Tag Archives: Coaching

Coronavirus: Some Practical Strategies for Dealing with Crisis and Uncertainty

Coronavirus has certainly raised the levels of global uncertainty and anxiety to heights that many people will not have experienced in their lifetime. Uncertainty, particularly over a prolonged period, can be very detrimental to our mental and emotional well being.

There is much online help and advice, so why am I writing this?

In my life I have experienced a number of crises and a great deal of uncertainty. I have learned strategies to deal with these through trial and (a great deal of) error. So I thought I would share them in case they helped any of you. For those of you who need to know my credentials, my story is at the end of this blog. Otherwise, read on! Skim the points, and choose what attracts you, or study in depth.

My first job after University was for a small Investment Firm in South Africa. The man who ran it is now the richest man in South Africa and I learned a lot from him.

He was a great advocate of the KISS principle: Keep it Simple, Stupid! Like many profound truths, these strategies are simple, but it doesn’t mean they are easy to implement – in particular when you are stressed.

  1. Take Action regarding things that are under your control

The feeling of being out of control is one that many of us find difficult, if not downright excruciating. So getting on with things that are under your control helps dissipate this feeling. Technically our +/-40,000 thoughts per day are under our control, yet we often find this is not the case. So the following help calm us enough to make this more possible.

  • Technology

Technology has become the backbone of our lives. It can either enable or disable us, depending on how we use it.

Here are the positives:

  • Communicate and connect

Renowned neuroscientist and author, Daniel Levitin recently gave a talk at the University where I work. According to him, research states that Happiness comes not from having a loved one, a special connection with someone who has your back, but through micro-connections: 2-3 short conversations per day, even with random strangers, can prevent you from feeling lonely. Technology is great for this! May I suggest calling/video calling, rather than texting. I don’t believe it has the same impact.

NOTE: I read somewhere that someone is collecting up old smartphones to donate to elderly isolated people so they can still see their loved ones. Great idea – could you facilitate/contribute?

  • Use good quality online learning resources. There are a myriad out there!
  • Learn something new – like a language. Since my daughter left for University and I have been living alone, I have been learning Italian on Duolingo. Apart from the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction, it has become the way I transition from work to an empty house – so much more satisfying than a glass of wine!
  • Join some online groups. I have been running a weekly meditation for a number of years at the University, and we are about to go online. Join us! http://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/talks-workshops/meditations/. I will update how to join an online group before next week. And there are many, many others, where people who think and who care can stimulate and encourage you.
  • BRAINSTORM! Another reason my first boss got so rich, was his attitude to crises. Crisis can either galvanise your imagination, creativity and resolve, or it can overwhelm you. As a firm, he ensured we did the former, and it is something I have tried to practice ever since. So every time there was a crisis anywhere in the world, he would call a brainstorming meeting to look for the opportunities that were always present in difficulty.

Here are the negatives:

·      I know, it’s obvious but I will still say it – don’t gorge on bad news. Treat it like medication – necessary and useful if you stick to a sensible dose, but otherwise potentially lethal. When you are tempted, play sudoku, scrabble, or call a friend.

·      Be careful about spreading panic/fake news. Think about where your communications are going, and if you are going to worry anyone in a vulnerable position.

  • Practice gratitude and Appreciation

The research shows this really works! And it works better if you actually write things down. Brené Brown, best selling author and researcher has interviewed tens of thousands of people. She talks of how the people who have survived great loss or trauma, are helped most by appreciating small daily things. And there is other research to show that writing to someone who has really helped you in the past, also increases your level of happiness. A 6 month research study of people who wrote a daily journal of 3 things they were grateful for showed that they were happier, more grateful and had less depression.

  • Nourish Yourself

This ties in with the above. What are the things in life that really bring you joy, laughter, pleasure? If you are going to stockpile during this time of coronavirus crisis, stockpile some of those things. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Nature

I find enormous solace in nature, and great need to continual renewal. One of my difficulties in the last month, when I was trying to decide whether to cancel my booked (and paid for!) holiday to Italy, was that I couldn’t get out into nature – I couldn’t go camping in the mountains because of consecutive weekends of brutal storms, and I couldn’t walk along the river because of the consequent flooding. I really noticed how much harder it was to de-stress. And of course, with the current crisis, many people are not going to be able to get out much into nature at all. But I brought nature indoors, filling my home with spring flowers – more later.

