A Coaching Journey as Explained by Buddhism

I was listening to a TEDx talk from January 2020 given by Master Shi Heng Yi, a member to the 35th Generation of Shaolin Masters and headmaster of the Shaolin Temple Europe 歐洲少林寺 located in Germany. The talk is excellent and the story and the 5 Hindrances that Master Shi Geng Yi explained perfectly parallels the coaching journey.

Here is his story:

A man was living close to a mountain. And every day he was thinking: How would it be to climb that mountain? And what would I see on the peak? So finally, the day came. The man went on the journey. Arriving at the foot of the mountain, he met the first traveller. So he asked: How did you get up the mountain? And what did you see from the top? And so the traveller shared his path, and also the view that he had. But then the man was thinking, the way that this traveller described to me sounds very exhausting. I need to find another way to climb.

So he continued to walk along the foot of the mountain until he met the next traveller. So once again, he asked, how did you climb up that mountain? And what did you see from the top? And so again the traveller shared his story.

Still not being determined on which direction and which way to go, the man asked 30 more people. 30 more travellers. When he finished talking to all of them, he finally made up his mind. Now that so many people already shared with me their paths, he thought, and especially what they all saw from the top, I don’t need to climb there anymore!

It is very unfortunate this man never went on the journey.

The story is an elegant parable of life or any of the numerous challenges along its path.

Firstly, each individual needs to find the most suitable way for them to climb that mountain. And secondly, while there is information about the journey that can be shared with words, it is impossible to share the personal experience of clarity that is gained by making the journey yourself. The clarity you can only gain when you are standing on that peak yourself.

Most spiritual practices provide the guidelines to help us choose the appropriate amount of effort to invest in climbing that peak and transformational coaching is the modern equivalent of this.

Master Shi Heng Yi goes on:

Clarity means, you see more clearly. When you see more clearly, interrelations become more apparent. There is no need to believe anyone or believe anything. Seeing clearly means you can distinguish for yourself which is the proper direction to take. And, which decisions do I have to make in order to make my goals or aspirations start to take shape?

Along your personal journey, you will encounter challenges. Those challenges will either prevent you, or some of them even stop you, from moving on and climbing that mountain.

In the Shaolin Temple, we refer to them as the Five Hindrances.

The First Hindrance is called Sensual Desire. Sensual desire arises in the moment when you are paying attention to something that is giving you a positive emotion. This positive emotion can originate from five gates of your body, seeing, hearing smelling, tasting or feeling. So in your mind, you climb up that mountain. After one mile of walking, you discover a beautiful restaurant, surrounded by beautiful people. You smell delicious food, and the great variety of beverages. When you follow that temptation you have already lost your track. When this temptation becomes so strong that you don’t want to leave that place anymore then the sensual desire has turned into an obsession. In both cases, remaining at that place means you can’t get clarity.

The Second Hindrance is Ill Will. It describes a state of the mind that arises from negative emotions. In that state of the mind, you have an aversion, a rejection, or simply the dislike against either an object or situation or it can be even a person. To simplify, it means you are climbing the mountain and it starts to rain. But you don’t like rain. You discover the roads are bumpy. But you don’t like bumpy roads. In order to cross the river. You need to swim. In fact, you don’t like swimming. Whatever it is that you dislike it won’t make it a pleasant journey. Unless you learn to let go of this ill will. It’s more likely even that you won’t continue that journey.

The Third Hindrance is originally translated as Loss and Torpor. Loss means there is the heaviness of the body, torpor means it’s the dullness of the mind. It is characterised by sleepiness, not motivation, lack of energy. And oftentimes, can manifest itself in a state of depression. Now, a simile used in Buddhism describes it as imprisonment. You find yourself, locked in the cell. It becomes very hard to make any type of mental or physical effort. So, in order to continue your path, there is only one option left. You need to find a way to get out from that hole, from that cell.

Now, the Fourth Hindrance is called Restlessness. It is the state of an unsettled mind. An unsettled mind means your mind cannot settle. Settle where? Settle in the present moment. An unsettled mind, either is worrying about the future or travelling into the past and rejecting or judging about an event that happened in your past. The simile used here is the monkey mind. Constantly jumping from one branch to another, unable to stay for a too long time at the present moment. The problem is, there is no time to see clearly anymore.

Now the last of the Five Hindrances is called Sceptical Doubt and is very closely related to the state of mind which is based on indecisiveness. It is very easy in that state of mind getting lost in thought. Can I do this? Is this the right path? What will the others say? What if this? What if that? The mind cannot synchronise with your own actions anymore. And the result is that you are getting disconnected from the goals and aspirations that you have said to yourself. When the way is filled with too many doubts, more often you will stop instead of moving on.

That we know the five hindrances now. What are we going to do about them?

You need to align and structure your life in such a way to prevent those hindrances from arising. If you are not successful, you need to use techniques in order to remove them. Each of these hindrances is placing a dark cloud on your mind, or on the way of your climb. Simply remember one thing. Just let it RAIN. This is a four-step method to help you, removing those hindrances.

[R]ecognise what state of the mind you are finding yourself in.

Afterwards, learn to [A]ccept, acknowledge and allow the situation, or a person, to be the way how it is to be the way how they are.

[I]nvestigate your emotional and mental state and ask questions. Why did it come up? What is going to be the consequence if I remain in that state?

And ultimately, [N]on-identification is a practice. I am not the body. I am not the mind. I am not my emotion. It’s just that. I can see all these three aspects about me.

This reduction of the challenges of life is simple to understand but challenging to put into practice. We all suffer from the Five Hindrances in some form or other and coaching is one profession that helps address these. Each coach has their own methodology and framework in which they model these hindrances and you should find the one that works best for you, find your own guide on the way up your own mountains, whether this is in the spiritual community, with a coach, or with many different guides for the many different aspects of your journey.

If you want to read more about non-identification, I recommend Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul. It’s not a Buddhist text but discusses the notion that you are “not your thoughts, you are the observer of your thoughts” eloquently. Buddhism also refers to this issue as one of “attachment” but that’s a work of itself.

As Master Shi Heng Yi concludes …

All of our lifetimes. All of our lives are too unique to copy the past, for someone else to bring meaning to your life. To bring value into your life, you need to learn and master yourself and don’t let the hindrances stop you. If any of you chooses to climb that path to clarity. I would be very happy to meet you at the peak.

As with our story of the man and the mountain at the beginning of this piece, it’s your journey and you need to figure out your path for yourself, but a good guide can help you find your path more easily. And that’s what a coach does – they turn the lights on so you aren’t trying to walk in the darkness.

If you think I could be your guide, please get in touch. I won’t profess to teach you Buddhism or turn you into a spiritual warrior, but we will address blocks, beliefs, boundaries, vision, values, strategy, skillsets, energy, goals and more to help you on the journey to your desired peak.

Master Shi Heng Yi’s full talk is here:

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