/ 3 September 2009

Steer by your own star

When my late husband Joe Slovo was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer we met several people in the healing profession: the GP, the oncologist, the homeopath, the reflexologist. We bought the Cancer Prevention Diet book, the visualisation tapes, the supplementary vitamins. The quest: ”What would be the complementary suite of treatments that might work best?”

”Mr Slovo, are you in touch with your body?” one of the practitioners asked Joe. He was taken aback by the question. On the drive home he told me: ”I wanted to say to him, ‘No, I’m in touch with my wife’s body!”’

Joe’s humour was part of the fun of living with him. But the question put by the practitioner is valid for each and every one of us.

The thing is that the body doesn’t lie. That’s why lie detector machines are designed to pick up the body’s response. But in our world of thinking with language, we’re able to persuade ourselves of many different realities:

Question: ”Do you mind that your husband is having an affair?”

Answer: ”Actually, there have been some real benefits, blah, blah. Denial.”

Try taking the lie detector test and see what the body truly says.

In February this year I started additional coach training to become a Martha Beck life coach. Beck, author of Expecting Adam and Steering by Your Own North Star, is hot on ”your body tells your truth”.

Beck leads us through constructing our own body compass. It’s quite simple, really. Firstly, think of a time you consider to be one of your best moments ever, of feeling loved, feeling safe. Take yourself back to that moment, describe how your body reacted, how you felt and give it a memorable name. That’s your ”plus 10” reference point. Next, think of a time that was the worst time of your life. What was your bodily response? Describe it. Give it a name. That’s your ”minus 10”.

My plus 10 is ”spiral cocoon”. My minus 10 is ”gut wrench”.

The next thing Martha asks you to do is to write down your ”to do” list for the following week. Think of every-thing you think you have to do next week — all of it: things you’re looking forward to, things that are housekeeping, duty tasks and so on.

Then take your list, consider your own body compass you just set up and score the list. Give whatever pluses and minuses you think are appropriate.

Identifying the area of most dissatisfaction is the entry point into a possible conversation with yourself, or, better still, with someone you can think things through with. We were asked to circle our lowest score and take that topic into a coaching conversation with peer trainees.

My lowest score, a minus eight, was to do with meeting a journalist who is writing Joe’s biography. The coaches asked why the anticipation of this interview was so disturbing. I’d started to cry. I was puzzled. It’s been so long since Joe died and I’ve been in love again since then. It didn’t seem to me that it was revisiting bereavement that was upsetting me; but if not, then what?

My coach pursued a line of questioning and the puzzle unravelled. I figured out that my negative scoring was to do with the anticipation of going back to a time of personal joy and hope for a new South Africa and how hard the reality of our transition has been. Anticipating this conversation in contrast to my now-tempered expectations triggered the negative feelings.

I met the journalist a week later and enjoyed the encounter. There was something about the insight gained in the coaching conversation that created a shift.

Beck has a series of requirements to get certification. One of them is clocking up a certain number of hours in which you practise the coaching tools taught on the course.

You have to find people who are willing to be practised on. A friend who’s been considering hiring a coach mailed me to say he was a bit hesitant about the first conversation. I offered him a few pro bono hours: I’d get the practice and he’d get to use the thinking tools.

We did the body compass descriptors. He then wrote his to-do list for the next week. He put down the pen, as if he’d finished, then picked it up again. ”I almost forgot,” he said, and added one more item to his list. Then he did the scoring. I was gobsmacked. The last item, the one he almost didn’t remember to include, was a huge thing and he scored it a minus eight.


This was on a Friday evening. I received a text message on Monday morning saying his mind had been in a whirr the whole weekend, an exciting whirr of facing negative stuff and exploring new possibilities.

Curious? Try the body compass for yourself. You might be in for a surprise.

Contact Helena Dolny at [email protected]