Tag Archives: Coronavirus

“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.

PARENTS’ PLANTS FOR HOPE


Here is a simple idea to give HOPE to elderly parents who are quarantined because of the Coronavirus crisis:

IF YOUR PARENT IS CAPABLE, GET A PLANT TO THEM AND TELL THEM THEY HAVE TO KEEP IT ALIVE UNTIL YOU CAN SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN – THIS IS A POWERFUL MESSAGE OF HOPE, AND GIVES THEM SOMETHING POSITIVE IN THE FUTURE TO FOCUS ON!

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. Like probably millions of other people, I am unable to see my mother, who will turn 91 at the end of the month. Her care home (in Cape Town) is in lockdown. In just a few days I have seen her go from an incredibly lucid, interested person, to someone who is quite often anxious and confused – her response to stress.

I understand this need for isolation, and I also worry what health costs that will bring. And selfishly, I dread the idea of my Mum dying out in Africa without either being able to be with her, or at the very least, being able to see to her things and give her a good send off.

I remembered reading about an experiment where 2 groups of elderly people were given a plant for a year. The first group were told that they were responsible for looking after the plant and keeping it alive for the year. The second group were told that they needn’t do anything for the plant – someone else would care for it. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the year, the survival rate of plants in the first group was significantly higher than that of the second.

The validity of the trial was later questioned, but I figured it was worth a shot. So one of my friends kindly bought and delivered a spathiphyllum plant (pictured above), to my Mum, and I told her that she had to keep it alive until we were able to see each other again. I only discovered later that the common name for this plant is ‘Peace Plant’, and it is purported to help clean the air! So it feels doubly apt!

March 28, 1953

I wrote in my last blog, that in times of uncertainty, it is good to take action where we are able. Of course, my action brings no guarantee of keeping my mother alive, but I have seen firsthand what hope has done for her already. My parents were married for 64 years, and my father was my mother’s world.

60th Anniversary, 2013

When he died in December 2016, I watched dismayed as she turned from an incredibly mobile, mentally agile, positive ‘polyanna’ sort, who always saw the positive side of things, to a little old lady who was miserable, became almost immobile, and really wanted to die.

90th Birthday, 31 March 2019

Last March she turned 90, and I organised a lunch to celebrate. I filled my luggage weight with a large birthday fruit cake, booked our favourite restaurant overlooking the sea, and invited friends of widely varying ages.

View from the restaurant

My mother came alive again! Knowing there were people who still cared about her and having something fun to plan for, kickstarted her vitality. Her memory seemed to improve, her sense of fun returned, and even her physical mobility improved. Up til then, she had not wanted to go much further than a km from her care home. I took her away on holiday to a complicated house by the sea, where she found her way around, and even brought me breakfast in bed one morning! A year previously I had had to help her dress and had thought she would never make 90.

Funky 90 year old on holiday in Hermanus!

So don’t underestimate the power of HOPE! It is something we all desperately need a good dose of in these dark and difficult times. Do what you can to keep it alive for both yourself and your loved ones.

And feel free to share your stories of hope with me!

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!