Life is what happens when we are making other plans

Grow something!

I realised when tending my bulbs in my small outdoor courtyard the other day, how deeply nourishing it is to be connected to things that are growing, blooming and being unaffected by this crisis. Head off to your local garden centre before they have to close, and stock up on spring plants, herbs, vegetables and seeds. Grow simple food like lettuce, get into your garden if you have one, and get a few house plants if you don’t.

  • Exercise

I am an ‘exercise outdoors’ kind of girl where possible, and am having to think of how to change those habits. Again, technology can help, because for sure exercise is vital to keep everything burning and ticking over well, if and when you can.

Creativity:

Just as the world wars spawned a plethora of new inventions and different ways of working or living, this crisis seems in some way reminiscent, and it can bring into creation all sorts of ideas that you have been gestating but being too frightened/busy/distracted, to do. Stock up on your painting equipment, your DIY equipment, materials, wool, family photographs and anything else that inspires your creativity! If you have room, make yourself a dedicated space where you can start messy projects and leave them without having to clear up! I have been meaning to do some video lessons, and podcasts for ages, if not years. Because I am the age I am, (and despite computer programming in my chequered past!) I have a huge resistance to this, but watch the space on my website. I want to be able to earn during this crisis, AND I want to contribute to the many many people who are going to struggle more than I will. So I am even planning on starting an Instagram account (😱😱) to share my more arty photos and some positive daily thoughts.

  • Use all your senses to the Full in nourishing yourself

I am a lover of sensuality – of all the senses. Here are some of the ways I nourish myself:

  • Sight

A short walk in nature, when I can, affords endless opportunities of noticing, of looking deeply, of seeing differently.

I love colour, and I love flowers, and so my home is currently filled with as many colourful flowers as I can afford.

Remember art? Remember books? Feast your eyes on beautiful images

  • Smell

Scented flowers! Herbs, oils, scented baths, perfume, scented skin creams

  • Sound

Make sound – sing! Play instruments. There are those wonderful videos of the Italians singing to one another from their balconies which make my heart sing. I saw a great video once of people all over the world who had got together remotely to make a music video. All my innovative music types, why don’t you write a song that can be sung round the world to bring us together?

Another thing that has been exercising my mind is how we can help those who are desperately ill and struggling to breathe not to panic so much, as that makes things so much worse. There has been research showing that playing music to patients under anaesthetic in operations decreases recovery time and levels of pain. Would it not be worth a try for those in intensive care? Again, my music types, what sort of music would best serve these purposes? Use your talents and strengths to make a difference!

  • Taste

Eat nourishing food, that is beautiful to the eye and the tongue. Living alone makes it easy not to eat well. I am taking the time in this crisis to shop, cook and eat more thoughtfully, and with greater enjoyment. Cook together at home if you can, learn new recipes, bake bread and do other things that require time and attention that you have been previously too busy to do.

  • Touch

This presents a particular problem in this crisis. I believe that touch is essential for our well being, and it is something that is being denied to many of us at the moment. When I work with people who are panicking, or are very anxious, one of the best ways to help them calm, is to work on the body. The mind runs away, but the body stays, and if I can help people to return to the body, it can help to settle the mind. When the body and breathing calm, the mind calms. When we are panicking, it is often difficult to deeply breathe – work on the body can help that enormously.

So for those of you who can touch, do!

  • Show affection to your loved ones
  • Explore massage
  • Make love, in the widest sense of the word (and obviously at the moment, only within a monogamous relationship with someone whom you know absolutely is not infectious)

For those of you who cannot, we need to learn ways to re-connect with our own bodies in order to both nourish ourselves generally and to help ourselves deal with anxiety.

