The void. Is there any more uncomfortable place? It may be the birthplace of all things, but when we are in it, the emptiness can be overwhelming. Ecclesiastes 7:8 counsels, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” Yet when faced with loss and uncertainty, it can be hard to embrace those words.
It is only natural for people to turn to Unity leaders for coaching when they are in this birth canal of the unknown. The past is past, the future is unclear and they are searching for someone to give them answers to the questions they simply can’t answer themselves. This then becomes the ministerial coaching dilemma—how to guide people to their own answers without becoming “the sage on the stage” and providing such strong thoughts that they overpower the inner knowing of another. There is a fine line between coaching and becoming a guru. The former involves providing insight and sharing pertinent portions of your own life experience, but when a coach starts defining someone else’s path forward, the line has been crossed from spiritual support to metaphysical malpractice.
Beware of the Guru
Still, when some things seem so obvious and people just can’t see what they can’t see, it can be tempting to start providing answers. It can even serve as a temporary ego boost when others see us as so wise that they actively seek us out to ask what they should do and then appear to hang on our every word. But as my friend Alan Cohen told me, the problem with becoming a guru is that eventually people will figure out you are not the fount of all eternal wisdom and certainly not the expert on their lives.
When you set yourself up to be a guru, at some point those other people will look at you with clear disappointment and say, “Gee, U R U.” In becoming a guru we not only rob another person of a growth lesson, we also put our ego above their Divine connection that held the true answers. As such, we failed in our role as a spiritual leader and destroyed a sacred trust.
But the process of change can be totally disconcerting and shake anyone’s belief in their abilities, their level of courage and even their lovability and worthiness. Transitions can take everything a person knew to be true and turn it on its head. The faith that seemed so easy and effortless one day may seem strangely absent and foreign the next. A coach can help restore balance.
Even if someone does believe at a logical level that a better life is ahead, the present can seem like anything but a gift. As author Marilyn Ferguson said, “It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There is nothing to hold onto.” The challenge as coach is realizing this is a time for self-leadership from those seeking our guidance. Our role is to provide support without seizing the leadership role and mistakenly thinking we can spare them pain or push them into life decisions they don’t or can’t own.
So how do we coach people in transition? Our most important role is to be fully present with them. We can hold their peace when it appears lost, and encourage them to focus on the path forward rather than remaining mired in the past. Often people undergoing uncomfortable life changes are surrounded by people only too happy to remind them of what they have lost or encourage continual pity parties that only serve to keep them trapped in the past. Coaching through a transition means allowing time to grieve, but then focusing attention on the new life ahead.
When Jesus told his disciples he would be leaving them, they were understandably upset and afraid. But he reassured them with the thought, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1). Those seeking our counsel need to remember to not only believe in God, but to continue to believe in themselves.
Guiding Thru the Stages of Change
From there we can walk them through the stages of change identified by William Bridges. Stage 1—Ending, Losing, Letting Go; Stage 2—The Neutral Zone, Stage 3—The New Beginning.
Coaching through Stage 1, The Ending, includes accepting the inevitable resistance to the new circumstances and helping people realize it is just part of the process. From a coaching perspective, it also involves empathetic listening to the jumble of emotions that may be present.
When people enter Stage 2, The Neutral Zone, they are now in the void. It’s a state of uncertainty and anxiety where the old rules don’t apply, yet the new rules have not yet been defined. It is important to acknowledge the reality of discouragement, low morale and skepticism regarding the future while also helping people fully feel, yet ultimately release, those limiting thoughts. Coaching can help people move through this vital yet uncomfortable stage more quickly, so they don’t become trapped in despair.
Finally, in Phase 3, The New Beginning, people begin to regain their energy and have new hope for a brighter future. Here we can help them define their next life chapter. It is also a time to celebrate the spiritual growth that has occurred.
As people move through these various stages it might help them to mark milestones of the journey with some physical manifestations or reminders of key learnings and accomplishments. In the Bible, Genesis tells us that Abraham built four altars representing different life experiences he encountered that helped raise his spiritual awareness. They demonstrated his commitment to walking through life in faith no matter what his outer experience. Altars help mark a personal experience with God that can help serve as a reminder of the holy purpose of our life. It shows us how we have been “altered” in some way. Creating altars or markers can highlight the hidden gifts in the transition and the continuing journey.
Through transitional coaching we can help people regain faith that they are in control of their destiny and, with God, capable of co-creating a meaningful and joyful life, no matter the external circumstances. Carl Jung said, “I am not what has happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” That is the essence of coaching in the transition; helping people realize they are not the victim of what has happened, but a spiritual victor capable of rising above circumstances.
Ephesians 4:23 reminds us to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. The role of the coach is to step back from the overt leadership role and instead help people take the lead in finding their own path forward, moving beyond the false evidence of fear into a space of faith and trust.