The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
There was once a wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and who was known for his selfless devotion to his people. As his people flourished and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he trusted most to do his work, began to see himself as the master, and used his position to advance his own wealth and influence. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not influence, and on his missions on his master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his own – the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became a tyranny; and eventually it collapsed in ruins.
There is a new book out by Iain McGilchrist called The Master and his Emissary, which explores our divided brain (for more on this as it relates to coaching, see my post Come On Over to the Right Side). McGilchrist’s take — and I wholeheartedly agree — is that the right brain, with its connected, global focus is truly the master, while the left brain, with its more analytical focus, is its emissary. Or should be, at any rate. In our society, as Einstein notes, we have turned this around.
In my coach training, I was taught that the third level of listening includes the first two levels. When I was reading about McGilchrist’s book it dawned on me: I was taught the proper relationship of master and emissary. Level Three listening is global and takes in everything — that which is being said and that which is not said. It takes in everything going on around the conversation as well. The dog barking, the phone that cuts out or becomes full of static (I live by a railroad track. The trains only go by twice a day, but always at just the perfect time to underline something happening in the coaching).
Level Three is when we soften our focus into right brain dominance and take it all in. And here’s an interesting fun fact for you: you may have heard that we have neurons in our heart and our gut. Talk about an embodied brain! Anyway, we do. But here is the thing — these neural pathways send their information to the right hemisphere, not the left. This is why it comes to us sort of vague and out of focus. Or why we get an image or a color or a sound. This is the language of the right brain, not words. And it’s why we need the left brain — or Level Two listening — to help.
I love this line in the story: It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. In order to take in all the information the right brain takes in, it can’t possibly focus on all the small details. It needs the help of the left brain to do this.
Stay tuned for my next musings on this–how all three levels dance together.