As a motivational mentor I encounter people with many issues and these always divide along the lines of the three core life elements: achievement, relationship, or self growth. Paradoxically, sometimes the more the serious the issues, the easier they are to support and help. People who believe they are doing all the right things sometimes cannot change, and therefore cannot transform their Self.
In this way, it’s easy to become stuck in life, sensing vaguely that something is ‘wrong’ or requires improvement but not sure where to start. How many people who are diagnosed with cancer have the thought: “But I eat healthily, exercise, I do all the right things!” I myself thought along those lines when I received my own diagnosis, although examining my life after the event, I saw quite clearly some areas where I could have improved my way of life and perhaps if not prevented it, but reduced its seriousness.
There is a wonderful story in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers about Abbot Lot: “Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said, ‘Father, to the limit of my ability, I keep my little rule, my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; to the limit of my ability, I cleanse my heart of thoughts; what more should I do?’” This question – what more should I do? – is relevant to us all in our odyssey through life. And I am sure you can see how difficult it is to answer, given the fact that Abbot Lot is already doing so much. Indeed, Abbot Lot specifically refers twice the ‘limit of his ability’ – he is doing, in our language, the max!
As mentors and coaches, then, it is easy to see how to help or direct somebody who is all at sea, who is not doing any of the basics in the three core life elements. But how do we help the person who is dissatisfied by their progress when they are sincerely doing the best that they can already?
Let me invite you now to reflect on what would your answer be to either Abbot Lot or to one such client that you have experienced or might experience in future. What would you say?
What Abbot Joseph said is revealing: “The elder man rose up in reply, and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said, ‘Why not be utterly changed into fire?’”
Whilst on the surface, entirely cryptic, this answer is instructive and brilliant on many levels. First, he “rose” – the physical body changed in order to make his response. Second, the digits of his hand ‘became like ten lamps of fire’. As a theological point, what may the ten represent? It is likely the Ten Commandments – the law – the very thing that Abbot Lot is consumed by following – all the right procedures, and protocols, and ‘rules’ that supposedly lead to heaven. Third, the all-consuming question – not an answer – a suggestion almost: become fire!
This is a staggering suggestion: that at root we need to burn up the old life and become something completely new, and wholly free, and incandescently bright. It suggests to me a state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. Abbot Lot is concerned entirely with this question ‘What more can I do?’. Abbot Joseph’s reply is that he should change into fire. In other words, become something else. This represents transitioning from a state of practising religion or faith, to embodying its meaning. The same can be true of our coaching clients. There comes a point where simply ‘doing’ the procedures, the routines, that lead to a better life or business practice will be unsatisfactory because there is a higher level of ‘being’ to attain. Exactly how we reach that transformation is, of course, another question, and a complex one. But it must surely begin for all of us, if we consider the real meaning of the story, with the vision and the intention to be that flame.