“WHY would someone who was so far along in the certification program, someone who had moved past so many barriers already [want to leave the program] ….please, for your own sake, please consider how you have come to this interesting conclusion that this program is not empowering. Something is rotten in Denmark, so to speak.”
I received this message during a tense exchange with the founder of a hands-on healing certification training I had been in for several months. I had joined this program because I hoped to, by the end, tap into my own innate ability to offer this kind of healing. For some number of months, this program did indeed empower me to trust myself and build up this skill.
But I was leaving the program because they were adding a strict annual recertification protocol with which I could not agree: Each year, in order to keep my certification status, I would be expected to fly to their home office and get “tested.” If I couldn’t fly to her, I would have to pay for someone to come to me. If I didn’t do either of these things, I would lose my certification status.
It was in reading these shocking and bewildering requirements that I had come to the “interesting conclusion” that the program was not empowering.
If I were a neurosurgeon, it would make sense that I would have to be regularly evaluated. But even then, I would probably not have to fly out annually, on my own dime.
But let’s get serious: this was an energy healing program. Not exactly brain surgery.
Outside of a money-making opportunity, there is absolutely no reason for modalities such as this one to be put on a strict certification track. Learning a technique from someone in a teacher/student capacity is one thing. Staying underneath that teacher for life is entirely another.
Which brings me to life coaching.
“No author, teacher, therapist, coach, spiritual leader, minister, rabbi, or guru — no one — has access to your unique answers. They can’t, because they’re not you.”
Since when did we decide that some people are more qualified than others at, uh, life? Do some people come to Earth with talents and abilities at [checks notes] living that make them more qualified to know what’s best for us?
I’ve learned the hard way that while people can and happily do offer advice, no one except for us can know what’s best for us. One time, I went to see a psychic after I left my private Ayurvedic practice. It had been a relief for my body and mind to let it go. I no longer wanted to put myself in this position of power over others; instead, I wanted to live the Ayurvedic knowledge in my own life and share it liberally with anyone who was interested in any way I chose.
Instead of supporting my decision and helping me navigate the dark and lonely space ahead—which is what I had asked for—the psychic lectured me that I was “letting fear control my choices.”
I assured her that that was not at all the case; that I’d never before felt such peace about a decision. She would not accept my answer. I walked away from that session, clear that, psychic or not, she had no idea what the fuck she was talking about.
Life is a journey of the individual soul. We are all here to learn, grow, and evolve. Yes, we are meant to help each other along during the process. But pointing out potential pitfalls or shining a light on the new openings on a path was supposed to be part and parcel of being a human being, not a “special skill” held by only a few to be monetized and sold.
The truth is, we can and do learn from anyone, every day, just walking through life. By just taking a little time to talk with people, and listen to others, almost always you walk away with some new insight or awareness you didn’t have before. People are people, and we are all holders of wisdom. Gaining life wisdom should not follow the same process as window shopping for shoes.
And yet, looking around, you would think it does. Only in a patriarchal, capitalist system where everything is tiered and price-tagged would listening to someone and perhaps offering guidance be labeled “coaching” and then become packaged and sold like a box of crayons. Only capitalism would look at the activity of someone listening to someone else and get a flash of brilliance that all that’s missing here is the exchange of money. Only capitalism and patriarchy, which view our entire world—and our bodies and our life paths—as transactional and zero-sum, would create life coaching to replace an intimate, honest, and open relationship with friends and family.
Life coaching is a perfect example of monetizing something that should come for free in our world: a listening ear from a fellow life traveler.
The message from our capitalist society goes like this:
Do you have a skill that others could benefit from?
You too can create and sell anything! Turn it into a course! Market it as a service! Make money!
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by this approach to offering ourselves and our gifts. It’s why I left my practice, and it’s why, when I once ran a yoga teacher program, I would never have considered demanding they annually recertify with me. Honestly, the nerve.
I’m exhausted by the fact that if I want to learn from someone, or tap their expertise, we have to play the capitalism game. The game goes like this:
- Offer some basic information for “free” (your email address).
- Put more behind a paywall.
- Establish “tiers” of information at various price points. Know that people will most often choose the middle option.
- Put some huge dollar amount on each category as its “value,” but then cross it off and “discount” it so it looks like a bargain.
- Offer something for a “limited time only” or highlight that there are only a “few limited spots remaining!”
You know the formula.
I understand that we all don’t have time to be a listening ear to everyone all the time. I know we all need to make money. I do understand these arguments. My point is that perhaps not everything in life needs to be turned into a side hustle or money-making enterprise. Life coaching is a perfect example of monetizing something that should come for free in our world: a listening ear from a fellow life traveler.
Certification tracks and life coaching are modern, patriarchal, hierarchical inventions. They have arisen out of a crisis of loneliness and lack of connection with each other and with ourselves. They have grown because people have stopped trusting themselves and their own intuition, and because people have become afraid of sharing their true emotions—maybe even afraid of the emotions themselves. They have thrived because modern people have exchanged credentials for authentic self-worth, and we have equated certification with expertise and authority and too often let a piece of paper on a wall overrule our common sense and gut instincts. Let us address the core issues—the loneliness, the lack of trust in our intuition, the fear of our own emotions—and not just cover them with a capitalistic fix.
