In our coaching and training we have consistently used our three-stage process as shown in the model below. Each stage answers a question: What’s So? So What? What’s Next? I have used these questions to reflect on my recent experience and to give a sense of completion to this chapter in The Coaching Project’s history.
I often say retirement is harder than it looks. I have been working on it for half a dozen years. I began by moving across the country to Vancouver to be close to my son and his family, to step back from the intensity of work and travel. However, I was soon designing a new leader coach certificate program for Simon Fraser University, chairing the board of a nonprofit, and co-leading a community dedicated to the evolution of consciousness. I quickly realized I hadn’t really changed at all.
I then became deeply engaged in my own inner journey for the first time in my life, meditating, reading, being silent, confronting my own transition to a new stage of life and wondering, as Otto Scharmer says, Who am I and What is my work? I began to study, write and present on the concept of home, being at home in myself, with others and in the wider world.
At this time, I lost a number of loved ones to illness and old age. Friends, colleagues, relatives, they seemed to be falling like dominoes. This led me even deeper inside my own skin. I attended retreats, spent longer periods in silence and solitude, read about death and dying voraciously, and began to reflect on how I too was dying to my old self. When my long term relationship also ended, it seemed death was everywhere – in me, those I loved, and in our dying world. I began to think of this period as a proverbial dark night, full of sadness, depression and isolation, with no escape.
I have gained a number of valuable insights from this prolonged dark period. One is that having emerged on the other side into a buoyant lightness, I find it imperative to carry forward the time for stillness and introspection that has been so critical throughout the transition. Although I have never been religious, I feel this inward path is a spiritual one, a spacious surrender to the moment, letting go of expectations, judgements and past conditioning. I also realize the tremendous gift in the darkness. Having allowed myself the time and space to experience it, to be challenged by it, I feel transformed, reborn into a new self I can get to know, to learn to feel at home as this new me. The darkness holds the light within itself.
Another insight is that using myself as the instrument of my own learning and experience, I arrive at a place where I can share some of this dark night with others. It may be simply creating some circles of interest in the topics I am drawn to – that would be more than enough. Or it may, like The Coaching Project, expand to fill a need that is larger than my own. One advantage of being on the thin edge of the wedge of the baby boom as I enter my 70th year, is that there are 80 million (LINK) others coming along behind, I suspect with many of the same questions and concerns I am wrestling with.
Coming from an integral perspective, I can also see that nothing has been lost in this transition. Leading and coaching are vitally important in the later stages of life. The Coaching Project has an important role to play in this pioneering work. For example, there are coaches calling themselves ‘death doulas’ now emerging to support those who are dying and their families. There is a huge need to assist elders with their end of life planning; coaches and innovative organizations are emerging to address this need. And there are many opportunities for leadership within our own circles as well as in shaping and contributing to the institutions that will support us as we face our own end.
I have retired from my previous focus; I have died to my old self. But having been reborn, I am beginning again, again. Called to adventure by my own experience and incorporating my own history, I am focusing on end of life issues, including dying. I have designed a course with a workbook called The Art of Dying.
Over the six weeks, we look at the philosophical and practical issues associated with end of life, and express individual perspectives and wishes in an art form like poetry, drawing, collage, improv, or journaling. I have run this program for groups of 5 to 15 four times now, and I’m beginning to train facilitators to deliver the program so that the impact spreads more quickly. The purpose is simply to provoke conversations about dying, a taboo subject in our culture.
I am also beginning to develop a circle devoted to end of life spirituality, that natural turning inward that occurs in maturity, and how sharing our views and concerns might contribute to a healthier, happier elderhood. I continue to be a member and leader of several other circles with interest in the development of our consciousness as individuals, how who we are has implications for our communities and our wider world. Please be in touch by email if any of these topics are of interest to you. The Coaching Project will continue to offer coaching and programs beginning in the fall of this year.
In the meantime, I am traveling and experiencing new people and places, all informing my global sensitivities. And I am writing, beginning with this closing of a finished chapter and opening of a new one. I am home.