Coaching from the Heart
by Rey Carr, Ph.D. in Metaphysics
A year has passed since I had heart bypass surgery, a life-transforming event for a 60-something health nut. I’ve learned some lessons that apply well to my profession of life coaching; the common theme being a deeper commitment to the importance of spirit.
Allowing mutuality: One day I collapsed while on a treadmill at the gym and when I came to, felt as though I was just dehydrated. But emergency technicians had already been summoned, and soon I was connected to a heart monitor. From this I’ve developed a new openness to allowing/accepting other “life support” experts into our lives. One never knows when help may be needed.
Creating sanctuary: Technicians asked many questions to gauge my level of consciousness; I tried to convince them that I just needed to go home. Faced with severe challenges it’s natural to want a safe haven of feeling protected, in control, heard, and supported. I later wondered how well we “helping” professionals actually do, in providing this.
Demonstrating skill: Chagrined by my trip to the hospital, what I learned from the technicians’ focused insistence was that their skilled listening, powerful questions, and persistence are probably the best way to manage a reluctant patient’s sense of denial.
Recognizing turmoil: I’d never been a hospital patient before, and I still wasn’t convinced all this was necessary—although later I was amazed at how little I recalled from spending days in the hospital. Memory lapses are a natural outgrowth of anxiety, fear, and resistance—all of which reduce our attention, focus, and understanding. While I appeared calm on the outside, inner turmoil created a barrier against my mental acuity.
So I’m learning to recognize subtle signals for when a client or partner may feel overwhelmed. Given opportunities to reflect on turmoil, we are more likely to actively participate in our own healing.
Building trust: Diagnostic testing confirmed the need for surgery. The scientist part of me was fascinated to watch the angiogram probe of my diseased heart arteries on a high-tech monitor. The cardiologist carefully explained the testing and decision-making processes. His demeanor showed compassion, warmth and expertise, generating rapport and trust. Developing trust is essential during times of life-changing decisions. Having a clear preview also “bonded me” to the process, all of which illustrates the importance of giving those we work with a “clear picture” of the why as well as the what.
Identifying intention: Released home to rest before my scheduled surgery, I found it curious that my cardiologist wanted me to promise I’d return for treatment. He added that the surgery was essential; that I couldn’t legally drive again until receiving post-operative clearance. This seemed amusing, for one who prefers not to drive in the first place! So my lesson, as a process-oriented practitioner, was to realize the challenge of tapping into a client’s true motivation so as to more deeply influence their decision toward right action.
Assessing reality and setting goals: Returning for a “pre-op” tour of the surgery and recovery suites, I met the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. Both compassionately explained what I could expect from the procedure: its success rate and likely prognosis.
Given time at home to reflect on the “balance sheet” of my life, I had become calm and serene. I actually was not afraid to die. I wanted to continue enjoying life, and I felt confident that I was in the best possible hands. But if somehow I didn’t survive, I felt I had lived my life with passion, purpose, and meaning. Mostly I felt gratitude and appreciation.
Finding Humor: After surgery I was connected to numerous machines, tubes and drugs. I even had my own cardiac care nurse. Before going home I had to demonstrate my ability to walk unattended, dress myself, and walk up and down two flights of stairs. The experts congratulated my success, saying that the stair-climbing was equivalent to the energy needed to have sex. I said, “Right now, I think I’d rather climb stairs.”
Building relationships: Returning home was when my psychic healing began. My wife created an
e-mail network to keep friends and family involved, and they responded with great care and concern. Some messages inspired or even brought me to tears. Healing practitioners strive to extend such empathy, but we can also help others deepen their own well-springs of support. Especially for those who are task-oriented, we must attend to the social contexts through which success occurs.
Bearing witness: One element that distinguishes a practitioner’s role from other types of helping is partnership. We accompany people on their journey, bearing witness as trusted sources of insight, observation, and feedback. After surgery I was in a daze from the trauma and the medications. While I appeared lucid and able to converse, my wife’s careful notes and rememberings offered complex feedback.
How do we provide a safety net when someone feels pushed too far? We walk side by side, offering support, encouragement, and reassurance.
Providing appropriate challenges: Snoozing cozily in my hospital bed, I wasn’t pleased when the physical therapist wanted me to walk. I didn’t think I could, and didn’t want to try. But as an expert in human motivation as well as physicality, the P.T. knew how just hard and how often to push.
How do we know what perfect level of challenge will bring someone to the farthest limit of their capability? How do we provide a safety net when someone feels pushed too far? We walk side by side, offering support, encouragement, and reassurance. Going to the net is essential for risk-taking and growing beyond old limits.
Making meaning: Adversity is part of life. It’s an opportunity to go deeper. I think about life more in terms of purpose and meaning, rather than accomplishments or results. Although it’s my tendency to attend to spiritual matters, I found it valuable to have people around me to ask: “What does this experience mean to you?” “What was the best part of your day, today?” “How are you feeling about what has happened?” I’m not finished understanding the full meaning that this event has for me, but I’m so glad to be surrounded by expert helpers. And while I’m still identifying nuances that reveal new aspects of my true purpose in life, I’ll close by sharing a truly magical discovery: I’m pleased to affirm that my blood type is B-positive.