Interview with Kåre Landfald, founder of Zen Coaching. Interviewer: Eva Areskog
What is most important to know and live when it comes to living a rich and satisfying life?
This is a very big and interesting question. A huge question. I would say that for me it is about finding in every moment a curiosity about life. Because life has many joys and also many challenges and problems – but if I am curious and open, also the challenges are okay. If I can say “yes” to the problems and challenges then life can open up in very interesting ways. I feel that number one is to be curious.
Number two is to learn to listen to the guidance within. Because we have learned to listen to authorities rather than ourselves. First the parents, then the teachers and later maybe gurus. The key is that there is within each of us a voice, a guidance, that tells us what is good and right for us. But only I can live my life, and only you can live your life. We really need to find this inner authority; then life will be an adventure which is unique for each of us.
These are some keys for me about what it is to live a meaningful and rich life. Of course I could speak about this for many days, but these, I feel, are two very important points.
What is your vision as to how we could live together in greater harmony in this world, the way it is right now?
That is also a fantastic question. When we look at the world with some kind of objective eyes – just seeing what is there, factually – then I think what we see that there is a lot of joy and friendship, people loving and caring for each other and enjoying life in many ways, having babies, making love. So that’s one side, a beautiful side. We can see a lot of joy, celebration, love and enjoyment of life.
The other side is all the many painful and difficult things, all the suffering. Oppression, poverty, depression, stress, fear, conflict, war, killing, refugees who have to escape from war. That is the other side.
And of course we would like to contribute to less of the suffering and more of the love and understanding. I think that is a basic impulse in all human beings.
For me, my contribution, what is most important is to listen from the heart. That is number one. Number two is to speak from the heart.
What deep listening means is to learn what in Zen is called “to look with the eyes of compassion”. To really listen to each other with open hearts. That is what I love to teach, to share; how we can listen more like this in all situations in life. For conflict is basically, as I see it, a symptom of misunderstanding. Which is a consequence of poor listening. That’s when we have conflict. We don’t feel heard, we don’t feel seen. And then we act in ways which make it more difficult for people to see and hear us. Then we have more conflict and before we know it we have war and killing and much suffering.
I feel, both in the most intimate connections like in the family, with lovers, children – what is essential to really see each other with open hearts, non-judgmentally. This is so satisfying in itself. So meaningful, so nourishing for the heart. And it is also what makes it possible to live together in peace and joy. This is so in personal relationships, but also politically, globally, between ethnic groups, between nations. Countries need to listen to each other, groups, societies. You see the cost when this is missing, everywhere.
This is a big part of my mission in life, I feel: to support people in deepening their capacity for compassionate listening and honest sharing from the heart.
What are your thoughts around relationships? What does it take to live in openness and intimacy with another human being?
One interesting thing about relationships is that they are mirrors. They show us things that we maybe not so easily see about ourselves. So it is not so easy to be in intimate relationships, because it is challenging to face the mirror. I feel that the main thing is to be curious about the challenges that we face, and what shows up in the mirror.
Each time we don’t succeed in living in openness and intimacy – we can be curious. What is it that makes it so difficult? How can I learn something about myself in this situation?
Because I feel that it is our natural state to live in openness and intimacy. It is not that we need to do anything much to live like that. But we need to look at the obstacles we have created. Big ones are judgments, fear, old pain from childhood that gets triggered in relating – and then automatic reactions based on these emotional patterns.
Willingness to meet my own feelings is very important. When the other does something that I don’t like it is an opportunity to meet something in me; and I can also share honestly with the other, and in that way create intimacy in the middle of what´s going on. Again it is seeing possibilities in that which is challenging. To see that problems are opportunities. Life is a constant learning journey how to live in openness. It is not so easy, but step by step we learn more and more.
It is a big question! It is at the root, I feel, about making the present moment the most important thing in life. Not what I am going to achieve in the future, not about changing or improving anything happening right now. If I could really treat THIS moment as the most important thing then every moment is an opportunity to connect in a true way.
What does it mean to be real and authentic from your perspective?
There is a nice book that I have been reading lately. I really like the title: “Don’t be nice. Be real!”. A lot of us have been trained to be nice to other people. But this niceness – if it is a strategy and if it is a habit more than an authentic response – it becomes a cover-up for the truth underneath. Maybe I smile but underneath I want to say “no” and instead I say ”yes”.
The problem with that is that then other people don’t know what you want. They don’t know what you feel. People don’t know what is going on inside of each other, and then true contact becomes impossible.
To be real and authentic, I first have to know what is going on inside of me, moment by moment. This is quite a challenge. Because so many things are going on, on so many levels inside; and we have learned to be externally focused rather than sensing inside.
Maybe we just sense a little bit. Much of what we experience is filtered through our opinions and ideas. To know what is really going on inside of me is a full life´s journey to learn. But to commit to this journey is what is needed for me to be real. To be real is to ask myself: “What is going inside of me right now? What am I feeling? What I am sensing? What am I thinking right now?” And to own that. To let go of the right to be a victim of my own experiences, my own feelings. To see that these experiences are going on in me, and they are not really caused by other people, that there really isn´t anybody to blame.
To notice and to allow myself to have my feelings, to have my experiences makes me real to myself. In this, there is also a realization that I am not only my experiences: I am the space in which my experiences are happening, I am that which allows my experiences, I am the space of awareness, the presence.
