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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!

Surreptitious Growth

Spring Flowers

It’s a ‘dead’ February Sunday morning – a sunless, muted chilled day. The kind where it is easy to descend into melancholy and retreat into oneself. I am sitting on my patio in socks, pyjamas and winter coat drinking my morning coffee, listening to Janis Ian and contemplating.

My gaze lights on the terracotta pot that one of Anna’s friends accidentally broke, which now looks sad and dilapidated.

Terracotta Pot

And my gaze softens and widens and instead of the broken pot I allow myself to see what’s in it and in the mass of winter dead leaves in the bed beyond.

And I realise that I have not really been paying attention in the last few weeks of morning coffee drinking, because there in the ground are the first signs of Spring.

Spring Bulbs

I’ve been talking to clients a lots recently about growth, and about spring bulbs – how we plant them in Autumn and then see nothing for months – but how in that dark, hard ground, something is happening. That without that time of winter – of darkness, of bare-ness, of hibernation, the bulbs don’t have the necessary strength and energy to find their way through the earth and up to the light in order to blossom..

Hyacinths in GrowthAnd I realise that wherever I look in my tiny garden, the signs of growth are everywhere – I just haven’t been really looking. And like the hyacinths that are budding in the safety of their leaf nests, my flowers of creativity are budding and ready to bloom.

I have been doing some work on website recently and came across quite a few blogs that I started and never published. I notice that for years I have been having ideas about things I want to write, to offer as workshops, and I have got some way to making them happen and then they have sat dormant. And just as I had the idea of this blog and walked inside and made it happen, so I realise that I am making all sorts of other plans, dreams and schemes happen organically – with energy but without forcing, and I notice by paying attention, that my creativity is budding and in the process of blossoming, because of all the surreptitious growing that has been going on in the dark.

And I realise that it no longer bothers me if I can’t see the sun because the light is inside me, and I am deeply happy…

On Demons, Compassion, Choice and the Interconnectedness of Life

Yesterday I was blessed and privileged to have a long  Facetime conversation with Lindsay Kyte – she just waking in Halifax Canada, and I just returning from a day out in nature in Yorkshire, UK.

Lindsay was one of my MA students about 8 years ago at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She is now an award winning play-write, TEDx speaker, and editor of The Lion’s Roar – the premier Buddhist magazine in N America.

When Lindsay first returned to Canada, she turned to me for some long distance life coaching and now I have been able to turn to her for for help with the re-writing of my website.

But yesterday we were reflecting deeply on our shared demons, and the need for compassion – in particular self compassion.

For the last couple of years, this month of August, when clients and daughter are away, has seen the rearing heads of my ‘not enough’ demons: ‘Not good enough, not hardworking enough, not published enough, not known enough, not rich enough, not spiritual enough, not kind enough…..’ My ‘not enough’ demons are legion.

This year, I am facing those demons down by deliberate choices based on compassion and recognition of the interconnectedness of life.

I love this image of the impact of single droplets into water – how individually they create expanding concentric circles, and how each of those interact with others to create differing patterns, impacts, stories and lives.

And it gave me great joy in talking to Lindsay, in hearing her talk of strategies that I had offered her all those years ago, and how they impacted on the choices she has made in her life, and how those choices impact on so many others with whom she comes into contact, both through her life and through her work. It helps me to reconnect to choices I often find hard to make. It helps me to give value to each individual interaction I have and gives me a sense of meaning and purpose.

We spoke too, of how often we each give energy to things that are not essential, and neglect the things we know will deeply nourish us. While we often give much thought and energy to finding compassion for others, the practice of self compassion is a more elusive one – especially for someone like me, brought up on the tenet of ‘think of others before yourself’.

Lindsay sent this link to Tara Brach’s 10 minute process she calls the RAIN of Compassion:

R -Recognise

A – Accept

I – Investigate

N – Nourish

Tara’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have found her Mindfulness exercises valuable at times when I have felt unable to quiet my own anxieties.

Here is the link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

If you are interested in reading more about Lindsay and Lion’s Roar, here are the links to the magazine, and also Lindsay’s website

http://www.lindsaykyte.com/

https://www.lionsroar.com/

 

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY – SUMMER 2017

SUMMER THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY


It’s August, and ‘everyone’ is away on holiday and all classes have stopped. It’s the month for whiling away the hours in lazy sunshine…

Except that I can’t afford to do that, and besides, it seems that Yorkshire was not made aware that ‘lazy sunshine’ was supposed to be the order of the day.

