Mindfulness-based coaching is an emerging model based on the age-old tradition of Buddhist psychology and meditation practice.
Mindfulness may be defined as a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by “acceptance” – attention to thoughts and feelings without judging. Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it: “Paying attention on purpose”
It is a unique way of relating to our experience that reduces emotional suffering and increases a general sense of well-being. Mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated by the coach to enhance the effectiveness of the coach-client relationship.
It can also be applied in strategic exercises for the client, either formally in meditation or informally in skills for everyday living. Mindfulness teaches clients to recognize and accept their thoughts and emotions without necessarily reacting to them.
Research shows how sustained recovery from depression depends upon learning to keep states of sadness, and the thinking patterns they trigger, from spiralling out of control.
In mindfulness based coaching, the coach assists clients in developing a capacity to be able to allow disturbing feelings, thoughts and sensations without necessarily acting on them or even trying to change them.
Just sitting with and facing the stressful thoughts, and then to investigate, and by doing this they start to experience how the power and hold of the thought lessens.
This coaching can complement mindfulness-based therapies. While the mindfulness-based therapies help to build awareness and calmness, the coaching provides an additional tool to deal with the recurrent thinking and feeling loops that increase the chance of anxiety and depression returning.
Working with the basic premise that suffering is caused, not by people, places, conditions and things, but by thoughts about them. The goal becomes to identify the confusing, irrational beliefs that are causing the stress.
Not to try to stop these thoughts, but rather to inquire; the goal being to “meet them with understanding” by applying non-judgmental awareness.
This approach finds it roots in the fact that we ultimately cannot control what we think, or what we believe. Thoughts appear in the mind just as breathing happens. Or as Martin Luther King jnr. ones said: “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”
Yes, we can try to suppress, repress or distract ourselves from these thoughts, but if the thoughts and beliefs are left unquestioned, they simply will return later.
The goal in mindfulness coaching is therefore not to control the thoughts and actions, which is deemed futile, but to question the stressful beliefs with only one motive – to know, at the deepest level what is true for us.
When we find that what we thought was true is not, and that the opposite of what we thought is as true or truer, our feelings and actions change as a result of the new perception.
Per this understanding, coaching should therefore focus on the “here and now” problems and difficulties. Instead of focusing on the causes of distress or symptoms in the past, they look for ways to improve the state of mind, now.
In fact, in mindfulness coaching the most important question should be, “Who would you be without that or that thought?” By asking this question you guide the client to go beyond the thinking mind, into a new dimension – a place of no thoughts.
This question allows the client to really see thoughts for what they are – just random events arising and disappearing in consciousness. In other words, there is nothing “real” about them.
This doesn’t mean your thoughts are not real thoughts, but they’re not the same as reality. Let me explain this. When you think, you are in essence, using your imagination to create a picture in your mind of an event rather than the real thing.
Off course, this doesn’t mean that you are not living in a physical world of cause and effect. The law of cause and effect dictates that nothing happens by accident, that every ‘effect’ has a specific ‘cause’.
Applied to yourself, this law means that the situations and circumstances of your live are the effects produced or caused by your actions. But if you follow the chain back, the ultimate or first cause is your thoughts.
Thoughts themselves are not the problem, no, being identified with thought is. So, to not recognize yourself as the thinker of your thoughts is a delusion that produces nearly all your conflict, stress and unhappiness.
And within each of us there is this expansive world of thoughts and feelings whose movements determine how we perceive and experience the world outside of us.
While this inner-world of thoughts may not directly bring us what we see, it does profoundly influence how we see our world of relationships and events. The inner determines the outer.
In other words, we are seeing the exterior but experiencing the interior. One simple example of how this works is when you feel stressed. Everything else around you tend to appear equally stressed.
The point I’m trying to make is that while your life is happening now, that remembered argument or work conflict is just a thought, an event being created within your mind and this thought then can steal your present calm and joy—and it isn’t even real anymore.
Thinking is therefore something that you are doing, moment by moment, to create your experience. Huang Po once said: “The foolish reject what they see, not what they think. The wise reject what they think, not what they see.” But thoughts are so close to you that you sometimes forget about them.
So, let’s consider this for a moment. By inviting the client to imagine how their life would be without a certain thought, they can experience more calm. You can actually help them discover the truth of Pema Chodron’s words: “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”