Coaching lessons for Bravery: The Lotus Principle
Coaching involves being brave and allowing bravery to shine through
“But if you are not ready for love
How can you be ready for life?….” – Soko “We might be Dead by Tomorrow”
Setting the scene
I always enjoyed the circus as a child. It was an assault of the senses with the scents of the earthy straw bales and muddy earth ground under heavy boots as the tent was erected. The enticing comfort of popcorn in the traditional red cart, the sweetness of sugar creating salivating kids as they marvelled at the candy floss. The sugary confection swirled onto sticks, forming puffed clouds of deliciousness bigger than their heads. There remains the faint traces of excitement moving through the crowd.
Children clutch the hands of parents as people manoeuvre through the throngs of the human sea. Glow sticks and flashing electric hats, bracelets and plastic swords blink and shine like a sky of coloured stars, the dramatic white and red striped tent hovers over the grounds pronouncing the majesty it holds to the world. The vibrant and eccentric circus folk welcome all in their play-acting that will last through the weeks ahead. Their faces painted extravagantly to solidify the illusion the space creates.
As you enter the tent a beautiful mime directs you to your seats. There is a haphazard shifting of feet and bodies with refreshments held precariously in hands and some carried under chins to usher in the exuberant kids. Giggles, screams from prams and stern voices from parents fill the space as a prelude to the first act.
The lights come on and the ringleader steps forward, chest puffed forward, hair slicked back with copious amounts of product and a strained smile…. It starts….
Now I must admit that I never really understood the slapstick humour of the clowns. The woman on horses were admirable and the taming of animals raised concerns of animal cruelty in my young mind. I was waiting for the act that held me captivated every time… The trapeze! My fascination was two fold: the tremendous physique and ethereal beauty of the artist combined with the rush of adrenaline as they placed trust in each other and themselves.
This image, this experience and the sensations associated with it lend itself to the theme of this post: Bravery. I decided to take the leap into the unknown and fully invest in building The Empowered Studio. Embodying the trapeze artist. My journey has just been a practice session for this VERY moment. I suck in a deep breathe as I stand on the platform.
At the present I have put my hands on the bar and with a conviction in my heart and passion in my soul I step off, the rush of air wisps and rushes around my ears…. This is where I am…. I know that I will need to let go at some stage and latch on to the hands of the person on the other side… I know that there will be times where I will fall onto the safety net below. For me the safety net are the friends and colleagues that have and still do encourage me through this routine. The person to catch from the other end is another version of me. The outer me and the inner me moving backward and forward… Trust in self is the next part of this journey for me. This is my act of Bravery
This theme of Bravery has been infused in my life of late, from people around me and notable figures/stories in the press (Pravin Gordhan, #blacklivesmatter, #feesmustfall, #gaylivesmatter, #changemakers, Sipho Pityana, Zoleka Patel). This along with the new path of The Empowered Studio I have taken prompted this piece.
Cultivating a Coaching definition of Bravery
I have always struggled with the definition of bravery as an action has been seen as the revolutions with mass followings holding placards. This cannot be denied in the least however I do then have a quandary with the unvoiced acts of bravery that are not celebrated let alone acknowledged. There is a sense that the culture of performativity has pushed the development of binary outcomes i.e. good vs bad, big vs small. This then leads us to define acts of bravery as small or big. I disagree with this; I think there are differences in the public attention to an act of bravery and the following it receives.
Lets take a simple example: A person decides to confront a peer that has been bullying a friend. A pure act of bravery right? Lets take it further, the friend starts to stand up for him/herself more, an urge is developed to vocalise acts of injustice, he/she influences another student, that student starts tutoring children to equip them with tools despite bullying…. Can you see the butterfly effect here? It started with a simple act but lead to so much more. Looking at bravery within the confines of time and space creates limiting beliefs that limit true momentum, true love that the world desperately needs.
So, what then defines bravery? From my observations I feel it involves three elements, called the lotus principle I use in in The Empowered Studio workshops/sessions:
(1) Coach the authentic essential self
(2) Coach vulnerability
(3) Coach to grow Love/Care
Many of you might be wondering where the notion of either ‘acting despite fear’ or perhaps ‘embracing fear and acting anyway’. Let me explain this slightly different view on bravery. Bravery for me is much like the beautiful lotus, it emerges from a surrounding of water and mud (the essential self), it takes a risk to slowly open its leaves to the world (vulnerability) and lastly it delicately displays its petals or wholeness to the world (love/care). Lets take a brief look at each in turn (these will be expanded in future posts):
Coach from the authentic essential self
“To remain stable is to refrain from trying to separate yourself from a pain because you know that you cannot. Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought. There is no escape.” ― Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety
The quote from Alan Watts perfectly illustrates the conflict in defining bravery in terms of fear. The first step in cultivating a brave life is to TRULY dig deep to determine who you are in totality, much like the lotus pulls on the water and mud surrounding it. The essence of each person is unique but ultimately carved from the same source so to speak. Elizabeth in her book Big Magic puts this rather eloquently: If your goal in life is to become fearless, then I believe you’re already on the wrong path, because the only truly fearless people I’ve ever met were straight-up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless three-year-olds — and those aren’t good role models for anyone.
