‘Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head behind Christopher Robin. It is as far as he knows the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think about it.’1
Are you an Edward Bear?
When we, the authors of this article, read the words of AA Milne, it struck us that sometimes we could identify with that bear. Though we consider ourselves to be lifelong reflectors through practices such as walking and journaling, busy-ness – an overly full schedule for too long a period, or a demanding ‘to do’ list – can invite overwhelm and procrastination and distance us from what normally resources us.
This might be true for you too. Both our personal experience and our work with clients have shown us that more intentional attention and reflection can be hugely beneficial, and can be a beautiful gift to give ourselves. In this way we have been able to reclaim some precious time and space to come home to our own ‘compass rose’ – our very own centre, which is the wellspring of who we are and how we work and show up in the world.2 Reflection in any context connects us to our professional practice, illuminating what we do in potentially fresh ways. It brings us up close and personal with that which influences our thinking.
Demanding and deserving reflection
According to Parker Palmer, the founder and senior partner of the Centre for Courage and Renewal:
‘Our lives (as people practitioners) both deserve and demand reflection. We demand reflection because we must know what it is in our hearts, lest we do more harm than good. We deserve reflection because it is often challenging to sustain the heart in work. If you decide to live an unexamined life please do not take a job that involves other people. Inner truth is best conveyed by the language of the heart.’ 3
At the 2017 European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) annual conference, we led a workshop called Falling in Love with Reflection, and we subsequently led webinars on this subject for members of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and for graduates from the Coaching Supervision Academy (CSA). We met exceptional colleagues, who appreciated the importance of including the art of reflection and reflective practice in their work, and we recognised that a model could help them to focus attention on their inquiry and provide a container for their learning and discoveries.
Using a simple model helps us to see a situation from different perspectives, rather than focusing only on our own reaction to it, and we can access the implicit knowledge that is embedded in our professional practice. We all have times when intuitively we know what to do. Sometimes we can’t identify exactly what single idea brings together the strands of our thinking into that one specific decision or action. Examples of such models have included Borton’s framework (1970): What (description), So What (analysis), and Now What (synthesis),4 Otto Sharmer’s theory U of ‘letting go to let come’,5 or Jan Fook’s critical reflection, which recognises the interplay of ‘our own influence and that of the wider field of our social and cultural contacts on the type of knowledge we create and the way we create it’.6 In this sense, reflective practice is about factoring ourselves as players into the situation in which we practise. We learn at the feet of our own experience as we seek to make co-created meaning from our experiences. This implies willingness to consider the terrain of ‘notknowing’ so that ambiguity and uncertainty become a mode of inquiry to be combined with knowing, doing and experimentation.
Examining the emotional aspects of an issue means taking a closer look at our own motivation for the choices we make. As the philosopher Donald Schon highlighted, we work in the field of what it means to be human, in the light and the shadow of ourselves that we cast as we work and in the murky swamps of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.7 The only instrument for our work is ourselves and we need a compass to help us navigate the murky swamps of reality and the grey areas of practice. This insight can lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of the complex dynamic between practitioner, client and the systems that we are part of, which has the potential to transform us. It contributes to building the resourcefulness of our internal supervisor and self as instrument, whose mirror needs constant polishing as we become tarnished by the tsunami of pressures that can diminish us.8
Psychologists Carl Rogers and Jerome Freiberg stated that ‘knowledge is power but knowledge about self is the greatest power’,9 while Socrates implored people to ‘know thyself’.10 Structured reflection is one way we can learn more about ourselves.
Looking to ourselves
In our work and in our personal lives, we each regard reflective practice as a core capacity and a discipline that we must create for ourselves to carry out the work we love. Its overall purpose is to enrich the work we do and develop awareness, efficiency, effectiveness, ethics and standards. As a regular element of our modus operandi, we know it increases our learning agility and helps us gain fresh insight. Active and purposeful thought applied to experience helps us to really savour the meaning of that particular experience, especially if we ignore successes in favour of scrutinising problems. Some of the ways reflection helps us to find our path involve an examination of competences in order to evolve the capacities of what it means to be fully human in our work.11 We polish the mirror of who we are as professionals. We do this because the rewards are high: increased compassion, courage and creativity. We do it to appreciate as well as challenge the work, get in touch with how we make decisions, and why. We do it to find our way or stay on track. As writer Ken Stafford states: ‘Journaling and reflective writing is like playing the violin; a violin played every day will keep the vibration of the music in its body, even while lying still and silent. If it is not played every day the vibration dissipates and the wood grows lifeless.’12
Over the last few years, we have found that taking our supervision and coaching clients outdoors into parks and gardens for a direct immersion into nature and the changing seasons, has offered a real antidote to the ‘bump and bumping’ of our claustrophobic and heavily digitised schedules.13
In her TEDx talk, ‘learning how to learn’, professor Barbara Oakley challenges the assumption that we only learn when we’re focused.14 When learning or solving problems, our brain can alternate between two modes: focused and diffuse. In focused mode, we focus intently on a problem, trying to find the solution, while in the diffuse mode, the brain can jump from idea to idea, concept to concept. One of the best ways to make use of the diffuse mode of thinking is to do something else for a while that isn't too mentally taxing, such as going for a walk. When we slow down and bring our attention fully into the present moment, aware of how we feel in our bodies and what thoughts are arising, we practise a kind of walking mindfulness.