So I am giving notice to anyone who happens to read my blog, that I have made a covenant with myself to put in some sort of thought for the day for the next month – whether that be one of mine, or just one that inspires me.

I would be delighted if this helps/interests/entertains anyone else, but I just want to make it clear that this is something I am doing for myself:

  • To face down my morning demons
  • To practise my 20 minute rule of keeping at things steadily, rather than hoping for the grand inspiration (am much in need of this practice)
  • To practise gratitude
  • To find the lessons in situations I might otherwise be tempted to call problematic
  • To allow myself to write without feeling that I have to be saying something original, important, erudite or anything else deeply meaningful, because I realise that I decided 20 years ago I wanted to write every morning, and I have allowed all these reasons (and more) to stop me, and that seems very sad

  • Because I know in my heart that if I keep paying attention to inspiration and creative thought, that eventually all those little somethings will help me to experience meaning and purpose and that’s something I have been struggling with and allowing me to give free reign to my inner critic.

Brief Thoughts from International Women’s Day Conference

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I spent the day with about 800 women at the ‘Be Inspired’ Conference today celebrating International Women’s Day – and was truly inspired.

Some thoughts:
Unity through Diversity:
The speakers came from very different walks of life and there were some common themes as to why we would count them ‘successful’. We can all learn from them!

1. PASSION
These women followed their passions. They had a dream, and made that dream work for them.

2. ENERGY & DEDICATION
The proliferation of Reality TV shows, and the attention garnered through social media can lead us to believe that success is quickly and easily achievable. But each of these women had dedicated time, energy, intelligence, grit and determination to become leaders in their fields.

3. WILLINGNESS TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED
Many of the women had become leaders in fields often thought of as bastions of the male sex. They had suffered contempt, criticism, humiliation and condescension on their way to the top. Nevertheless they had stood their ground, fought the fight, and stood out as beacons of hope and role models for those of us less willing to be seen and heard.

4. COLLABORATION, KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY
Not only had these women fought for themselves, they had all freely and generously given of their time and talents to foster talent, to mentor younger women, and to reach out to those less fortunate or skilled. They all realised that although we can strive to stand out and be different, ultimately collaboration is the way forward.

A common theme was the difficulty that many women face in trying to ‘have it all’ – i.e have a family and career. It is interesting (and somewhat dispiriting) that men seldom face this question.

So I have this challenge – how do we join together to change social norms, change attitudes and ultimately government policy. We have much to learn from our Scandinavian counterparts. In 2020, Finland will change its entire schooling system, no longer teaching by subject, but by phenomenon. Paternity leave is not only offered, but encouraged and supported, in most Scandinavian countries. If they can make such radical changes, why can’t we, and what do we need to do to make it happen?

And now, having attended the Conference, been to work afterwards, cooked a roast dinner for my daughter and cleared it up, written a couple of articles, tweeted and emailed, I need to go to bed!

Meeting Myself with Compassion and Kindness vs Running Away

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It is said that we teach best what we most need to learn. I am a pretty good teacher on a number of things, but particularly on self acceptance!

I am embarking tomorrow on a 7 week online mindfulness course. I am doing this for a number of reasons.

  • I realise that more often than I would wish, I run away from being kindly present with myself and I wish to change that.
  • I am a single parent with an only child and parents who live on the other side of the world. As such, I find this run up to the ‘Festive Season of Love and Light’ challenging.
  • It is also said that ‘We are what we habitually do.’ I know that I often have great intuition, insight and sensitivity, and I also know that I find it difficult to maintain those qualities on a habitual day to day basis and I need help with achieving a daily nourishing reminder.

Compassionate Presence vs Running Away

I have worked long enough with people to know that I am not alone in this. What I know is that when I scratch below the surface, almost everyone has a place where they face the challenge of themselves, more or less successfully. And I think it might help me and others for me to articulate some of the challenges I face in myself and seek to overcome.

In many ways, I love my life. I row, play tennis, sing, hike, camp, body surf when I get the chance, and much too little dance and play music. I have a job I love and a wonderful daughter and good friends.

