A Coaching Hallelujah

Last year at this time, I’d sent in my tapes for certification and was winding down, ready for the Big Wait. These past few days, I’ve been looking back over what I’ve done with my home life, my coaching and my writing since then, taking stock of the year’s unexpected joys and challenges as well as the dreams I’ve had to let go of. You may not be a Christian or even celebrate at this time of the year, but please bear with me, stay open and join me in a coach’s exploration of a well known story, especially if you’re still recording and planning to submit tapes before we say goodbye to the Proficiencies at the end of this month…

Thinking about my abandoned goals usually leads to me moodling about George Bailey from the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’; this time I found myself wondering about Joseph. Were his dreams of a simple family life turned upside down when he heard the momentous news about Jesus? How quick was he to recognise the perfection in the situation or was he simply stunned for a while, following his own instincts as well as trusting the guidance given to him by a greater power? What we do know is that he was supportive and loving and that he didn’t give up and walk away when things got tough and scary. But in this story, it isn’t just Joseph who embodies the coaching qualities that we can use to strengthen our coaching and enrich our lives.

Imagine in the dark, frosty crispness of night, a bright band of angels bursting into glorious song, the most perfect example of matching the radiance, joy and vibrational energy of the occasion. And what a triumph of clear communication and channelling too! In any choir – even the angelic kind – it takes all kinds of unique voices and a love of synergy, resonance and harmony to create the kind of soul music that fills you from your heart to your toes with amazing Aha!‘s.

Imagine too the humanity of the shepherds, their hearts and minds filled with a tumult of human thoughts and emotions as they grapple with shock, overwhelming panic, awe and hope in the face of an astonishing new reality.  Then there’s the little shepherd boy, bringing his gift of childlike innocence, wonder and curiosity to the tableau in the stable.

And while the shepherds remind us to love the simple dignity of our humanity, it pleases me to think of the hardworking ox and ass instinctively providing warmth with their bodies and their breath, standing there powerful yet still in the silence, breathing, looking on, listening, understanding…

I also like to think of the innkeeper (and his wife?) contributing practical solutions and resources – shelter, blankets, food, a jug of fresh water and directions to the well – all of this while bustling around, tending to an innful of guests, reminding us that people still need to have their basic needs met, no matter what life changing events are taking place.

And imagine, silhouetted against the starry night sky, gliding along on camels, the three mysterious magi, following a shared dream, a vision, never stopping till they reach their destination and deliver their gifts. Gifts which remind us that value is subjective and that our skills and senses are to be cherished: gleaming gold, bringing with it the power to do great good if it’s used wisely and with compassion; frankincense, its heady, smoky fragrance evoking the power of holy places, prayer and contemplation; myrrh, the balm that reminds us to treat our bodies with love and respect and to tune in and enjoy and them while we can.  The three kings also bring the gifts of magic and mystery, wisdom and knowledge, intuition and synchronicity. They travelled together, sharing support, solidarity and resources on their long journey towards the unknown,  reminding us that if we remain open, alert and responsive, we have a lot to learn from the wisdom and experience of others, from people of all cultures and faiths.

But behind this rich tapestry and the birth of one special child, let’s not forget the tragedy that arose from Herod’s terrible personal agenda born of power and fear, his quickness to judge and his conviction that he was right. We all have the power to hurt or help each other, to react or respond, to forgive or let ourselves be consumed by fear, pain, bitterness, anger and overwhelm, but we, as coaches, have the power and skills to ask the right questions.

And the answer to them all, the simple answer that glows like a hallelujah in the silence? Mary, serenely holding the greatest gift we’ve ever been given. Love. Pure, unconditional love.

Wishing you a season filled with miracles and love, wherever you are, whatever you believe in…

Coming to my Senses

Not the senses I have but what I do with them is my kingdom. ~ Helen Keller

How often have you appreciated your sense of smell recently? I mean really delighted in its power to evoke pleasure and memories? Have you ever thought about how often it alerts you to danger and keeps you safe?

This afternoon, for two glorious minutes, I was able to smell the rose scented candle beside my bed and I wept with joy. That one, simple fragrance meant that my sense of smell – absent for weeks because of a vicious virus travelling around my Eustachian tubes, bronchial passages and lungs – hadn’t disappeared forever.