In 2014, researchers at Stanford University found that walking in green spaces is a great way to stimulate and increase creative thinking.15 It is as if the park becomes a metaphoric partner in the conversation we engage in, and we make connections and see patterns, inspired by nature, as we explore questions that really matter to us. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, ‘living the questions’ in an embodied way helps us to unlock the inner wisdom in our body as it seeks connection and inspiration from Mother Nature’s sacred landscape.16
The Compass Rose reflection map
Our developed model, the Compass Rose reflection map, is based on the shape of an eight-point compass. It incorporates movement, preferably outdoors in nature (though it can also be adapted to work within a consulting room or by tracing fingers of its image on a piece of paper, as circumstances allow), between each point and from the heart of the compass, the rose (see Figure 1).
The compass cannot tell you which way to go, but it can help you to orient yourself, and that may help address such questions as: ‘Where am I now?’ and ‘What is calling me?’. This model invites the reflector to be physically active in engaging with their inquiry by walking as they reflect, so combining both focused and diffuse attention.
Compass points: questions for reflection
North: connecting to our higher self: grace, soul and intuition
- What intuition do I have about where I am and where I want to go with this question/situation?
- What is at the heart of this issue?
- What does my wisest self know here?
- What are the whisperings of the soul?
- How do I access grace?
- How do I access my intuition?
South: connecting to our role, roots, psychological understanding and rites of passage
- What can I learn and draw upon from past patterns, hooks, values, fears, old scripts or family narratives possibly at play here?
- What is my role?
- What is my identity?
- What light and shadows do I cast?
- What comes from deeper down in me or the story?
- What is in the shadows or just out of view but having an impact here?
- What might be hard to look at? • What thresholds am I crossing?
- What are my rites of passage?
West: ways of doing, connecting outwards and renewal
- What models, tools, techniques or theories did I use or was I influenced by? What guided my interventions? And why?
- What’s my thinking about how the work went?
- What did I intend? How did it play out?
- What contracts were made? • What did I intend and how did it land?
- What needs to be refreshed and renewed or stopped?
East: ways of being, connecting inwards and inspiration
- Stepping into stillness in present moment awareness, what else can I know?
- What are my somatic responses: my emotions, my heart and my gut, in relation to this question? (For this question, try and find a slightly different position or place to stand, for somatic (body), emotions, and thoughts.)
- Where and how do I find my inspiration?
North west: what is already known?
- What do I already know about this question/ issue/concern?
- What patterns might be here for me, for the client, and/or for us as a working alliance?
South west: system and field information
- What other information is at play here from the field? What happened before that is impacting on now?
- What systems are impacting on this issue?
- What is the energy field?
- Why is this important, now? What learning do I seek?
- What impact will learning have on the outcome of this inquiry?
South east: relationships
- What relationships are influencing this situation, in me or the other person or both (parallel process)?
- What is at stake in this relationship?
- What assumptions and expectations about others do I need to consider that will help or hinder me?
- How does compassion show up here?
- What is the challenge for me?
- How do I foster ethical maturity between us?
North east: inner tracking and resonance
- With an open mind and an open heart, what am I noticing from the energetic field, which is in me, in the other and/or also in the system?
- What is resonating with me?
- What note or timbre is emerging?
- What is calling me?
Starting the exploration
The exploration begins in the decorative centre of the model, the ‘compass rose’, and divides into eight cardinal directions. The compass rose sits at the heart of who we are and how we work: it is the place where our soul meets our role and where our doing meets our being. Alignment centres our compass. Misalignment, muddle or confusion will cause the needle to wobble and will also show us which of the compass points are demanding our attention. The cardinal points help us to discover through a reflective conversation with ourselves or in community: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my work?’. The centre of the compass rose is the place of presence, emergence and integration of intelligence and wisdom gathered by exploring the eight compass points that have a bearing on the inquiry in hand. From this place, our essence – and the essence of the work – emerges.
After each exploration of a direction, we return to the centre to capture what emerges and what resonates with the question we are exploring. It is said that the better quality the needle in a compass, the more accurate that compass is. When we take the time to return to the heart of what is vital to us as practitioners, we fine-tune our practice and who we are as practitioners. We take our practice deeper and our understanding wider as a way to truly replenish and resource ourselves as human beings.
Start by framing your inquiry. Questions can stimulate our inquiry in each direction. It could be, for example: ‘What next?’, exploring a coaching scenario or other critical incident, a sense of dissatisfaction or unease, or making a big decision, then begin from the cardinal point you are most intuitively drawn to.
The vertical axis links the roots from north to south, or our soul with our role. This connects us with the bigger picture of collective and spiritual intelligence. As Jackee Holder writes, our spiritual intelligence ‘provides both a language and a map for navigating deep waters of the soul, and gives shape and voice to what brings meaning and purpose’.17 The horizontal axis links ways of doing (west) with our ways of being in the everyday world (east).
There are many ways to reflect as practitioners and there are many models to help guide us. The Compass Rose model invites us to inhabit our questions and explore different perspectives as we walk, while giving our brains and bodies the time and space to pause, breathe and reconnect with our own inner landscape against the backdrop of the natural rhythms and changing landscape of the seasons. In our experience, it allows us an opportunity to savour and explore new ways of developing, resourcing and replenishing our practice, especially in those moments when, like Edward Bear, we are at the mercy of bump, bumping down the stairs of our own thinking.
Karyn Prentice and Elaine Patterson are international executive coaches, coaching supervisors and learning facilitators. They are members of senior faculty at the Coaching Supervision Academy, and, together as PattersonPrenticeDesigns, they design creative learning experiences and retreats for professionals worldwide.
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