It is offered to potential participants in the Possibility Workshop as an introduction to the process we use to explore ‘Possibility.’
What follows is in contrast to the more traditional ways of teaching, counselling and coaching. As I often say, ‘Keep asking me the right questions, and I’ll find the right answer’.
In this approach, questions are asked with the intention of taking you away from the ‘known’ and into the ‘unknown’, and ultimately directing you into the realm of Possibility and an innate place of true leaning.
The first (and very brief) version of what follows came to me when asked: ‘Please explain what you understand by the term “Vertical Inquiry”?’
Linda Pransky put that question to a group of us. We were interns at George and Linda Pransky’s training and counselling facility in La Conner, Washington State, USA. The year was circa 1993.
Decades and many iterations later, this version is offered to potential participants in The Possibility Workshop as an introduction to the process we use to explore Possibility.
It is also presented here to those interested in understanding the ‘vertical inquiry’ method, which is a unique practice that can lead to seeing Possibility and experiencing personal transformation in a coaching session.
It sets out to explain how seeing into the realm of Possibility within each of us, via a specific questioning process, is particularly effective in leading to personal insights and a transformed understanding of how we experience reality and of the reality we experience.
The more traditional ways of teaching, counselling and coaching is to pass on knowledge, including such popular methods as metaphor, illustration, storytelling, analogy, example, case study, outcome-oriented and experiential teaching methods, and all forms of input-focused instruction.
Each of these methods is, to a lesser or greater degree, an ‘outside-in approach’ to learning. In such an approach, information that is known is passed along to another where it might also become known – but this information is most often not learnt in a way that makes a difference in that person’s life and relationships.
Our approach to counselling/coaching and how we facilitate The Possibility Workshop is directed towards self-discovery, which is an ‘inside-out approach’.
Please consider this question: does traditional teaching/facilitation get in the way of discovery?
Our coaching approach is predicated on what the guide Possibility … a state of mind suggests, and that is:
- life is an internally generated experience;
- our moment-to-moment reality, experienced through our senses, is brought to us via Thought and perceived through our present level of awareness;
- the wondrous faculty of Thought is the energy that powers each of us in having this miraculous experience called ‘our life’.
We also propose that our memory, that is, our lifelong accumulation, however valuable and indispensable much of it is to our daily living, can and does get in the way of our having a deeper, more direct, richer and more peaceful experience of life in each moment … and most critically in seeing Possibility.
That personal discovery from within is the way to our transformation and renewal.
Again, consider these questions:
- What are the ways of accessing that inner space of discovery?
- If the answers are to be found within, which of the following approaches might be more fruitful?
- Relying on the counsellor/coach to convey words of wisdom in the hope that they will have a lasting impact on the client or student?
- Being asked questions by the counsellor/coach where they intend to evoke personal reflection and insight from a deeper intelligence/reality within? The realm we call Possibility.
If personal discovery is an inside-out process, as put forward in the guide: Possibility … a state of mind, would it not make sense to coach in a way that is in harmony with that understanding?
In the light of our understanding of fresh Thought, would we want to acknowledge the nature of quiet reflection as leading to inner stillness and insight?
Similarly, is our inner environment best cultivated by continuing to reflect quietly, looking towards a calmed, reflective mind and seeing value in such an approach?
This process does require an approach that encourages inner reflection: being still and being willing to wait patiently in the unknown.
At the heart of The Possibility Workshop is the acknowledgment that the place of our transformation lies within each of us. The classroom, as it were, is our own mind, and the educator is the wellspring of original Thought and our experience of seeing Possibility.
Consider who or what best educates us in kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense?
Hence, what is our specific role as counsellors/coaches in facilitating the process of inner discovery via the deepening of another’s understanding of Thought and thus their potential transformation from within the realm of Possibility?
Another way of posing this critical question is: does insight come from wise teaching and reading books on wisdom or, on the other hand, from what occurs within our mind while in the presence of the unknown and Possibility?
History is replete with examples showing that the pivotal element enabling the individual to see the nature of fresh Thought and Possibility lies within them. Might this suggest that the outside-in coaching or teaching process has significant limitations?
