It's a very ancient saying
But a true and honest thought
That if you become a teacher
By your pupils you'll be taught
"Getting to Know You"
The King and I (1951) Rodgers and Hammerstein
One of my coaching clients attends a weekly meditation class. We were talking about ways to return to center when we get triggered, and he shared a motto from the class--Two Steps, One Breath. In other words, feel your feet on the ground, and breathe.
The motto came in handy during a challenging meeting the client had in which I was an observer. Before the meeting began, I asked the client if he was centered, and he took a deep breath and settled himself. He said he felt balanced and composed. I asked how he planned to remind himself to re-center periodically during the meeting. It’s one thing to feel your feet on the ground and breathe, and another to remember to do it when challenges arise, as they are likely to do. He said he wasn’t sure and began looking around the room for something to focus on. I noticed a green Sharpie on the desk, placed it in front of him, and suggested he use that. I explained that anything at all can work as a cue to re-focus on purpose and come back to center.
The meeting lasted about half an hour. There were moments of tension, as the team discussed several areas of long-standing conflict. Team members expressed their views in diverse ways—sometimes with respect, sometimes heatedly. The client listened respectfully, expressed his thoughts, and repeatedly returned to his purpose—his vision of a smooth-running, collaborative team.
When the meeting ended and my client and I returned to his office, I asked him for his thoughts. The first thing he said was, “I looked at that pen a lot!” And I could tell. He did a great job of managing himself so that he was able to manage whatever came his way from the members of his team. He asked useful questions, and clarified and acknowledged what he heard. He expressed his own views in ways that combined respect for his team and the authority of his position. And he offered me a great example of re-centering under pressure.
Two Steps, One Breath
And that’s the key (ki). It’s fairly simple to learn to center yourself. Two feet on the ground, full even breaths into the middle of your body, a relaxed extension of your energy. The beauty of the practice is finding it again when it’s lost—recovering your center when you’re under pressure, when you need it most, when you feel you would rather scream than breathe.
I never feel like a teacher in these relationships, more like a partner on a journey. And I often learn as much or more than my clients. I know how much energy it took for this man to stay focused on purpose, to remain calm, and to return to center again and again. And I learned once again that it can be done, and that I, too, can re-center when I face my challenges. Thank you to my client sensei.