In the first weeks after the virus struck, I lost coaching clients when I lost my hearing and my voice. Email coaching wasn’t an option either, due to dizziness and headaches. A few weeks ago, just as I was finally taking in what the universe was painting in a huge sign above my head – HAVE A BREAK! STAY IN BED!! GET WELL!!! – my daughter came home from school sobbing, announcing the end of her first, tender, special friendship with a lovely lad she’d liked for three years. For ten months, they’d been going to the cinema, going to cafés with friends and sharing family times, in our home and his. On the same day he ended their relationship, he ‘asked out’ a girl my daughter has always been convinced is prettier and more popular than she is.

As she sat racked with sobs at our kitchen table, all of our recent hormone-fuelled spats were swept aside, forgotten. I listened, hugged and coached. I produced drinks, tissues and an appropriate ‘triumph over adversity’ DVD. I secretly phoned and asked my husband to buy a tub of ice cream and some chocolate on his way home from work. I could already see her revisiting the past and letting anger and bitterness deliberately erase parts of what she’d previously called the happiest months of her life. The next few days were awful as waves of new pain washed over her and my virus got worse. All that kept me going was the thought we’d be on mid-term holiday in Spain soon, looking for ways to heal.

Lying on a lounger on the beach, the waves lapping a few feet away, I longed to smell the salty sea air. I could barely hear the keening cry of a lone seagull wheeling against the blue sky. The breeze flicked a strand of hair across my face but not even the healing warmth of the sun could breach the distance I was starting to feel between my heart and the world around me, a world whose scents, sounds and details I would usually devour and relish. Even Pollyanna had packed up and gone home.

I watched my daughter listlessly playing with some shells on the beach, all of her brother’s attempts to engage her rejected. I let her sit with the pain, watched her explore a range of new sensations on her journey towards adulthood, knowing that as a talented young writer, she would be able to edit and recreate this part of her life some day.

Reaching into my beach bag for the digital camera I’d been given for my birthday but hadn’t mastered yet, I decided to practise and play around with it. I’d had to pay for every photo taken with my old SLR camera, so it took me a while to get used to the idea that I could take, view and delete as many frames as I liked. I snapped away.

I got excited. I got better at it. Without the distraction of sounds or smells, the writer’s eternal need to take it all in, I started capturing my daughter from every angle, rediscovering the joy I used to get from painting and photography. When I convinced her that I was deleting as many shots as I was taking, she forgot about me and went back to her own thoughts. I focused on what I could see – nothing else – and rediscovered the joy of framing. I learned how to work the zoom. Blue sky and palm trees, gone. The froth of lacy white waves on the beach, gone. I learned how to trim and clip, getting rid of everything that wasn’t important. I wanted to help her see how beautiful she was. Nothing else mattered. I captured the breeze in a strand of wild, golden hair, the sea in her aquamarine eyes. I didn’t need to see her smile to capture her beauty. All the beauty I needed was right there, the depth of her soul, her strength and her ability to feel, to hold that awareness in her heart and to explore it – captured in the curve of her eyelashes, the tilt of her chin.

I lost all sense of time. Suddenly, like a sea breeze billowing through a window in my heart, I knew I had a gallery of beautiful portraits, inspired by love. I showed them to her that evening. She looked at them, looked at me, looked at them again with disbelief, surprise, pleasure…

I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of refocusing, of reframing with love and gratitude whatever life gifts us with.

Life Laundry

Pegging out laundry
Damp and fragrant in the sun
She lifts up her face
Listens to the sheets flapping
In the breeze, surrendering
Ready to set sail  ~ Janice Hunter

What’s September like where you are? Is it spring? Or has the frazzling heat of August started to fade, leaving you fresher and less floppy? Do you take on new clients, begin new ventures?

September feels like the start of a new year for me, with its promise of exciting new beginnings, classes and semesters. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my life as a student or a teacher or because my birthday falls at the end of August and both my children were born in the autumn. Whatever the reason, this is a time for freshly sharpened pencils, for blank pages and tempting piles of books, something to look forward to on darkening days as the nip of autumn turns into the unexpected bite of winter.

I have a cupboard in the dining room where I store all the Christmas candles, scented oils and festive season bargains bought in the January sales. Wedged at the back are some wooden Shaker hearts, hand-painted a warm, folk art red. They were a free gift with a magazine and I always planned to do something creative with them. Waiting in there, patiently for years, they’ve soaked up the fragrance of cinnamon, apple and spice. If I’m ever saddened by the fading brightness of autumn, or tempted to see it as a season of loss rather than a time of fruitful abundance, I furtively open those doors and inhale the excitement of another season nestled within, like Russian dolls.

