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Coaching can be a powerful context for personal and organizational transformation. What makes coaching “work” when it works? What’s missing when it doesn’t? What’s the difference between “transformational coaching” and other modalities or traditions?
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On July 14, I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. It’s been “interesting.”
Prior to surgery, I was in a very calm and settled place. I was happy with the decisions I’d made. I respected and trusted my medical team. The Charming Prince was a source of constant, steady support. I had love and healing vibes flowing in locally and via social media at a truly phenomenal level. (Thank you so much!)
At the beginning of July I posted my intentions for the month to a thread in the Brain Trust form. (The Brain Trust is a mastermind group of dear friends.) My first item was “Don’t freak out.”
In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I wrote that. At the time I wasn’t freaking out, and I don’t think I was anticipating freaking out.Perhaps some wise part of me perceived that one might freak out from time to time when diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing surgery and treatment.
A less wise part of me seems to have thought that not freaking out was better than freaking out. I get that. By and large, I would much rather feel peaceful and calm than freaked out. But from where I sit now, it seems to me that setting the intention to not freak out is like planning to get on a roller coaster with the intention of not experiencing the descents.
The ride got dicey after eight days
Eight days after surgery I went in to have two of four surgical drains removed. The skin around the drain sites was very unhappy, and the surgeon decided, all things considered, that it would be best to take all four drains. She also suggested that I get my first “fills,” injections of saline into the tissue expanders that were placed after the mastectomy to gradually stretch my muscle and skin to accommodate implants.
I cannot begin to tell you how excruciating the drain removal was. I am still astonished that no one has figured out how to mitigate the pain of the process, especially because such great care was taken during all of my other exams and tests to prevent or manage pain.
Then came the fills. The injections were not at all painful; I felt only a mild sense of pressure.
But OMG, by the next day I was in agony.
The freak out commences
I had started to taper off my pain meds the day before drain removal, and I had continued to take half doses afterward. By Friday, two days after the drain removal and fills, I was a wreck.
On Friday morning I lay in bed arguing with myself about whether or not I could tolerate the pain.
I kept trying to figure out what an acceptable level of pain was. I wondered if my pain tolerance was higher or lower than other people’s pain tolerances. I don’t know how I thought the answer to that would help, but that’s one of the places my mind went.
By mid-morning I had three pain pills left. I couldn’t imagine how much worse I would feel when I ran out, so I finally decided to call the nurse and let her know what was going on.
To my embarrassment, I burst into tears on the phone. The nurse listened carefully and asked me nurse-y questions. She gave me some context for things seeming to get worse before they got better, including the fact that nerves that are damaged or insulted during surgery can start waking up at various times in the days that follow. It appeared that I had some very cranky nerves waking up.
The bottom line is that she arranged for me to get more meds.
Bursting into tears opened a door
Something about bursting into tears showed me how really crummy I felt, and that gave me a bit of self-compassion. (One of the biggest things I have am learning from this experience is that self-compassion is profoundly heart-opening. It’s doorway to compassion for all beings, the very opposite of selfishness.)
I decided to go back on a full dose of pain medication for a couple of days. Though it meant being woozy and confused and nauseous, I could sleep through that, and I couldn’t sleep through the pain.
A new intention
Fast-forward to the first of August. Once again it was time to post monthly intentions to the Brain Trust forum. Here’s how I opened the list this month:
“Go ahead and freak out knowing that I will come back to center. Show up for life, including all the feelings. Don’t spiritualize it before experiencing it.”
Spiritualizing life is pretending or seeking to not be affected by the roller coaster ride. It’s profoundly different from seeing that even though the ride is scary you are safe.
The mistake we make is not freaking out; the mistake is freaking out about freaking out, freaking out in advance of the ride, or continuing to freak out after the ride is over.
I love that I was able to stay in the present moment in the days leading up to surgery. I didn’t freak out by imagining how things would go or worrying about the future.
