Interview with coach Tuuli Nelson by Anna Adhemar
Q: Tuuli, as a therapist and as a lay person who has had sessions with you, I am touched and fascinated by your work. What you are doing appears to be drawing from a much deeper source and facilitating empowerment in way which transcends the normal concepts of coach-client relationship and journey. Yet your approach is so quietly simple and free of ideas, theories etc. I am happy therefore, that you have agreed to let me interview you on the fundamental approach and perspective of your work.
So, let us start with this question: why do so many people struggle with a sense of dissatisfaction and disconnection? And how is it you work to support people to move towards a life of greater meaning, authenticity, connection and coherence – what we might call an integral life?
T: Firstly, I would like to say that everyone knows deep within that there is something ‘more’ they could be listening to and being. That knowing is always there – and that is perhaps the longing many people have for a more meaningful, integrated and authentic life.
I see that the first major barrier to living that life is made up of all our ideas, beliefs and opinions about ourselves: about what we believe is possible and what is not possible. This keeps us from integrating what we truly are, on deeper levels, into our lives, because we have convinced ourselves that things are ‘like this’ or ‘like that’. Or we believe that certain things should never be ’like this or that’. This is the starting point for all of us: to begin letting go of all these ideas, opinions and beliefs – all the needing for things to look or be in any preferred way. And this, in turn, can only happen if we are able to be kind to ourselves.
Success does not come from becoming successful straight away in terms of career or relationships – it comes from accepting what IS, right now, with a fundamental attitude of kindness and non-judgement. It starts with a radical shift in the very way we relate to the present moment, including our own thoughts and feelings. The invitation is to say, ‘What is happening now, I accept fully and completely’. And then we may be able to listen more closely, asking ourselves, ‘What is this moment telling me?’ – whether we are at work, meditating or rushing the kids to school – and not, ‘Why is this happening?’. Basically, accepting things as they are arising and listening deeper in kindness.
If you meet circumstances in life, including your own inner life, in this genuinely open and accepting way, something very good will open up inside, something completely new, that is not based on the past.
A: What is that ‘something’ that opens up?
T: It’s a new level that we all have – in fact, we have many, many levels that we can tap into or access. Levels we might say that come from knowledge or ‘intelligent love’. But these levels are definitely coming from something real, something that is not based on ‘past’, not based on fear, not based on my ideas of what is good and bad. And then, if we continue listening, despite resistance and protests, such as, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do this ‘ – or ‘I know to do this, but I don’t really want to’, then these innate deeper levels will reveal themselves. It is so startlingly powerful to simply be kind to ourselves and listen deeper, not having to push anything, not having have to jump into trying to change everything, not having to do the right thing.
And thus, we keep on listening in kindness until a clarity is reached, which will bring with it a quality of ease and peace. We realize what we have to do, we know the right way to respond, and we may find that what we have to do is not as difficult as we thought.
Q: So, first there is acceptance – that nothing needs to change at all- then a deeper listening to our own innate wisdom. And all this arises within a fundamental attitude of kindness towards ourselves?
Q: So, say I have a terribly busy life with three children, a high-powered job, an emotionally challenging relationship – you know, a life where there is so much stress and perceived lack of time – how do I actually even start to listen deeper? How can I pause sufficiently to remember to be kinder to myself if I are running around on automatic pilot and out of touch with my deeper levels? Where does the acceptance and the kindness as a new way of relating to myself even start?
T: Firstly, by accepting that you are busy and that you haven’t been listening. Being simply honest about it. ‘I am really, really busy and I am finding it difficult to listen because of that, and maybe there is something here I need to look at’ I wonder why am I so busy that I cannot listen to myself? And of course, asking these questions with an attitude of soft kindness and non-judgemental curiosity.
Q: So, there must be a willingness first, a willingness to accept everything now as it is, even though it might be painful to see what a relatively meaningless and disconnected life I am living?
T: Yes, but again, I must emphasise that the key is kindness. To accept things the way they are kindly. Nothing needs to be pushed or judged. Often people are chronically busy because they don’t really want to see. That’s the most common thing. They don’t want to access their deeper levels of wisdom and knowledge because of what that will require of them. They keep on relating to the habitual thoughts in their head (coming from all those beliefs, opinions and ideas), because they don’t really want to see something. And because they cannot look at things in themselves or their lives kindly, they avoid looking altogether. Instead they try to push things, so everything, in the long run, just gets worse.
Basically, my work is to help people come to these deeper levels within and to really begin to accept and see from a true ground of kindness. I want to help them do this, because on their own, they often cannot bring in these qualities of kindness and gentleness.
Most people are very hard on themselves, pushing themselves, controlled by beliefs of not being good enough etc.. If I can support people to find this softer and kinder way of relating to themselves and their lives, then I know this will help them more than anything. I am here to support people to find the realness within them. I hold the space and because I am ‘doing’ it (being in kindness, accepting what IS right now, listening deeper), that helps others to access this in themselves. That is how it is: when you are genuinely being this, no matter how slightly, you immediately affect and help others to do the same.
