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Mindfulness in coaching

This is an excerpt from Foundations of Professional Coaching With HK Propel Access by James Gavin.

Since the turn of the century, there have been even more profound shifts in psychological theories wherein Eastern and Western philosophies have merged to create a far greater concentration on the present or, as it is more popularly known, the now (Hanh, 2017; Kabat-Zinn, 2018; Kornfield, 2008, 2017; Tolle, 2003). A clear example of this blend is evident in transpersonal psychology, which provided a further thrust toward human potential and realization. Building on the works of Roberto Assagioli (1965), Stanislav Grof (1988), Abraham Maslow (1962), and Viktor Frankl (1969), transpersonal psychology asserted that such practices as spiritual rituals and meditation can create strong anchors in the present moment and enable people to move beyond compliance or resistance toward a transcendent consciousness about the normal human dilemmas we must confront (Davis, 2003). Perhaps the most prominent representation of this shift appears in the widespread application of mindfulness practices (Goldstein, 2016). See sidebar (Mindfulness).

One example of a mindfulness approach can be found in acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT (Hayes et al., 2011; Luoma et al., 2017). As an offshoot of cognitive behavior therapy, ACT, along with other brief therapy modalities (Kim, 2014), solution-focused therapy (De Shazer, 1988) and narrative therapy (White, 2007), veers even further away from a pathological perspective of human beings in difficulty. Reflecting this trend, Ken Wilber (2000a, 2000b, 2006) assimilated research from arts and sciences to usher in a more holistic framing of human consciousness with his theory of everything. He and theorists such as Susan Cook-Greuter (2000, 2006) and Don Beck (Beck & Cowan, 1996) merged transpersonal psychology with Eastern practices to further promote human development. They articulated methodologies to accelerate personal growth and propel the evolution of human consciousness over the course of a lifetime.

Parenthetically, you might note that most of these modern approaches within the field of psychology were quickly adapted by coaching practitioners and offered as ways of working with coaching clients’ issues. Coaching approaches that parallel the previously mentioned therapeutic modalities have appeared under such labels as acceptance and commitment coaching (Hill & Oliver, 2019), narrative coaching (Drake, 2018), presence-based coaching (Silsbee, 2008), transpersonal coaching (VanderPol, 2019), integral coaching (Hunt, 2009a), and mindfulness coaching (Chalmers, 2018). This phenomenon speaks to both the overlap of the fields of coaching and psychology as well as to the applicability of modern methodologies of helping to a wide range of human issues, whether they show up in therapeutic or coaching relationships.

This growing emphasis on awakening human consciousness and mindfulness blends well with the emerging societal imperative that we as human beings wake up to what is occurring in our world (Kabat-Zinn, 2018; Scharmer, 2016; Treace, 2019; Velandia, 2019). An important but slightly earlier representation of this concern can be found in the works of Daniel Goleman (1995, 2006) on social and emotional intelligence quotients (or SQ and EQ). His critical works allowed us to recognize and value intelligences beyond those encompassed by standard IQ tests (Albrecht, 2006). The core propositions of SQ and EQ emphasized awareness of our present emotional state, as well as that of others, and the capacity to navigate these emotions in a mutually beneficial manner. Goleman linked this self-awareness with a state of mindfulness, which fosters greater accuracy in identifying our emotions in the moment and appreciating what our emotional tendencies might be across time and context. The accelerating attention to SQ and EQ in today’s world reflects the critical importance of developing competencies in noticing, witnessing, and being with one’s experience in the moment as a path to heightening self-awareness.

Mindfulness

A number of traditions focus on cultivating mindfulness. For example, Buddhist mindfulness informs us that the goal “is to be mindful of the mind as it takes its own course” (Varela et al., 1992, p. 31). Jack Kornfield, a Western meditation teacher and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, explains mindfulness as “patient, receptive, non-judging awareness” (Kornfield, 2008, p. 99). Lama Surya Das (1997) describes it as “relaxed, open, lucid, moment-to-moment, present awareness” (p. 300), while Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, describes mindfulness as “the energy of attention. It is the capacity in each of us to be present one hundred percent to what is happening within and around us” (Seale, 2011, p. 36). Meditation (e.g., Zen, Vipassana, insight, yogic) is a practice associated with developing awareness and mindfulness. In the field of coaching, mindfulness is a core ingredient of presence. Silsbee (2010) likens the concept of mindfulness to that of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). He describes its manifestation as

a surge of appreciation for our client, an insight about just the right question, or jointly discovering a new way of looking at the challenge she is facing. With this often comes a sense of connectedness and a delight in what is unfolding in the moment. (Silsbee, p. 44)