The Prison of our Thoughts - The Power of Allegory
"Antonio" is a rising star in the high tech industry. He's got an excellent salary along with all the material markers of success - a beautiful office and flat in suburban Paris....the last person you'd imagine "in prison". I started coaching this young expat 6 months ago at the request of the CEO.
It didn't take me long to find out why.
On paper, my client's performance was impressive. In the office, however, his behavior was a real issue. According to Antonio, his immediate supervisor never supported him or defended his ideas. Meetings, held virtually or in the board room, invariably ended in anger and accusations.
People started sending him short emails rather than risk an explosive face to face encounter. Antonio found his coworkers "incompetent" or "lazy".
He continually complained of exhaustion from "having to do everyone else's work".
Fortunately, I was never the direct recipient of his wrath. It took me a couple of months to gain his trust but gradually he began to open up about his anger with everyone at the company.
Although he repeatedly told me that "feelings" had no business at the workplace, I encouraged him to be honest with me about his anger, frustration and distrust of his coworkers.
Upon the advice of another coach, I tried the "Judge Your Neighbor" worksheet - the signature work of the amazing Bryon Katie. Antonio gleefully put pen to paper to describe his boss as a "total jerk" who was "completely not to be trusted".
"Wow! That sounds tough! Are you saying that your boss can never, ever be trusted?"
"Yeah, that's right! He's a real back stabber!"
"You may believe that...", I continued, "but is that absolutely true?"
"Oh, 100% of the time? Do you mean that he has never done anything nice to you?"
"Well, 99% of the time he can't be trusted!"
"I think that the 1% of the time he was a genuine human being is important. Can you tell me a bit about that?"
"Why do I have to do that?"
"Because I want you to see your boss in the light of that 1%. We as humans cannot know the whole person. Humans are complex and we mustn't judge them through the filter of our own perception."
This last statement met with silence. We both sat with this silence before I continued.
"You cannot know, Antonio, your boss' reality."
Have you ever heard the story about the blind men in India who were led to an elephant? Each of them encountered a different part of the elephant but each one was sure that he alone understood its true nature."
Unexpectedly, Antonio comes out with, "I think that Plato's allegory in the cave is much more appropriate."
"Oh...then...can you.tell me about that ?"
"Well, all of the prisoners in the cave have their backs to the entrance to the cave and mistake the shadows they see on the wall for reality."
"So what keeps them from turning their heads and seeing reality ?", I asked feigning ignorance.
"Well, they're in chains...they can't turn their heads."
"So what if your thoughts were your chains ?" Again, we come to a moment of silence.
"I know that you've got used to wearing those chains...they're comfortable now....but how would you be without those thoughts? What if you owned your own anger and made the decision to release yourself from the prison that you yourself have created ?"
Just then I saw his face change. He said nothing but I sensed that I had helped him connect with his "heart mind". I saw a light of awareness flicker in his eyes. These fleeting but precious moments are why I became a coach.
To be honest, Antonio and I still have work to do. We need to explore those shadows and create some distance between repetitive and reactive "thoughts" and the wisdom of the heart/ mind. It won't all be downhill, but at least we've found a path out of forest.