Wayne C. Allen's "Works in Progress"
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The Universal Coach

As I've been saying these past several weeks, the metaphor we've been working on, the idea that our bodies, minds and spirits work best collectively as opposed to being at war with each other, requires some actual paying attention. Left to our own devices we seem to be driven to and fro by whichever input channel is the loudest.

Which would all be well and good if the advice I was getting was actually reliable, in and of itself. It's like, of course I want to listen to the guy yelling fire, and get out the door, but only if there is an actual fire. Having no way to know; I'll need to exit the building. If there is no fire, I'm likely not going to give as much credence to the guy the next time he yells. Can't ignore him completely (Jack cries wolf for real occasionally); just don't want to trust him completely, either.

To go back to the Glee Club, no question we had a lot of great voices and the rest of us were OK too. Rehearsals were a slice, thanks to "Coach" David Austen. He was a couple of years away from retirement when I met him in 1971, and he was an incredible baritone. He was also one of the nicest men I've ever come across. He'd sure let you know it if you sang a wrong note, though.

I was always amazed at his ability to hear what was going on, despite there being 25 or so of us, in various states of attention, talent and motivation. When we were "on," he'd focus on our diction, and how we blended. When we were "off," he'd snap us to attention with a funny yet withering comment or glace. Because we trusted his "ear," it felt safe to do what he said.

Even though he was intimately involved in the success of the Glee Club, an organization he had directed for decades, he had the ability to step back and to be objective. His goal was unvarying - excellence and accuracy and "fun." To this day, when I hear a tape of us performing, or when a song he taught us is played, I can sing the Top Tenor part. It's like an automatic, knee jerk reaction.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a booklet called The Watcher, which is a free download from our website. I had just (again) snapped myself out of a downward spiral, and was sitting with Gloria, talking about how tiring repeating cycles of joy and sadness were, and how much I preferred being able to get a hold of myself and stop myself from sliding into a depression - something I've only done once (for 6 months, in 1978) and would prefer not to repeat. I suspect I've reached the same depth of despair a couple of other times, and have a way to do that quickly (several hours) and then move on. On reflection, my Watcher is equivalent to "The Coach" of this series.

I gained a new client (actually, several) this week, and as is typical of a first session, he was filling me in on what brought him in. His relationship wasn't going well, and he'd taken to leaving when the fighting started. He was giving me examples of things not going right. He said, "Like when I come home from work. I want a hug and a kiss, and then it becomes, 'you come here and kiss me,' and no one will give in, so we get distant from each other and end up ignoring each other."

I hear similar examples all the time. I remember once where the woman wanted 15 minutes to unwind when she got home, and her husband wanted her to immediately come find him and sit down to talk. Each day they'd have a fight when she got home, about who was "right." And, like the other couple, each evening was spent in silent seething.

Now, what's required is for the participants in these dramas to create a Watcher - a Coach. I asked my new client what he wanted. He replied, "A hug and a kiss." I asked, "What could you do to get that hug and kiss?" He said, "Walk over and hug and kiss her." Then how come that doesn't happen?" "I want her to come to me." "How's that working for you?" "It's not." Tell me again what you want." And on and on. Finally, he said, "I guess I could try going to her and see how getting a hug and a kiss and not fighting would be." That would be the Coach speaking.

Now, I know you're looking at this and going, "Well, obviously," and even thinking that the issue itself is too minor to deal with. Well, here's a hint: they're all minor, including yours. If someone in a choir sings a wrong note, we don't scrap the song, disband the choir and burn the music. We also don't usually take it personally. We find the person and the note and we work on ways for the person to correct the mis-sung note. And then we move on.

Relationships go astray when we expect another person to fix things, while ignoring the fact we're the one with the sour note. Or both parties are flat, and are screaming, "I'll fix my note, but only after you fix yours!!!" The Coach is a personality "part" that one can design (see Watcher booklet for the "how") whose only job is to take personal responsibility for noticing what's up, reading all the channels of data, and then asking the pertinent question: "What can I do to make this song sound right?"

The Coach voice is the voice of, well, I guess you could call it "reason." The "reason for reason" is this: the data channels I have available to me - my emotions, instincts, my heart, my head, and my body itself - are all feeding me data streams. I have to use those streams; as opposed to letting them use me.

As soon as my eyes wander from this script, and I look at my partner and locate the problem and the solution over there, I am lost. In a sense, if I choose to be in relationship, the only valid question I can ask is, "How do I choose to behave in relationship to the person over there?" Not, "How do I get him/her to change?" but "What is required of me?" If I take this tack, I can blend my voice with my partner, and not attempt to dominate, but to act in harmony. And if, at the end of the day, my partner is not equally self-responsible, rather than going on another campaign to get her/him to change, I always can leave and join another choir.

The Coach's voice pulls me out of blame and into self-responsibility. The Coach wants only one thing, and that's harmony. "Just right" levels of everything. And guess what? It doesn't come naturally. It takes practice. Lots of practice. While I said earlier I can still sing the Tenor parts from 30 years ago, guess what? Hand me a new song and I have to learn it. It will be hard, then OK, then easy. Just as long as I don't blame anyone else for my learning curve.

Thanks for staying tuned with this analogy. Let's see what next week brings.

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