As evolving souls in human bodies, we’re meant to grow, to feel the seasons, to surrender to the beauty of each one – but like many people, I’m not very good at letting go. My daughter started high school a few weeks ago and I spent an anxious, distressed day pacing like a caged animal, unable to relax until she burst through the door beaming. My dad is eighty three this month and has started to prepare for a different kind of letting go, sorting through his treasures, putting his life and house in order.

One thing that calms me when the months and years seem to be spinning out of control is to anchor myself in the everyday details of creating a life I love. I try to cultivate gratitude and focus on the people I love, on the things that inspire me and on the thoughts, emotions and details that are within my power to change; then I just do my best to trust the rest to the universe.

Every autumn, I get a craving, an almost visceral nesting instinct to clear out all the debris of an old year. Out go old passions and paradigms, making room for abundance, new experiences, new people and new lessons to flow into my life. Clutter clearing – my own and other people’s – brings me so much pleasure, it should be X-rated. Deciding what to do with every sheet of paper, every object, every garment or piece of fabric is a living, breathing meditation, a tangible way to strengthen my choice muscles and ask some important questions:

  • If I had ten minutes to rescue my belongings, would I take this?
  • Do I really, really love and need this or am I keeping it ‘just in case it comes in useful’?
  • Could someone else get more benefit from this or love it more?
  • Am I keeping this just to please someone else? Or because it came from someone I care about ?
  • Is this anchoring me in the past when I need to be moving on?
  • Is this heartstoppingly beautiful?
  • Will the kids be glad I saved this in the attic for them or roll their eyes in years to come and wonder what on earth I was thinking about?
  • Does this object exude positive, empowering energy?
  • What does it say about me? And do I like what it says about me?
  • Does it symbolise a value, something good, something precious?
  • Do I spend more time dusting souvenirs than I do making memories?

Every time I shred paper and clear out my clutter, my coaching and poetry get better, the house becomes more spacious and easier to clean, we all have more energy… and I lose weight! As well as space and energy, a cathartic clean-out also frees up time and money. A few weeks ago, we had a family holiday in a small, white cottage by a sea loch; it was funded entirely by what we’d earned from family car-boot sales and by what we’d saved by recycling and re-organising.

What could you let go of this autumn to prepare the ground for the seeds of a new season?

When the Heavens Open

Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the Earth; without rain there would be no life. ~ John Updike

I’m sitting at our wooden table, my hair wrapped in a towel. Driving rain is drumming against the window in sheets, rushing down our road in torrents that have turned the front lawn into a boggy water feature and the pavements into streams. In all my life, I have never seen rain like this in Scotland, not even in winter.

Ten minutes ago I was standing on the terracotta tiled steps of our recessed front porch, watching the water bouncing six inches off the ground and pounding the roof of our car, parked in the drive a few feet away. As I stood, mesmerised by the sound, my bare feet getting splashed as the gutter above started to overflow, the overflow became a cascade and our front door became the dark entrance to a secret haven behind a waterfall. My young son joined me, his eyes huge and longing to venture out. “Off you go then.” I said. “Just take off your T- shirt first….”

He stared at me in amazement, stripped down to his football shorts, then ran squealing around the car, splashing in the pond that had once been the drive in front of our garage. He stood giggling under the gushing gutter hopping up and down and flapping his arms, pretending to sing in the shower. I looked on with longing.

My husband brought him a warm towel when he came in shivering but beaming, dripping pools onto our wooden floor. “You should try it Mum!!!” So I did.

I ran out of the kitchen door onto our back patio, lifted my face to the heavens, raised my arms, smiled, turned a slow spiral and got soaked to the skin. Surrounded by the dense green of rain-battered bushes, hair clinging to my face, the rain streaming down my cheeks like a warm shower, my T-shirt and jeans growing waterlogged, I stood sodden in splattering, gushing water up past my ankles. A prayer rose unbidden as I looked upwards and tasted the rain. Breathing in the heavy perfume of rain-drenched branches, soil and air, I felt connected to life itself, alive, lucky, blessed…

A hot shower, some warm towels and a change of clothes later, I’m sitting at my laptop, thinking, as I write, of parched lands where the rain never falls and of flooded fields, farms, villages – even city streets in wealthy countries – where wild winds, rivers and tidal waves have washed away life itself.

For some, the gift of childhood wonder is a luxury in the struggle for survival.

