I wrote recently about whole person coaching, and this piece looks a little more deeply into the ideas and attitudes that underpin this important work. It acknowledges how rites of passage, and the crossing of thresholds, can rapidly accelerate leadership development and adult development generally.
Firstly though, Covid. We have all had to change our plans, to postpone or let them go altogether. We continue to do so. I had planned to embark on an elder’s vision quest last May in the wild mountain landscape of North Wales, along with half a dozen or so like-minded souls, and this has been pushed back by twelve months. Vision quest is an unpredictable and intensive rite of passage. Perhaps we weren’t quite old enough.
This would have been my second quest, the first being seven years ago. There are deep dive development events, and then there is the subterranean deep dive of this most profound of experiences. Vision quest is the ultimate intranaut experience, which simultaneously connects us with the external, with history, and our deepest hopes and buried fears. It is extraordinarily powerful and transformative. I recommend Pip Bondy highly for this work (www.ancienthealingways.co.uk).
The period leading up to the quest itself is called severance, a phase that usually takes between 6 – 8 weeks. We had just begun severance before Covid hit, and the longer twelve-month lead-in time has offered the chance to go further together as a group as we cycle through the wheel of the year. Before we even get there we will have forged deep relationships, sound-tracked by the faint siren call of the mountain growing stronger as each month passes.
In my early thirties I flirted with and then committed to meditation and transpersonal development as core building blocks for how I would live my life. I joined programmes, found a mentor/teacher, and began the hard psychological work of unlearning old patterns to go along with the spiritual work of discovery. A difficult career crisis with a resulting meltdown and ultimately recovery/breakthrough confirmed for me that I was on the right path.
When I had journeyed half of our life’s way
I found myself within a shadowed forest
for I had lost the path that does not stray
– Dante, Inferno
As I moved into my forties I spent time in workshops and retreats, taking left and right turns and going up blind alleys. My focus gradually began to narrow, and in my fifties I deepened into mystery schools and for a time into teaching, all the while remaining rooted and working in the mainstream. The one constant throughout has been a daily meditation practice, which because of how much I have travelled, out of necessity has had to be both portable and flexible.
I have now entered my 7thdecade, the final third of my working life, and the period the Hindus regard as the time of service. This is why the time is right to quest once again. When it finally comes around next spring it will be a lament for what Michael Meade calls ‘radical shedding’, another stripping away of what is no longer necessary so that more of the essence is revealed.
It seems strange to say, at this age, that I feel as if I am just getting started. The past thirty years have been about working with people, specialising in behaviour and psychology and exploring what this means for leadership. I have earned a living travelling the world delivering consulting assignments and building my coaching practice. The insights and experiences acquired over many years have now been integrated with decades of transpersonal training; a long apprenticeship for the soul work that I am now involved in.
One could say that all leadership development is soul work, involved with the fundamental question of just who it is that a leader’s followers are following, and why. The choice is how far to go with the question; how deeply to increase our self and other-awareness so that we can figure out together how to get stuff done, be it in business, in public service or even politically.
Where do rites of passage and the crossing of thresholds fit with modern leadership development and the complexity and scale of the challenges facing us all? Kornferry have just published a study that finds that 25% of organisational performance over a 5-year period can be attributed to the level of trust that leaders inspire.
If I am to trust our leaders they have to be real, meaning that I need to see the whites of their eyes and what is in their hearts. For a leader to earn my trust I want them to be aware of how their shadows show up, how artifice and ego get in the way, and to have learned the humility that comes from psychological and existential adversity. Rites of passage long or short ask of us these difficult questions, and we end up as more psychologically and spiritually mature adults as a result.
With more than a few miles on the clock and a body and mind telling the story of hard won experiences, I can begin to own the wisdom that I’ve accrued (remembering that wisdom involves knowing how much one doesn’t know; the older I get the more I realise I don’t know).
In my professional context this is the ground that I cover. It is coaching, mentoring, and facilitating as acts of love; love as an attitude for the greater good of all, rather than anything romantic or ‘nice’. Helping others live rich and fulfilling working lives, fully present and open to our entire intellectual, emotional, and spiritual selves.
In whole person coaching clients cultivate their own wisdom, and develop the self as a tool for change. Coach and client meet each other and create a unique agenda, because we are each of us totally individual and extraordinary. A crossing of threshold may be exactly what is necessary.
What we are experiencing now in the midst of a global health crisis can be seen from a meta-perspective as a collective rite of passage. To handle this well requires humility, reflection, a conscious letting go, and a maturing of attitude. Rites of passage are solo ventures done within community. The other side of the threshold will look and feel different, and this whole process must by definition ask difficult questions of us all.
Whole person coaching focuses on the connections more than the parts. It helps us to ask the right questions and begin the never-ending search for answers so that a deeper level of confidence can emerge on the other side of the threshold.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field
I’ll meet you there
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about