The Taoist teaching of Poo (the un-carved block) illustrates this further whereby the journey is to not to try and carve out a new ‘person’ but rather to journey backward to the natural state of BEING. I use the word BEING deliberately as its not PERSONALITY, which is a function of various factors and comes from an egoic state. BEING is beyond ego, superego, and personality. In coaching we at times call this the essential quality; there is NO binary toward these i.e. caring vs hurting. Alan Sieler in his books “Coaching to the Human Soul” is a reference book I fall back on quite a bit on this subject
There has been much debate whether personality has a bearing on ‘bravery’. A perfect example to illustrate this is Harry Potter books. Gryffindor is predisposed to be brave whilst Slytherin being more cunning. J K Rowling in her books really explored this and tested its relevancy in very nuanced ways by Professor Snape displaying an ultimate form of bravery. A study at Aston university found: “Bravery is the management of fear,” said Dr Tissington. He added: “There is no one personality type that you see who is brave. We cannot predict who is going to be brave and who is not.”
You might be wondering how this could apply to being a coach or even a business context; lets explore that a bit more:
Essence for a coach:
- The coaching space is a very intimate space with a client. A true trusting relationship requires a coach to bring forth his or her own essence. Studies have found that the ‘demeanour’ of a coach has a significant impact on the coaching relationship
- The challenge here is how to bring this into the space without it taking over the clients narrative
- Working with purely a coaching client’s personality is risky as this can be elastic in certain instances. IF we perhaps worked through the essential self the benefits of the sessions and sustainability can be more pronounced
Essence for a team/organisation:
- I found that often, in my coaching interventions, that in strategic reviews/meetings there is a struggle with key decisions affecting the future of a company/team.
- A key feature in this decision is and should be going back to the purpose/essence of the business and determine whether that is still valid before doing any form of analysis. Working off unsaid changes in essence creates havoc and in my experience one of the key aspects that trip up organisation sin change efforts
The path to essence is continuous and not a destination so to speak. It is ever evolving and takes practice to MAINTAIN, much like meditation. I will leave you with a quote by Amanda Palmer around owning your essence to close this section “…nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.”
Coach the Vulnerability
Much has been written in coaching and academically about vulnerability especially by world-renowned research, Brene Brown. If you have not listened to her talks on TED or read her books (particularly Daring Greatly) I highly suggest you look into them ASAP. She has described living a wholehearted life and the true strength that comes with being vulnerable. Her friend whom I have referenced before, Elizabeth Gilbert adds “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you? What I will add to the literature from a personal and coaching perspective is more around the notion of bravery. The Empowered Studio uses the lotus principle. Vulnerability requires the access to essence because any other form of vulnerability will be to assuage the ego rather than open to new possibilities.
Coach to grow Love/Care
“Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability” – Ram Dass
I find the concept of love/care to be uttered in whispers in corporate corridors. Love/care is meant for relationships and not organisations or the broader community apparently. This is so strange as love is an ultimate force of the universe and by stifling this, stifles employee engagement. Love/care (or rather the absence of it) is most evident in statistics relating to the health of managers and executives in terms of heart attacks, illness and stress burn out.
Love in its pure form seeks to bring the essence forth into the world to be acknowledged and appreciated. I’m not saying that people need to hug every new person on the street/corridor. Its more about being open to witnessing the essence coming from a vulnerable place and show appreciation. Showing appreciation can come in different forms as mentioned in book the 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace by Dr Gary Chapman.
When you look at all the components of Bravery you will see that there isn’t a notion of an ACT of bravery. Rather an embodiment of bravery expressed from a place of true self that is vulnerable enough to TAKE action in the hope of universal love/care.
In my coaching practice I am continually exploring my essence. I look at my petals of vulnerability that slowly opens and at times close. I examine WHAT or WHO I shrink from has been interesting. I am learning to demonstrate and allow the world to experience my love, the eternal bud/flower we all have.
Perhaps instead of thinking of ‘what can I do to live bravely?’ we could c=turn it on its head. We can change the language around LIVING in ourselves and working with our vulnerability to create universal love/care in all its forms. The love/care, comes from an intent of generosity of spirit that will enable EVERY action we take. We take action to question the status quo, push against discrimination, point out inequality and repression. A world with love/care cannot contain that, it will not
“So lets love fully
And lets love loud
Lets love now” – Soko “We might be Dead by Tomorrow”
I leave you with these songs that ran through my head as I wrote this piece.