As we walk toward our destination, my client occasionally stoops to examine the natural curiosities littered across the forest floor. Some she tucks away, others she leaves undisturbed. As we move, I watch the protective bark of her thoughts shed itself and reveal a softer, more malleable material beneath. This is where clients often begin in their coaching experience. Whether under the stunning landscape of the Grand Tetons where she and I stand now, or on the streets of Chicago, a step into nature can have a profound impact. Clients need an avenue to disengage from the daily demands of their lives. Mother Earth opens her mind, yes, but also her heart.
Nature is a welcoming co-creator washing away the dulling effect of daily stress. A tonic to wake up the fibers between the mind and heart, Story Quest Walks kindles human creativity, active experimentation and self-discovery in the natural landscape.
We step carefully over the fallen branches. When we arrive at our vantage point, we take our seats on the rocks waiting patiently for us, providing a natural pause for silence and reflection. My client has a life-changing decision to make, and we have been exploring her concerns and opportunities on our Story Quest Walks.
We both take a few moments to breathe in the pine air and adjust to the majesty in front of us. The jagged mountain peaks frosted with ancient glaciers never fail to evoke the small self, the defining quality of awe that only appears with intent and attention. Researchers Keltner and Haidt explain the experience as both “perceived vastness” and a “need for accommodation” that makes us more generous toward others.
We removed our shoes and socks to dip our feet into the icy cold mountain melt. The freezing shock sheds the final sheath of stress.5 An advantage of working outdoors with clients is the opportunity to turn off the stress response and ignite the challenge response. When clients show up for coaching, they are often in some level of fight-or-flight. Even though there is no physical threat, there are conceptual stressors clinging to them like the fungus on the tree in front of us. The jolt of cold water on our feet turns off the dulling effects of stress and snaps on the desire to explore the landscape. The challenge response awakens like an eager-eyed child full of wonder, hungry for adventure. Physiologically, instead of constricting blood vessels and ramping up inflammation in anticipation of wounds, the challenge response allows for maximum blood flow and prompts the tend and befriend system. These two work together to support a client’s expression of feelings, perceptions and concerns. Nature fuels my own curiosity, as well as my client’s, during the coaching process.
She pulls out of her pocket the handful of collected treasures and arranges them into a heart with a crack. The creative expression breaks the dam holding back her emotions and a story comes tumbling out. “I feel so much gratitude,” she said. “When we began our Story Quest Walks I was so locked up inside that I couldn’t imagine how I was going to change my life.” I wondered out loud about the fracture in her otherwise perfect heart shaped image she built. “I felt lost and broken,” she continued. “The crack reminds me of that untranslatable word that we talked about Kintsugi. The Japanese word for transforming the broken shards of pottery into something more rare and beautiful by sealing them back together with powdered gold. The crack in my heart reminds me that I have grown into something more than I was before.” Untranslatable words are just one of the storytelling methods we use for Story Quest Walks to connect clients to their subconscious motivations and goal setting.
The famed mythologist Joseph Campbell tells us that humans developed story to bring us back into accord with the chaos of nature. We make order out of chaos through stories. “I want to leave my heart here for someone else to find. Perhaps they will find a metaphor that inspires them to grow as well,” she said. The landscape inspired the earliest humans to use metaphors to explain our place in the world and it still works today. Metaphors in the landscape tap into clients’ change-story. When you become aware of how to use story to transform a clients’ thinking, nature really shows off opportunities to turn on their creativity.
Our Story Quest Walk has brought us to this crossroad reminiscent of the Robert Frost’s famous poem. As we discuss creative approaches to her two job offers, I ask “Which path are you going to choose?” I look at her and I can see the mischievous smile on her lips. Fitting and metaphorically profound, “I am ready for the road less traveled!”
Next, we will explore an entirely different environment, but one that many of us are more familiar with, when we Bring it to the Streets. Exploring a client’s urban landscape with them can offer an entirely new set of opportunities. We will broaden the coaching repertoire with a new backdrop that offers insights into a client’s cultural past, exigent present and desired future.
© Mentor Agility 2021
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