This is a story of the coach that meant well, and why it is that shamans typically have to endure such trials and hardships during their training.
As many of you know, I'm currently enrolled in a master's degree program in leadership and organizational development, with a focus on coaching. The first 40% of the program, the part I'm in now, consists of a graduate certificate in leadership and executive coaching. As part of the program, I have been paired with a buddy coach, and she's been wonderful to work with. She's all of the things one could want in a coach: she's caring, logical, insightful, and truly wants to do a great job.
Over this past weekend, we stumbled upon a great learning opportunity in which we learned why coaches are never the ones to suggest the day's discussion topic, and I learned (again) why shamans need to be extremely comfortable with the experience of pain.
First, some back story... One of the themes in my life from the time I was a small baby has been an experience of extreme loneliness. I have been through tons of therapy, life lessons, and ayahuasca ceremonies, and I'm good with where I am with it today. These days, I think of it sort of like having a missing leg. I have all kinds of wicked-cool tech for helping me walk, but even having a rocket-pack leg attachment doesn't change the fact that at the end of the day, I'm still missing a metaphorical leg. It's an integral part of how I organize my priorities.
It also still hurts. It hurts every day. The key is that I am okay with the pain. I don't try to cover it up or avoid it. I don't repress it or deny it. I dive into the pain and spend quality time caring for the part of me that still hurts. I don't believe that life should be pain-free. I don't believe that life should be pain-full, either. Life just is what it is.
The loneliness has given me pain, but it's given me gifts galore as well. It's what led me to making friends with the grass and the trees and the sky. It's what allows me to hear the small, quiet voice that Spirit uses to speak with me. It's what gives me such intense compassion for the suffering of others. It's what made me into the person I am today, and that person is pretty rad.
My buddy coach didn't know any of this. All she knew was that I had mentioned loneliness several times in passing, in relation to other topics we had covered, and something about it bothered her. She had been wanting me to talk about the topic of loneliness specifically for a while. I knew it was out of bounds for her to suggest the topic, but we had developed enough rapport that I felt our relationship would be stronger if we went ahead with it. So, we did. For her, I dredged up the key ingredients that made up my metaphorical missing leg of loneliness. I cried a lot. I explained all the things I wrote about earlier, in my back story.
And then I asked her what she had learned from the session. It was at that point I realized that the session had never been about her coaching me, but about me coaching her. My loneliness bothered her far more than it bothered me. She had made me responsible not only for managing my own pain, but hers as well. She was so hurt by my hurt that she was unable to manage it. She was unable to just let it be, to be a silent witness, a responsible mirror, a wellspring of hope in the face of difficult circumstances. She needed to fix it.
In contrast, a properly-trained shaman doesn't need to fix pain. A shaman knows that pain is neither good nor bad. It just is. There's nothing that needs to be changed about a person who is hurting. If the person wants to move through that hurt and onto something else, that's fine. The shaman can assist with that. If the person is still learning from the pain, that's also fine. The shaman can assist with that too.
In this way, we ensure that we're not adding our pain to their pain. We're not demonizing pain. We're not making the hurting person feel pitied or less than. We know the transformative power of pain because we've been there. We've been there a lot. We know that territory very well, and we know there's nothing there to be afraid of. Pain is often the most important teacher of our lives, the thing that makes us reach for the light, fight for the truth, and surrender to the untamed joy of being human.