Coaching Moments: Hiraeth

I wrote this post a couple of years ago for my old coaching association, thinking I might be able to reprise my Coaching Moments column. However, the posts got very little response, so I knew that the time had come to simply walk away.

I like this piece, though, so I’m sharing and archiving it here. I like how its message isn’t just for coaches, but for writers, artists and any empath who inhabits an inner world rich with metaphors.

Hiraeth

“When you are adrift from your core, the space between your surface and your depth fills up with anxiety. Too much time away from your inner home leads to homesickness.” ~ Carrie McCarthy and Danielle La Porte

All coaching, in some way, involves guiding folk home to themselves; it makes sense to me, then, that coaches constantly redefine and hone the metaphors of journeys, soulmaps and home.  That’s what brought me back here after so many years away.

Are you ever haunted by a deep longing for home? Homesickness for a home you can’t go back to, or a home which has never even existed? Homesickness woven with inextricable strands of grief or loss? Of yearning, nostalgia or wistful longing?

The Welsh have a word for it… hiraeth.

I think we all feel it sometimes, but those of us who’ve lived a bit longer, who’ve perhaps experienced diminished health or menopause, who’ve had to let go of loved ones, jobs or places, who’ve seen children grow up and leave home, may feel it more intensely; those of us who are starting to feel like survivors may sometimes have a deeper yearning for a haven that doesn’t feel like a haunted house.

Hiraeth is what I feel when I drive several times a week to the small Scottish town where I grew up. My childhood home is long gone and the fields and woods where I used to play are covered in houses now. Home stopped being home when my mum died, and even though my dad is still alive, he’s ninety-one, and there are days when I miss him even when I’m with him.

Hiraeth is what I feel when I miss my kids, even though they’re at university and thriving. I miss the feel of their tiny hands in mine, the smell of newly washed hair and seeing them wide-eyed and full of wonder; I miss the giggling and the messy rooms, their friends, the music and the endless creation of snacks and meals.

I miss the online life I built to fit around my family, my regular Coaching Moments column and the thriving blogging community that I lost during my long periods offline, putting family first.

I’ve spent years tinkering with my blog, recalibrating, changing the tagline and creating new themes. I call it blog-gardening – the pruning, weeding, rearranging, cultivating, propagating and planting that most of us do in our websites and blogs. In some ways, it’s a yearning for home, a craving for simplicity, for clarity of purpose, clear communication, connection and creative renewal.

Yesterday, I had a blinding flash of inspiration, an idea for a new domain name that expresses who I am now and how I live my life. It was one of my favourite Greek words, a one-word domain that thrilled me like a homecoming when I thought of it. I rushed to check its availability and found it had been taken a few weeks ago. Just weeks ago. Like a blind date that had waited hopefully and patiently for years, then, on hearing the universe whisper “I don’t think she’s coming…” had walked off happily with someone else, just as I’d turned the corner. I felt sudden and inexplicable hiraeth.

The feeling got worse as I switched on the TV news, and saw yet more images of Greece struggling to help and feed hundreds of thousands of refugees whose communities and loved ones have gone, who are carrying home in a backpack and in the terrified eyes of their children. I see displaced and devastated families desperate to make new homes, fighting for what so many of us take for granted – food, shelter, safety…

The intensity of hiraeth connects me with every human on the planet who has ever loved and lost or longed for home. I feel immense gratitude for every moment I breathe, for all that I have and all that I am, for having loved and been loved enough to feel loss, but there are times when that gratitude brings little joy, only survivors’ guilt, empathy exhaustion and a longing to rest for a while, to refuel my soul for my own journey home.

Lots of coaches I know are empaths, deeply sensitive and intuitive people who were called to coaching as a way to heal themselves and the world. We’ll have a new IAC website soon; let’s make it a spiritual, online home, a place where coaches from all over the world can gather for mutual support, inspiration and a sense of belonging.

(First published in March, 2016)

Coaching Moments: Journey to Mastery

I was going to keep this post for later, in case my blog ever goes back to fulfilling its claim to be ‘Soulfood and Support for Coaches, Writers and Homemakers.‘ However, given that I’m prone to abrupt bouts of cyberhibernation – deciduous blogging, I call it on a good day… blogging suicide and shameful abandonment on a bad day – I decided there’s no point in fighting it any more. It is what it is; I post when I post. My posts definitely seem to blossom in spring alongside my ubiquitous tulips.

If you’re not a life coach, an IAC coach who’s thinking of attempting certification, or any kind of coach, then I apologise if this post is of no interest to you. Escape now! (Or simply scroll down and read the last four paragraphs.) You may have just saved yourself a lengthy wade through words. What can I say… I’m a word-loving blether and I’m glad to be home!

Last year, I attempted to reprise my coaching column, Coaching Moments, because my coaching association’s newsletter and blog were edited by a talented young woman who liked my work and ‘got’ me. At first, writing and sending her pieces that were intended to support fellow coaches reminded me of the pure delight I used to have when the column was first created; sadly, the blog and social media format of the association’s current publication fried my brain and I only wrote three pieces. Two were published and this one was abandoned when the editor resigned.

