Monday, 27 June 2011

Life is a Risk Machine - or the trouble with Coaching

For almost as long as I have been doing magic have I been working in a context that relies heavily on personal coaching. Therefore my thoughts on magic and coaching often heavily intertwine... Unfortunately that doesn't help to keep my approach to magick 'pure' in a traditional sense. The good thing, however, is that I don't care too much wether my magic comes pure, on ice, shaken or stirred - as long as it works.

So here are some thoughts on the middle ground between magic and coaching.


For anyone having drunken the coaching-cool-aid of the late 90s the following snippet will probably sound familiar:  So you want to praise an employee and you are concerend it might cause envy with others? Why do you think that might be? If your boss praised your peer instead of yourself, for what reasons might you become envious? Or think of yourself as that envious employee - what thoughts would you have? What would you think about yourself and about your boss? Great. Now that we know what caused the envy, how can you address these causes in an appropriate way? On a scale from 0-10 (10 being best) how trusted is your relationship with the potentially envious employee today? Good, what makes it a four? In the future, what observations would tell you that your relationship improved to a seven? And what is the first small step you can take toward this future today?

Let me point out that I love coaching. It’s a wonderful and incredibly powerful tool. It was that one thing since the dawn of industrialization that accomplished to create space again for people and their real people’s problems within corporate organisation. But - all praise aside - sometimes coaching just isn’t the way to get things done. Sometimes it’s just a way to look more at yourself rather than the world; sometimes it makes life hugely complex and not plain simple. I guess you can say this happens if it is done badly? Yet, reality is that in the world I am living in coaching often is done badly - including by myself.

From a magical point of view trying to solve problems with a coaching attitude is like walking your magical path with a dagger in your hand only. Having forgotten about the power of the cup, the wand and the pentacle. In order to balance and create true magic we need all four weapons with us: the wand being the fire pillar in the middle of ourselves, the cup being the deep waters of our hearts, the pentacle being the earth we are walking on and the dagger being the blinding forces of our mind.
If we achieve to merge the intent of our heart, mind and hands in a single act, this is what I call authenticity. The world around us strives on authenticity. Authenticity is the one seed that you bring out on the fields to harvest true relationships a season later. It is what brings the power of our pentacles to life.

But here is the challenge with authenticity: It springs to life easily, like a stream that finds its way through the rocks of a mountain, it cannot be held back, if we are truly present in any given moment. Coaching on the other hand requires time and reflection - it requires a time out of engagement - before we chose to re-engage. Once we are ready to re-engage, however, the moment might be gone? Coaching by its very nature disconnects from experience in the present moment. Coaching by its very nature is a safety zone that strives to reduce ambiguity and the requirement to take unprepared risks.

An alchemist's way of
creating a risk machine...
Unfortunately - and I hate to say this - life is all about taking risks (and magic even more so)! Life is a risk machine: You put in risk at the top and it spills out more risk at the bottom. In-between, however, while one risk is transformed into another, that’s where life takes place. That’s were love and fear and anger and pleasure and lust are all coiled together in one wonderful body of a machine. Alchemists call this machine an Athanor

Remember the recent posts on Salutogenesis? The same principle applies here: Life simply isn't about what you put in at the top and get out at the bottom. Life is not a P&L. Life is what happens in-between. Salutogenesis tells us that we are always sick and healthy at the same time, our actions are always right and wrong at the same time - but to different degrees.

I have spent quite a lot of years trying to put ‘the right actions’ into the top of the life-machine and waiting for it to spill out 'the right results' at the bottom. You got it - I wasted an awful lot of time. Because while I was standing next to the machine, waiting for it to tell me if my actions where ‘okay’, life was taking place right inside the machine. This is what happens if we don't engage! Real things happen without us being involved... All this time while I was standing next to the machine real emotions were felt inside, people aged, people died, people were born, the world was turning, stars sending their influences down, the sun blowing it’s wind into darkness, new life emerging from the density of the Abyss, old life passing through the gates of death - all happening in this huge risk-machine.

Here is my take away from all the years I spent waiting: Life is not about the outcome, it is about the experience. You got to jump into the risk machine - turn into a risk yourself - in order to be part of the world.

Finally, becoming part of the risk machine allowed me shaking off this little fellow: the demon of objectivity. The best way to put yourself next to the risk machine, is to adopt the scientific principle of objectivity for your own life. To confine yourself into a square little cage, to think of yourself as a laboratory rat looking for that one red switch that will deliver happiness in form of more food (i.e. 'right actions'). At any moment we can chose to understand: Life begins when we accept that our encounters will always remain subjective. They will be wrong in the eyes of some and right in the eyes of others, they will be painful for some and joyful to others, they will be meaningless for some and significant to others, they will be forgotten by many and remembered by a few.

My manager last week paused in our conversation. She paused and said: ‘You know, just too many of our conversations end up with you criticizing yourself about something that you did. You call this learning, but I call it criticizing. When you and I interact it is not about whether something was right or wrong. It is not about praise or correcting. It simply is about reflecting together on what happened and what we want to happen next. It is about learning from what we observed without judging.’ And then she said the magic words: ‘Work needs to be terribly joyful. Life is too short for it to be different.’

In a world where there is no right and wrong, where the life machine swallows some and spills out more risk, where the serpent bites its tail, what can we use as a guiding principle for our choices?
To lead a terribly joyful life sounds like a great start... Once I am halfway there I'll try to help others do the same.


  1. A really interesting post. Thank you.
    Someone says that what allows us to become part of the game--not just spectators--is suspension of judgment. I found this to be terribly true (wu nien). In my experience this means giving up any sort of perfectionism and the illusion that life is a linear process. Life is an infinitely complex system working in a very simple way: it happens every moment in every possible way. We can not stand still waiting for one result of our actions at a time because we are a mechanism as complex as the universe we're part of.

  2. Wonderful comment, thanks fo sharing! I couldn't agree more. The more I think about it 'waiting for results' seems like a horrible waste of time, when we are always surrounded by 'results' all around us....