Furthermore, might a teaching and telling approach not be a conspicuous distraction in pointing the learner to their inner classroom and their inner educator?
Notwithstanding that, counsellors/coaches (as do books and tapes, etc.) have a role to play in leading people towards a deeper understanding. That is, if it is made clear that their useful function is that of being a signpost or guide to the client or student’s inner classroom, and not the answer to what they are seeking.
The efficacy of the guide will be to the degree to which they or it points to our inner classroom and does not distract the student from their passage to that classroom.
Therefore, it is our coaching practice to employ a questioning process, primarily. Different labels have been used for this process, such as ‘impartial inquiry’, ‘neutral inquiry’, and ‘vertical inquiry’.
We call our question style ‘vertical inquiry’, as it is neither neutral nor impartial in the truest sense of those words. Vertical inquiry has the intention of taking both teacher and student towards seeing ever deeper into the realm of Possibility.
The essence of the process employed in The Possibility Workshop lies in the asking of questions that take each person inward towards self-reflection and the unknown – that is, beyond our memory, beyond our beliefs, opinions, judgements and existing understanding of how our life works and why we experience our life the way we do.
The intention behind each question is to take us away from our story and to explore the unknown world within.
We readily acknowledge that in life it is necessary to possess all sorts of knowledge and have that knowledge on tap, but we put to you as we do in the guide that when such knowledge is on top, it blocks us from seeing Possibility. This is the cause of the problems most of us face but fail to see for too much of our life.
In our daily lives we are brought to moments that bring into question how clearly we see life and our relationships, and in these moments we are often sorely tested.
The choice appears to be whether we rely on what we have been conditioned to see and react to, and thus struggle with the outside world that appears to threaten or upset what we are certain is ‘the truth of the matter’.
Alternatively, are we to face these moments with the eyes of understanding, looking towards the unknown, waiting for the insight, the wisdom and the common sense to gently touch us as we stand quietly in silence, being open and willing to seeing our world afresh?
Experiencing these difficult or painful moments, as an outside-in process, inhibits reflection, as we are caught in thinking about the content of what is being said or done, whether it is true for us, or not, or whether we understand what is being said, or not.
Personal insights and accessing our potential for transformation are seldom, if ever, found in grappling with the content of our thinking – a reflection of how we see or see life.
It is when we are faced with questions that have us quietly examining our unaddressed assumptions about life, that we see the fallacies in our beliefs, opinions and judgements and see beyond them into the realm of Possibility and our transformation.
Vertical inquiry facilitates us in examining our long-held perceptions, raising the chances of our seeing Possibility, experiencing life anew from that deeper place of understanding – that place before the existence of our memory.
In much of traditional teaching theory, there is the idea that a student learns by listening, looking, reading, experiencing, or by other outside-in ways and then memorising that data. To consolidate the learning, the teacher synthesises the material or puts it together in new ways, which can be seen via the creative process that lies within the student.
We agree with there being an inner creative process, but the evidence suggests that the synthesising and the creative process do not occur as often as they might with the various outside-in teaching or coaching methods. What happens, more often than not, is an accumulation of more information, called knowledge, which in and of itself does not lead to true understanding, transformation and renewal.
- Why do so many people find inspiration and peace in the presence of their counsellor/coach, but they struggle when they are not?
- Why do so many, while in a training program, experience life in a more positive way, but soon after leaving that environment they slip back into their old, less life-affirming habits?
- Why do so many, while on a personal development retreat or attending a self-help group, think, feel and act in a constructive, life-affirming way, and on returning to their regular life and work, they slip back into thinking, feeling and acting as they have for most of their life – in a much less constructive and affirming way?
We would suggest that the traditional teaching process, even from the counsellor’s/coach’s highest state of awareness, more often than not fails to facilitate inside-out learning, even though the student may become inspired or motivated in the presence of the counsellor/coach.
What is gained is a so-called intellectual understanding, not a transformative experience creating the rebirth or renewal of the student.
In other words, we suggest that the counsellor/coach is a signpost pointing in the wrong direction – outward – and in doing so, the counsellor/coach may not be fulfilling their important function. They may be distracting the student from being in the most fruitful learning environment – a quiet, reflective state of mind – looking inwardly to Possibility.