We know the many problems that arise out of hierarchical relationships between human beings. How many “spiritual” gurus have been found out to be abusing their students? How many times do we need to hear a story about another person in a position of power taking advantage of someone who just wanted to learn from them? Look at NXIVM, for example. How many more young people need to learn the hard way that when they’re singled out, it might not be because someone truly believed they were special but might be grooming them for whoknowswhat? How many more signs do we need that perhaps human beings are not meant to be in hierarchical relationships?
“When you’re going in the wrong direction, progress is the last thing you need.”
― Christopher Ryan, Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress
More than any certificate, what most of us want is to be heard, seen, and acknowledged. We can do this by getting back to our roots — teaching and sharing stories — true stories, mythology, fairy tale, folklore, anything that opens the heart and the mind — with each other — without any certification needed or promised.
What is the opposite of patriarchal structures such as certification tracks and life coaching? It might seem more “matriarchal” to consider such things as mentoring. But that’s more like a step removed from patriarchy than its opposite.
The opposite of a scenario in which one person is above another person as a figure of authority is bringing together people, in groups or in pairs, and sharing stories. The opposite is learning from and with each other in everyday life.
As a culture, we’ve stopped leaning on each other to help us grow. We’ve compartmentalized and availed healing, vulnerability, and growth to only paid coach/client or teacher/student relationships.
Our ancestors did not live like we live. Some cultures today still do not live as we live. They listened to each other, and passed down stories—orally and then eventually through writing. They helped each other move through rites of passage without any expectation of payment from the receiver or a certificate from the offerer. Healing was part and parcel of what life was about. People eagerly shared knowledge, skills, and our listening ears out of kindness or desire.
In outsourcing our need for connection to paid coursework and life coaching, we’ve compartmentalized our emotional health, relegating it to only certain days and times of the week.
We need to push back on this trend of commodifying everything we do as human beings—especially those things that are so intrinsic to our nature and flow through our blood.
It can happen. We can create a new model. Check out Denmark’s Human Library, where people “borrow” people instead of books to listen to their life story. Often, what most of us need is not life advice. We just need a present, caring, listening ear.
“…it is the greatest achievement of a teacher to enable his students to surpass him.”
The more “civilized” we’ve become, the more we’ve deferred to capitalism as the model of how we share and connect, and the more we’ve lost our sense of the value of storytelling and the freedom to engage in it with anyone.
In outsourcing our need for connection to paid coursework and life coaching, we’ve compartmentalized our emotional health—relegating it to only certain days and times of the week.
Just because someone puts themselves in an advisory capacity over us — just because they have certificates on their wall or letters behind their name — does not mean they have our answers. Only we do.
For the record, I am not criticizing the people, many of whom are friends of mine, who offer these services. I’m criticizing the system that has us believing that this is the right way to offer these services. As life coach Bear Hebert says in a self-reflective blog post:
“In a capitalist system, value and payment are inextricably linked. Paying for work isn’t the only way to signal our values, and it’s not a long-term solution to ending misogynist or racist norms or building a world beyond capitalism. But for now inside white supremacist patriarchal capitalism, the primary way we signal value is by paying.”
She sees how capitalism has gobbled everything up and is, for now, willing to play the game. I don’t fault her or anyone else for that. I refuse to fall into the trap where we point fingers at each other while the patriarchal monsters laugh in our faces. I don’t fault any of us just trying to figure out how to make a living in our culture. I point my finger at rampant, unchecked capitalism and the patriarchy that created it.
But, I do fault anyone who won’t look at this a little bit closer before jumping to defenses. Take for instance the movie The Truman Show, when Truman, played by Jim Carrey, senses that this world he’s living in is somehow controlled by outside forces. Once he learns the truth, he has a choice to keep living in this world, continuing on in the life he’s always known and been comfortable in. He will then be culpable in the maintenance of this false world. Or, he can risk it all and break free. The force controlling Truman’s world was a movie director. The force controlling much of our society is capitalism.
I am also not suggesting that we shouldn’t ever hire a life coach or get on a certification track. Instead, it is a reminder to ensure that the person(s) leading your program is empowering you to come to your own decisions and conclusions, not attempting to keep you beholden and submissive with gimmicks and false rewards.
Any person in a position of authority should be pointing us, over and over again, to our inner selves. To our inner teachers. To the place where the answers live. Every teacher, every coach, every person in a position of power should have the goal in mind that the student shall surpass the teacher. If they’re not, they’re not empowering you. They’re using you.
Capitalism has forced its way into every aspect of our human life — including the realm of personal and spiritual development. In realms that depend on compassion and unity, it’s created models that separate us from each other.
If we truly wish to empower one another, then it’s time we stop establishing false hierarchies and exchanging money to do what humans should do naturally: listen to each other. Share stories with one another. Help one another. And ultimately, empower one another.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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