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, edited by Linda Dessau.

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.