Ask yourself again: what is the intrinsic purpose or value of a signpost? How does it work?
Do our present worldviews and the input of the teaching or group process get in the way of our seeing beyond what we already see?
If we already see the value in what the counsellor/coach is saying, do we need the counselling or coaching anyway?
Is our true need: to see beyond our thinking – thinking that is already visible to us?
To find out, the counsellor/coach needs to pose questions that will stretch us and question our present level of understanding (awareness/consciousness).
Most counsellors/coaches find it is easier to rely on traditional teaching methods because we are familiar with and comfortable with the ‘tried-and-tested’.
It is also easy to assume that if we, the coach or facilitator, have had a life-transforming insight, sharing it will have an inspiring effect and stand a good chance of triggering insights in others.
How valid is that assumption?
What does the evidence suggest?
How successful are the plethora of seminars, workshops, training programs, courses, books, tapes, etc. in leading to lasting, life-transforming insights and understanding? And in having us examine our unexplored mind?
The process of vertical inquiry paves the way, via reflection, to insight.
Following an insight, we can subsequently benefit from some limited teaching, but confirmation and the fleshing-out of the particular insight is best gained from our own further insights and personal revelations. Moreover, this confirmation includes being reminded that all the answers we seek are found within.
Be mindful that it is the quality of our insights that leads to transformation, not the brilliance of the counsellor’s teaching or coaching, or the depth of their understanding.
It is at the same time a satisfying and heart-warming experience for the counsellor/coach to witness a client waking up in a new reality.
More questions for you to consider:
- How do vertical questions act as signposts?
- What are they pointing to?
Initially, asking questions that lead the client to look behind their assumptions
(knowledge, beliefs, opinions and judgments) may not come easily to most counsellors/ coaches/facilitators, or in some cases to our clients. It takes both of us out of our ‘comfort zones’ and into the unknown.
However, once our client experiences the heartening results, this inside-out teaching method will, in our experience, become our preferred and their preferred modus operandi.
A vertical question is any question that directs attention away from us, the teacher, and towards the individual’s inner wisdom, understanding and innate common sense. After all, the value of a signpost lies in the fact that it directs attention towards the destination.
A vertical question is a question that evokes reflection in the individual, rather than an automatic or conditioned response from memory.
As said, it is a question that has us examining our unexplored assumptions about life. It is a question that assists in the process of helping us to see that we are the thinker and therefore the creator of our experience, and it leads us towards the nature of fresh Thought and Possibility.
Vertical questions are designed to be catalysts for facilitating reflective thinking and therefore move us towards original Thought and fresh insight.
Vertical questions assist us in breaking through the barrier of our known thinking as well as our unconscious memories and into the yet-to-be-seen, the realm of original Thought.
Vertical questions assist us further in plumbing the depths of our inherent understanding. Vertical questions do that by being simple triggers that release us from our conditioning and into fresh Thought and exploring our innate nature.
It is from that realm of the unknown that original ideas emerge – novel ways of looking at old problems, new perspectives on long-held beliefs, a more life-enhancing reality.
Some might ask the question: is there a risk of putting people into an analytical state with questions, rather than a reflective state?
If the question draws on our memory, we will go into analysing, figuring out, and then back into circular thinking (unless the individual is already awake to what they are doing).
If, on the other hand, the question evokes reflection, it will take us towards the unknown and the realm of Possibility and seeing something new or experiencing a fresh take on something old.
It seems that when we are done with looking at the content of our memory, of endlessly raking over the coals (for some of us, our hell on Earth), it is the vertical questions that can unlock the gates to our psychological freedom and connect us with our spiritual nature.
It occurs initially for some when we see that we are the thinker and, as such, are creating our experience, moment-to-moment, via Thought. Coupled with that, we become acutely aware of the quality of our in-the-moment thinking.
Vertical questions can guide us to an understanding of the inside-out nature of all human experience. In the counselling/coaching process, vertical questions have the effect of revealing clearly our thinking to us and, in the process, to the counsellor/coach.
Yes, this process edifies both. The counsellor/coach is guided as to what the next step (question) might be by the individual’s response. And more importantly, the individual awakens through insight into their thinking and how Thought and their thinking determine their reality and experience of life.