But I was mistaken when I set the intention to not freak out during and after surgery. There’s no need, nor is there an advantage, to trying to manage our experiences.
If we are truly safe and whole in our essential nature at all times (and I believe that this is so) then there is no need to manage our experiences at any time.
We are safe and whole whether we are freaking out or not.
I don’t know why we are here
I don’t know why spiritual beings are having human experiences. It works for me to assume that there is meaning and value in it. If that is true, I propose that there is meaning and value in all of it, from freak out to transcendence.
It’s all good.
When we make an aspect of the human experience into a problem, we impede the natural process by which what troubles us invariably subsides and we are returned to peace.
That’s what matters. Not that we never freak out, but that we come to see that freaking out is not terminal. Freaking out is a temporary response to a temporary set of thoughts and perceptions.
In other words, this too shall pass.
It happens that as we see more and more clearly the temporary nature of our freak outs, we naturally get more comfortable with the roller coaster. As a result, we tend to freak out less often and less intensely.
But that is a side effect. To make it into a goal activates a sort of spiritual competitiveness. Not helpful.
Spiritualizing experience disconnects us from life and each other
Trying to spiritualize our experience preempts whatever insights might arise if we would only simply be with what is arising. It disconnects us from life and from each other.
Time and again the freedom and peace we seek are to be found right here, right now in the heart whatever joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain we are experiencing.
NOTE: The last video in this month’s video Roundup says more about what I’ve been learning in the wake of surgery. You’re also welcome to visit my CaringBridge Journal, and as always, I welcome your comments.
In mid-July I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I went into surgery feeling peaceful, calm, and confident. I came out of it feeling ravaged, confused, and sad. The hardest part of that was expecting myself to feel differently. Here are some reflections on what that is teaching me.
Just typing that question causes something in my lower back to release. I can feel my buttocks settle into the cushion on my chair as I stop working quite so hard to live up to whatever unconscious standards are running in the background of my awareness.
How about you?
The hardest thing in life is thinking we need to get it right
It seems to me that the hardest thing in life, the hardest thing in building a business, the hardest thing about raising children or growing vegetables, is dealing with our ideas and judgments about getting things right.
Those ideas about what is and isn’t right keep us from going with what we know is true for us in the moment. Preoccupation with getting it right can make decision-making pure hell.
What makes making the right decision seemingly impossible is believing that there’s a right decision to begin with.
The need to get it right goes deep
The imperative that one must get things right is layered, persistent, sneaky. If you’re like me, you let go of the need to get things right, only to discover that you have a new imperative to not need to get things right.
Even (especially?) illness comes with imperatives about what’s right
As some of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of June. As you might imagine, I’ve had lots of different feelings and thoughts about it.
Far and away the hardest thing about it has been the persistent arising of theories or concepts about getting it right.
Having the right feelings. (Yeah, like I’m in charge of that.)
Making the right choices. (For whom? When?)
Sending the right messages. (Hopeless invitation to self-absorption.)
What I’ve learned about making the right decision
I’ve been keeping a journal of my breast cancer journey at CaringBridge, and here’s an excerpt from my entry on June 24 about decision-making and getting things right. I wrote it after deciding to get a bilateral mastectomy, but I think it applies to decision-making in general.
“The hardest part of the past couple of days has been wondering if I’ve made the right decision. And the hardest part of that has been wondering what other people would think of my decision. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned.
“Decisions make themselves. We don’t know what we are going to do, and then we do. The less sound and fury I can inject in the interim, the better able I will be to discern the “right” decision. More about what constitutes “rightness” below.
“It’s not over until it’s over. Another way to say this is that I reserve the right to be inconsistent, erratic, and change my mind. If I’m struck with a sudden insight that changes how I see this, I’ll punt. I’m grateful to Dr. Wechter for explicitly giving me permission to change my mind, though she did ask me not to do it the day before surgery. 😉
“This decision stands until it doesn’t. Insight doesn’t flow from second-guessing. I like how I feel about this decision when I am settled down, and I’m going to stand in that. I won’t be surprised if I second-guess myself anyway, but I don’t intend to put a lot of energy into it.
