Category Archives: Growth

“Le aspettative sono nemiche della pace”/ Expectations are the enemy of Peace

How can we manage our Expectations in the next phase of the Coronavirus Pandemic so that they do not destroy our peace of mind?

Many of us would have had plans for 2020. Personally, I have been studying Italian on Duolingo for a year, and I had booked and paid for a trip to Turin for the week beginning March 15, 2020.

Piazza Solferino, Turin

The first case of Coronavirus in Turin was on 24 February. Within a day, that number rose to 100. Within a few days it was clear that this was a very serious problem.

Meanwhile, the Government in the UK seemed to be ignoring the problem. My expectations of going were thrown into doubt, and I was thrown into confusion.

Without the Government forbidding travel to Italy, I could not cancel my bookings and get a refund. If I went, I risked bringing the Virus home and to work.

Over the next two weeks, my anxiety increased exponentially as I tried to work out what I should do. I sought advice from the University, but they were Duty bound to follow Government advice.

AT with a Music Student

I wrote to explain that as an Alexander Technique (AT) teacher/Coach within the Department of Music and for staff across the University, I spent an hour 1-1, face to face with clients, and Alexander Technique is hands on. Were they still happy for me to go and return to work if I did not have symptoms. The Government advice was YES.

Not only was I anxious, but also angry. I worked with people who had had cancer, whose immune systems were compromised. And I understood that if I brought back the virus asymptomatically and infected anyone at the University, I could be the cause of shutting down the entire Institution. And I felt I was being left to shoulder the burden of ethical working, and losing my hard earned money into the bargain.

I should perhaps explain that I moved to York in 2011, knowing only two people, and being self employed. I am still Self Employed, and only earn when I work. It has taken me years of insecurity to build up a reputation and to be able to afford to travel, and I am well aware of how easily a reputation is lost, and how difficult it is to regain.

So this situation matter to me a great deal and created a great deal of stress.

Despite my disappointment at not being able to go, it actually came a great relief to my equanimity when the Government finally gave clear advice, banning all unnecessary travel to Northern Italy, and I no longer had to make what seemed an impossible decision.

A ‘night out’ – in my tiny garden

Like most people in the UK, I have knuckled down under lockdown and made the best of it, despite having lost all of my Alexander Technique work and much of my precarious income.

My most exciting event of a day!

I realised very quickly last weekend, when I read that Italy was opening its borders on June 3, how my inner peace was immediately shattered. Suddenly my expectations were revived, and many of the questions I had wrestled with and given up on, now reared their heads again.

Once again, the advice being handed down from the Government is confusing and often conflicting – ‘Go to work’ – ‘Don’t go to work’, ‘go out and exercise’ – ‘don’t go to beauty spots and put local populations at risk’ – ‘meet one person outside’ – ‘don’t meet anyone in your garden’ (even if you have a huge garden and you are more easily able to socially distance in your garden than you might be in the local park.

When we have expectations and they are not met, we experience disappointment, resentment, anger and stress. It becomes hard to see another’s point of view and we polarise. Brexit is a classic case in point, bringing disharmony to families, friends, colleagues, neighbours.

When I realised that I would lost the bulk of my income, and that being self employed meant I had no safety net (remember it took the Government quite a while to agree to help the Self Employed, and even then the help was based on profits, not income, as it was for the employed), I was anxious and frightened. I am grateful for the years of learning I have gained through Coaching and being Coached. And of previous life experience.

Armed convoy in Rhodesia

My teens were spent on the border of Mozambique and what was then Rhodesia, and we spent years in a type of lockdown, where we could not leave town other than in an armed convoy. (And yes I still suffer from the guilt of the White African.)

But I knew that I had the skills and resilience to make it through this. And not only make it through – to learn useful lessons, to take time to turn in and deal with old hurts, to thrive.

But for many people in this country, those reserves have never been tested. The millennial generation have, by and large had things at their finger tips, and instant answers (and I realise this is a generalisation). So this has been the most incredible shock to the system. Being locked down has meant that all the ways in which we used to distract ourselves from difficulties, have been taken away. Our vulnerable underbellies have been exposed, and we have been afraid.

One thing I know without a shadow of a doubt – both from personal life experience, and from working with clients for 30 years, is that when we are afraid, we often don’t ‘behave well’. And ironically, we often behave in ways that actually prevent us from achieving what we are most needing and wanting. When we feel unheard, or unmet, we very often lash out, and sadly the result is usually that we are met with defensiveness, absence, or a brick wall, when what we desperately want is connection, understanding, empathy and care.

So what can we each do differently to get what we need. Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it. I understand that to mean we need to change out mindset. Simple, perhaps, but by no means easy. Witness all the conflicts in the world. I often find it astonishing that we can invent such extraordinary things, and understand such complex issues outside ourselves and yet so few people I know, even otherwise extraordinarily intelligent people, seem to have so little control of their thoughts and judgments.