So, this is for all my coaching friends who are ‘kent faces’, and for you, the silent coaching friend I’ve yet to meet. If you subscribed after downloading one or both of my coaching ebooks, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Coaching Moments: Journey to Mastery

Mastery isn’t a word we often hear anymore, but it’s as critical as ever to achieving extraordinary results. As intimidating as it might initially seem, when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable. Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience. ~ Gary Keller

Are you thinking of going for IAC certification? Perhaps the Master Masteries Coach designation? I have one question for you if you are… Which specific, deeply cherished dream of yours would come true if you were IAC certified? I ask because my own certification journey didn’t just make mine come true; it changed my life and in many ways, saved it.

I discovered coaching when I read dozens of self-help books and kept journals to lift myself out of low grade chronic depression – so-called walking depression. The seeds of several books germinated in those journals and as gently as waking from a dream, I realised I wanted to support folk through coaching and writing. As an ex-academic, though, I knew I wouldn’t be happy without the self-esteem boost I’d get from certification. I needed to feel safe in the knowledge that a team of highly experienced coaches had validated my coaching mastery and deemed it safe for me to share my intuition, skills and knowledge.

I studied online. I found mentors and coaching buddies who’ve become cherished friends. My dream was never to set up a traditional coaching business, but in striving for coaching mastery, by following the flow of what I loved, I ended up with three strands in my patchwork coaching life. Niches found me.

When things got hard – and I failed my practical exam first time round – it was the support of other coaches and that dream of seeing IAC-CC after my name on the back cover of a book that kept me going. The book didn’t get published, but I became a masterful coach and intuitive peer-critiquer as a by-product; more importantly, I became a kinder, happier, wiser person because of my certification journey.

All mastery requires clarity of purpose, deep self-awareness, dogged determination, hard slog and the support of others, but coaching mastery has a magic all of its own; it elicits and consolidates our greatness, but will never let us move onwards or upwards without championing us; it shores up our achievements by connecting them to our dreams, our Big Picture, the legacy we hope to leave behind.

Coaching mastery means that we have the tools to drag ourselves back when we find ourselves drowning in our dramas; it encourages us to make friends with those uncomfortable, provocative questions that open us up like flowers in the sun; it requires of us that we love what is, that we cherish our humanity and the learning in our Now.

Mastery also requires that we breathe. It flourishes and blooms when we sit still and simply enjoy being, which is the heart of all curiosity, presence and active listening.

The best way to become a Master Masteries Coach? Study the IAC Masteries as if they’re a spiritual instruction manual for your life; imagine they have nothing to do with coaching. Live and breathe them and grow to love them like poems learned by heart which become part of you.

Get brave and bold and explore new territories. Untangle the strands of what makes you feel stuck. Calm the clashing values that strain and pull against each other like dogs on choke chains.

Make your journey towards mastery part of your every waking moment. Be grateful for the rocks that make the stream sing and listen deeply to the silences between the notes that make the music. Be as curious as a child and lay your day’s discoveries out on the table so you can poke around in them and wrap the cherished ones up in a handkerchief. Celebrate your humanity, your daily triumphs and the lessons that help you rise when your heart stumbles.

Don’t rush headlong into the next challenge without asking yourself how you want to feel and how you can get yourself some of that feeling right here, right now, in everything you do.

And my dream? This is it. I’m writing here, right now, for you. And it feels like home.

Up, Down and Grateful

up - balloon house

Up, Down, Amazing and Grateful

The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind. ~ Wayne Dyer

My daughter’s fourteenth birthday was a day full of assumptions, both hers and mine. She didn’t know her best friends were throwing a surprise birthday party later in the week, and her sadness at not receiving presents or cards from them, on the morning of her birthday, seeped through her gratitude for everything else. I stayed quietly positive and cheerful throughout the day, assuming she would rather have the eventual surprise than the truth.

We went to the cinema in the afternoon, and as she couldn’t make up her mind which film she’d like to see, my husband bought tickets for the new Disney Pixar film, Up, which had received great reviews. One look at the poster – a house flying through the air suspended by balloons – had her assuming the film would be “babyish.”

We settled into our seats, the lights dimmed, the adverts blared across the screen in the darkness, and soon we were surrounded by the sounds and smells of popcorn, hotdogs and nachos.

I loved the first five minutes of the film. The music was poignant and moving, and through a sequence of short scenes and vignettes, we saw the quiet, quirky child grow old and grumpy as, one by one, he shelved the dreams of his youth.

Thud. My seat jarred forward as it was kicked from behind. I turned to see a boy of seven or eight sitting next to a stony-faced man, a weary washed-out looking mum and a gum-chewing sister.

I decided not to say anything. The simple act of turning around is usually enough.

The film surprised me; in turns bizarre and surreal, touching and funny, it was strangely mesmerizing. The two main characters, a lonely, overweight boy full of childhood exuberance, and an irascible, heartbroken widower, became unlikely companions on a road trip. The difference in their ages gave the film great breadth of scope and depth, while the themes of disappointment and frustration, stubbornness and letting go, redemption and hope were woven throughout with compassion and wit.

Disney films enchant me. The colours are glorious and they evoke memories of watching them with my saucer-eyed kids. A quick glance to the side showed my husband laughing with my son and my daughter giggling, devouring every detail.

Thud…thud. I fought the urge to turn round, scared that a negative reaction from the boy or his parents might embarrass my daughter and spoil her birthday film.

