Facilitation, heart-centred, Practitioner, Reflective Practice


September 22, 2020

Do you identify as a heart-centred practitioner?

Do you identify as a heart-centred practitioner? I want to begin a conversation around how we might frame heart centred practice, its possibilities and the pitfalls. This is work in progress and in many ways incomplete but hopefully will get the conversation started.

Thriving Facilitators

Heart-centred practice underpins the ethos of Thriving Facilitators which is a practice of support for practitioners who work as front line professionals. A front-line professional could include the following – teachers, lecturers, social workers, community-based & youth workers, and health care professionals. These practitioners have (at least) two things in common, that they work in complex and challenging environments and there is an assumption within their work, that they will offer a huge amount of themselves in service to others. Without support this expectation can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue and practitioners leaving professions they were once committed to.

The vision of Thriving Facilitators is to support heart-centred practitioners to uncover their resilience, to lean into their presence, as they show in a heart-centred way, in challenging settings. Thriving Facilitators provides affordable, year round support through coaching, reflective practice, and a supportive community of like minded practitioners.

A triad of layers: You, your practice, your intention

So, who is a heart centred practitioner? and what is heart centered practice? I think there are kind of three layers to consider in defining a heart-centred practitioner. Firstly, there’s you. Secondly there’s your work, role or practice. And thirdly, there’s how you see yourself in your role.

I think that each of those features are relevant but crucially it’s the extent to which you are aware of yourself as a heart centred practitioner, and then crucially whether you want to lean into that aspect because you see it as key to your practice.

So, when we are talking about heart-centred practice we are taking about the relationship between these layers and crucially heart-centred practice is a conscious role/state of being.

Heart-centred practitioners are purpose-led

Heart-centred practitioners are often driven by purpose and committed to serving others and improving the lives and or circumstances of others. So there could be multiple ways of leaning into heart-centredness in your work.

Your work might centre around working to improve the conditions of people or communities in vulnerable or socially excluded circumstances. Or you hold a belief in the empowerment of people who you work with, to improve their own circumstances. Your practice could encompass therapeutic approaches, advocacy work, or supporting communities to represent themselves. You might work in the helping professions or education. You could be a socially engaged artist, a social worker, a parent. You could work in fields where you’re supporting people with disabilities, you could be working in the health-care profession.

Conversely you could be in any of those professions I outlined and not identify with a heart-centred practice. But for a heart-centred practitioner your role is not just a job but a vocation that you take very seriously.

Heart-centred practitioners often feel touched by their experience

And then the next layer is that you are often touched by your experience of working with others. And importantly, you’re open to being touched by that experience. So you might feel reluctant about it at times, you might worry about your resilience, but, you know, inside that, the ability to be touched, brings something really important to the quality of the relationship.

My next point is that you are aware of your feelings. So you have an acceptance of your feelings, and perhaps, and this wouldn’t apply to everyone, but perhaps you consider yourself to be particularly sensitive, and throughout your life, you’ve noticed that this form of ESP is sometimes a positive, useful experience, sometimes not.

You might have learned to see your sensitivity as a negative experience, but perhaps you’re growing into the fact though that there are positive attributes as well. You might place a great store on your feelings as an indicator. You have empathy. You feel a lot. You sense another’s pain very easily.

You sense its important to bring YOU into your work

You intuitively feel, despite the challenges, that it’s important to bring ‘you’ into your work. You know that the human relationships that you’ve forged within your work particularly with vulnerable groups is absolutely key.

It’s the bit that can often be disregarded when looking at practice, which often gets reduced to sort of looking at tools, techniques, procedures and approaches. But this is less about what you do, but about being you in that moment. You’ve sensed that that showing up as ‘you’ is a key part of your personal integrity and your work but you don’t always have support for this, and you worry about this at times. Perhaps sometimes you feel you’re at risk being this vulnerable and open?

So what are the pitfalls? The one thing that can get in the way of heart-centred practice is you! And that’s the paradox. You are central to heart-centred practice but you can also be key to de-railing its possibilities. I’ll outline below four areas of challenge.

Pitfalls for heart-centred facilitation

1. Making it about you.

It may sound obvious but when ‘you’ place yourself at the centre, that severely limits your ability to show up in that moment. Most people wouldn’t intentionally do this in their role as facilitator but this can happen unwittingly. When is about ‘you’ there’s just too much thinking happening, your ego is saying, “hey, what about me? What about my insecurities? What about, what about my story? What about kind of the difficulty I’m having right now!”

When it’s about you, you’re on your own journey. You’re busy processing whats happening for you, and you’re not facilitating others. The potential for connection and co-creation within that frame becomes much more limited.

2. Insecure Thinking

So, why would we make it all about us? This is something that we can all struggle with for various reasons. We often walk on that tight rope of presence and connection and bringing of ourselves, our intuition and our unique personality. Letting others know us and who we are is crucial.

The balance of authentically showing up as ‘me’ (just enough) gets tipped when the work becomes about us when our ego or as Eckart Tolle in “The Power of Now” puts it, the ‘little me’, gets insecure and worried, so much so that it needs to defend or protect, or show everyone ‘I’m okay’. This can manifest in a range of ways and happens when we don’t really believe that we are okay inside.