The work I do on myself is to find a way to live from courage and heart, rather than from fear and judgment. It is a work in progress. But by being able to pause, to be conscious of my habitual responses, to choose to act intentionally instead of from my unconscious habits, I have been enormously grateful to heal deep wounds in myself, and in my family relationships, and to provide a safe space for others to do that for themselves.

I have been privileged to run a Pilot of Action Learning (Peer Group Coaching) sets for a year with WRoCAH and CHASE students, and to witness the growth, development and resilience in those who committed themselves to this process. It is my considered belief that this way of working can greatly assist in developing the skills we need to find the way forward in this pandemic. In a sense the easy part is over. However hard, lockdown had a certainty about it. This next phase of a confusing movement into a ‘new normal’, brings about expectations and consequent disappointments, and in that, will challenge our peace of mind and resilience to a far greater degree. How will we navigate the conflicting needs and expectations of friends, family, lovers, colleagues, peers?

The principles of Deep Listening, of Respect, of trusting that each of us can find our way and our truth when supported to do, underpin the practice of Action Learning. These are much needed in these challenging times.

Another great man (in my opinion!), Leonard Cohen, said ‘There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’. I believe that we can use the cracks in the fabric of our world right now, to let the light in – to find the way ahead, however obscure it may seem at the moment.

On getting ill, Vulnerability and Taking Stock

  There is nothing like getting ill for raising the feeling of Vulnerability when you’re self employed! Especially when it comes out of nowhere and you think your immune system is rock solid.

The interesting thing about this week of not working and not feeling up to much though, is that it has made me think about one of my favourite enemies – SHOULD.

It’s a word I ban in my teaching room, yet being solitary and incapable made me realise just how much space I still allow it in my own life, and particularly since my daughter left for University.

I think any big change in life circumstances calls us to take stock, and with good reason, but here is (some of) my list of ‘shoulds’ that have been sharing my bed and head since she left and I have reviewed the 7 years since we came to York:

I SHOULD HAVE …..

  • worked harder
  • studied more
  • made more money
  • been more successful
  • recycled more
  • cooked better food
  • taken more care of the planet
  • kept the house tidier
  • been a better role model to my daughter
  • dared to try and have another relationship
  • practised the piano more
  • helped her practise her music and with her timbale lessons
  • encouraged her to play more sport
  • encouraged her to act
  • helped the needy
  • volunteered more
  • complained less about poor service in restaurants (🙄 really??)

OMG no wonder my immune system was under attack with all that lot going on.  And what a relief to have to let go of it all and just sleep, and almost feed myself and definitely not tidy the house! Talk about physician heal thyself! Because of course it became blindingly obvious to me that I much preferred being with this gentler, more tolerant me than the me with the big stick and long list, and for sure the big stick didn’t make me achieve very much more, just made me and I bet my poor daughter, fearful and miserable and bowed down and unwilling to try, to take risks, or as my wise Safari guide friend says, to Dance with Life.

One of my other wise friends asked how I was doing with vulnerability because he didn’t think I was going to make much progress until I was willing to embrace it a bit more.  Interestingly I couldn’t really answer the question, because I have been so busy hiding from it that it hadn’t really come up!

Of course I have had the excuse of having to make a living in a small place where everyone knows pretty much everything and I couldn’t afford to make mistakes because it could cost my reputation and my job, etc etc. Doesn’t mean I have managed to avoid making mistakes anyway, interestingly- just haven’t deliberately put myself in their way.

So now I find myself looking back on 7 years where I started out enthusiastically with high hopes thinking I could crack this and make a wonderful new life for me and my daughter, and realising that 7 years have gone by, and I have done some stuff, and we’re still afloat, which is something, considering, but in the major life choices department, I have not danced with my life, more like hobbled on crutches, and then I have got angry with myself for hobbling, and knocked the crutches out of my hands….

Hmmmmm. …..Old habits die hard, and as I regain my strength, I can see that the voice of SHOULD is waiting for air time and the slightest opportunity.

So this next little while is going to be interesting as I see if I can find a different way of being with myself, talking to myself, and flexing the muscles of compassion  instead of self judgment….

SHOULD WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH?

SHOULD WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH?

There is a national realisation that mental ill-health is on the increase and needs our attention. This is true. But should we be talking about Mental Health per se? Here is why I am asking the question:

A new University student who is perhaps introverted and does not enjoy drunkenness may sit alone in her room feeling lonely and anxious. Another may go out ‘socialising’ each night and binge drink. Does it mean that the mental health of the first student is more in question than that of the second? What about the work colleague who has started to come in a bit late sometimes or isn’t paying so much attention to her appearance? Do we equate this to laziness or to mental health? Are we truly paying attention to ourselves and to those around us?