  • Massage yourself
  • Dance
  • Do body-specific meditation (listen to the meditations on my website, link above)
  • Do Yoga, or other body practices, such as Tai Chi
  • When my students have Performance Anxiety, I get them to do strong poses, like a yoga warrior pose, and to stamp their feet to Zulu warrior music, or punch the air, and make sound – think of the All-Blacks’ Haka. When we are anxious, energy moves up the body, away from the feet and legs, and we need to bring it down.
  • Facetime a good coach and get them to work with you to help this. If you don’t have facetime/whatsapp, I have talked people through this process, and even texted them successfully through this process when they were too frightened to speak.
  • Think of ways to contribute to others

Again, research has shown that when we do acts of kindness, and help others, our own happiness and well being increases. Stay aware of others around you and be creative and imaginative in finding ways to create community and connection in the midst of this crisis.

  • Decide to use this as an opportunity for growth

Resilience and ‘growth mindset’ are common buzz words these days. But for sure, we have a choice as to how we approach this whole difficult situation. I am self employed. I have no backup. But I am fired up with ideas of how to help both myself and others, and that has changed my anxiety into energy and hope.

  • Keep a Daily Journal of your experiences

There is going to be much research that needs to be done about the wider impact of this whole crisis. I am particularly interested in the impact of social distancing, and how people deal. I would encourage you to keep a daily journal of things that work and things that don’t, of what triggers you, and what gives you hope and strength. This will potentially be of great value in learning how we can best prepare for the future.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Stay in touch with others
  • Share positive messages
  • I am here, I offer online coaching for those who can still afford it, and for those who can’t, I am going to do my best to provide free resources for connection and positivity.
  • You can help me by sharing this blog widely if you feel it would be useful to anyone you know!

Wishing you all the best!

My Credentials for Dealing with Uncertainty

I have been no stranger to prolonged uncertainty in my life. I grew up in what was Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, for those too young to have heard of Rhodesia). The country declared its Independence from Britain, which was not recognised, and from my childhood we had international sanctions imposed on us.

We became a nation of ‘make do and mend’. The life fostered a spirit of innovation, imagination and entrepreneurship. As children we had few toys, but we had great games.

My teenage years were spent largely on the Eastern Border of the country in the time of the bush war. We experienced years of relative lockdown. Our beloved nature, mountains and rivers, were out of bounds entirely. We could not leave town unless in an armed convoy. A bomb, (thankfully unexploded), landed in our school grounds.

People living nearest the border built bomb shelters and the rest of us created a ‘safe space’ in our house where we kept emergency rations. For years we went to bed at night with candles and tracksuits at the bottom of our beds, in case of attack. Fathers, brothers and boyfriends spent years being called up for active service for up to six weeks at a time, having to leave home and work to do so.

Those of us who remained behind suffered the anxiety of worry for their safety.

Friends died.

We have the opportunity to learn from our experiences, or to be overwhelmed by them. For me, that training has stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

I have been self employed now for 30 years, through two recessions. That in itself has been a severe test of living with uncertainty. I have also moved continents, countries, counties and cities, remaking my life and work as I went. Add to that a very stressful divorce and single parenting a daughter, and I feel I have the credentials for authentic information gathering!

Offers

  • During this crisis I am offering online coaching for those who can afford it. For those who cannot, I am developing some free resources which I will offer via my website, www.creativetransformation.org.uk
  • From Monday 23/3, I will be doing a free online weekly warm up and meditation. Email or text me to join in from wherever you are in the world. Let me know if you want me to do another at a time more convenient for you. If I can, I will.
  • I have spent two years running Action Learning (Peer group) coaching for PhD students nationally, and taught the principles internationally up to University Exec level. If you are interested in starting a virtual group for support during this time, please get in touch.
  • Please share with anyone who might find this useful.
  • Thanks!

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….

YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW WHY THINGS WENT WRONG – YOU JUST NEED TO KNOW HOW TO FIX THEM

Last week I went rowing after nearly a whole summer off.

Our new ‘head’ of our Rowing group, who knows how my mind works, kindly offered to take me out in a double, so I could ease back into things without stressing that I was holding others up because I had got unfit.

We soon realised that I was causing us to row to the right. I was dropping my right shoulder and doing something that created more power on my left. Neither of us were quite sure exactly what it was I was doing, or why – it could be that I think my let leg is longer than my right so it was putting down more power, or it could be that I am left handed, though interestingly I use my right hand for most things that require power rather than dexterity (like tennis).

