Last week, I visited the webpage of a coaching school someone I know is considering. On the school’s homepage, a graduate of the program boasted that the school’s methodology had enabled her to teach her clients to be “unstoppable.” And that stopped me, right in my tracks.
The nature of being human is that we are eminently stoppable. Our very biology gives us natural limits to how hard we can push. We need to breathe, to drink, eat, and sleep. We crave touch, the sun, fresh air, and communication. Our bodies are covered in a soft flesh–relatively defenseless with no claws or sharp teeth. We bleed and heal. Our reproductive cycle gives us utterly helpless young, demanding that we stop and take notice and care for these vulnerable creatures. And, of course, we die–the ultimate full stop. Death comes for us all with no regard for how hard we try to push it back. To be human is to be stoppable.
And yet we seek to be unstoppable.
Life should be able to stop us. If not for beauty, then for heartbreak. If not for the joy of seeing a tree’s stark branches waving against a gray winter sky, then for the horror of seeing people starving to death in our own rich cities or drowning to death on the shores of Europe. If not for the pleasure of a beloved piece of music, then for the despair of another mass shooting. If not for the happiness on face of a dear friend or family member, then for the agony present when they suffer or when we let them down. Let life be present to us. Let it stop us.
To be unstoppable is to be blind to what is happening all around us. To be unstoppable is to refuse to notice the effect that progress–at any cost–might have on our relationships, our bodies, and our spiritual life. To be unstoppable is to deny our own biology. To deny our hearts and the beautiful web of relationships that surround us.
Sometimes the world demands a response. And sometimes the only response is to pause. To be stricken. To be soft. To take a moment to laugh, or to cry, or to hold someone’s hand. A moment of noticing how angry we are, or how sad, or how–this is the really hard one–how numb we’ve become. And cultivating the ability to be stopped takes deep work.
It requires relational sensitivity to know when our families, colleagues, and friends need us to downshift and approach them in a new, more attentive way. It requires somatic wisdom to be able to sense our energy status and get a clear reading on what our bodies need. It takes emotional awareness to stay present in strong emotions while also noticing the emotional states of others. And, finally, the ability to stop often takes great bravery as it will likely be questioned by those who would not dare question the cultural value of being unstoppable.
In my coaching practice, I do not seek to teach clients to be unstoppable because I believe it is deeply problematic, even dangerous. What happens when you teach your client to be unstoppable, and their family and friends need them to stop because they have been neglecting their relational responsibilities? What happens when you have an entire culture of unstoppable people, and the culture next door needs them to stop because they are encroaching on ancestral lands? What happens when you have an entire planet of unstoppable people, and the environment is begging them to stop because species are going extinct and the land is being polluted?
Can you see where being unstoppable can lead? Do you see where it has already led?
Instead, I believe that we must learn to listen to the call of the world, our loved ones, and our bodies, to stop. In the coaching relationship, the relationship of mutual trust and mutual respect creates a strong container where clients can examine the habitual responses they have always relied on. Over time, they becomes more able to recognize the habitual turning away that has become so pandemic in modern society. They learn to cultivate a new response. This takes the learning of new skills and competencies; patience, compassion, resilience, discernment, the ability to self-observe (to name a few). I’ve seen clients, over time, become more resilient and able to stand in deep witness to their own emotional experience; to be stopped by the world, to be touched by it. They have the freedom to experience their reaction without being overwhelmed by it. This allows them the opportunity to make choices that they were unable to make before.
Today, let a small part of yourself be broken by this heartbreaking and fragile world. What might it mean to open yourself up enough for that to occur? What meaning might leak into your life if you dared? Stop, and and you might find out.
Jessica Minah is the Director of Enrollment and a Graduate of New Ventures West. Jessica’s presence, curiosity and wisdom—not to mention her previous experience as an award-winning radio producer and sales account manager—make her a natural fit for the role of guiding would-be coaches into the fold. She was certified as an Integral Coach® in 2014 and works with clients around the US. She lives in Baltimore with her husband Greg and brightens our San Francisco headquarters with her regular visits.