A Framework for Gauging Presence

BL00 - The Role of Presence in Self-Development-Max-Quality

By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West

The assessment models used in Integral Coaching give us insight into our clients’ experience of life: the basis of how we work with each person. One such model is the Six Streams of Competence, which we explored earlier this year. Another foundational framework is called the Ten Ways of Development

The Ten Ways model gives us a sense of where the client is in their relationship with the world. Do they have the capacity to take on practices we may assign them? Do they have a sense of what is centrally important to them, and are they willing to take up or let go of things in their life to honor that central commitment? Can they even stay present for a full hour session? 

Questions like this help the coach gauge how we can work with the client in a way that (a) meets them where they are and (b) invites them into a deeper level of development.

The names of the Ways point to a client’s general state. As the levels get deeper, so does the person’s presence. The Ten Ways range from being in a constant state of relative emergency to being free from fear of suffering and death. As you might imagine, the number of people who embody each level get fewer as the levels get deeper. Maybe a handful of people on the planet occupy the deepest levels. Most of us live in the first three, which is what we’ll look at today. 

They are called: 

  • Scattered
  • Dense
  • Fluid

Of course, human beings are alive and ever-changing and therefore don’t squarely into any of these categories. Crisis and disruption can send even the most developed of us back into a scattered state. Alternatively, someone who spends their days in chaos can come through with Buddha-like moments of wisdom. With this model, we are simply getting a sense of where a client spends most of their time. 

Let’s explore these three states as they relate to presence, and how we might work with ourselves and our clients at each level.

Scattered

When we are at the level of Scattered, there is no ground beneath us. No roots. Our life is one giant response to a storm of immediate concerns. Demands are flying at us scattershot, and our task in the world is to attend to these demands. No one thing is central in our life; it can’t be. We’re challenged to see beyond what is immediately in front of us. It’s like trying to mop up the spillage from a broken water main that nobody has turned off: relentless and Sisyphean. It is difficult—if not impossible—to be effective in life when everything is an emergency.

The task with a client at this level of development is to help them attain a modicum of presence: to land in their body. This could entail inviting them to feel their feet on the ground for just a few moments each day. We might spend a coaching session having them connect with their breath. Coaching itself can serve as an anchor point—perhaps the sessions are the one central commitment the client aims at for now. 

Practices for clients at this level tend to be small and attainable, rather than adding tasks that will further fragment their attention and presence. We are coaching clients at this level to become more present to themselves

Dense

Once we have dropped some semblance of an anchor into the ground of our life, the demands haven’t necessarily gone away. It’s just that now they are coming at us, rather than us flying off to attend to them. The possibilities are packed around us in a dense, impenetrable way. 

“Dense” is not a commentary on the person’s cognitive state—on the contrary, they have developed the capacity to hold and respond to multiple demands. It’s just that they are inundated with them. Everything is equally important, equally in need of a response. Lots of people at this level of development are managers, directors, even business owners. Holding it together, but that’s about it. There is little breathing room and even less fulfillment. 

The endeavor here is sorting through, letting go, and finding balance. Working somatically with the client could look like a practice of release: breathwork, yin yoga, floating. It could involve parsing their emotions (possibly for the first time) to find out what they actually feel about a particular endeavor versus their automatic response to it. It might entail exploring who in their life might be able to offer support in the form of providing some direction and orientation. This person is building toward having more choices, discernment, space. In this sense, we are supporting the client to become more present to their world

Fluid

Having begun to sort and find what is important to us—and having the felt sense that it is possible to let go of that which is merely taking up space in our lives—we start to see that we have some agency. Life is not merely flying at us demanding a response; rather, we are in conversation with it. We start to see that what we do and say has an effect on the direction of our life. 

So the task here becomes curating our life in a more intentional way. Life Design can begin at this level. Understanding and declaring what is centrally important to us, we can investigate what supports that. When we are not simply reacting to incoming demands, there is space for true enjoyment. 

We might invite clients at this level to intentionally develop greater capacity through deepening their self-care—more intense or sustained physical exercise, for example, or longer periods of mindfulness meditation. They may begin to expand their network of support to include peers and collaborators who are in the conversation with them. They might attend to relationships that need to be strengthened or repaired. Maybe they are more intentional about surrounding themselves with beauty. 

Here the person is starting to become present to their contribution to life, versus a blind or automatic response to it. 

Making the leap to this level is one that few people take. It’s the level that we invite coaches into during their year of training because attempting to coach someone at a deeper level of development than we are isn’t effective. Our own presence needs to be expansive enough to hold whoever we are working with. 

Deepening our own presence to support others

Do you recognize yourself, your clients, or others in your life at any of these levels? Does it feel like your work right now is to stay present in yourself; create space to be present to the multiple elements of your life; cultivate your presence in service to your intention... or something else? What practices have you taken up that support you in attaining deeper levels of presence? What might you need to let go?

While many practitioners of mindfulness are already engaged in this exploration, this model offers a way of engaging with it more rigorously and intentionally—particularly when we’re working with others. It supports us in working at an appropriate depth and pace so that the client isn’t overwhelmed or disengaged. And as we deepen our own presence, we are more available to meet the client where they are, and invite them along to a space of greater freedom. 

Opportunities to learn and practice: In Foundations of Coaching, our introductory workshop, you will learn more about the Ten Ways and other assessment models used in Integral Coaching. And you are always welcome at any of our free events to explore ways of deepening presence and experience the method firsthand. 

Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.

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