The point is though, that I knew how to sort it out, using my Alexander Technique Principles:

1. I needed to make sure I had my competitive ‘power at any price’ switch in my brain switched off.

2. I needed to use Conscious Mental Instruction to tell my body what I wanted from it, which was this:

  • Upright stance
  • Relaxed neck
  • Balanced head
  • Centred body and shoulders
  • Maintaining this stance throughout the drive of the stroke

I was able to achieve this fairly easily! One of the reasons being that I have practised for many years giving my body conscious instructions, and the other that my rowing partner gave me permission to ease off on the power so I could concentrate on technique. So I had no pressure of expectation, or particular fear, both of which generally override any conscious instruction I might give myself.

These principles of changing attitude/thinking, combined with relaxation and conscious thinking, can be applied to all sorts of problem solving!

And PS, thanks Darren for being such a great rowing partner and understanding coach!

And PPS no it’s not that cold yet – these are photos from last winter!

 

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.

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 Wooden Rings by Urban Designer 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

About Purpose and Scarab Beetles…..

Scarab BeetleThis weekend I led a meditation on the word ‘Purpose’ as a way of beginning this New Year.

As a preparation for meditation, we allowed a symbol to come to mind that in some way represented Purpose. Over the many years that I worked with the teacher who taught me this meditation, she continually emphasized the importance of accepting the first symbol that came, whether or not it seemed wacky, or we understood its meaning or significance.

The last time I did this meditation, the image that came to me was of an acorn, for which I was most grateful. I first learnt this meditation when my University students were in their cradles, and I often feel that I have not learnt the lessons with which I was wrestling at the time. Oak trees are of course, extremely slow growing, but they are also very long lasting, and I was reminded to be patient with myself, and to value the process instead of  looking for dramatic results.Scarab Beetle

This weekend the image that came was that of a Scarab Beetle. I was intrigued, knowing that the scarab beetle has some significance in Egyptian mythology, but not what, and also that beetles are not usually the most likeable of creatures! The ‘not knowing’ allowed me just to relax with the overall concept of Purpose, and not to get into my analytical mind, which has a habit of intruding on my meditations.

Afterwards I looked up Scarab Beetles. There are many types of scarabs, but perhaps the best known (and of interest to me) is the Dung Beetle.

Dung Beetle

‘Dung beetles have a keen sense of smell that allows them to hone in on their favourite food and use specialized mouth parts to draw out moisture and nutrients from the waste. Some species simply live in the dung, while others form perfectly spherical dung balls, which they roll with their hind legs, often over large distances, to a place where they can bury it. Females plant a single egg in a dung ball where it matures from larva to fully formed beetle, feeding off the waste. Because they move so much waste underground, dung beetles are considered essential to controlling disease and pests among livestock.’ National Geographic

I was pretty astonished at the symbolic references – for anyone interested, there is a fairly exhaustive article that begins in the Paleolithic era referencing shamans, and the ability of the beetles to both fly (address issues in the celestial world) and dive into the earth (acting as mediators between infernal powers and ordinary men.) Perhaps the best known is the Egyptian mythology which associates the scarab with the rising sun god Khepri – the association being of the god rolling the ball of the sun through the skyScarab Beetle in Egyptian Art

The symbol of the scarab was also used in burials – A large (3-10cm) “heart scarab” was suspended from the mummy’s neck with a gold wire or chain, not only as a token of resurrection, but as an advocate to help the deceased to present his defence before the tribunal. These scarabs were often made with green stone (basalt, schist, jade, etc.), for green was an auspicious colour.

The article ends in the 17th century, with references to German Jesuits and alchemists who associated the scarab with Christ, resuscitated from the dead; a promise of resurrection for all human beings!

http://www.insects.org/ced1/beetles_rel_sym.html

Apart from anything else, this research demonstrates to me power of symbol, and the depth and breadth of meaning associated in one image.

