Life in Paradox

By Chris Chittenden

"I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes."

Maxine Hong Kingston (b. 1940) US author

Recently I was a guest panellist on an ANZI Coaching webinar dedicated to the ontological approach to coaching. I knew one of the questions was going to relate to what distinguished ontological coaching from other coaching disciplines and as I considered this question in the lead up to the webinar it created a breakdown for me. What was my work really about? I knew that I had helped many people through my work but I found I could not quite put my finger on the common thread.

As I pondered this question, an idea struck me. Ever since I was introduced to the ontological approach in 1994, I have been seeking to resolve aspects of the underlying philosophy that lacked complete coherence for me and therefore seemed to be inadequate. As a result, my work has always involved addressing those inadequacies and moving the ontological approach into a greater coherency and I think I have been very successful in doing so.

One of the great joys of my conversations with clients is that they provide fertile ground to develop my interpretation of the ontological approach and this led me to realise that my work is really about helping people resolve the paradoxes in their lives. What do I mean by this? A person finds themselves in a paradox when they are in a situation where they believe various things to be true but which are contradictory. For example, one of the paradoxes in which people find themselves relates to how people balance their work life with their home life. When asked what is the most important thing to them in life, many people will automatically say "family", yet these same people direct most of their energy to their work and little to their family. They will have justifications for doing so, but, at some level, they know this is a contradiction.

Many paradoxes are fairly shallow and can be readily resolved in a few conversations. However, some paradoxes run deep and resolving these paradoxes is transformational. These paradoxes often show up as great turmoil in our emotional being or our physical being. They often take large swathes of our energy and can even consume us. They can bring great pain but can also bring amazing insight and learning.

The resolution of any paradox lies in self-understanding and being able to distinguish between your current pattern of being in relation to who you want to be. The fascination for me in the ontological approach lies in its capacity to create a foundation of self-understanding combined with the ability to create who you want to be based on clear foundations. Great coaching is not about helping people be more effective or more productive; it is about resolving life's deep paradoxes and becoming who you want to be.

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© 2014 Chris Chittenden