How is it, that with all that, I can run away from myself? Well, I do. I notice that when left to myself, if I am not careful, and certainly if I am not thriving for any reason, I run away from myself, tune out, self numb or whatever you like to call it. Occasionally I tell myself I am not so bad, because the activities I choose are relatively innocuous – I watch other people live life on film instead of living it myself (under the heading of chilling out), I play rather a frightening amount of sudoku and free cell (under the heading of keeping my brain active), and rather less innocuously, from time to time,  I smoke (under the heading of, well, it only harms me, and I don’t have vices like getting drunk or having loads of sex with random people, and I need some form of sensual outlet).

One of my favourite authors, Salley Vickers, talks in her book, ‘The Other Side of You’, about what passes for love often being a decidedly mixed bag: lust, anxiety, lack of self-worth, sadism, masochism, cowardice, fear, recklessness, self-glory, simple brutality, the need to control, the urge to be looked after; most dangerous of all, the desire to save. There are other, happier, ingredients: kindness, compassion, honour, friendship, sympathy, the wish to help, the attendant wish to be good, though these finer impulses can often wreak more havoc then the more blackguardly ones.

I cite this, because I think it is worth looking at in terms of relationship to others, but also because I think that ‘innocuous’ ways of running away from ourselves can also wreak more havoc than more blackguardly ones. We can convince ourselves that we are doing really important work that needs our time and attention, we can do charitable works or do sport, music or other things that are good in themselves, but can equally masquerade as ways of avoiding being quietly and compassionately present with ourselves.

‘Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.’
—Carl Gustav Jung

As a parent, I am painfully aware of the truth of this statement. If for no other reason than to enable my daughter to live a full and happy life, I would like to truly live my life. And I have done enough work on self awareness to know that those ways I have of trying to escape myself, whether seemingly innocuous or not, will have, and have had, and impact on her. So I am doing my best to find strategies for facing myself, acknowledging my vulnerabilities and giving myself the love and compassion that I need to thrive.

We are what we habitually do

I also know from my work, that it takes 300 repetitions to create a new neural pathway, and 3000 to repetitions to break an old one! 

I see it as no accident that all the major religions have about 5 calls a day to prayer. It seems that we all need help and reminding to come back to ourselves, to loving presence, and the means to live fully.

In my work I have developed a great sensitivity which enables me to tune into the pain of others, be that physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or energetic. But as Brene Brown says, we cannot selectively numb. I have told many of my clients who are deeply sensitive that sensitivity brings many riches, but if we don’t pay it attention, care for it and manage it well, it can wreak havoc.

I am a person who feels the highs and lows of life, and do not naturally flow along on an even keel, so I need to take care, and to develop the daily management of my sensitivity.

I am going to pay it attention in the next 7 weeks, and will report back on my progress!

 

Using Your Gifts/Qualities/Talents

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Seven years ago (!) some of my necklaces got seriously entangled.  My parents were staying with me at the time, and I handed them to my father, who loved to sit in a chair…but after an hour, he gave up, and so did I.

Five years ago I moved city and house, taking with me my bundle of necklaces. Since then, they have ‘adorned’ a bowl in my room, gathering dust and being otherwise useless.

Earlier this year, I read Marie Kondo’s Book, ‘The Magic of Tidying”, and am happy to say, have been putting some of her suggestions into practice. I disagree with her suggestion that one should sort by type, rather than location. If I had nothing else to do for about two weeks, that might have worked, but I have worked systematically through my house, room by room, following her most excellent suggestion of handling every piece of ‘stuff”. Anything that does not give joy and/or is useful, goes.

I am a hoarder by nature, and being self employed, am also obliged to hoard a certain amount of paperwork. But I have been through every piece of paper I have kept for the last 30 odd years, every piece of clothing, every drawer, cupboard, nook and cranny, and boy does it feel wonderful to clear!

My room was the last in the house, and I had been through everything and was on the last leg of the tidy up when a friend, who disappears for months on end, rang. I had been procrastinating about this last effort, and had only two hours available, and when he calls, he talks! So I confess I multi tasked by taking the nearest thing to hand – my necklaces, to work on while listening.

By the time we finished, I felt as though I was getting somewhere, and it felt imperative to finish the job. As I sat on the floor, patiently picking and weaving, getting to dead ends and having to start again elsewhere, my mind began writing this blog.

