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Coaching as Sacred Space by Edna Murdoch

Supervision as Sacred space

sacred space

Written by CSA co-Founder Edna Murdoch

‘Our separateness is an illusion; we are interconnected parts of the whole…Our reality is larger than you or me.’
Ervin Laszlo

Several times recently supervisees have uttered the word ‘sacred’ as they have reflected on our work, their own work, or in conversations they are currently having with leaders and with their own supervisees. Why is this word cropping up more frequently now? It may be that beyond the eruption and distress of uncertainty that so many are experiencing, there is an expectation of finding something better in ourselves as we ricochet from uncertainty to stability and back.  As a result, we are touching (and not touching!) each other more deeply and experiencing directly what the well-worn phrase ‘shared humanity’ actually means. We really are in this together; together, is the way we all have to move forward. This is a new time and for many, our sacred core is more evident than usual. Professional webinar discussions and social media posts are full of this renewed awareness – the traditional news media will take a little time to catch up.

As I have explored the unexpected utterance of this lovely old word ‘sacred’ with supervisees, I have realised that we were reaching for something that names the almost unnameable – a coming closer to self and other, that has humility and hunger in it and sometimes tears. It is as if doors are opening inside each of us and between us. Our professional conversations are freighted with what has been loosened in this extraordinary time. Not that we can name all that yet.  The usual discourses of coaches, leaders and supervisors have been superseded by bigger, deeper conversations. Some of us wonder how to navigate the next weeks and months while being buffeted by rapidly changing news, death rates, economic turbulence, grieving for what has already gone and for what might yet collapse. Others find more equanimity in the middle of it all – even a level of presence, purpose and joy that has surprised them.

Sacred. Who are we really, what is actually there if we are quiet enough and slow enough to get close? Who coaches?  Who supervises? What in ourselves do we work from?

“There is a presence, a silence, a stillness which is here by itself. There is no doer of it, no creator of this stillness. It is simply here in you, with you. It is the fragrance of your own self. There is nothing to do about this, it is naturally present. This fragrance of peace, this spaciousness, it is the fragrance of your own being.”  Mooji

In the recently quietened world, many of us have felt the touch of the what we might call sacred – there is more tenderness, more heart, more giving, more clarity – and renewed purpose. Individual, and societal purpose.  Many people are re-loving their world, valuing having time at home, with partners and children, time to be in nature, time to muse. In the wider community, there is much greater urgency now to re-balance our societies and businesses so that all are honoured and all are suitably rewarded.

In the West, we have traditionally looked to religions to provide a sense of the sacred; unfortunately, they have provided a slimmed down version of the sacred – like being given a tiny taste of chocolate while that gorgeous bar is way out of reach. Centuries ago, the West lost its way, murdering and destroying older cultures for whom the sacred was everywhere.  We opted for money, and power instead, killing as we went, establishing subservience to a variety of male gods as a possible means of maybe touching the divine….if we paid enough……if we worked hard enough at it.  Just, maybe….

But sacred is what we naturally are. Einstein said it this way:

We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned in to the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.

That provides a rather vivid angle on the ‘who are we’ question. It may however, point to what is at work when in supervision, the conversation deepens to hold a space for everyone in the system, and includes purpose, values, desire, love. Of course, we touch the sacred then, and it is not a surprise that this is so; we touch the best in ourselves. Or as one supervisee, speaking of their work with leaders, said to me, ‘we step into mystery’.  The ‘I-Thou’ is constellated every time a coach, supervisor or leader meets the other openly and shares the willingness to discover something new, something better together. Sharmer/Senge remind of us the necessity for an ‘open mind, open heart, open will’ – a conscious letting go so that more can come through us.

When we meet like this, we are met along the way; intelligence, perception and imagination are increased and all parties have the experience of being touched by something ‘larger’ in themselves than they usually experience. For example, we may wonder where an image or idea came from. New insights emerge quite naturally and without strain. This emergence is natural of course; it is a result of who we actually are and we do not have to strive, or atone or pay for it. I am sure that many of you have noticed that you can go into a session a bit tired or feeling not quite up to the task, and emerge a couple of hours later glowing, full of energy and wondering where the tiredness went. In the ‘I-Thou’ conversations, the sacred is present, ‘our souls play their music’ together.

Having a sense of the sacred is not necessarily about having a ‘spiritual life’. The point is that at times of crisis, when the dense cloak of habit, comforts and distractions is stripped away, we are brought closer to who we really are – and that’s not our MBTI scores, personality patterns, professional roles, our meditation practice or the face we scrutinize in the mirror. No, this is about who and what we actually are.

We are “not blank…inside there is total serenity and peace. No planning, no strategising, no personal identity is there. Just the space of pure being. It is what we are.” Mooji

And if we get a bit squeamish about the directness of that statement, (and I sometimes do) I think the squeamishness underlines how far we can be from recognising who we are and how much we in the West, have been duped into accepting a much diminished sense of self. It is horribly clear at this time, how degraded western life has become. I need not outline again the litany of abuses that demonstrate this or how the drive for power, money and success has robbed western civilisation of its soul, left the natural world in such peril and ourselves, unnecessarily divided.

What cheers me enormously in our profession is the shift in our conversations over the last ten years or so, from focussing narrowly on developing individuals, to including the diverse human and natural systems that inform every dialogue in which we participate – from ego to eco. More often now, we are conscious of the living field of our work with clients and within organisations.

“The organisation is viewed as an energy field, emerging potential, a form of life that transcends is stakeholders, pursuing its own unique evolutionary purpose. In that paradigm, we don’t ‘run’ the organisation, not even if we are the founder or legal owner. Instead, we are stewards of the organisation; we are the vehicle that listens in to the organisation’s deep creative potential to help it do its work in the world’. Frederic Laloux

I was pleased to see that a recent joint statement by all of the major coaching bodies refers to: ‘the interconnectedness of all species and earth systems’. We are growing up together, more consciously living our sacred identity and our bodies indeed ‘are the instruments through which our souls play their music’.

The often quoted ‘who you are, is how you coach/supervise/lead’, came to me many years ago in a memorable conversation with Aboodi Shabi. It became the mantra for CSA. In teaching our brilliant students over many years, I have begun to touch what that mantra might really mean. I am still learning about it, as I work with supervisees. The phrase itself has become a kind of teacher, a lens through which to reflect on my work with coaches and leaders and on my work in CSA. Conversations in supervision can range from a kind of detective work that unravels complexity and brings clarity and resourcefulness to the coach, to conversations that also touch the sacred.

Supervision as sacred space?  For those of you who respond to poetry, Fred LaMotte has recently written a poem that eloquently underlines our sacred identity:

When you discover that

each breath is nectar

indescribably sweet,

and the space between

your heartbeats is

the silence between stars,

and the one who

encircles you with

unfathomable compassion

is inside,

and the luminous hollow

of each nerve in your body

echoes with the sound

that created all things –

then you are rich.

You need nothing.

You can begin to live

In the moonlight,

the sensation of dew

on bare feet,

the smell of honeysuckle,

the sparkling transparency

of this perishing moment.

Fred LaMotte

Edna Murdoch June 2020

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