Tag Archives: Compassion

“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….

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/

 

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!