It’s the perfect spring day. The sun is gentle, paddocks lush with the season’s rain. I’m in no hurry as I drive through hamlets of a few houses, farms and a tiny rural school, population 5 kids. There’s water in the creeks, rabbits a plenty and a sneaky fox obeys the look right-look left- look right – again rule and then darts across the country lane. The houses are far apart now and the driveways long. I’m looking for number 1050. An easy find.
The long driveway is bumpy and gnarled after winter rain and flanked by gum trees. A stone house with a high peaked roof comes into sight and chickens come running towards the car. Rachel comes out to greet me with a warm country smile and we chatter nervously. She needs to put the scones in the oven before we set out on a quick tour of the property. Twenty-seven acres. an intricate permaculture garden,composting, hot houses and vegies. planted. I look to the distance and kangaroos are grazing. The chooks accompany us back to the kitchen and then depart, busy with their scratching while we take the morning tea out to a sunny nook.
I met Rachel at the Websters. It’s the local group I set up to bring together people who run internet based businesses and bloggers. We meet monthly over a coffee and just chat. It’s lovely. People make connections and I knew that Rachel and I shared some experiences as business and life coaches. From the start we knew that there was a bigger conversation to be had and today was the next step in that conversation. Rachel usually arrives at the Websters meet -up harried and apologising for being late..the school drop off, the old car wouldn’t start. At 40, with 3 children touching the teen years, a business to run and with a big dream for the 27 acres lifestyle, she’s busy. She’s smart, savvy, creative and worries about cash-flow, not being able to get everything done, constantly feeling she’s ” behind” in everything, wishing her partner would do more, excited but sometimes overwhelmed by life.
So here we sit. The 40 year old with her story- her reality, building her business and juggling and the touching 70 year old, retired, consulting business sold and free from responsibilities. We start to talk and fill in the gaps of each other, search for common points of contact and make meaning of the conversation. The sun filters into the little nook we have found as a home for our conversation. The cheese scones are so good.
What will this be? A friendly chat over scones and tea? Shared experience? Advice? Learning? As Rachel talks about her coaching business I try to be still and listen..really listen and I’m drawn back into the skills used when I was a consultant. To be fully present with people not just listening but Deep Listening. As Rachel describes her business and her frustrations, progress, joys, concerns I slip back into the coach consultant role, abandoned when I retired.
I do the self- check-in as she is talking. My shoulders are tight, let them down, slow the breathing, shift the angle of the body and open the space in my mind & heart so that I can be present, Listen to what Rachel is saying. Notice the words she uses, the pace of speech, its tone, the emotional highs and lows, her body language. Where does she pause, sigh, stop, wait, look for affirmation? What doesn’t she say? What does she leave out, skirt around, pass quickly over. What does she want from this conversation?
I throw in some questions and as the minutes speed by and the conversation deepens I see she’s ready for some intervention. Framing the questions so they mine the rich vein of Rachel’s story. Her truth. The way she sees her experience and the narrative she tells about it. The construct she is working with. I gently challenge some of her conclusions. She’s quick, moves fast in her thinking, impatient, she wants to leap ahead to the conclusion she’s formed, where she thinks I am heading. But that’s not the task. I know she needs to slow down her quick mind, and use her sharp intelligence differently if she is to explore other options. This may annoy her because she likes to move quickly but I know from experience this is where we need to go. I work to slow the speed, peel back the assumptions and open new possibilities.
Rachel’s work is with models, processes, frameworks, checklists, performance indicators and goals. All important and valid. My work takes me back to the time spent in the USA and Canada, in the presence of great change theorists and teachers such as Margaret Wheatley, Adam Kahane, Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron. What they taught me was transformational. My practice as a change consultant would never be the same again. To work with people in a way that opens the space in their thinking and their hearts, to calm and silence judgment, to be wildly creative in thinking up other options. Above all to know that what we call our truth is a story we construct. We tell ourselves, the world is SO… we tell ourselves…we can’t do this or shouldn’t do that. Our fears resize the story our lives and make our experience smaller than it can be. It all came flooding back for me…….
As the teapot emptied, the scones consumed, Rachel said ” It would be great to do this again. Would you be my mentor?……”
I drove away feeling alive, mind racing. In the past nearly two hours I had been taken back to a place I had left nearly 2 years ago- my professional practice. I welcomed an old friend back into my life. That friend I know as wisdom. My knowledge, skill and experience as a change consultant but also my inner wisdom of a seventy year old who has crafted her own narrative, chapter by chapter. The Mentor.