Richard Chadek | Richard Chadek
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Author:Richard Chadek

Intimacy

In my work, the problem that brings a client to my door is often merely the symptom of a more fundamental issue.  The hyper busy woman isn’t going to benefit as much from learning to be more efficient as from exploring what gets in the way of her saying ‘no.’  And the man stuck between careers may not need yet another inventory of his skills so much as an understanding of how and for what sake he’s come to not know what he wants.

Many of my clients report problems that point at an underdeveloped capacity for intimacy.  But what do we mean when we say intimacy?  For many men, if you ask them for a definition of intimacy, they say: well, that would be sex.  And what they mean is having sex is what they do to experience intimacy.  Yet for many women, being intimate is something they want to experience before becoming sexual.  So, here’s a problem.

For me, intimacy shows up in every relationship we have, and it simply means the mutual and reciprocal revelation of ourselves. How much do I know of myself, and how much of that am I willing to show you?  And just as important, how much can I tolerate your showing me what’s congruent for you?

To my way of thinking there are different realms of intimacy including physical, emotional, erotic, sexual, psychological and dialogical.  Let me touch on the first four because they tend to get collapsed into each other.

Physical intimacy simply means the granting of physical access for play, competition or tenderness.  A hug may be more intimate than a handshake, but it’s not sexual.

When we talk about emotional intimacy, we’re talking about our ability to speak from the emotional experience we have as opposed to about it.  That means we feel in real time what we’re saying.  Try this at home: Think of something you ache about, and try to keep feeling the ache as you speak of it to someone.

This becomes much harder when the emotion is something we’d prefer to keep hidden like shame, or fear or anger.  And harder still is the intimacy of speaking from feelings that we ourselves don’t fully understand.  But even if we can achieve this degree of intimacy, it isn’t fundamentally about sex.

Both physical and emotional intimacy are different than erotic intimacy. And I can almost hear you thinking: ‘Ok, this is about sex.’ But Eros is about desire. It’s the experience of yearning. It’s yearning you might feel for the wilderness, or the desire to become something, or to be alive to life in your life.

This kind of intimacy—holding on to our desire no matter what happens—is difficult because we all get pretty good at managing the pain of not getting what we want.  And one way we do that is by stifling desire.  We get so good at protecting ourselves in this way that at times we can’t even tell what we want.

And then there’s sexual intimacy.  The good news here is that this isn’t about orgasm, although there’s nothing wrong with that. Sexual intimacy is the capacity to transmit the energy of loving through sex. Many of us may have had an experience of this, but it’s quite another thing to make the purpose of sex be the vehicle for the exchange of love.

You probably already appreciate that intimacy is shaped by lots of factors: our childhood experiences, the degree of trust we feel, the culture we’re part of.  But fundamentally, it’s not binary—present or absent. Rather, it’s a function of capacities we have to develop.  It’s actually more about our relationship with ourselves than the people in our relationships.  And that’s my orientation as a coach. Whenever we have trouble being congruent—which is when what we say and do is consistent with what we feel and think—we’re having a problem of intimacy.

A metaphor I like that points at this is to imagine that you’re sitting on the shore of a mountain lake on a midsummer night.  The lake is totally smooth, no wind ripples its surface.  And now the moon comes up.  It’s so clear, and the lake is so still that the reflection of the moon on the surface of the water is indistinguishable from the moon itself.  Intimacy is like this.

You know, we all understand that there is a world out there.  But the only way we know about it is by means of its reflection on the surface of the lake that’s inside us.  If our lake is agitated, we don’t see a very accurate representation of the world.  And at a certain level of agitation or defensiveness or fear, we can’t see the world at all.   All we get is the choppy surface of that lake.

So being intimate with another—a boss, a client, a partner—starts with being truly intimate with and compassionate towards what’s inside us. And that’s a developmental process.

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Attention, Meaning and Love

I find myself very interested in the meditation practices of my clients. Joseph Campbell once said that everyone has a meditation practice, that we’re all meditating all the time, but it simply goes unrecognized. For many of us, the undeclared meditation is about where the money’s coming from or where the money’s going.  In this sense, we’re often simply unaware of where our attention lies.

It seems, then, an interesting question to ask: what is the center of attention in one’s life?

In different eras of life and in different circumstances we give our attention to different things, yet we also have enduring habits of attention—like what’s safe, what’s beautiful, what’s a threat. And if you didn’t already know about this meditative practice you have, noticing what you’re noticing may open this habit to the possibility of attending to something else.

A number of years ago a close friend of mine took his own life. Over the next 12 or so months my brother died of lung cancer, then my sister from a cancer of unknown origin and shortly after that came my mother’s death. It may not surprise you that for many months afterwards my attention centered on my grief. But it also centered on my own mortality.

This in itself may not have been a bad thing, but from time to time my attention would collapse around some physical symptom and I’d go on to make a meaning from it: that pain meant cancer of this organ, this meant cancer of that, and—my god—what’s going on with that prostate? At the time, I would no more have said my attention was on my own death, than that the center of meaning for me was avoiding it.

And yet.

Even though this question of where our attention lies may remain unexplored in our daily lives, “what’s the center of meaning in my life?” is even more elusive. We generally don’t even ask that question and often our culture doesn’t seem to support this kind of reflection.