“The right decision is the one you make. I have a bias in favor of decisions made from a place of peace, from what Syd Banks called “a nice feeling.” But there is no ultimate basis for grading the rightness of this decision. How could you or I judge? By whether or not the cancer returns? By whether or not a new treatment is discovered in six months? By how these journal entries affect an unknown reader? Will I meet my new best friend on the ferry one day en route to get my new boobs inflated? (Stay tuned. Or not. LOL)
“We’re all always doing our best. Full stop.”
There is no such thing as the “right way”
When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as the right way to do something; there is only the way we do it. The only justification I have for my choice to have a bilateral mastectomy is that I felt clear, grounded, and peaceful when I let myself want what I want.
And hey, if the best I could do happened to be to make a choice from a place of feeling, confused, ungrounded, and anxious, then that would have to be okay, too.
Because, as I wrote above, I see more clearly than ever that we truly are always doing our best all the time. The only thing that keeps us from seeing that are persistent fantasies and judgments about what our best ought to look like. Those fantasies and judgments are mental constructs, though, and they are utterly trumped by the reality of whatever we are up to in the moment.
I hope to serve, and sometimes I suck at it
As I reflect on my life, I see that I have always hoped to serve. I love it when sharing my experience helps others, and I feel so fortunate that for many years I have been able to earn my living by doing that.
But sometimes when I experience confusion or anxiety or any number of less than, in my opinion, admirable states of mind, I get seriously derailed. I start imagining that I have to get something right in order to be of service, and as soon as I’m on that track, I’m lost in endless self-absorption and self-criticism.
Which pretty much shuts down the creative process, prevents authentic connection and communication, and generates a seemingly accurate self-fulfilling prophecy of wasted potential, meaninglessness, and alienation.
And in those moments my life looks like a wasteland. The idea of service seems like a cruel delusion.
And that’s how it is for all of us. When we are lost, we see loss and waste.
But it’s not real
It sucks to feel like we suck. But the important thing to know about those self-fulfilling prophecies is that they are only seemingly accurate. Because our scary self-fulfilling prophecies are dreams. They are not real.
And sooner or later we come home to ourselves.
We come home sooner when we understand what is going on
We come home to ourselves sooner rather than later when we understand what is going on.
When we understand that, even though they feel very real and compelling in the moment, our fears and judgments are phantoms, we are less inclined to amplify and invest in them.
And like any fire that lacks fuel or oxygen, even the most intense emotional blaze passes when we don’t feed it.
It may burn for a while, but it will not burn forever.
What would you do if you didn’t have to get it right?
If any of this has resonated, I invite you to hold this question lightly. What would you do now if you didn’t have to get it right?
If no answer appears, that could be your answer. Nowhere is it written that you have to know what you are doing or why you are doing it. Wisdom runs deeper than language, and life is far more mysterious than that.
Talk back: I’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome them in the comments section. Also, if you would like to read my CaringBridge journal, it is being cross-posted to my blog at Owning Pink. owningpink.com/users/molly-gordon
A riff on two of my favorite quotes:
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”
~ Alain de Botton
“Balance is the new girdle.” ~ Jennifer Louden
As a coach I work with a handful of special clients to understand the spiritual principles behind the human experience so that they can reliably access and trust their creative intelligence and take bold action in service of their dreams. You can learn more and request an interview here.
There is a way in which you can count on getting what you need to thrive. When you tune into this, you are not only more resourceful and creative, but you also find it easier to ride the ups and downs that are inevitable in any business.
As a coach I help my clients explore the immense practicality of joy. I point them to the spiritual principles behind the human experience. As their understanding deepens, their joy increases. They act with greater ease, creativity, grace, and wisdom. If this resonates and you’d like to have a conversation to see if we are fit, click here to visit my coaching page and schedule an interview.