But what stands out for me most of all, is that the scarab beetle takes shit, does something with it, and enables it to nourish and form new life. That sounds about what I do, and is a good enough purpose for me!  IMG_4715

Positive Thoughts for the Day/Alexander Technique Tips for the Novice Rower

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A calm September morning full of the promise of a glorious early Autumn day..

I stopped at the park on the way to York Rowing Club to do some stretching and Qi Gong. As my breathing slowed and deepened, I drank in the glowing golds and russets of the first Autumn leaves and quietened my irrational fear of getting out on the river in a single scull for only the third time ever, but the first time in four months.

I had just started rowing at the beginning of summer (and getting back to tennis, swimming and Ceroc), when I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and several operations put paid to any form of exercise for a while.

It’s September, and a challenging month for me. After a couple of years in York, I am beginning to build a reputation for my work, but my main source of income is still York University Music Department, and for the students, it is still summer vacation.

For everyone else, it is a new year and subscriptions are due and I am having a mental argument with myself about doing things that take time and cost money, rather than that earn it.

I chose self belief, and to follow the advice I had read recently:

“If you want to double your income, treble your learning”

As well as something I learned years ago:

“It’s not the things you do that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do” – actually that has also got me into all sorts of trouble, so not necessarily to be followed slavishly, but it seemed reasonable to apply it under these circumstances!

I have had an absolutely wonderful morning on the river. I have exercised by cycling and rowing, I have returned home feeling the elation of  both exercise and the completion of a new and challenging task. I am sure that I will accomplish as much this afternoon as I would have done had I given myself the whole day for development, planning and administration of my business.

So here are my positive life thoughts from my morning:

1.  Feel the Fear and do it Anyway.

I don’t know why I felt so anxious about rowing today. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in my life in various boats/kayaks/canoes/sailing dinghies and I love swimming (though not in the Ouse River, preferably). Something to do with expectation maybe, as I had done well in my first two times out on the river, but was not feeling confident of being able to reproduce that today.

I countered this by making sure I was in the best shape for success – stretching, meditative movement, breathing, and a practise session on the rowing machine.

Then I showed up, felt the fear and did it anyway, and of course, guess what? As soon as I was on the water, using my Alexander Principles (tips to follow), I felt fine! Exactly the same thing happened when I went back to skiing after six years, only that time I put it off for a day, and felt physically ill by the time I got myself onto the slopes – then had to deal with the frustration of wasting an afternoon’s skiing for no good reason…. sound familiar? If not, you’re lucky!

2. If you are feeling down, get out of the house and exercise/meet people for a boundaried amount of time in order to shift gear mentally and return to your tasks reinvigorated.

I appreciate this may not apply universally or all the time. But as I have to motivate my entire life and work myself, I found after moving here that it did me the power of good to get out and make sure I knew the world was carrying on around me, to breathe in the balm of nature and the river.  And when occasionally I wonder if I am going to be able to keep making this all work by myself,  I find it’s a sound strategy to employ.

3. Say yes to life.

It’s amazing how simple this is – and how powerful. So when there is a choice – just say yes and see what happens.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”  Goethe

ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE TIPS FOR THE NOVICE ROWER

1. As with many practical skills, the first key to success is your mind. Was going to use the term mindset, but it is flexibility of thought that translates into flexibility of action.

2.Keep flexibility of eyes. Fixed vision often translates directly into fixed musculature. Maintaining the use of peripheral vision (check out my other blogs if you don’t know what this is!) maintains fluidity that is essential for smooth sculling.

3. Maintaining a constant relationship of head neck and back (Primary control in Alexander Technique Jargon) contributes positively to a smooth rowing action. In other words, don’t stiffen your neck, and conversely don’t let your neck bend backwards as you throw your hands and move forward in the seat. (Apologies to any serious rowers if my rowing jargon is not yet up to speed!)

4. BREATHE! This may seem obvious, but in my many years of working with people, I find that most people who are anxious hold their breath, only allowing minimal respiration. Of course, once you are rowing well, and competitively, you will have to breathe, but when starting out, and being tentative, it is not such an obvious requirement.

I have found it true that if one is tense it is impossible to breathe freely, and the corollary, if one is breathing freely, it is impossible to tense!

5. Be Brave!