I took a deep breath, knowing the wriggling kicks were a distraction I had to overcome. My kids have always been very settled and courteous in cinemas, but as I’ve got older, it seems like fewer children can sit still for the length of a film without eating, wriggling or talking.

The sounds of laughter, music and talking dogs filled the warm darkness of the cinema. Glorious multicoloured balloons, bright plumage and jungle scenes filled the screen, and I tried my best to simply let go and fill my heart with compassion.

The credits rolled and we were the only two families who stayed to watch till the end.

As the lights went up, from behind me came a “Wow! That was amazing!” The mum and dad said nothing. “Dad, that was the best thing I’ve ever seen!” “Don’t be stupid,” said the dad. “It was the best film I’ve ever seen, Dad.  It was amazing!”

His joy was contagious and I turned to smile at his mum, expecting to see her happy at the pleasure they’d so obviously brought him. She looked sad and distant as the man put on his coat in silence, and the older girl pulled her mobile phone from her pocket.

I left the cinema curious about who they were and what was going on in their lives. I wondered how long the boy’s delight in films would last and I was glad I hadn’t said or done anything to ruin, what for him, was the most amazing film ever.

Epilogue:

A few days later, my daughter came home to a room full of bright banners, balloons and birthday party food, all bought and prepared by her best friends. The cries of “Surprise!!” brought her hands to her face in shocked delight, then sudden awareness as she looked at me with tears and comprehension in her eyes. The long, tear-filled hug she gave me was full of gratitude and appreciation for my part in the surprise, which I’d known about for weeks. Laughing and giggling with her friends, she blew out the candles on her cake and made a wish for the second time that week; I could see that all of her sadness from the previous days had disappeared.

Surrounded by friends, good food and the determination to celebrate, it’s so much easier to feel grateful. As we all prepare for the coming season of gratitude and goodwill, blessings and bounty, I’d like to take this chance to thank you. I wish I could convey in words how much pleasure it gives me to belong to this community, to know you’ve taken the time to read my words.

I can’t offer you food, or tokens of peace and friendship, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be thinking of you on Thanksgiving Day and giving thanks for the Internet, for the coaching we share and for the wonderful universe whose plan brought us together. I’m not American, but I shamelessly adopt rituals and celebrations from all over the world, special days that make smiles brighter and hearts warmer, days that bring people together in shared gratitude for life, love and blessings, wherever we live, whoever we are. Thank you. My life is better because of you.

Sea Breezes, Books and Minerals

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

How often do you coach someone who’s come to you overwhelmed, stuck or overweight? Someone who’s spiritually sluggish, washed out and weary?

Chances are, you’ll have worked on what’s anchoring them in their past and what’s blocking their energy, the flow of prosperity and creativity in their lives. You’ll have investigated what they’re clinging to, afraid of letting go.

For me, it’s been books. Currently, as we prepare to lay a new wooden floor, all of my books are packed in see-through plastic storage crates, dozens of them, some in the attic, and six or seven clogging the dining room. But do you know something? After years of squeezing between sofas and bookcases – I have no home office or study –  I feel as happy as a kid with new wax crayons. I have that lightness of spirit I feel on holiday, in rooms with lace curtains billowing in a sea breeze, revealing tantalising glimpses of a beach full of promise.

When the new wooden floor is laid, and the last skirting board nailed in place, not one single book will reappear on a shelf unless it is insanely useful, destined to be re-read or so precious it gives me an energy surge just thinking about it. I don’t need books to remind me  – or show others  – who I was, who I am, what I know or what I enjoy.

I turned fifty last month. For forty-five years, I’ve been devouring reading material; novels, text books, course books, magazines and more recently, online text. I have clusters of books from every phase and every career: dictionaries and text books in nine languages; tomes on astrology, feng shui, art and garden design; books on translation, linguistics and creative writing; files of coach training printouts and dozens of homelife coaching and personal development books.

I adore reading. I adore books. So why am I on the verge of a cull? I need my energy more. Most of my books are no longer inspiring me; they’re depleting me and anchoring me in the past.

I no longer cast astrological charts or speak Greek every day. I passed my coach certification and no longer mentor, or critique exam tapes. If I haven’t absorbed the basics by now, I’d rather revise them in some fresh new format.

I’m tired of dusting books I don’t read, and as my collection grows, it strikes me as bizarre to contemplate extending my home to house books.

Until recently, the thought of parting with them was unbearable. So what happened?

The menopause, my dad’s heart attack, my kids’ puberty and my own illness happened.

My life, for six months, has felt clogged and bogged down with tolerations. Even as I tackled them, kaizen style, one at a time, I accrued more than I dealt with. Sick of missed deadlines, sleepless nights, hair loss, infections and depression, I summoned the strength to arrange appointments with a consultant and my local doctor. Determined not to have my concerns dismissed, swept under the rug of age, parenthood and caring for an elderly relative, I asked for blood tests.

My inner child, my coaching voice, my intuition and every member of my spiritual team, desperate to crawl out from under the weight of overwhelm, were all screaming:

  • What do I need?
  • What’s stopping me getting it?
  • What am I getting too much of?
  • What am I not getting enough of?
  • What will I gain when I get the balance and flow back?