When we think, even in a moment that we are not okay we shut down a little bit, we protect ourselves. Sometimes we feel the need to protect ourself if we confuse our own emotions, with the feeling state of caring for others. So one is aware of strong feelings, but the emotions that we are feeling are about our story, and our reactiveness to what’s happening .

When you doubt your instinct and you make decisions that are based on self-preservation, the process can become about you. That could look like over-planning or overthinking, too many ideas, too many techniques, too many back-up plans. And that happens when you doubt the sense that you are able to, to work, to be in the moment and make decisions based on that moment.

3. When the facilitator’s personal drama spills into the space

When one’s personal drama spills into the space of other people; when you feel too emotionally attached to a story – (whether thats your story or a story that someone shared with you) – if you become emotionally attached to that, it’s actually become your story, not their story.

Sharing experiences can create connection, but if you’re still feeling very wobbled chances are you’re not quite ready to share that story at that time. Because in that scenario it’s still about you.

However, in another moment you might feel vulnerable sharing a story. You might feel touched by sharing that story, but you know why you’re sharing – you’re sharing because you want to offer something of yourself that might help others gain some insight or create connection.

4. Not staying present

Being emotionally absorbed in our own story, (or someone else’s) will take us away from that present moment. When we are affected in that way we are, in that moment, thinking that our feelings are telling us something other than more than our thought.

In those moments of emotional arousal its possible to think that our feelings are telling us that we can’t handle it, that we’re not good enough, that we won’t know what to do, or that we don’t have the resources to handle what’s happening at the moment.

And when this happens, our thoughts telling us that we’re not enough in that moment. When get caught up in a thought storm about our thinking we move out of the moment and it can become a bit of a vicious circle.

All of this is an illusion that can happen to any one of us. When we fall out of touch with the truth of our experience, that our reality is created though our thinking, this can occur in one moment.

So what does heart-centred practice look like?

1. Heart-centred practitioners show up to the present moment.

When you are fully leaning in to your heart-centred practice you’re able to draw on your sensing abilities and your intuition, and that feeling in the moment helps you to respond and now what to do.

When you’re in flow, you’re only focused on where you are right now with who you’re working with. The sense of presence and openness to ‘now’, this moment, enables your sensing antennae to intuitively respond and connect with others. You see this as being a vital part of the process.

2. Being YOU, emotionally available, & compassionate

Being able to facilitate from a place of presence requires you to be open, emotionally available and compassionate, you care. And, you know, we don’t use the word love very much, but it is about love.

A heart-centred practitioner would have a kind of recognition of all of those features and those qualities. And this can become part of a conscious practice, a purposeful dimension of your practice.

So, to facilitate from that place, means accessing your integrity; being able to show up as you and your vulnerability. You’re not afraid share a bit about yourself and let people know you. To care in that way is actually about love.

3. Creating the conditions for others through listening

As a sensing, intuitive practitioner you are also a deep listener and you recognise the huge creativity that can come from creating a listening space. Creating spaces where people are seen, heard and genuinely understood is a vital part of creating the conditions for people to wake up to their experience and new ways of seeing, thinking, and being. Im interested in how the facilitator’s presence can create the conditions for transformation to happen.

4. Seeing oneself and others as ‘whole’ and not ‘broken’

You’ll recognise that the moment you do start to see people as being ‘broken’ or needing to be fixed that this will get in the way of being present. At such times your mind will be elsewhere. You’re not meeting them as they are right now.

Really knowing that we are whole helps us realise the potency of really meeting others as equals. In that environment we can intuitively know that the people that we’re working with, even if they seem vulnerable or have been labelled, are whole human beings.

5. Not getting in our own way

Knowing that you are safe, that you always have access to peace of mind, clarity, and wisdom in any moment can help you get out of your own way.

I’d love to know your reflections, do add them here in the comments or connect with others and join the discussion in our free Facebook group. The Thriving Facilitators FREE Community. https://www.facebook.com/groups/632990464208182

Don’t forget to download my free guide – 5 things you must know to thrive as a heart-centred practitioner. In this guide you will see five key ideas that can support heart-centred practice and transform your relationship to your work. You can download it here: www.sheilapreston.com

Sheila Preston Sept 23rd, 2020


About the author 

Sheila Preston

I am Dr Sheila Preston, a transformative practitioner with over 23 years’ experience in education, community settings. I have trained and supported hundreds of socially engaged artists and practitioners. Now I help brilliantly courageous practitioners who are working with communities who are experiencing difficulties in their lives and/or who work in challenging settings* These practitioners are committed to working in a heart-centred, relational way with vulnerable or hard to reach communities. I help these amazing practitioners get out of survival mode and THRIVE so they can lean into their heart-centred practice, and lead social change without burning out! I am committed to finding affordable solutions for on-going coaching or support for practitioners which is why I developed the Thriving Facilitators Membership. *settings such as, prison and probation, schools and universities, pupil referral, day centres, SEN settings, mental health, health care, social services, neighbourhoods.

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