In this way I am in touch with the reality of the present moment. If I can say “yes” to that which is going on in the moment I become real to myself. This is very satisfying in itself even if what´s going on is painful.
The second step is to actually be honest with other people. To for instance say “You know, right now I am bit sad, lonely, disconnected and there is a longing for openness and ease.” I share to connect, to be intimate, to be real, not to change or fix the situation. To share that with another person, to express what is going on inside without putting a demand or criticism on the other. The more we can practice this, the more the sense of realness and authenticity will be there, also in relating.
This is much more than just saying everything I think. That’s one level of authenticity, but deeper is to see “I am thinking this, but what am I feeling, what am I sensing, what am I longing for?” To go deeper than the surface thoughts gives more depth to the authenticity.
How can we function in a way that gives well-being in the hectic, intense and busy environment of modern living?
You are asking huge questions here! The first thing that comes to me when I hear this question is that it requires of us, of me, of you, that I every day ask myself: “What are my main priorities in life? What is most important?” This is basically a filtering mechanism. If I don’t filter and prioritize what matters most, I will be so influenced by the ten thousand distractions and impulses from the outside.
You walk down the street and think “That’s a nice coffee shop. Oh, a movie. I want to see that movie. Nice clothes. I will go in to do some shopping. Oh, furniture. Maybe I need a new table for my kitchen. Oh, I know that person. That’s an acquaintance. Maybe I will have a talk with her. .. ah, but I have to hurry, I have so much to do!”. I then am not the agent in my life. I become thrown around by life. By work, by everything. If I ask myself “What´s the most important thing for me today? Who do I really want to connect with today? What quality do I really want to experience in this connection?.”
If I constantly ask myself what is most important and make my choices come out of that awareness, and I do that on an ongoing basis, maybe gradually I will see my life style change and the things that are most stressful and distracting will drop off. This may take a few years – step by step. But really we need to make a choice as to where we give our energy, every day, or else we will be spending maximum five percent of our time and energy on what is most important for us, and 95 percent on all kinds of details. We will end up feeling that we are wasting our time, our life. This is one aspect I would like to emphasize.
You are planning to share a workshop at Ängsbacka in January and a couple of open workshops in Stockholm and Oslo now in November – my question is – what benefit would I get from participating in these events.
The workshops are designed to support insights and tools for living like the way I have described in the previous answers. A life where you prioritize that which is most important to you. Living a life where you connect inside rather than outside, moment to moment. Living a life where you are in touch with your heart, your longing and your true essence more and more. Living in a way where you can really listen deeply to people in your life and share from your truth. Increasing your ability to notice what is going on in the moment inside of you so that you sense a deepening of authenticity day by day, year by year. Also the ability to support others in a deep way. There are a lot of things like inner connection, connecting with your own heart, your deeper being; and also to support others in a powerful way. Basic, very powerful coaching tools. Healing old pain. So many things! – and also discovering the ease and simplicity that always is available to us, and how powerful it is when we connect with that, moment by moment.
I see that the workshop in January also is the first module of the Zen Coaching Training. Is that only for people who wants to work as a Zen coach or could that be something for everyone?
The Zen Coaching Training is number one a personal growth journey. That’s the primary focus of it. It is meant for anyone who wants to deepen into themselves and their true Being, and to learn to listen more deeply to their heart and find more flow and ease in their life.
And it is also a powerful certified Coaching Training. You learn coaching skills and you learn how to be of profound support to others. This, however, is very helpful in all dimensions of life. Coaching can be used as self-coaching. And every day it will influence how you relate to friends and family.
It is really two sides of the same coin for me. It is a joyful deep journey, and much healing – and at the same time learning a very powerful coach approach, a way to be of support to others. These are inter-connected, because we are all inter-connected, we don´t exist as separate entities.
Zen Coaching has now been around for a few years. What difference has it made? What effect has it had on the world so far?
I have offered the Zen Coaching Training for 10 years now. In the beginning only a few people attended each training, but gradually more and more people joined. So far, more than 400 persons have completed the full training, in five countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and South Africa. That is still a very small number, compared to the number of people on the planet! Yet, my view is that each of us can and must contribute our bit to increased love and understanding on the planet, and that it is impossible to know what effect our actions have in the long run. Our actions have greater effect than we can imagine, I believe. Through the 400 persons attending the training, thousands of people have been touched in countless ways, as friends, partners, children, clients, workshop participants. I believe in the great power of ripple effects, waves spreading in unpredictable ways. What I hear in the feedback I get, is what profound effect attending the training has had on the people taking part in it. And I get very touched when I hear, ever so often, of desperate life situations, or a parent-child relationship, being changed dramatically to the better due to heart-full listening of someone who has done the training. Often one single act of deep listening can change the course of a life for a person, can save a person´s life even.
Tell us more about where the training takes place.
Recently I have established a Retreat Center on the west coast of Sweden, together with Åsa Kullberg. The place is called Kärlingesund Retreat Center, and is an old farm turned into a beautiful retreat center. Åsa is offering trainings based on Shamanic wisdom there, and I offer Zen Coaching trainings. This is a magical place in a nature sanctuary, situated by the ocean. Old trees, lots of birds, silence, ancient cliffs, ocean canals, thousands of islands. The place is a marvellous site for going inwards, for connecting with spirit, for sensing our oneness with nature, for peace, joy and celebration, and for heart to heart communication.