Our qualities and gifts are like beautiful, precious jewels that are given to us to adorn, to sparkle, to catch the light, to beautify us. Yet often we allow them to get enmeshed, to gather dust, to become unfit for purpose. Then not only we, but those with whom we come in contact are impoverished.

It feels very significant to me that I have managed to untangle these jewels of mine. It took me a long time, and I had to keep looking for different strands, and approach the problem from different perspectives (necklaces). But how lovely to once again have eight necklaces that I can use and enjoy! Interestingly one or two don’t really go with what I wear any more and I am giving them away so someone else can enjoy them.

Colour has always been really important to me, and I was interested that all these necklaces were either purple or orange. In the energy meditations I studied, these colours have to do with spirituality, (purple) and self esteem, creativity and sexuality (orange).

Now here I venture into the realms of things I experience but don’t fully understand. Moreover, I know that some of my friends who are steeped in Christianity will feel I am heading off on a path of the devil! Some of my intelligent, left brained friends and colleagues may feel I have gone ‘too mystical’. For a very long time I have drawn these things into my life and work in a practical way, but have not owned up to them publicly for fear of censure. I do feel though, that they form part of my jewels that I have to share.

One of the things on my bucket list is to find a way to understand and articulate what I know and experience about energy in such a way as to make it understandable to those who espouse Christianity and scientific enquiry (my background – fundamental, evangelical Christianity and a Maths Degree). So feel free to challenge or engage me further on this!

Interestingly, many people I know go to Yoga classes or have acupuncture. I wonder if they realise that they are essentially espousing some of the concepts I am going to address…. next time! Or this blog will be too long…

Till then…

 

Continue reading Using Your Gifts/Qualities/Talents

Some thoughts for the New Year

Yes

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Embrace

I began this Year at my favourite place in York – down by the river, near the Millenium Bridge.

I had spent the previous half hour taking part in a meditation shared by others around the country, reflecting on 2014, starting at the end and going back to the beginning. I have had a number of years that in many ways had been pretty challenging, and it was a joy to me to allow my mind to take me wherever it would, and to find for the most part, joy and gratitude.

Then each of us paused to see in the New Year as we wished, and followed that with another short meditation, finding our way into the New Year, and finding a word that connected us to the Year.

I had been thinking about this beforehand, and had been thinking about the word Balance (more on which in a later post), but two words came to me, and they were YES, and EMBRACE.

Yes

I have seen firsthand in my own life what it means to say YES, even when it seems frightening and there are many unknowns. It took me a couple of years of fear and vascillation before I I could say YES to moving to York, and now in just three years, I have a wonderful stockpile of memories and and experiences for which I am enormously grateful, and which would not be there without that initial YES.

Now you…

What is it that you would like to say YES to in this coming year? Give yourself some time and space to write.

Write down whatever it is that you would like to say YES to, and then keep writing until all your fears and worries and logical reasonings as to why you should not/could not do that are all on paper, and you find that you have written to plan of how to get to that YES

Now go out and do it! Better still, at the end of the Year, write down what it was, and how you got there, and send it to me! I want to start a Treasure chest of Triumphs!

Embrace

verb (used with object)embraced, embracing.
1.to take or clasp in the arms; press to the bosom; hug.

2.to take or receive gladly or eagerly; accept willingly:

to embrace an idea.

3.to avail oneself of:

to embrace an opportunity.

4.to adopt (a profession, a religion, etc.):

to embrace Buddhism.
5.to take in with the eye or the mind.
6. to encircle; surround; enclose.

7.to include or contain:

An encyclopedia embraces a great number of subjects.
What immediately came to me, sitting on a plastic bag on a bench by the river at 00.05, 1/1/15 (floods over Christmas meant the benches were really muddy and I was well prepared!), was to EMBRACE those aspects of life  which I normally spurned/criticised/feared, and see what I had been missing! Also, to EMBRACE myself – those aspects of myself which I daily spurn/criticise/fear.

Now You….

Allow yourself to acknowledge those things which scare/annoy/frustrate you, and to wonder (preferably in writing) what it would be like to embrace them? And as Henrietta Klausner(author  of Write it Down, Make it Happen) says, what might be the outcome of the outcome, and the outcome of that outcome….

