The message is reinforced by a pointed finger.

Without love

“Work without love. Do not pity the other. Be without intention. Be without fear.” The message is reinforced by a pointed finger, stabbing the air. Sophie takes a break to allow us to understand the importance of this message. She looks at us, one by one. Five hundred coaches, trainers and therapists gathered for a seminar by Bert and Sophie Hellinger. We hold our breath.

“Imagine what would happen to you, both personally and in your work, when you are no longer blinded by love. If you don’t have to feel sorry. If you’re not held prisoner by goals and intentions. Are these things you can dare to let go of?”.

Sophie’s strictness is nothing new. At the start of the seminar, she’d already forbid any note taking. “When you take notes, you’re present with your head. For this seminar, I demand you be present with your heart”. Of course, despite the warning, someone secretly takes notes. Sophie pauses the seminar, and the offender gets publicly reprimanded.  

But still, there’s something special about Sophie’s words. At first glance, they were completely at odds with everything I had learned. Working without love? Without intention? And yet there’s something that makes me listen attentively. And I’m not only listening, I’m also prepared to exchange my own fixed values for what Sophie proposes. For a moment, I wonder whether I’ve unconsciously been brainwashed. But something in Sophie’s words motivates me to embark on the adventure.

Adventure without safety

Most trainers pay a lot of attention to creating a safe context. The general idea is that a safe environment is the prerequisite for learning and development. Sophie Hellinger doesn’t care. In fact, she even takes away safety by publicly telling off the person who dared take notes. Without pardon, without pity.

In any case, one thing is clear – the seminar leaders will not protect us. And it’s exactly this lack of security that makes something remarkable possible. It forces everyone to now stand on their own two feet. And on closer inspection, it’s not as crazy as it first appears to deliberately take away safety. Because who wants to be coached by a professional who’s not strong enough and needs the protection of others? Being forced to stand on our own two feet, not being tempted to project our own safety needs onto the teacher, provides a deep learning experience, far beyond tools and techniques. With no space for reservations and conditions. 

In my own work I create clear insecurity, by openly dismissing any expectation that I am responsible for the learning experience. “I’m not responsible for you learning something”, I say. “Neither am I responsible for making sure that you enjoy today or that you can do something with what I have to offer you”. I often add that they shouldn’t believe me: “Don’t believe anything I say. Check whether it enriches everything you already know and can do. I sincerely believe it”.  I’m no longer afraid of the reactions. I know that this vulnerability places me and the participants in the best possible circumstances to be owners. Each from his own role. Without fear.

On adventure, from a place of full presence

Two elderly people shuffle into the room. It seems to take forever. The room is waiting tensely: please don’t let anything go wrong as they negotiate those steps. At the time of the seminar, Sophie is somewhere in her early seventies, Bert in his eighties. Once on stage though, they become two vital people with something interesting to tell. They’re enjoyable to listen to. Sophie seems tireless. With a quality of presence second to none. Even when sitting on a chair listening to her husband. 

Quality of presence means the ability to be there (presence) without having to do anything, or steering the meeting in a certain direction (working from the Empty Middle). The opposite of this is when you have a plan or objective in mind, and you determine the conditions and limits of what can happen. Your views on how the world works determine what should not be part of it. You unintentionally exclude what you’ve not been able to think of. You also exclude anything you do not understand. If your discussion partner then introduces something that falls outside of your image of reality, the primary reaction is to not allow that information. Your discussion partner will then try to convince you of the value of the information; a classic response. A lot of energy is lost. And although very good techniques and methods have been developed that limit the effect of this mechanism, it can be much easier, namely by not having to know anything. Not having to know anything creates an enormous amount of space. Everything can participate again, which makes connections much easier, namely by not having to know anything. Not having to know anything creates an enormous amount of space. Everything can participate again, which makes connections much easier. Sophie did not need much while her quality of presence was high. That is precisely where she was invited to go on an adventure with her. 

Nowadays my preparation for acquisition and intake interviews etc. mainly consists of organizing my quality of presence. How do I ensure a maximum presence in the conversation, without being guided by goals or assignments that have been determined in advance. No more a straitjacket with questions that need to be answered but questions that invite me to investigate. The better my quality of presence, the more possible there is in the conversation. Without intention.

An adventure in search of where love belongs

It is nice to see these two people at work together. Especially the moments of their mutual eye contact are enchanting. Everything is there. Trust, surrender, the feeling of being carried and last but not least: love. This love is also visible in Bert and Sophie’s dealings with their inner circle. The people who assist them at the seminar. Also here love is mutual. But when they look at us, when teachers change something. It is a subtle but unmistakable change. The look in their eyes is different.

Authors like Neale Walsch and Deepak Chopra have contrasted love and fear as two extremes. Extremes between which you can choose; with the call to choose love. Working without love and without fear goes beyond this duality. You bring yourself into another dimension. The model of the extremes immediately feels oppressive. It is no longer whether one or the other, it is beyond all this. In all this beyond everything you come to a deep layer of being human. You are then fully present and at the same time in a kind of trance. You feel perfectly what your next step will be, almost as if you are being led. You do or say things you didn’t think of beforehand but of which you immediately know: yes this is right, this is what it is all about. The interventions do not come from you but flow through you. In your reflection afterwards, you sometimes come up with some nice explanations for it, but these actually all do not do the experience justice. From all this beyond everything, you deliver your best work. Even when that is invisible to others. It is a kind of flow but one that transcends you and who you are and what you can do. You are not the best version of yourself, you are part of something bigger and available to it. 

I often experience this feeling when I write. It starts with a thought that I want to say something about something but don’t know exactly what yet. If I am completely present and not fixated on an idea or a beautiful find in the text, it is as if I can connect myself to a source that is larger than me. The words come naturally. Without love.

Coming home after the adventure

The seminar is now six years ago. Sophie’s words have become an inspiration in my work. Not as a mechanical technique or as a trick but as an underlying starting point for my work. Not as a dogma but as a challenge. 

By working without love, compassion, intention and fear I can only withdraw everything I know and find. If I do that and at the same time ensure that I have a high quality of presence, then an invitation to investigate automatically arises. 

And the beauty is: every time I think I have really understood it, I discover a new aspect of this message, as if I were discovering a golden vein. Without love. Without fear.

Siets Bakker