Integral Coaching Canada

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Federal Government Manager
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Senior Executive and Professional Coach
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author, A Theory of Everything

You Have A Back

By Joanne Hunt

We are front-oriented beings. As much as we would like to claim otherwise and believe me, my mother used to, we do not have eyes in the back of our heads. When we move out into the world, we orient from the front of our bodies. There are interesting things to see and smell and notice. Eyes dart every which way taking in that attractive person walking by or that cool big screen tv in the store window. A flashy sports car catches your attention on this dazzling, sunny day. You notice, oh, it's bright outside and then you go searching for your sunglasses. Where did I leave them? Eyes looking this way and that. Doesn't it seem as though all activity is taking place in front of us as though the world is somehow unfolding where I can see; like we are part of the creation just by what we see and notice and move toward and recoil from. Where is your back when all of this is going on? Are you even aware that you have one?

How is it that we have become disengaged from our backs? The back of our head, neck, torso, legs, heels. They are all there carrying us from behind. Can you feel it now? As you read this sentence, are you aware of your back and how it is there quietly holding you? Notice it for a moment.

As you sit with a coaching client or friend lover, where is your back? Are you aware of it as you sit in your chair? Are you aware that it is there, right behind you, perhaps leaning against the chair? How would this conversation be different if you were to become more aware of this silent, resting strength? What ground would you feel that is already supporting you from behind? What is going on behind you anyway?

I find that the more I become aware of my back, the more I become aware of my volume. The volume of my body. A front orienting perspective is actually quite a thin one. There is just this surface. It may sound funny but moving through the world the way we do, leading from the front, can feel kind of flimsy. It feels like a thinner sheen of who I really am. I bring more words, less silence. I bring more activity, less stillness. I bring more distraction, less concentration. I bring more restlessness, less contentment. I bring fast rising emotions. I bring much of the 'stuff' of life that is on the surface. If I am bringing more words, activity, distraction, and restlessness, what is the impact on my client? My friend? My wife?

But volume: it has substance, core, dimension. I have become more cognisant of my sides and back and the mass in between. When I am aware of my back, the conversation has more space, more silence, more stillness, more depth and well, volume. My conversations are more powerful with way less words and much less activity. Less back and forth chatting and more deep connection. Volume is different than surface. I learned that decades ago in Mr. Kooprie's science class.

As I have been in practices that involve becoming intimately connected to the already existing reality that I have a back, I have found that I am moving through the world more aware of my impact on it. Do I feel frenzied following my front of activity looking for this or that or do I feel grounded letting my back hold me from behind, helping direct where my attention goes? Does that sound silly? This letting your back lead? Try it out. You will walk differently.

When I meet with clients, I try not to have "fronts only meetings." I take in not just their words but the full substance of who they are. The full life that has been lived up until now. All the growing that they have done sitting here right now in the full volume, mass, and substance of them. As I connect to this, the tone of the meeting shifts from one of 'reporting out' to one of really hearing what it is they have to say. From their back all the way through to their front and the words coming out of their mouth are just the final edge. It is not all that has come before but represents all that lives in them. When I hear their words from this place, they carry more weight. And I am really listening to them all the way from my back, through to my front, through their front, all the way to their back.

Try this out sometime. Try to be in a conversation being aware of your volume and the volume of the person in front of you. Not just the thin layer of skin, not just the words, but everything that starts at the back.

As I have shifted more of my work day from coaching clients to research and writing, I have also had a very pressing need to become aware of my back. The dreams and fears about spending more time in writing are embedded in my volume. I worked for fifteen years in various multi-national corporations in executive roles. I sometimes wonder how I survived in my business career when my back was clearly writing love letters to me. I didn't hear it very clearly back then. What I did notice was incredible back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. I wasn't very conversant in the language of the back. I didn't hear it from the place of volume. I heard it from my front. And my front was busy being out there in the world doing what she needed to do to earn a living, build a career, settle down, build a home, and all of that good Amber and Orange level activity.

One of the things my back drove (mostly in precious few moments of silence at work) was a pull to put pen to paper. I have boxes of loose sheets of paper from all fifteen years of corporate life with poems scribbled, short paragraphs of writings from my office, daily connections to something wider than just the day. I shoved those scraps in my briefcase each day and carried them home to put in a folder. My back was involved in this activity. My back was making sure that I was writing every day for decades before I would ever call myself a writer. My back knew about my full volume. And quietly but diligently, she wrote every day. It may not have been book chapters or hours of creativity but it was writing practice and even if only for a few minutes, there was substance. The mass of human me pouring out a new poem from some far off place that I could not see or recognize in my front-focused, busy life. In moments of stillness, my volume spoke clearly.

And so, I wonder about these backs of ours. They are not paid much attention. They are not given much thought except when they break down. They even have spots right in the middle where most of us cannot reach to put lotion. Maybe occasionally they are massaged or tickled or scratched or kissed. Perhaps sunburned or covered with sunscreen. Always with us. Always with us. And it will speak and inform you of your volume if your listen. It will inform you of right speech with your friends, lovers, colleagues, and clients. It will inform you of pace and space. It is already supporting you.

It starts with your back.
Lead from there. See where it takes you.

© Joanne Hunt

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