This happens because we all come from the same stillness or presence – that which is always here, right now. So, when someone is simply being qualities of kindness, love, openness, acceptance, deeper listening etc. and we are in their presence, we can open our heart and tap into our own beingness and our deeper levels far easier.
Q Perhaps it would be helpful to give an example of a concrete situation where in chaos and difficulty, you were able to be differently?
T: Yes, of course, I can give an example from the day before yesterday. During a conversation with a future work associate, I realised this person had a completely different perspective than I did on our agreements regarding our coming collaboration. This came as quite a surprise, a shock even, and my nerve system reacted accordingly. So, the first thing that happened was I just slowed things down and immediately accepted what was happening (including the way my nervous system was reacting). Just stopping or slowing everything and mindfully being present with the situation and all its aspects – including not following my thinking and feeling, which is challenging. This is the part that needs to be practiced: to refrain from going along with any kind of thought, idea or judgement about what is happening. And therefore, I can allow the sensations – the nervous system flaring up, the thoughts wanting to come and go off into a spin – and just stay quiet and observe what is happening. From there, I go gently right into the heart of it, listening as honestly as I can to what is really happening and abstaining from running with thoughts coming from fear, self-righteousness or trying to fix it etc. I know that such thoughts would not help, although they are very compelling. They just make sure you keep repeating the same old patterns, being controlled by habitual ways of reacting and dealing with problems, that are, in the long run, not at all helpful.
At first, it’s very difficult to respond so differently in such situations and the reactivity and spinning starts automatically. Yet over the years, you learn to not to go with the spin, but instead just observe the spin. Then, rather than jumping into the water and going with the strong current, you develop the ability to stay on the riverbank looking at the waters churning. This needs practice for it takes time to be able to stay quietly on the river bank when the waters are rushing by so powerfully and you think and feel you have so many good reasons to just jump in!
Q: So, there is something that needs to be learned? People from my profession, would call this mindfulness – to be mindfully present with what is, (witnessing the phenomena of emotion and thinking without reacting automatically?) The skill learned is the ability to be more mindful, and in this way, less judgemental, more accepting. Is that right?
T: Yes, and it is like using a new muscle. We all have that potential, and it becomes automatic like drinking from a cup, where you don’t have to think about it or try and longer. If you keep practicing this, what happens is that you start expanding or opening in difficult situations, instead of closing. And that’s the key. Then you are coming from your heart –and if you can remain open and soft in the midst of difficulty, discomfort and general unpleasantness, then you start to truly see in a way which is very clear and rich with meaning.
But again, the most important thing is to be kind in your way of relating to yourself. The kindness allows you to make mistakes – many mistakes – but to keep on track, learning to be more present, more open and more accepting, so that over time, this becomes your new habit. A very kind habit – and one that works.
However, by responding in this new way, sometimes the results may even look worse at first. It’s a bit like homeopathy – when you take the remedy, the symptoms can get worse for a while, but then some time later you start healing. And in what I am describing, you are healing the deeper levels, where it is permanent healing. So, that is what I am trying to support – to not try and fix things on the surface level for now, but actually to start coming from a completely new deeper level and place inside of us.
Q: So, there is mindfulness, but there is also relating from your heart, or resting in your heart. You describe them both as keys. Would you talk more about the heart? For me that is where the kindness comes from, that unconditional openness and softness in your heart.
T: This is the power of the feminine, which is coming in. It is a power we are all coming into. It’s a power that’s different to the power we are used to. The power we are used to knows how to get something, to make something happen, to get its own way, to have rights – such as the right to be angry, to blame, to get someone back. That is a different kind of power. We all know that power and we all use it. Of course, it does bring results, but only temporarily and then it tends to come back and bite us on the heels. But this feminine power doesn’t necessarily bring results –even though it might. It is not result-oriented. The ‘results’ come alive in the deeper levels and are sensed as qualities of inner peace, increased ability to listen deeply and most of all, it brings love. In that way it is ‘heart’ – it brings us to our heart and then we move from there.
Q: Is there anything more you would like to say about your work and what someone who comes to you may expect?
T: I am inviting people to come on an adventure together with me. In the space of our present moment togetherness, when we slow right down and listen in kindness, something new and very real begins to flow. It is much more powerful than when we sit alone trying to work things out. The same kind of flow does not arise when we are alone. When we are together, we open to something ‘more’ which enriches our hearts and clears our seeing, inviting us to walk new pathways.
And this is an adventure we share fully– everything that happens to the person I am with is happening within me at the same time. It is not me being somehow special or different – it is something we do together, by being together, it is the empowerment of US. I want to be clear about that.
Anna Adhemar, MSc in Psychology, Registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist with the CCPA