Ask yourself the question “And because of that… then’ and keep asking, until you arrive at what, at depth, is important to you in Embracing whatever it is you are writing about. I am sure that in the process of this process, you will find the motivation to overcome your objection…

 

Wishing you a wonderful New Year, in which you Dare Greatly, say YES, and EMBRACE, and create a Treasure Chest of extraordinary memories for which to be thankful this time next Year!

 

5 Steps to Creating New Habits

FIVE STEPS TO CHANGING HABITS

 Changing habits can be simple, but unfortunately simple does not mean easy! However, by following these five steps, you WILL  achieve change!

1. INTENTION

 Form and maintain a clear of intention of the outcome you wish to achieve. This intention will provide the energy and direction required to proceed, and to overcome apparent obstacles.

 In order to really ‘see’ the obstacles in our path, we must be willing to truly look, and this can sometimes be a challenge to the ego, which feels less threatened by ignorance!

 

  1. AWARENESS

 Awaken, sharpen and refine your awareness of your habits. The tricky thing here is that habits are by their very nature subconscious. So you need an accurate ‘mirror’ or feedback system to highlight what is currently hidden. Engage your creativity, ingenuity, and all your senses to find ways of increasing the multi-sensory information you are giving yourself in order to improve this awareness.

 If you were walking in the mountains with a map, but were lost, the map would be useless unless you could first locate y

our current position. The same is true of ourselves and our habits.

 Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ pro-pree-o-sep-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

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 The cerebellum is largely responsible for coordinating the unconscious aspects of proprioception.

 Because of the unconscious nature of habit, it is most useful at the outset to enlist the assistance of an objective third party(teacher) who can give both accurate feedback, and hopefully (if correctly trained) assist you to achieve the desired outcome.

In the absence of such a teacher, or in between teaching sessions, video can be a useful tool. Proprioceptive senses are challenged to engage in a process without immediate visual feedback, and then this is checked against the visual and auditory feedback provided by the (good quality) video.

 A mirror is a poor third best, as it does not develop the proprioceptive sense.

 If you are dealing with a mental or emotional habit, then it is helpful to understand the triggers to that habit. Again, ideally with trained assistance, or without if it is possible, you can use your ingenuity and creativity to recreate those triggers in a safe environment so that you can practise becoming aware of your responses. Body and breath are useful tools here, as it is often said that ‘The Body speaks the Mind’.

Many responses to an ‘emotional’ trigger will show up in your physicality, for example anxiety producing sweaty palms, shortening of breath and tightening of the the stomach muscles.

For those of you interested in the neuroscience of why?, the following link about the amygdala may be of interest.

The Amygdala in 5 Minutes | Joseph LeDoux | Big Think

We begin to understand that we are indivisible ‘selves’. So as our awareness expands, we often notice that our habits we would term ‘physical’ , for instance a tightening of the breath in singing, can have ‘emotional’ triggers or components, eg fear of failure.

In order to have accurate awareness we need to keep reconnecting to our INTENTION. WIthout accurate awareness, we can just practise different, unhelpful habits! Without connecting to our INTENTION, we can create further pressure, which then creates further tension, and undermines our best efforts for change!

 

  1. PAUSE

 In order to change a response to a stimulus, we need to make the unconscious, conscious. In order to do this, it is usually imperative to create a pause, be it ever so infinitesimal, in order to prevent the unconscious, habitual response from occurring.

Breath is often a very useful first port of call. I have found it to be true that it is impossible to breathe freely while maintaining tension, and conversely, to maintain tension while breathing freely. As much (though not all) of our inappropriate response to stimulus involves excessive tension, awareness of breath, and use of conscious breath, can be a very helpful way of creating this pause.

  1. CONSCIOUS INSTRUCTIONS/INVITATIONS/DIRECTIONS

Having succeeded in becoming aware of our unhelpful habit or response to stimulus, and created the pause necessary to prevent responding in our habitual way, we use our conscious mind to give an instruction/invitation to the body and mind to respond in a new and chosen way. The efficacy of this new instruction will depend to some extent on the effect and depth of the old habit. Neuroscience teaches us that it takes 300 repetitions to create a new neural pathway (in other words, to allow a new habit to become unconscious), but 3000 repetitions to break an old habit!