Up until recently if you went to the doctor with an ache or pain, and the diagnosis was ‘psychosomatic’, the underlying assumption was that it wasn’t real. Nowadays there is a much greater understanding of the interaction of mind, body and emotions. The physical pain is extremely real, although caused or aggravated by psychological factors. Psychosomatic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress’ and ‘relating to the interaction of mind and body’.

I trained to teach the Alexander Technique (AT), which is based on the premise that the use of the whole self (body, mind and emotions) affects function. It is taught using gentle manual guidance with verbal instruction to help the person understand and work with unhelpful habits, be those physical, mental or emotional.

I have been working as an Associate at The University of York for six years now but prior to this I worked for several years in the NHS at the practice of a forward thinking GP, Dr Gavin Young. The doctors would often refer the patients with physical ailments who were not responding to conventional treatment. I discovered that many of the patients whom they had referred with intractable neck pain had lost a parent in the preceding year. This was a surprise to them, though not to me.

In the nearly 30 years that I have worked with AT, I have seen time and again, that people who suppress or repress mental and emotional pain, often manifest psychological issues in physical symptoms. The English are well known for their stiff upper lip and ‘keep calm and carry on approach’. It is easier to call in sick because you have excruciating neck pain and headaches than to tell your manager that you can’t come in to work because you are grieving the death of your mother.

I worked with another person at the GP surgery who was in great physical pain, but described herself as a hugely positive person. Over a period of months, we worked physically to relieve the pain, with little success, and at the same time, I probed gently into the incongruencies of positivity and pain. Eventually this person was able to tell me something she had never been able to share before, or even truly admit to herself, that she had been abused.

Once she was able to access and acknowledge this memory, true healing was able to begin, both in her body, and through counselling support offered by the GP practice. It is my contention that purely physical therapy alone would never have worked for this patient, because her pain was so deeply rooted in emotional trauma. However, I very much doubt that she would have been able to acknowledge the abuse without the body work and gentle questioning, for the simple reason that she could only acknowledge the physical pain, and was not presenting with a ‘mental health’ problem.

Professor Nickolaas Tinbergen was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1973. He devoted half of his acceptance speech to extolling the virtues of the Alexander Technique and its impact on his life. He said ‘this story of perceptiveness, intelligence and persistence shown by a man without medical training [Frederick Alexander’s], is one of the great epics of medical research and practice.’ He described how he and his family had decided to test some of the seemingly fantastical claims. They found, after only a few months, ‘striking improvements in such diverse things as oedema due to high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures and also in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument.’

Interestingly, 45 years on, terms such as mental alertness and resilience are widely used in discussion and approaches to mental health.

Tinbergen confirmed from personal experience that ‘many types of underperformance and even ailments, both mental and physical, can be alleviated, sometimes to a surprising extent, by teaching the body musculature to function differently.’ Advances in neuroscience since this time have elucidated further how the brain and body interact positively in this process to explain the ‘surprising extent’ of these improvements. My practice has reflected Tinbergen’s experience. Follow-up questionnaires, immediately after a 10 week treatment plan and 1 year post-treatment, indicated that the majority of patients from my work in the GP surgery found AT to be of ‘considerable help’ or ‘totally sorted’ their problems. Anecdotally, most patients reported to me that if it had not sorted their original presenting problem, it had helped them manage their lives more effectively.

As a result of this work, I realised that what I was doing via AT could also be understood to include, what is now called, Life Coaching. I trained in Relational Dynamic Life Coaching, and have found this to be a powerful synthesis with AT. (Relational Dynamics- the art of interaction with self and others www.relationaldynamics.co.uk)

My understanding based on experience is that the mind and body either act to support or to destabilise the other. Changing thoughts and beliefs can have a powerful effect on the body, just as releasing physical tension and improving physical functioning can free up the mind and give self-empowerment. Being able to work with people via these two techniques has enabled me to enhance overall well-being, not just ‘mental health’ or ‘physical health’. We can approach well-being via either working with the body (physical therapies) or mind (psychological ‘talking’ therapies). My conviction is that a combination of the two can be most powerful.

But, to return to my title, should we even be talking about mental health? In making a distinction between mental health and other health issues, we risk falsely attributing some issues to the purely mental sphere, and the stigma which is commonly associated with mental ill-health. We are all people comprised of bodies and minds, which are deeply affected by our emotions. Are we not missing a trick by failing to approach health as a synthesis of body and mind states?

If we understand that health and ill-health is a matter of the whole person, we can better identify these people and offer appropriate help. But if we separate the ‘mental’ from the ‘physical’ we are likely only to treat the symptoms and not the cause, or at the very least a contributing factor. In this I think we are failing to provide healthcare that meets the needs of the population.