Since the birth of modern science 500 years ago, ‘how does it work’ has come to completely dominate ‘what does it mean.’ So if you feel a little lost answering this question, you have a lot of company.

In my own life, meaning is inversely related to the gap between what I ‘know’ and how I act. The bigger the gap, seemingly, the less meaning there is. What I do know is this: I want to be in the experience of love. I’m not talking about “in love” but that other thing: love itself. Feeling that someone else’s happiness or well-being is more important, in a significant way, than my own; feeling heart-broken open.

It’s not hard to discern this. When I’m not actually experiencing that kind of love, I’m acting from something else, like fear, or anger or stinginess. I either feel love or I don’t. What’s more, it’s a choice–a really simple choice–which I fail at pretty consistently. But that’s not the point. The point is that this is the most meaningful thing for me, and the only way I’m going to experience this is by making it the center of my attention.

I find this increasingly informs my coaching.  While I’m helping a client wrestle with something around which they feel stuck, I keep asking myself: what’s in the way of feeling love with this person? Now, their limitations or distortions may not be particularly loveable. I’m talking about experiencing what I’ve come to call essence.  What is it, in me, that’s in the way of my experiencing that?

And what’s in the way of my clients’ loving in their own lives? What’s in the way of this person experiencing love? Not just in a relationship, but in their work and in the world. Remarkably, I find when we can shift what’s in the way of our loving, other problems begin to resolve themselves.

It would be terrific if a client showed up asking me to help them deepen their loving. I suspect that isn’t likely, because we tend to focus on the symptom of ‘other problems’, but it’s implicit in the work I do. Because that’s the center of meaning for me.

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Developmental Coaching

 

Just what is Developmental Coaching? Well, we might begin to see what it is by way of understanding what it isn’t. In conventional coaching, we hire someone to help us refine what we’re doing and hold us accountable in order to get what we want. When we hire a consultant, we find someone who has experience with our problem—sales or management or health for example—and they show us how to engage with the best practices of our field. Teaching happens whenever someone with a lot of information gives it to us—ideally in a way we’re able to absorb–after which it’s up to us to find our way to using it. And when we hire a therapist, we’re asking someone to help us explore something we’ve avoided feeling or find intolerable and if the therapy is successful we reintegrate a part of ourselves that we’ve either split off or repressed.

In developmental coaching, some or all of these things may take place, but the fundamental intervention is aimed at a transformation of the client. We find ourselves alive in the kind of world that continuously transforms itself from simple elements into rocks and roses and giraffes and the laughter of children. Everything from the big bang to this moment is a story of transformation. And what we all know about this kind of thing—whether it’s the transformation of a super nova, or the Declaration of Independence, or the birthing of the cell phone industry—is that, in transformation, new structures emerge and old ones fall away.

In this kind of world, the problems we encounter—from building a business to being unhappy in a marriage—are not usually the symptoms of things gone wrong. These problems are really this world’s way of insisting that we discover the barriers, in us, to being fully alive. The inspiration that’s emerging insists we discard the out-moded structure.  But the trouble is we often don’t recognize just which structure that is.

My wife tells the story of Carl Whittaker, who’s often referred to as the father of couples’ therapy, being asked by an attendee at one of his trainings how many times he’d been married. The therapist paused, looked up as if engaged in a mental inventory, and as he turned to his wife in the front row for confirmation said “Well, I think I’m on my fourth.” He left a little space for the audience to gasp—was he really confessing to multiple failed marriages? —before he continued “I’ve been fortunate that all of these marriages have been to the same woman.”

Whittaker had been fortunate to recognize it was the structure of the earlier marriage which had to fall away, not the marriage itself.

There’s always tension between the inspiration of the new and the structure we already know. My dog Noah can’t do this, but we human beings have a way of identifying ourselves with what we do. That’s one of the structures we use. Some time ago I’d completely identified with being a manager of construction and even though I could feel all the juicy sweetness of my life slowly draining away, I was unable to let go of it for years. It didn’t seem possible to give up all I’d have to give up–the sense of being in control of things, the recognition, and the money–for something more congruent to emerge. So I held on, and right about then the movement of my life just stopped.

Eventually, we come to the question: How do I become what my life is asking me to become—not what I want of it, but what it wants of me? We have so little experience with this question that at first it’s confounding. Especially when we feel that there’s a lot at risk. How do we move through that stuckness, that confusion and fear? How do we discover the real potential of this human life?

In order to be receptive to that, we have to find a way to shift what we’re able to feel, what we’re able to see and what we’re able to know. In that construction management identity, all I could feel was my fear of feeling how afraid I was of my own fear. I couldn’t see the process I was in, I just thought I was screwed, with no way out. I didn’t know what was possible; I didn’t know about letting go; I didn’t understand surrender.

My work is not so much about changing a client’s circumstances—although that may happen—or even changing what they do—although that may happen. It’s about helping the client transform in a way that makes it possible for them to feel differently, see differently, know differently. And certainly not every client needs developmental coaching. Sometimes all we need is a good consultant. But when you’ve done what you already know to do, and the movement of life is still arrested, this form of coaching opens a huge array of new possibilities.

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