabbed me and shook me by the shoulders was the experience of allowing myself a dedicated time and space for the work of personal transformation.
My second touchstone is my friend Cat, who is herself a trained (though not currently practicing) personal coach. Cat walked alongside me during a very difficult period of my life, and her most cherished gift to me was her willingness to listen without judgment, to listen for long stretches without stepping in to steer, to listen carefully to my rambling voice with patience and love. No solutions were tabled, no conclusions drawn. But her dedicated listening itself gave me the chance to pour out and sort through what was going on for me.
Finally my third coaching touchstone: Carolyn Baker, an author, activist and self-described ‘collapse coach.’ Baker situates coaching and inner work against the background of social and ecological crisis. Her work provides “a safe place to have dangerous conversations about uncertain futures” and articulates for me the fundamental connection between the outer world and the inner world. Baker’s work is all about the dedicated commitment to a meaningful life in the face of our collective mortality, and shares some ground with Joanna Macy’s ‘work that reconnects.’
So then: coaching fell across my radar in the form of the free Introduction to Coaching day. Animas is developing a presence in Scotland and ran a pilot group here in Edinburgh last year. Now there are a number of training diets scheduled and new Scottish cohorts springing up to fill the courses. I went to the Introduction day wondering what I would find, and realised immediately how much I could learn from this programme and the larger Animas community.
I also recognised how coaching might serve the profound need for reconnection in this world of ours. It is one thing to say the world needs to change, and another thing entirely to admit that in order for the world to change, we need to change ourselves. There is an immense and urgent need for this type of work – for walking alongside one another as we seek transformation and personal growth, in order to meet the significant challenges of our times.
The start of my coaching journey coincides with my participation in an arts project in Newcastle, which may be of interest to the Animas community. The Newbridge Project has commissioned Deep Adaptation, which is an ongoing programme of commissions, talks, screenings, workshops and events exploring how current social, political, civic and economic issues can be understood in relation to climate change…
The Deep Adaptation approach involves the following:
Relinquishment – people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviors and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse
Resilience – people and communities better coping with disruptions
Restoration – rediscovering forgotten attitudes and approaches to life, such as increased community-level productivity and support
As part of this project, Dr Alex Lockwood has curated a series of podcasts called “Shift and Signal“, designed to imagine how we can go deeper in our adaptations to the crises of the contemporary moment such as social inequality, climate change, and species extinction.
The project is an attempt to shift us beyond stuck conversations about how we implement change, drawing upon identity psychology and behavioural theory as a means to overcome obstacles to change, and then to signal towards responses and better ways of living that are already appearing.
You can hear my contribution to the project in podcast episode #5, Resilient Heart.
Personal change is one of the most demanding and rewarding experiences in our individual human lives, and from a wider perspective it has literally fueled our evolution through the millennia. I am proud to be learning new skills from Animas which will allow me to effectively walk alongside others on the path of their personal growth, and to thus contribute to the greater story of human transformation. The word ‘coaching’ no longer means belittlement to me; on the contrary, it means expansion, even ennoblement in the context of our human search for growth and meaning. A very hopeful change indeed.