When I visited the consultant, I simply asked him to help me find out what I was deficient in.  Such a small question, but my silent sigh convinced me it was the right step, the right question, like a perfect pebble dropped in a deep pool.

While I was waiting for the results, I had my seasonal September craving to get clean and clear. I rode it like a cresting wave, surfing my way through packing, recycling and binning my possessions, blessing and letting go of anything that no longer energised me. I knew I’d reach the shore battered and sea-tossed, but it was worth it.

Out went patterned, grubby rugs, shabby faded curtains and sagging fake wood bookcases.

In came a shaggy wool rug, freshly painted cream walls, soft cotton slip covers and snuggly throws and cushions, all in natural textures and the colours of serenity and sea shores: sun baked terracotta, warm sand and sea-tossed pebbles, driftwood and shells.

My books, photo frames and ornaments are still safely stored until I decide their fate.

Right now, I need spiritual space more than belongings, fresh air and clear surfaces more than books and objects. I need time with my loved ones more than the memories that keep me anchored to lost loves and the empty shells of lives no longer lived.

My blood test results came back and I smiled. Due to malabsorption, I’m severely deficient in major minerals, including zinc. Zinc deficiency can cause sleeplessness, depression, skin problems, hair loss, infections and a lack of  appetite – for food, love and life itself. I was right to have insisted on tests.

Now that I know, I can work on my zinc. It’s easier to ask myself “How can I get and absorb more zinc?” than “How can I fix my entire life?”

One banana, one handful of seeds, one step at a time works for me, as long as it’s a step that takes me in the right direction.

Are you depleted at the moment? What do you need to get – and absorb – more of? What small step could you take today that will get you closer to where you want to be?

(*This was adapted from my latest Coaching Moments piece in VOICE, the official newsletter of the International Association of Coaching, where it was edited by Linda Dessau. The illustration is a painting called Long Golden day by Alice Dalton Brown.)

Journals and Juries

All things and all men, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen. They want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. But we can only give it to them through the love that listens. ~Paul Tillich

The day I received it, I let out a despairing, wailing “No!” My husband rushed in and asked what was wrong. I handed him the summons to jury duty, my third in three years.

I’d been allowed exemptions in the past because of my health and my children’s ages, but this time there was no escape; it had to be done. The letter warned of possible overnight stays. Friends told me of the nightmares they still had after hearing evidence at murder, rape and child abuse trials. I believe in democracy, but every day that passed, I grew more and more anxious, dreading the prospect of being separated from my family or having to sit in judgement on another human being, perhaps after listening to harrowing details I would never be able to forget.

The day came, and I arrived at an imposing, Victorian building, its entrance flanked with columns. I walked up a flight of stone steps, crossed the cold, echoing floor of a musty foyer and announced my arrival to a grim-faced receptionist, barricaded behind a high reception desk of polished dark wood. I smiled and asked for help and directions. He barked at me that I wasn’t needed but would have to come back the next day. I stood there stunned, not knowing if I felt angry or relieved. How much vitriol had this man been subjected to for this to be his default?

I drove home, hugged my family, told them it wasn’t over.

Another sleepless night. A morning of strained goodbyes, the children wondering if I’d be home that night. Once again, I drove through the hills to our nearest big town, barely registering the rain clouds hanging heavy in an inky sky. This might be an innocent person’s last day of freedom. I might be about to set a murderer free. I’d deliberately arrived early, and decided to clear my mind by doing some writing in my favourite French café in the cobbled square next to the old church, just round the corner from the County Court.

As I sat, sipping strong black coffee and listening to French accordion music, I visualised the proceedings, mentally preparing myself to tap into every single one of the Proficiencies™ (and any relevant Clarifiers™, Stylepoints™ and Frameworks™) to make sure I was my best self in court, with my fellow jurors and with any court officials I was expected to co-operate and communicate with. Here’s what I was aiming for:

  • To go in with all my own stuff cleaned up.
  • Not to judge or assume or be forced into any tricky lawyer’s manipulation of paradigms while in court listening.
  • To listen well and carefully.
  • To respect everyone’s humanity.
  • To relish truth – in many different ways.
  • To enjoy my fellow jurors immensely.
  • To ask very good clarifying questions, if necessary, while deliberating with other jurors.
  • To remind myself, constantly, that everyone’s doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
  • To recognise the perfection in it all.

This is what emerged in my notebook:

1)     If you’ve been invited to do jury duty, it means you’re alive.

2)     That letter you were sent means you have an address, a home.

3)     You’re not the victim.

4)     You’re not the accused.

5)     You’re anxious because you care.

6)     You’re eligible because you can see, you can hear and you’re healthy.

7)     Like it or not, you’ll learn something about your legal system.

8)     You live in a country that has a legal system.

9)     It’s a perfect chance to listen, really listen, without prejudice, assumptions or malice.

10)   You’re not in this alone.

I finished my coffee, put my notebook away, paid, and crossed the square to the County Court, feeling stronger and more serene than I had for months.

I heard and learned a lot that day, but it was those café thoughts that turned my jury moments into coaching moments.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The call to jury duty happened back in the spring. This piece appeared in my Coaching Moments column in VOICE, the monthly newsletter of The International Association of Coaching.

