Walking into Discovery: A Metaphor for Coaching, Mentoring, and Peer Assistance

rac-trial-islandThe city I live in is one of the premier tourist destinations in Canada. It’s a city known for gardens, ocean views, residential architecture, mild temperatures, and friendly people. Traffic, crime, noise, and pollution are all minimal here. And although I’ve lived here most of my adult life, it’s only been the last few months, that I’ve really gained a knowledge of where I live.

While I used to drive or cycle virtually everywhere in the city, I’ve been spending much more time walking as a way to exercise and improve my health. Daily walking has become a passion and has led me to literally “take the road less travelled.” I’m addicted to it. And I’m amazed at the benefits it has had, not just for my health, but for my perspective and spirit.

Slowing down, strolling, and meandering through my neighbourhood has revealed to me much of what I’ve been missing for many years. Not only have I been able to see beautiful gardens close-up, but I’ve been able to stop and talk with their gardeners. I’ve met more neighbours, their children, and their dogs and cats. I’ve learned more about renovations, financial troubles, family needs, and civic concerns.

I’ve also found short-cuts, trails, paths, and back alleys that I didn’t use or know about previously. I’m travelling in the same area, but I’m seeing things I hadn’t seen before. I’m experiencing the importance of neighbourhood relationships in an urban area, which seems to be essential during a time in our history when many factors act to separate us as neighbours.

Walking also facilitates communication. Almost everyone I walk by expresses some acknowledgement with a “hello,” “how’s it going?” or “lovely day” comment. Eye contact is common. And I even get a chance to learn how others see me. Some people that I say hello to when I’m walking by, return the recognition with, “Hello, sir.” I didn’t realize I had gotten that old yet to have the privilege of being called “sir.” Every now and then a conversation starts that goes beyond mere acknowledgement.

As a cyclist I knew that I was already seeing, smelling, and experiencing things that driving in a car didn’t provide. But I didn’t realize what I was missing. Walking has allowed me to slow down and actually take in much more than I knew was there. I’m seeing things that I’ve always seen, yet I’m seeing them differently.

Walking is probably a good metaphor to use to describe a way to improve our work in coaching, mentoring and peer assistance. The pace of our daily life may not leave much time for reflection, contemplation, meditation, and silence. Too often we don’t slow down enough and we miss what’s really going on. Typically when I return from a walk I feel energized and more connected within the layers of myself. If I can communicate a slow walking pace in my mentoring, coaching and peer work, I think I’m providing a safer and grounded area for deeper exploration, curiosity and adventure. A slower pace signals, “Our time together is a sacred place.”

Destination walking is a useful way to get to a specific location, and using it as a metaphor again, having a destination or goal can be an essential element of progress in coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance. I used to be an avid destination seeker. But sometimes having a goal interferes with exploring a detour and possibly discovering a treasure that is hidden in a less travelled lane.

Destination walking often is associated with taking the shortest, quickest or easiest path. While I still take destination walks, I am no longer consumed by a focus on getting to the end; instead I’m ready for detours or travel down an unfamiliar route. The number of things I’ve discovered, and the satisfaction I’ve experienced during the journey in an unfamiliar neighbourhood have enriched my life. Since a common element of coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance is the focus on the practitioner and client (or partner) working together, walking seems to be a highly suitable way to travel.

When I walk down avenues I have walked along many times before, I often see something new or something I hadn’t noticed before. And the landscape changes with the weather and the seasons, just as our “inner landscape” changes with our moods, or insights and growth. Going over familiar territory in coaching, mentoring or peer assistance sessions may lead to noticing some new aspect, focus, or perspective that did not surface previously.

From what I’ve been reading about brain neurobiology, walking increases cohesion between the left and right hemisphere of the brain so that creativity and cognitive processes can better connect; the brain becomes more integrated and our ideas flow more freely. Walking allows us to stop and “smell the roses,” although in my neighbourhood, it’s more likely to also include “smell the tomatoes.” I hope you will be able to travel the road less travelled.

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

~ Steven Wright ~
American humorist

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