I call myself an Integral Coach® because that’s what I am but also because I don’t want to use the “L” word (no, not that one, I’d happily call myself a “Lesbian” but I’m not, so I can’t).
It’s that other word… I’m embarrassed to call myself a “Life” Coach. Yeah, I said it.
There are amazing life coaches out there doing deep and transformative work with their clients (and there is so much jibber jabber fluffy fluff). I can mostly ignore the fluff but what I find more challenging is what I’ll call “positive thinking coaching” — the secular–prosperity–gospel, solipsistic, self-help coaching that tells people (mostly women) that they can change their lives through positively attracting and manifesting.
Look, I’m way woo-woo, am pretty sure magic is real, and I am all for positive thinking. My main man, the Buddha, was maybe the original positive thinker. He said whatever we think about becomes the inclination of mind. That’s straight–up manifesting–101.
But I’m also into critical thinking. And systems thinking. And, by my humble estimation, the systems stink. When looking at what helps someone grow in their capacity for wisdom, compassion, and joy, I take into account their personal reality and also their social, cultural, and political realities. And I wish more coaches (and meditation teachers) would too. [Big shout out to a few Buddhist initiatives that are doing this work: Buddhists for Racial Justice, White Awake, Transbuddhists.org ]
Contemplatives can get uncomfortable with talk of systems and oppression. Aren’t we supposed to be looking inwards? Yes. And, often what’s inside is a projection of what’s out there. The personal is political.
This newsletter is called wise awake (btw, that’s aspirational, not declarative) because I believe waking up is our best hope as a species. But what we’re waking up to is not always pretty; we are not waking up only to rainbows and ponies (though also rainbows and ponies). To get ourselves out of this mess, we are going to have to think personally and collectively and think positively and critically. How about Positive Critical Thinking?
For me, positive critical thinking involves deep personal work — change does start from within. It also includes acknowledging and dismantling what I’m calling systems: the oppressive forces that get embedded in our language, thoughts, views/opinions, behaviors, culture, laws, institutions… I believe these forces are outward and systemic expressions of what us Buddhisty types recognize as greed, hatred, and delusion. And they get internalized — mostly unconsciously.
This is not about pointing fingers at other people. Of course, systems are acted out through people, but no one is exempt from them. AND we need to do the work to see them clearly, understand their effects on us, and undo their harm.
Open your eyes. And your heart. And get ready for some discomfort. It might come from looking within and seeing all the ways you’ve internalized these systems and turned them against yourself. It might come from looking outside and seeing the ways you’ve projected these systems onto others. And then, of course, there’s simply opening to the pain and suffering all around us.
Not all of us are called to actively change these systems (though we can actively support those who do). But all of us are called to the work of undoing their effects within our own minds and hearts. Critically. Positively.