Transcendental Trolleys

One of the things I like about leaving comments in other folks’ blogs is the way thoughts come bubbling unbidden to the surface and seem to express themselves spontaneously.

The same thing happens when I respond to the comments people leave in the boxes here. I found myself writing about my coaching background recently when I replied to a comment left by Nadia of Happy Lotus.

My coach training had me investigate [encouragement] from all angles, finding ways to acknowledge, co-create, fortify, uplift, inspire, invite expansion, build on achievement and elicit a person’s greatness. It’s my favourite part of coaching; I can do goal work and am brave enough to challenge folk when they’re hiding behind stories, but championing people…that’s my passion.

Being ill last week gave me the chance to ask myself a lot of questions; these are a few that have helped get me back on track:

  • What do you love most about blogging?
  • Which pieces of writing are you proudest of, thinking “This is who I am; this is what I do best.”?
  • What are you naturally good at?
  • How can you best support others, serve, contribute?

This is a piece I wrote for my coaching column last year. It touches on the many ways there are to support people and also looks at  how we take our skills for granted.

By the way, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Scottish, so my native tongue is Scots and my second language is UK English. Trolleys are shopping carts in the UK!

Transcendental Trolleys

Success leaves clues. ~ Anthony Robbins

I’ve often said that coaching moments can creep up on us in the weirdest of places.  Last week I had a transcendental moment with some supermarket trolleys…

I’d slept badly and lumbered the two steps from our front door to the car like a bear just out of hibernation. While my husband drove us to his work, I daydreamed and dozily chatted about news items on the radio.

When we arrived, I got out of the passenger side to swap over and drive to the supermarket. Wham! The wind slammed me in the face! As I stood there looking like Medusa and grabbing onto my scarf,  my husband, completely unfazed, said “Wild, isn’t it.” He kissed me, smiled and headed into the building.

I scrambled to the driver’s side, got in, slammed the door shut and took a few deep breaths. He’d made driving through a gale look so effortless!

The problem is, I’m not a confident driver and don’t drive on very windy days if I can avoid it. But there I was, faced with a choice; get on with the shopping and drive home, or sit  there all day outside my husband’s place of work.

I made it safely to the supermarket, this time noticing the swaying trees and the cars being buffeted as they overtook lorries. I’m not actually a ‘bad’ driver – just a wimp with a weather-related comfort zone.

As I sat in the café, warming my hands around a chunky white coffee cup, I sat musing about mastery and unconscious competence.

My husband can reverse park in a space that looks too small to get through with post-Christmas hips and two bags of shopping. He can cook ten-item breakfasts without breaking sweat or swearing at the kids. He gets strikes every time we go bowling and can pot six or seven balls one after the other in a game of pool. All of it effortless, but here’s the thing… it’s probably never occurred to him that any of those skills constitute mastery. He takes them so much for granted!

When I was going for coach certification, I used to be intimidated by graceful, elegant coaches who made everything seem so effortless. I fought off envy until I learned how to analyse what I admired, what they did and what I could adapt and absorb. I worked very hard, learned how to learn, made a load of silly mistakes and eventually passed the IAC exam. The most important thing I learned from my certification journey is that success leaves clues.

As I was leaving the supermarket, muttering under my breath at my talent for picking trolleys with wayward wheels, I heard an announcement. “Due to the weather conditions, could customers please return their empty trolleys to the trolley bays.” I looked out onto the car park and surveyed a surreal scene; unaccompanied trolleys whizzing and clanging into cars, a tiny bouquet of cellophane-wrapped tulips buffeting and skidding along the road trying to take off,  newspapers flying around like kites, and people batting off litter and flying brochures with their flailing hands like a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.

I saw people struggling with overloaded trolleys, trying to swing them around like rollerblading partners, outstretched arms in a spin. Others lurched for small light items snatched by the wind and watched in alarm as their liberated trolleys trundled off to freedom.

As I walked alongside my wobbly trolley, gently but firmly using my weight to keep it on track as it tried to veer to the right, I suddenly realised that this is what coaches do when faced with clients’ ingrained paradigms, self limiting beliefs and stormy days. We walk alongside them, gently but firmly keeping them on the road they’d rather be on, helping them navigate obstacles along the way and sometimes relieving them of a burden so heavy it’s been paralysing them into inactivity.

We know the difference between directionless emptiness and a load that’s too overwhelming to manoeuvre. We know when it’s time to apply the brakes and when to keep on going and take advantage of momentum. We know how to focus to get through fear.

 I may not be the world’s most confident driver, but I’m good at getting the shopping home. (And don’t worry…I don’t actually talk to trolleys!)

 What unconscious competence do you take for granted, not just in your work, but in your whole life?

Birds, Bees and Blogging

blackbird-in-nest-with-eggs3

We are part of the whole which we call the universe, but it is an optical delusion of our mind that we think we are separate. This separateness is like a prison for us. Our job is to widen the circle of compassion so we feel connected to all people and all situations. ~ Albert Einstein

Before I created my blog, I was a hermit bee, living, not in a hive, but in my own cosy wee writing cave, emerging to buzz away happily in other people’s blogs, reading, writing guest posts and cross-pollinating for pleasure in their comment boxes. All the writing honey from my life and my daily detail loving was saved for my coaching column.

