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?