The counsellor’s/coach’s role for us is only ever to be a simple signpost to the place of true insight and transformation – the realm of Possibility.
Again, a couple of questions for you to consider as you read on:
- What are the qualities of reflection?
- What does it feel like, compared with ‘normal’ thinking?
Reflection occurs when we become the conscious witness to what we are thinking in the moment – to observe our thoughts and feelings with simple curiosity, awareness and maybe with wonder.
It is occurring when we notice what is going on in our mind without judgement, even when we are judging ourselves for judging ourselves.
Reflection is noticing that we are thinking and simultaneously noticing what we are thinking. It is being aware of what is passing through our mind. It is being aware that we are being aware.
Reflection is a state where we, as the thinker, start to transcend the limitations of our present worldview via insight.
Reflection leads us to become aware of the restrictions and limitations of our memory, of our conditioning, of our habitual, analytic, hidebound patterns, i.e. the content of our learned, personalised thinking.
Reflection is the inner gaze by the individual on the known while holding gently the intention of seeing the unknown.
Reflection is having the intention of turning our back on what we believe we know and having trust in the unknown to reveal the new, the fresh and the unseen.
Reflection in the coaching process ensues automatically from the process of vertical inquiry.
Reflection acts as the doorway to insight, Possibility and transformation.
Insight is seeing in our mind’s eye something brand-new, or something in a way we have not recognised before or been awake to until that moment.
However, whatever it is we see, it comes to us in a context of kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense.
Insight is waking up from our ignorance.
It is that moment of enriching, an even exhilarating discovery that will likely transform our life – maybe forever.
It is the unforgettable moment experienced by the scientist making a breakthrough; the composer hearing the new notes of a beautiful ballad; the superstar scoring the winning point in the dying seconds of the game, or the human being who, in a moment of kindness and understanding, forgives another human being after years of blaming and anger.
Insight is the gateway to transforming our relationship with the world.
Vertical inquiry, reflection and insight have a lot in common.
Vertical inquiry leads us to the moment where we set aside our world of memory, of seeing life through the illusions of our past. It takes us to the point of willingly not knowing and having the intention to wait in that unknown.
Vertical inquiry, without us realising, moves our gaze from our personal thinking towards what only can be described as impersonal (or arm’s-length) thinking.
Vertical inquiry invites us to pause and become reflective on even our most mundane assumptions about how life is for us or how it is for others.
Reflection is, therefore, a natural progression from vertical inquiry.
Reflection enables the individual to see that their thinking alone has kept them trapped in a worldview that is restricting their happiness and growth.
The process of reflection enables the individual to gain freedom from the clutches of their habitual thinking. Having the individual reflect and see that they think and that their thinking can shift, encourages further reflection.
It is from the quiet, unbounded space of reflection that insights arise. The insights will inspire in the counsellor/coach fresh vertical inquiry that in turn will lead to deeper reflection and further insights. The continuing cycle of vertical inquiry/reflection/insight serves to deepen our understanding of how we have constructed our life and relationships, and how we might discover renewal via fresh Thought and Possibility.
The likelihood of clients/groups coming up with insights and life-enhancing answers is significantly better via vertical inquiry – that is, using questions that call for reflection.
At best, traditional teaching leads to hit-and-miss results – the evidence points to a failure to achieve life-transforming experiences, in most cases.
Vertical inquiry, in my experience, is much more likely to result in personal insights that will provide a sound and continuing basis for lasting transformation.
The degree to which we consider that vertical inquiry-based coaching is successful is based on at least two criteria.
First, the degree to which the client transforms in a way that their life and relationships are, without exception, happier and more fulfilling.
Second, the degree to which the movement lasts over time and holds up in the face of life’s vagaries.
In our experience, tapping the wisdom, common sense and innate health that already exist in every individual seems to be achieved most effectively and efficiently by directing the individual towards seeing the inside-out creation of life, via vertical inquiry.
Please join me in a Possibility Workshop … John
Kahlil Gibran on the sharing of knowledge…
‘Then said a teacher, Speak to us of teaching
And he said: No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm, which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear, which arrests the rhythm, nor the voice that echoes it.
And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.
For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.
And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.’