When I wasn’t writing, every moment was a chance to gather nectar, the essence of moments spent in my home and garden.

I spent more time watching the birds outside my kitchen window, nature’s bloggers, living and foraging side by side: blue tits and chaffinches sharing the bird feeder happily; gangs of starlings swooping in and squawking loudly, chasing off other birds and swiping all the berry-filled fat, leaving nothing for the smaller birds; dunnocks hopping about in the bushes, silently feeding on the scraps left after the flapping frays, and the serene robin, sure of his territory, sitting on my fence, bobbing his head three times, choot choot choot, doing his business, planting the seeds of trees and bushes that will shelter his offspring someday.

March came and went in a flurry of blog-building, jury duty, illness, kids’ activities and shopping for my eighty five year old dad. I missed birthdays and deadlines, unaware that the weeks were flying by.

April and May settled into routines of burned meals, overflowing ironing baskets and piles of dirty washing.

Wet clothes were eventually dragged unceremoniously from the washing machine and dumped into the dryer. I no longer stuck my face into piles of damp line-dried laundry smelling of flowers and fresh air.

It reminded me of the first time I went for Step 2 of the IAC exam, obsessed and blinkered, neglecting all the other areas of my life. It came as no surprise that I failed first time.

But still I blogged, driven by the urge to create a community, to do something with my writing, to reach out beyond my garden and share more of myself.

I kept thinking, I’d settle into a blogging routine, but never for one moment did I realise that I was becoming worn out and weary right at the start of my journey, a journey I’d hoped to savour and share with all kinds of travelling companions for years to come.

My husband had a day off work last week and we planned to catch up on some neglected gardening. He went to run a bath in the family bathroom after the kids went to school and I found myself heading furtively towards the laptop, thinking I’d just do a quick ten minutes, when suddenly he bounded into the room.

“You’ll never guess what we’ve got on the window ledge outside the bathroom!”

“What?”

“A nest! With eggs! Four eggs!”

He sounded just like our young son.

We both crept to the back door like a couple of teenagers getting home late, wondering what lunacy had possessed a bird to build a nest next to our garden path, outside a family bathroom where our kids squabble loudly about everything from toilet paper to toothpaste.

We opened the heavy wooden door slowly and took a step out, as quietly as we could. And there she was. A blackbird, with a thin, sharp yellow beak and beady black eye. Aware of us, she didn’t move.

I sneaked in for my camera and stealthily captured the moment, scared that if we stood staring too long in awe at the magic of this little scene, that she’d get spooked and fly off.

The kids came home from school and couldn’t believe it, smiles wild and full of wonder.

That evening, while they were out with my husband, I started to worry. What if the wind blew the nest off the ledge, if cats came prowling, if a sudden noise from inside the bathroom spooked her. I felt I needed to do something, to help in some way, so I got some bread crumbs, opened the back door and gently scattered them on the ground in her direction. With a startled cheep and a flap, she flew off.

Horrified, I closed the door and stood, cursing myself for interfering, for having my own agenda, for doing too much and not letting things take their natural course.

For hours I was too scared to look. My husband and kids came home, asking if she was still there.

“I scared her off,”  I said, sadly. “I tried to feed her.”

“She’ll be back,” said my daughter. “She did choose us.”

“Yes,” said my son. “It’s a good place. Sheltered, and bricks absorb heat. She’s clever. She’ll be back. She knows we wouldn’t hurt her.”

I couldn’t bear to look. The hours passed and I couldn’t settle to anything. All I could think about were the little eggs, neglected, getting cold, because I’d overdone it. As usual.

My husband came into the living room smiling.

“She’s back. And there’s this little pile of crumbs next to her. It looks like she’s tried to spell out thanks.”

I threw a cushion at him as the kids teased me, asking if we should put worms on the shopping list and start a university fund.

I gently opened our back door and looked towards the bathroom ledge. As she sat there, her brown feathered body filling out the nest, she turned to me and fixed me with a beady eye. I pulled the back door shut, ever so quietly, and came back inside, smiling, trusting that everything would be OK.  Sometimes, we just need to sit still and do nothing but be.

Epilogue:

The father showed up, and together they raised four healthy chicks.

blackbird-mum-with-four-chicks1

proud-father-blackbird

This post originally appeared in my Coaching Moments column in VOICE, the monthly newsletter of the International Association of Coaching, edited by Linda Dessau.

Skin Deep

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of defining what success means to each of us. It  reminded me of this piece, published in my Coaching Moments column a few years ago, when I was almost ready to sit the practical part of my coaching exam. Now that I’ve embarked on a new journey as a blogger and online writer, its message is still relevant today.

Skin Deep

We enjoy some precious coaching moments at our kitchen table which I’d really miss if my kids were more tactful!

I cooked one of our favourite meals the other day, a homely pasta dish made with a rich sauce of olive oil, mountain herbs, oven roasted peppers, baby tomatoes, garlic and onions. As we were sitting laughing and chatting at the table, out of the blue, my nine year old son said: “Mum, are you still using that stuff from the telly on your face? I think it’s working. Your spots have gone and you’re looking younger.”

I  was still smiling at this when I went shopping yesterday and slipped the eye cream from the same skincare range into my trolley. One of my goals for last year was to boost my confidence with a clear, glowing skin but I hadn’t shared it with anyone, not even my family.