Which leads us to the fifth step –

  1. REPEAT!

We need to repeat this entire process. We maintain our intention, engage our awareness, create a pause between the stimulus and response, and continue to give the conscious instruction to ourselves which creates the new habit.

FM Alexander (founder of the Alexander Technique – a powerful method for changing unhelpful habits) said that ‘If we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing will do itself. Sounds simple and it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy!

Very often, our desire to achieve a particular result can make us forget the steps necessary to achieve it. This creates a pressure which usually involves more tension, and undermines the process necessary to achieve the result!

 POST SCRIPT FROM MY EXPERIENCE

We humans are complicated! While we may outwardly assert that we wish to change a particular habit, we may notice that when it comes down to it, we strenuously resist taking the steps which our logical minds know we require to make those changes. In such instances, we may need help to delve more deeply into why we are resisting. In my experience, it is almost inevitably a result of some fear that we have not yet recognised or acknowledged. It may take considerable patience and compassion for ourselves as well as courage, to uncover the fear which limits our ability to perform and to connect with others as we would wish. It is also still true I believe, that by applying these five steps to the different layers of the problem, we can find a way to change!

Acknowledgement:

This article was inspired by a workshop given by Alex Ashworth at York University.

Alongside a flourishing career as a soloist, Alex is currently Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music and visiting professor at various (unpronounceable) institutions in Iceland in addition to teaching singing in the Music Department at York University.

Alexander Ashworth Baritone – Home

Forward Momentum – using peripheral vision

Learning from nature

As I rock hopped along a river bank, looking for a short cut across to the hill on the far side, I was reminded of how hard I find it to trust my footing on uneven rocks, and how that tends to make me look at my feet, and move very gingerly, taking time to test my footing on each rock.

While that sounds a sensible approach, in practice, it doesn’t work very well! One of the most helpful aspects of moving across uneven and potentially wobbly surfaces, is forward motion. That forward motion counteracts the potential for overbalancing when stepping on a rock which is either slippery or insecure. However, it takes some courage to commit to that forward motion, and more importantly, takes the use of our peripheral vision.

Walter Carrington, a pupil of FM Alexander, and famous teacher of the Alexander Technique, used to say that where the eyes lead, the body follows. When the eyes fix and focus on a single object, the body tends to tense, and if that object is on the ground, the body tends to lose any upward or forward energy. It follows then, that if the ground proves insecure, the body is not well placed to deal with the vitally necessary adjustments.

With the use of peripheral vision, which takes in the broader landscape, the body remains flexible, upright, and alert, and well placed for dealing with unexpected crises. I often do an interesting experiment with clients regarding the use of peripheral vision. I stand behind them as close as possible with my arms out to the front on either side of their head. Asking them to look ahead, and not move their eyes, I slowly move my hands apart, asking them to let me know when they can no longer see my hands. Usually my hands are almost 180 degrees to their head before they are unable to see them! That means, that without moving our eyes AT ALL, we have the facility to see everything in the hemisphere in front of us! How many of us actually use that facility?

Applying it to rock hopping, or to walking in general, I find it fascinating that most people walking on uneven ground watch the ground immediately in front of their feet. I would invite you to experiment with walking looking ahead of you, and consciously engaging peripheral vision, this time in the vertical plane, so that you are allowing your eyes to take in what’s ahead, but also everywhere from your feet forward. The brain is easily able to process all this information, and I think you may be pleasantly surprised at how easily you are able to navigate difficult terrain, and to make any adjustments necessary to compensate for loose rocks and uneven ground!

I have memories of my time in Africa when a boyfriend and I had gone on his off-road motorbike up into the hills and had encountered basically a road of boulders. I was terrified, clinging onto him, and making him inch forward at snail’s pace. Eventually he lost control of the bike, being unable to hold its weight at such a slow pace, and we came a cropper (fortunately not serious!). Being very bright, he proceeded to explain to me the physics of why I really needed to let him get some speed, and reluctantly I agreed. Suffice to say we completed the rest of the journey without mishap!

From the coaching perspective, it is also useful to remember to keep looking ahead, while taking in your surroundings, and not to get bogged down in difficult circumstances. It is important to remain flexible, both in mind and body, and to realise that although something can seem frightening and unsafe, that moving forward with care and flexibility can get us through times and situations that at first sight can seem  insurmountable.