When I recall times in my life when I’ve really felt stuck, I’ve noticed that my first inclination is to reach out to a friend or family member and go to them for the solution. In the moments of agony, panic and even hopelessness, I realize that the people I went to never really ‘solved’ my problem. Their support and understanding helped me feel better temporarily and was likely a necessary first step. However as I look back on my experience and the clients I have worked with, I notice something else at work when one gets ‘unstuck’, feels freed from their predicament and is able to solve their problem at hand. Firstly, the problem is rarely solved and worked through by someone else. And while I love helping my clients in whatever way I can- I have come to realize that I am not the one who supplies them with any sort of answer. Most importantly, it has become clear to me that the answer is within them all along.
A New Metaphor for Counseling & Coaching
I love what transformational coach and author Michael Neill says about the process of transformation and breakthrough. I’ve heard him say in interviews something along the lines of…
Imagine that Bill Gates comes in to see you for coaching and he has amnesia. You could spend your time with him trying to teach him various business strategies. You could instruct him and coach him on what technologies to create and invest. OR you could spend your time simply trying to wake him up to the fact that he is Bill Gates. And by waking him up, you are acknowledging that he has all the wisdom, insight and knowledge inside him that he needs.
This beautiful metaphor depicts what occurs when we get ‘unstuck’, solve a deeply rooted problem or experience a breakthrough in our life. We wake up to something we have fallen asleep to.
I have found that the problem is rarely solved by acquiring more knowledge and gathering more information. What tends to be more true is that the problem tends to dissolve, crumble or disappear only once you experience an insight, deeper wisdom or a leap to a higher level of conscious and awareness.
Einstein described this leap in consciousness most succinctly and poetically when he said,
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
What does Einstein mean by this? How do we actually experience a shift in awareness and move to a higher level of consciousness?
In this post, I will explore a few ways in which this occurs.
Finding Higher Ground
One way is to develop and gain access to a wiser, broader perspective in your awareness and experience. Have you even been to the top of a skyscraper or tall building and looked out at the city below you? As you look out the window at the city below- you see a bunch of cars and people- that appear to be tiny ants marching in perfect harmony to some unknown and mysterious rhythm. It is from this perceptual position where we can gain perspective on our problem, seeing it from a place where it is not so big, up close and personal to us. The problem shrinks in size and you are able to see it in a different light and context. And while the problem may not go away, this fresh perspective shifts your relationship to the problem dramatically and an often time allows you more choice in working through the problem. In the example of the skyscraper or the airplane 30,000 feet above, one literally finds and gains access to ‘higher ground’.
How 12-Step Groups Create a Leap in Consciousness
Another example of accessing higher ground and solving the problem from a different level of thinking can be found in the case of 12-Step Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. AA, NA and many other 12-Step Groups utilize the principle of a ‘higher power’. Whether or not you consider yourself a spiritual person or believe in God, the example of a 12-Step program can serve as a metaphor for what can occur when one is able to find higher ground.
For instance, consider the 2nd step in AA:
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
And the 11th step says:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
It has been widely stated that 12-Step programs have been by far the most effective means of healing addiction over the past century. Why is this? One reason it can be a powerful means of healing is because the inherent identification with a higher power helps the person to separate themselves from their over-identification with their problem. Identifying with a higher power allows one to look at their problem from a different point of view and a wiser, more grounded perspective. Additionally, one can find a greater sense of strength, inner peace and hope in believing that they are not alone in the process and have guidance from a higher power. Finally, the process of meditation that is often part of 12-Step groups is a process of detaching and observing one’s thoughts, feelings and judgments, rather than believing them and fusing with them.
Finding and Accessing Your Higher Self
The last way of getting unstuck that I want to explore involves accessing and coming into contact with your higher self. While this may sound a bit woo woo and airy fairy, it has been something I have found to be effective time and again.
Consider the possibility that we all have many parts to ourselves. For example, one might have a nasty inner critic that is constantly demanding more and is never satisfied- much like a drill sergeant ruthlessly yelling at his troops. Another part may be a scared or timid inner child who is afraid to get hurt by adults and those who are bigger than him/her. Another part may be a brash, cocky perfectionist who believes that they are the best or have it all figured out. I believe it is common for us to be made up several different parts that may be drastically different. Much like an orchestra with the various different sections and instruments, we have different parts that serve different functions and come out at different times in our experience. While these various parts each serve a function in a particular context, they tend to be limited in what they can do in every context. For example, the inner child may be particularly comfortable in having a fun and being silly (like a kid does), however they may be afraid of trying new things or interacting with strangers. The brash and cocky perfectionist is really good at performing a task at work that he/she has mastered but struggles to learn new tasks that require a lot of trial and error. Having a general understanding of these various parts and how they form an orchestra leads us to consider that every orchestra needs a conductor- someone to organize and lead all the different (and sometimes conflicting) parts. This is where our higher Self comes in.
Our Higher self tends to be the part of ourselves that is wise, compassionate and understanding. For me, when I make contact with my Higher Self I think of my Grandfather. My grandfather Manny, who lived to be 96, was very loving, was so wise and had a sense of peace about him that you could feel when he walked into the room. Every time I time I would go to visit him I would feel very safe and at ease. I use my grandfather to represent my own Higher Self and now when I think of him or see a picture of him, I am able to gain perspective, wisdom and compassion in my own experience. I also envision this part of me being the conductor of the orchestra- able to connect with and lead a wide variety of different parts that make up my experience.
Being able to identify and access your higher self on a regular basis is a way to move to a higher level of consciousness and be able to solve problems that feel crippling and permanent.