My weight and complexion are triggers in the minefield of my self esteem. I have a medical condition which went  undiagnosed for years, resulting in confidence crushing symptoms like chronic fatigue, fluctuating weight gain and skin problems. Since I began treatment, waves of returning good health have made me feel unstoppable! A grubby, football playing nine year old boy telling you your skin’s looking younger is an unexpected but welcome way to measure the results of a goal you’re achieving slowly but surely!

And it’s a goal with great knock on effects. Over the past few months, I’ve cleared out my bathroom cabinets, bagged up and binned the Big Me clothes from my wardrobe and started tackling scary bits in every room, even  the dark side of the garage. My creativity and coaching confidence have blossomed and my communication is cleaner. To be honest, after months spent buffing myself up, gutting the house and paring back our life to the basics of simple abundance, I don’t know which came first, the clutter clearing or the coaching confidence.

With the help of my mentor coach, I’ve been peeling away my coaching sins, upgrading my defaults and letting my natural skills shine through. A couple of weeks ago, I did a call I was thrilled with, full of silences that resonated and questions that tapped into a deep, clear pool as I just relaxed and enjoyed being present with the person I was coaching. Moments like that I can score.

But today, as I applied the eye cream that’s so expensive it had better miraculously attract George Clooney into my life, I remembered how important it is to make sure my non-coaching goals are measurable. If we lose track of how we define and measure success in every aspect of our life, in the details of our day, then we run the risk of never feeling truly happy or satisfied. What will have to happen in your day for you go to bed tonight feeling like a happy, successful human being?

EPILOGUE:

Richard Carlson, author of  the hugely popular ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ and countless other books including his latest, ‘Don’t Get Scrooged’, died suddenly last month at the age of forty five. As a tribute, I’d like to leave you with a quote from ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’; it comforts me to know that even though we lost him early, he left behind a family, friends and fans who loved and appreciated him. He touched lives and made a difference.

“I find that if I remind myself (frequently) that the purpose of life isn’t to get it all done but to enjoy each step along the way and live a life filled with love, it’s far easier for me to control my obsession with completing my list of things to do. Remember, when you die, there will still be unfinished business to take care of. And you know what? Someone else will do it for you!”      ~ Richard Carlson Ph.D

The Empty Jug

my jug

The only difference between an extraordinary life and an ordinary one is the extraordinary pleasures you find in ordinary things. ~ Veronique Vienne.

I stood at the kitchen sink, robotically washing dishes. I paused, my gaze landing on a hand-painted jug on the window ledge, raindrops running down the glass. I clung to the sink with soapy hands, hunched forward, eyes clenched shut, terrified that I might miss another deadline, that I’d never have another moment of revelation, the inspiration that flows in and fills me up then spills over into my writing and my online coaching.

Washed out and weary, worried about money, unable to capture moments of fleeting inspiration as they flit and dance through my day, just out of reach, I stood, suds dripping, tears running down my face.

A quick wipe with the back of my hand, all traces gone, I picked up a tea towel and started to dry the dishes. Plates, bowls and jugs from our years in Greece and Portugal, all different sizes, shapes and designs. I looked again at the small jug on the window ledge. Cobalt blue and bottle green, ringed in bands of yellow and rusty red hearts. Sometimes I use it for flowers; most often, it stays empty, reminding me to be present, to stay open to inspiration and abundance. I looked down at the draining board and suddenly realised that not only do I have a lot of jugs, I seem to have been collecting and cherishing them all my life.

There’s a porcelain one from Portugal, hand-painted with deer and flowers which we only use for gravy on feast days and holidays. There’s a little pastel-coloured striped one with a flat bottom that’s used for milk when we have visitors; it’s the kind a sailor’s wife would keep on her window ledge, filled with snowdrops. A round-bellied classic white jug for water. A sturdy terracotta one decorated with a blue glaze and white slip. A spout-less pink tin cylinder for Greek retsina. An elegant, clear glass bottle with a gem-blue glass stopper that I use on warm days to keep water cold in the fridge.

Pencils in a chipped, speckled stoneware jug. A spider plant in a blue teapot. I rushed to the dining room and stared at what I now saw was a collection in my cabinet, in among all the other mismatched crockery. There, in pride of place, a single-setting tea service with sugar bowl and milk jug, painted decades ago by my mum’s elderly cousin, the artist who never married after her fiancé died in World War Two. We used to give my mum breakfast in bed every year on Mother’s Day, the tea tray laid with an embroidered cloth and those same dishes.

I remembered my grandmother pouring milk from a blue and white pitcher and friends’ birthday parties with ice cream and jelly and always large glass jugs of sparkling lemonade and orange juice. Always a woman somewhere, carrying a jug, offering something, pouring something.

All of my jugs are beautiful. Like us, they’re all unique and chosen, loved and special for something. They’re not meant to be permanently full; they’re designed to be filled and emptied as they pour. They’re beautiful just as they are, even when all they hold are memories and promise and a little bit of now.

I took the tea towel and lovingly dried and put away my crockery, went into the garden and found a few rain-drenched miniature daffodils and a spray of fragrant white hyacinth to put in my little heart jug at the window.

Sometimes we wait knowingly, patiently, for inspiration to fill us to overflowing. Sometimes, we simply need to love ourselves enough.