We need a healthcare service that acknowledges how the body and mind impact each other and makes better use of the whole of ourselves to prevent and treat ill-health.

In my opinion, this means dropping the ‘mental health’ label and ensuring our conversations, concerns and treatments are about Health.

Julie Parker BSc, MSTAT
ILM level 7 equivalent accredited Coach
Www.creativetransformation.org.uk
https://www.facebook.com/creativetransformationuk/

Disclaimer: These are my personal views and do not represent the views of any organisation

Advice to my Daughter after two weeks at University

” Think of it like the sea – there will always be another wave and another high tide – sometimes you just have to wait”
When I was growing up in Africa, we used to go on holiday to the seaside for 3-6 weeks. Apart from anything else, it used to take a week of 8 hour a day driving to get there and back, so it didn’t seem worth it to go for less!
My brother and I were avid body surfers, and we spent hours and hours in the ocean, much of it waiting for the next perfect wave to surf
The first ‘wave’ of excitement is over, exhaustion has set in, and the real hard work of study has begun. It’s easy to feel discouraged, homesick and missing one’s special friends. But the next wave will come if you are patient….

JOY – Century old wisdom for Current times

There is a saying – ‘When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears’.

I already have a weekly battery charging session with the wonderful Natacha Dauphin https://www.natachadauphin.com/

And this week I set an Intention for living more joyfully. The teacher who appeared, via some extraordinary kindness and generosity from some of my clients and Maria Popova’s Brainpickings, was Herman Hesse, on just exactly that subject, and I am quoting those thoughts here. They have as much, if not more relevance to today, as they did when he wrote them, and I am grateful for the reminder at a time when I had temporarily forgotten that productivity and success do not necessarily equate to joy.

HURRY- HURRY – THE ENEMY OF JOYBluebell wood

”Great masses of people these days live out their lives in a dull and loveless stupor. Sensitive persons find our inartistic manner of existence oppressive and painful, and they withdraw from sight… I believe what we lack is joy. The ardor that a heightened awareness imparts to life, the conception of life as a happy thing, as a festival… But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.

AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE – AS FAST AS POSSIBLE??

Our ways of enjoying ourselves are hardly less irritating and nerve-racking than the pressure of our work. “As much as possible, as fast as possible” is the motto. And so there is more and more entertainment and less and less joy… This morbid pursuit of enjoyment [is] spurred on by constant dissatisfaction and yet perpetually satiated.

I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula: Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment. And: Do not overlook the little joys!

HEADS UP!

Our eyes, above all those misused, overstrained eyes of modern man, can be, if only we are willing, an inexhaustible source of pleasure. When I walk to work in the morning I see many workers who have just crawled sleepily out of bed, hurrying in both directions, shivering along the streets. Most of them walk fast and keep their eyes on the pavement, or at most on the clothes and faces of the passers-by. Heads up, dear friends!

NOTICING NATURETree branches

Just try it once — a tree, or at least a considerable section of sky, is to be seen anywhere. It does not even have to be blue sky; in some way or another the light of the sun always makes itself felt. Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you, the scent of morning freshness that is bestowed on you between sleep and labor. You will find every day that the gable of every house has its own particular look, its own special lighting. Pay it some heed if you will have for the rest of the day a remnant of satisfaction and a touch of coexistence with nature. Gradually and without effort the eye trains itself to transmit many small delights, to contemplate nature and the city streets, to appreciate the inexhaustible fun of daily life. From there on to the fully trained artistic eye is the smaller half of the journey; the principal thing is the beginning, the opening of the eyes.

DETAILSCountryside

A stretch of sky, a garden wall overhung by green branches, a strong horse, a handsome dog, a group of children, a beautiful face — why should we be willing to be robbed of all this? Whoever has acquired the knack can in the space of a block see precious things without losing a minute’s time… All things have their vivid aspects, even the uninteresting or ugly; one must only want to see.

And with seeing come cheerfulness and love and poesy. The man who for the first time picks a small flower so that he can have it near him while he works has taken a step toward joy in life.

USE ALL YOUR SENSES

(There are) many other small joys, perhaps the especially delightful one of smelling a flower or a piece of fruit, of listening to one’s own or others’ voices, of hearkening to the prattle of children. And a tune being hummed or whistled in the distance, and a thousand other tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures for one’s life.

SEEK OUT THE SMALL JOYS

My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and from apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys, and thriftily save up the larger, more demanding pleasures for holidays and appropriate hours. It is the small joys first of all that are granted us for recreation, for daily relief and disburdenment, not the great ones.”
Herman Hesse

My  ’small’ joy of today has been the delight of smelling my fresh herbs of basil, coriander and rosemary. You are very welcome to comment and share yours. I am building a library of Inspriational sayings – we could start a library of Small Joys here!