“Make haste slowly.” 

Grand Central Terminal, New York City, on 35mm

In a few days’ time, I shall be speaking at a Coaching Conference on the topic of The Power of Presence. Between my studying, writing, coaching, and my speaking, presence has been on my mind this year. So once again, I am writing on this theme and sharing a piece that was featured in the monthly magazine of an educational coaching company, MSB.

There is an expression in French that I love: “Tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche.” It means Turn your tongue in your mouth seven times before you speak. Wise words to remind us to pause before we say something we might regret. Or to wait a day before you reply to that email. I think it also has a deeper significance and one that I have noticed has been showing up in my coach approach to life.

Life is noisy. Between shuttling kids, making dinner, attending a meeting, chairing a meeting, teaching a class, going to the gym, or wiping crumbs off the breakfast table, there is also Instagram, podcasts, the news to read, and friends’ texts to reply to. Not to mention the noise in your head telling you what you need to do, could be doing better, and reminding you to hold more grudges. Then there are the books to read, the tv shows to watch and the date nights to plan. Our culture is based on doing, keeping so busy that we are forced to be cut off from our feeling selves and yet feeling is more essential than ever. Rarely in the middle of this whirlwind do we stop, pause, retreat, reflect, breathe and contemplate. Rarely do we turn our tongues 7 times, as a way of pausing before we continue.

A thread that runs through all my coaching sessions is a desire for more time, more peace. Over and over again I hear the chorus of busy leaders in schools bemoan the lack of time to talk to teachers, to visit classrooms, to re-think the curriculum; they are all swept up in the wave of the day-to-day busyness of schools.  There is a collective call to be still those busy minds, quieten the days, shorten the list of things to do and find some peace. I hear a call to attend not just to their ‘doing’ but also to their ‘being.’

One client brought the following topic to our session, phrased as a question, a habit I find that helps fine-tune the focus: “How will I keep momentum and be my own coach once these sessions end?” The single most important shift in his life that has come out of his coaching is the awareness of the importance of taking a pause, and taking stock of the moment, before moving on. I like to call it: Stop to Start. He has named these pauses in his day: Cleansing Time at the end of the work day, (15 minutes at the close of his day to reflect and think ahead to tomorrow), Sunshine Time, (moments to bid hello to students at the front gate) and Micro Pauses (tiny moments to stop and breathe in between meetings or tasks.) How could he keep these helpful habits going? Over the course of the session he began to see that once he aligned them to his Purpose, yes his capital P Purpose, he could see how they were integral to his function and value in the school. His Purpose is simply and powerfully to Make People Grow. These valuable pauses in his day became the soil from which growth could occur. He noticed that he was more present, the more time he took to pause. His Purpose needed his small but significant breaks for breath, to cleanse, to smile. The holy grail of productivity would function better if he stopped. 

Slowing down to be quiet, to pause can take many forms. As coaches, the most important way of being is being with presence and true presence is only accessible if we slow down, get quiet, inhabit our bodies and become grounded. I start every coaching session with deep cleansing breaths for both myself and the client and the session itself becomes a powerful pause and models what deep presence can be. As a coach I don’t expect my clients to go anywhere that I haven’t, so for me too, this is a work in progress. Coaching is an approach to life, a way of being and I have started to find ways to Stop to Start in my own day to day. I have named them ‘glimmers’ and only with a pause can they be seen. Flowers, a perfect storybook cloud, a gentle breeze, the sound of rain, the sound of my own breath as it enters and leaves my body, the taste of an apple, the feeling of cold water running down my throat. By paying closer attention I am pausing, by pausing I create a transition between things. This gives me perspective, gratitude, and awareness. From that place, things shift, take shape and transform; what comes next has a different flavour.

Thanks, as always for reading,

Sam xx

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