(This piece first appeared in my Coaching Moments column in 2009.)

Hyacinths and Silence

In Hebrew, the words spirituality and fragrance have a shared grammatical origin and are therefore almost identical: the word for “spirit” is Ruach and for “scent” is Reach. This reflects the ancient belief that sanctity is characterized by divine fragrance. ~Dr. Naomi Poran

My mother-in-law has just phoned to say that she and my husband’s stepfather are on the top of  a mountain.  They’ve been married for a year and we gave them a book called 501 Day Trips in the UK when they were visiting us this weekend. The weather is blue sky glorious and they’ve just tried out one of the suggestions in the book – a trip up the Cairngorm mountains on a funiculaire. She was brimming over with happiness and it warmed my heart.

Family get-togethers can leave me fraught and frazzled if I’m unable to retreat into silence to recharge my depleted energy, so before they came to visit – they left today – I filled my home with flowering potted plants and jugs and vases of flowers; French lavender, fresh daisies, yellow carnations with red tinged petals, rust-red gerberas with golden centres and a jug of fragrant hyacinths and freesias. If ever I felt frustrated, saddened or on the brink of angry blurting, I went into the kitchen and stuck my face deep into their heady scent and inhaled their healing fragrance. (I wish you could smell them below!)freesias-and-hyacinths-cropped

Be still. A daily practice of silence bears gifts — a heightened sensitivity to beauty, deep inner peace, and a profound feeling of connectedness to all living things. ~ Cheryl Richardson

Recognising our challenges and acknowledging each other’s humanity is a vital step towards finding peace and claiming our personal power.  If you have a challenging relationship with your in-laws, maybe even your parents, I hope the following article helps. It appeared in my Coaching Moments column in 2007  and describes an experience that helped me turn a corner. I was reminded that change has to come from deep inside us, while help can come from the most surprising places.

I’m still evolving, still learning, still doing my very, very best to honour the person who gave birth to my husband, and that phone call today was a moment to treasure. 

I’m also trying to teach my children that we contribute to our own pain when we expect people and situations to be different from how they actually are; when we resist what is.

The Gunless Game

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams
The brooks for the fishers of song
To the hunters who hunt for the gunless game
The streams and the woods belong.  ~ Sam Walter Foss

A few weeks ago, my widowed mother-in-law phoned to tell us she’d got engaged on a dance floor to the lovely man she’s been seeing for a long time. I was delighted!               
                                                                                                                                                
One of my biggest coaching challenges over the past few years has been trying to improve the fragile relationship I have with her. Fortunately for both of us, the more I evolve as a coach, the easier it gets. Twenty years down the line, I no longer feel the urge to slam the door and storm off cursing. At best, we’ve enjoyed an uneasy truce spanning two decades but I really want to make our relationship the best it can be for all our sakes.

I’ve tried to do the work on why I let her affect me so much, constantly asking myself what my feelings say about me. What am I scared of? What do I dislike about myself? How can I get rid of the shoulds, accept what is and change my thoughts? She is, after all, a decent woman, a good woman who in addition to raising a family, has had a challenging life, devotedly looking after her wheelchair-bound husband until he died. I keep coming up with the same answers; the sad truth is we’re both judgemental and I can’t be my best self, my authentic, creative self with her. We simply wouldn’t have chosen each other even though we both love the same man – my husband, her son.

It’s a drizzly, damp, grey day today and I’ve been daydreaming at the kitchen sink, remembering one of my mother-in-law’s visits a while ago.

She’d travelled the length of the country to visit us. As I couldn’t do any coaching, I’d decided it was a chance to practise at home instead, getting rid of old stories and any stuff of my own that had been stopping me from moving forward. Here was my chance to communicate from a clean place, relish her as the woman who gave birth to my wonderful husband, respect her humanity, her limits and the difficult, stressful life she’s had. I decided to say less, listen well and use my intuition to hone in on her needs.

If the first few hours had been a coaching session, I suspect I would have excelled at silently relishing the truth about fraught relationships with in-laws, but not much else. I would have failed Step 2 of the IAC exam miserably, and not just for having an agenda and trying too hard!

So my husband decided we should all spend the day at a deer and falconry park. His reasoning? Plenty of open space to wander around in, lots of things to see and do and game wardens with tranquiliser guns close at hand.

After some hot Scotch broth in a café with tartan tablecloths, I found myself relaxing as we strolled around and encountered all kinds of deer. In one enclosure, I sprinkled some dried food pellets on the ground for a small Muntjak deer and couldn’t resist stroking her rough coat as she ate. Suddenly, she stopped eating and reached her head up towards me. As I stood there stroking the soft, beige fur under her ear, the world stood still. Nothing mattered except two creatures gently breathing – connecting silently on a grey day in a damp Scottish field. I have no idea how long we stood like that until, startled by the arrival of another family, she bounded off.

I smiled gently to myself and the whole weekend took on a warmth and connection I would never have dreamt possible. The universe always makes sure we get what we really need. All we have to do is reach out and trust that we’ll find perfection in the silences.

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Every day, I make time to bask in moments of silence and the fragrance of flowers. When I lived by the sea, I walked, watched, breathed in deeply…
                                                                                                                                                               
What helps you heal?