Sensing Another’s True Nature
By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West, guest contributor
Often when we meet someone for the first time, we introduce ourselves by saying what we do, where we live, what we enjoy. Rarely do we speak about the most elusive yet most important aspect of our lives: who we are.
This is very possibly because we don’t know, not really. This is because each of us is living in a particular Structure of Interpretation: a kind of ‘bubble’ comprising messages about what was acceptable or not in our family and wider culture. As soon as we are born, we start getting these messages—e.g., no anger allowed, family is everything, be good at sports, we connect through chaos, professional success at all costs... the list is infinite. We then move out into the world, where we behave based on our particular set of allowables, and the world feeds back to us that indeed this is all we are.
Of course, this process is unconscious and begins long before we have any say. But it holds us suspended in a particular reality: one that limits our view of the world, and distorts or buries what is essentially true about us. Integral Coaches are interested in freeing our clients from this limited view of themselves and inviting them to live from this essence.
Here, we’ll explore and practice ways to do this for others.
A client example
Andrea (name changed for privacy) grew up in a family of academics. Intellectual debates dominated the dinner table. Emotions were glossed over and physical affection was rare. She did well in school, got a Ph.D. in anthropology and an MBA, and now directs a successful nonprofit. She is an avid runner and completed a marathon last spring. Andrea has done all the “right” things. In fact, she has exceeded expectations.
Andrea comes to coaching because despite all this success she feels like something is missing. Being the highly intelligent, perceptive person she is, she finds it strange that her professional relationships are so impersonal, especially considering the helping nature of her work. Her busy, focused, aspirational life has kept her from any sort of sustained romantic relationship.
After getting to know Andrea, her coach senses a deep, unwavering compassion that wasn’t acknowledged as part of her upbringing—nor was there much room for it in her professional life. It’s an essential piece of her beingness that she cut off so that she would be accepted in the family and culture into which she was born.
The coaching program becomes about supporting Andrea in reclaiming this essence so that it permeates all she does, making her more effective and fulfilled in all aspects of her life.
How do we discover essence?
Integral Coaches are not listening just for the person’s accomplishments, goals, or aspirations. These are helpful details in horizontal development, i.e., becoming more efficient at what we’re already doing. However, vertical development—deepening our way of being, building capacity, and changing our overall experience of life—requires listening for other things. We want to know what is important to the client. What is close to their heart, stirs their soul? What is their pure expression and how has it been buried or distorted?
In this case, there are ways that Andrea speaks and behaves that give us insight into her essential quality of compassion. Maybe she tells a story about how, as a child, she would always rescue hurt animals in her yard. Or perhaps we notice that she becomes softer and more relaxed when she speaks of those she cares about. There’s also the very reason she’s seeking coaching—to connect with others in a way that feels more genuine. All of this points to what is essentially true for her.
More importantly, beyond what she says, there’s a particular way it feels like to be with Andrea. When we tune in, become receptive, we can sense this care that she brings.
Building a body that helps us see
Because essence lives in a different place than intellect or cognition, sensing it is not a process we can learn by reading about it. Instead, we have to cultivate our bodies and hearts in ways that make us more attuned and practice this way of perceiving—ideally with everyone we meet.
We all have different bodies, developmental edges, and our own Structures of Interpretation, so there is no one way to cultivate greater attunement. Generally, however, sitting meditation is a wonderful practice to support us in sensing into what is true, beyond our thoughts and stories and constructs. And rigorous physical exercise helps build a body that is grounded, strong, and able to hold a container in which a client’s real, full self can arise.
Bonus Practice: Sensing Essence
Bring someone to mind who you know relatively well (don’t worry, they’ll never see this!).
- First, in broad strokes, make a list of things you “know” about them: where and how they live, the people in their life, their work, their behavior. The intention of this first step is to get past the filter of facts and personality: all of the aspects of a person our minds like to catalog and make stories out of.
- Then, get quiet. Ground and center yourself. Bring this person to mind in front of you. Look at them through your heart, your gut. What does it feel like to simply be with them? What do you sense about them that is pure, authentic, and powerful? What are their truest intentions for themselves and the world?
- Reflect on the ways in which this was easy for you, as well as how it was challenging. What practice might you take up to support you in doing it more easily? For many, developing attunement requires slowing down and softening, perhaps through practices like yin yoga, writing haiku, or taking long solo walks in nature. For others, it might be about developing precision and focus through things like strength training, drumming, or rigorous self-observation. What might it be for you?
If you want to take this exercise one step further, you might contemplate the ways this person’s true essence might be getting distorted by their Structure of Interpretation. However, simply making contact with this part of a person can change how you experience them—and how they experience themselves, without you having to say anything at all. It’s one of the most powerful things we can do for each other.
At its heart, the Professional Coaching Course is about developing ourselves in ways that help us see and support another in their fullness. Join a free call to meet our faculty and learn more about the program.
Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.
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