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The Capacity to Notice

The Hawkins and Shohet Seven Eyed Model is a familiar and central feature of the CSA’s approach to Coach Supervision.  But in a supervision session, with so much happening, seeing with seven eyes can be quite a challenge.  As Supervisors, we are required to notice at many levels, but most of our training and discussion focuses on what we are noticing – the content – rather than the capacity to notice itself.

So how do we develop this capacity to notice? There is too much to notice consciously, by willed effort. Noticing has to be a matter of letting go, relaxing into the moment with an awareness that is both clear and focused but also wide and inclusive. This kind of relaxed awareness is a feature of mindfulness and presence.

On the CSA Community Day in May, I lead a workshop exploring mindfulness and the capacity to notice, based around the traditional Buddhist model of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These could be described as:

Awareness of body Being embodied and awareness of what the body tells us – above all, being with our present experience
Awareness of feelings Being more simply and directly aware of feelings without their attached stories
Awareness of mind Developing a sense of spaciousness in which we are more able to notice what is developing for ourselves and our supervisee
Awareness of phenomena Bringing attention to what we notice within this space in a way which is curious, warm and non-judgmental

 

Noticing requires a clean, clear mental  space,  allowing us to see what arises as it is, before we develop a whole host of stories around it – before it becomes a thought, or a theory or an interpretation. Not that there is anything wrong with thoughts, theories and interpretations – the problem only arises when we don’t know that’s what they are, and we mistake them for the “real thing”.

So during the workshop we concentrated on experiencing our own awareness, to enable us to model that spaciousness for our clients/supervisees and to develop our acuity in noticing. We did a number of exercises around each Foundation, often beginning with a simple meditation to calm the mind and develop a sense of spaciousness.

Then the areas can be explored with questions around noticing. The questions don’t require answers – they are just invitations to notice certain elements of our experience. In the workshop we approached this in a number of ways, but you might want to try the following exercises.

Be careful to explore these kindly and without judgement. There is nothing here, which is “right”, or “wrong” – it’s just a matter of noticing what is already there.

 

Awareness of body Become aware of your body. A simple body scan will help this. Notice the pressure of the chair or cushion or ground- the feeling of gravity gently pulling you down, keeping you anchored and stable. And notice your body rising up on this firm foundation. Notice things like heat and cold, relaxation and tension. Don’t try to change anything. Rest your attention particularly on your breath. If thoughts arise – just let them come and go without paying too much attention. Try to avoid rejecting or suppressing them,  or getting caught up and carried along by them. But if that happens, don’t worry – just return your attention to your breath.
Awareness of feelings When we talk of feelings here, we’re referring to what in the original texts are called “vedanas”. The vedanas are not fully-fledged emotions – they are the very subtle movements in awareness toward the things we like, away from the things we dislike, or a dull neutrality to things that don’t engage us at all.

 

So, in a relaxed state, if a thought arises, just try to catch that feeling tone, that barely perceptible movement that takes us towards or away from. Rest your attention on noticing that with a sort of wondering curiosity, without getting caught up in an elaborated story about it. It may help you to notice where in your body that movement seems to happen.

Awareness of mind “Mind” in the West has many meanings, often contrasted popularly with “heart”. But here we are regarding mind as the space in which mental phenomena arise.  So it is interesting to explore awareness. Where does awareness end? It can’t end at the brain or senses, because then we would not be able to perceive anything outside us.

 

The point here is not to think about mind or develop a theory about awareness. The exercise is about how you experience awareness as distinct from objects of awareness.

 

So – again, in a relaxed state – bring your attention to the space in which thoughts arise. Can you find any edge or end to that space? How does this space feel?   If thoughts arise as you observe this process, just notice their presence and bring your attention to rest on the space in which they emerge.

 

One way to get the feel of this is to apply the same awareness to objects. Instead of focussing on the objects in a room, for example, rest your attention on the space around them.

 

Awareness of phenomena Within the space of mind, just notice what comes up as it arises, without elaboration or judgement. You could ask yourself “What is a thought? Again, the idea is not to develop or rehearse a theory. In your own, personal immediate experience, what is a thought? Can you experience a thought without being caught up in its content?

 

Or bring your attention to phenomena apparently outside you. If you hear a sound, where is the sound?  Within your own immediate experience, without reference to any theory, is the sound inside you or outside you?

 

You may be thinking, “These are interesting exercises in awareness, but what is their relationship to Coaching and Coaching Supervision?”. Well, we began this discussion by looking at the capacity to notice. In my experience, this reflective approach develops:

  • A greater sense of spaciousness in the Supervisor and Supervisee, and a willingness to enter and work within a state of “not knowing”.
  • More emotional acuity – emotional responses are recognised earlier in the field and are therefore more likely to be handled skilfully.
  • Heightened awareness of parallel process, projection and transference. The spaciousness within the Supervisor allows them to more easily differentiate between their own process and that of the Supervisee, becoming more aware of potential blind spots, projections and games.
  • More sensitivity to intuitive insight. Within this observant space of not knowing, where whatever arises is allowed, there is an opportunity for patterns and other unconscious observations to enter and inform the field of work.

What we are exploring here could be described as subtle fluctuations in the field of awareness. So – happy exploration!

I will be running some events later in the year.  If you would be interested in further exploring the field of Meditation, Mindfulness and Presence in Coaching and Supervision, please let me know at ian@ian-mackenzie.co.uk  .

 

Ian Mackenzie 2013: Trainer and  tutor for CSA’s Accredited Diploma in Coaching Supervision

 

 

 

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