by Angela Spaxman
“How can I cope with the fear and uncertainty of losing my job?”
“I hate my job and I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”
“How can I make a difference in a world with so much need?”
For the past 10 years as a coach, I’ve been involved in thousands of conversations that start with questions like those above. As I’ve supported my clients to find answers while also pursuing my own solutions to these same types of questions, I’ve gradually realized the power that spiritual practices can bring to these issues.
By spiritual practices I mean methods and beliefs relating to the nature of reality and different mind and energy states. But because spiritual words tend to be emotionally loaded and misunderstood, it is easy to create resistance and disconnection when we talk of spiritual things.
There are three broad areas of coaching where spiritual practices can help our clients.
The first is when clients are handling major challenges that cause them great stress and fear. They are seeking ways to reduce their anxieties so that they can make well-considered choices in difficult circumstances. All forms of spirituality have beliefs and practices to help people remain resourceful even under great stress.
The second area where spiritual practices can help is probably the most common situation that coaches encounter. Clients are seeking to understand themselves—their passions, talents, significance and purpose—so that they can make decisions about their career and life direction. These topics may seem to be about people’s skills, personalities and preferences, but exploring to the core of these questions leads to the ultimate questions about our purpose and the meaning of life.
Thirdly, clients who are making decisions about their life plans are often also wondering how to give back. In asking themselves how they can best help others, contribute to society or leave a legacy, they are searching for deeper answers that call into question their higher purpose. At the same time they are broadening their perspectives as they see clearly how giving back is really just giving to themselves.
I’ve identified five keys to having powerful conversations about spirituality with coaching clients, regardless of their religious background, spiritual beliefs or familiarity with any form of spirituality.
1) Accept and endorse it all
The first key to having powerful conversations about spirituality is to openly and fully accept and endorse your client's thinking and relationship to spiritual things, even if it is very different from your own. This may require you to expand your own perspective to be able to see the value in other mindsets and even to humbly learn from others’ perspectives with open curiosity.
For example, since I had a secular upbringing, I used to feel quite uncomfortable when my clients spoke about God and I could not bring myself to use this word myself. I allowed my own thinking to limit the perspectives I could hold about this very powerful word. As I’ve broadened my understanding about spirituality, I’ve found I can hear and use this word now without fear or judgment. I have opened up the possibilities for what I can discuss with my religious clients or anyone who chooses to use the word God with whatever very personal meanings they hold with it.
2) Witness pain and disruption with equanimity
It is often in times of great challenge and pain that our clients are most in need of spiritual support. Pain is often a necessary fuel for people to make the leap to higher levels of understanding and competence to face their challenges. Disruption is an important catalyst for growth. Knowing this, as a coach, helps me to stay with my clients and witness whatever they are feeling during times when they most crave support.
As they feel safe to dwell in the pain and/or joy they are feeling, they are more likely to begin to articulate the support they can feel at deeper levels and the inherent safety that exists in the universe. Being with them with equanimity may be all the help they need to connect with their own concepts of higher levels of support.
3) Listen for what makes meaning
Engaged listening is the biggest gift coaches give to their clients and is more important than ever when we speak about spirituality. Coaches who are able to hear their clients speak about skeptical investigative science, New Age magical rituals or devoutly religious practices can help their clients create more meaning and significance for themselves within their own paradigms, and expand in ways that serve them.
In addition, high-quality listening can help clients tease out their hidden values, talents, passions, preferences and purposes that are so vital to the aims of most coaching clients. By providing silence and deep listening, the coach helps the client to recognize themselves and their place in the world so that they can align with the most powerful flow of nature.
4) Expand your language
Coaching’s biggest gift to coaches is the expansion of language and meaning. By using our clients’ words, we expand our own meaning-making abilities, constantly broadening our view of life. The advantage for our clients is that they feel understood and accepted when we use their words accurately and sincerely.
A practical way to expand your language abilities is to translate your own spiritual beliefs and practices into words that can be heard by wide varieties of people. As an example, a coach friend of mine asked her banker client to do something physical that he thought was fun and relaxing. He didn’t know that it was a Nei Gong exercise, but he found it very helpful. By using language that he accepted, she was able to share a much deeper wisdom that would have been unavailable to him had she used her own language for it.
My aim as a continuously developing coach is to communicate cleanly in rapport with my clients on this very sensitive subject so that it can become a force within the coaching rather than a topic kept outside the relationship.
5) Invite possibility
The world of spirit is the world of the unexplained (or from a scientific view, the not-yet-explained!) so it is appropriate to welcome what we don’t know and experiment with ancient wisdoms and new science. We can use our client's upsets and challenges as opportunities to add supportive practices and to break through to new ways of thinking and being, as long as we are open to possibilities.
As coaches, we can also act as sources of possibility by widening our own experiences with spiritual beliefs and practices so that we can share them with our clients as appropriate. Deeper understanding based on our personal experience helps us explain the benefits authentically. And of course the lightness, balance and passion that spiritual beliefs and practices bring us will affect our clients in many positive and surprising ways.
In what ways do you share your most esoteric learning with your clients? How do you help them grow from a spiritual point of view?
Angela Spaxman was the Founding President of the Hong Kong International Coaching Community and is the Immediate Past President of the IAC. Angela has been coaching for 10 years. She is a Career and Leadership Coach for managers, professionals, business people and coaches. You may contact her at http://www.lovingworkandleading.com/.