Missing the Boat

The power of words never fails to thrill and stun me. I started reading a paperback last night and finished it off this morning as a break from working on half a dozen coaching projects; by the end, I was sobbing into balls of sodden tissues, my throat aching, my eyes stinging as I sniffed back and swallowed tears.

If I’d read the blurb more carefully, I would have got to the bit where it was described as a ‘tearjerker’. I usually avoid anything labelled ‘heart-rending’, ‘harrowing’ or a ‘tearjerker’. Because of my age, I’m already at the mercy of the mood swings my young son calls ‘horrormoans’ – weeping one minute at anything that involves bereft parents then snapping murderously at my kids the next.

Tiredness doesn’t help, but it’s my own fault I ended up in bed today, an exhausted, frazzled, biscuit-eating mess – like a small child who’s had too much excitement all at once and can’t cope.

I committed a real coaching sin after I passed Step 2 of IAC certification; I didn’t give myself time to bask in the glow of passing before I moved on to a flurry of activity and exciting new projects that answered the question “So what next?”. I’d hooked up so many of my Big Picture dreams to becoming certified that suddenly I found myself working from morning till midnight, desperate not to see the energy and momentum dissipate.

The coaching world often leaves me with a sense of anxiety, feeling like I’m about to miss the boat without even knowing what the boat is. But now I have the feeling that if I don’t act soon to create multiple income streams based on what I can offer as a certified coach then somehow my training and IAC-CC  designation will simply evaporate.

I love coaching one-to-one as well as coachwriting, but I often feel like I’m treading water, trying to keep up with business trends, networking, marketing strategies, web building techniques, blogging and multiple streams of income simply to stay afloat. Hard work doesn’t scare me and I truly believe that marketing can be approached as a form of coaching; I also believe that we attract what we need if we believe in ourselves and in our products but sometimes the ratio of coaching related work to actual coaching just feels overwhelming.

So too are the paradoxes – passions pulling me apart like dogs yanking on a choke leash till I can barely breathe: wanting to contribute to the family income but spending less time with my family and being less present than ever before; working at home to follow the principles of ‘right livelihood’ yet becoming more of a mediocre marketer than a masterful coach; loving my homelife coaching yet shelving my own creative projects and clutter-clearing to find clients I can help with theirs.

Getting the balance back and dovetailing my goals would be smart, I know, but another symptom of being out of whack with myself and permanently attached to a computer is the dialogue my ego has with my Wise Best Self: “I hear you, WBS, but I’ll get back to loving the details just as soon as I finish reading this email about reducing the time I spend reading emails.”

The main character in the book I read worked so hard at building a business to provide for her children, using innate skills discovered through tragedy, that she missed sharing the wonder of their childhood with them and never fully appreciated her husband till it was too late to tell him.

Maybe it’s OK to miss the boat if it’s the wrong boat.

All Kinds of Gardens

I love our garden in May. Last spring, I spent hours outside with an MP3 player, relishing the coaching sessions my colleagues had sent me to critique. This year, I’ve been blessing the person who invented the wireless laptop that allows me to work outside on ebooks, websites, teleclasses and articles and to correspond with  friends and colleagues from all over the world.

Scotland’s not renowned for its glorious weather – it’s lush and green for a reason! But when the sun comes out, there’s a flurry of activity as people celebrate the chance to spruce up and preen their front gardens. Lawnmowers rev and back gardens become relaxed outdoor living spaces where laughing neighbours, friends and families spontaneously gather around sizzling barbeques to chat and drink beer. As I sit on our back steps with the sun on my face, gently crushing the fragrance of rosemary and mock orange blossom between my fingers, my garden always reminds me of my coaching.

The mossy, winding path of weathered paving stones we laid years ago leads into little secret patios inviting me to pause, still my thoughts and enjoy the birdsong or a breeze rustling through the branches. Bordering this path is a tall, dense  patchwork of planting which pretty much takes care of itself now. I’m not the world’s best pruner or weeder so I play to my strengths and plant evergreens, easy perennials and ground cover. Reliable old favourites and the odd surprising newcomer. As I’m a coach who talks too much, it’ll come as no surprise that I’m a gardener who plants too densely. My narrow strip of garden’s always teaming with birds, bugs and grubby kids and you never know what you’ll discover next!

Slim, blue-green conifers, purple tipped hebes, laurels and rhododendrons form the evergreen backbone of the planting. Softening the hard edges of the paving are delicate pink flowering alpines, fat green elephant’s ears bearing spears of mauve flowers,  burgundy heucheras and deep purple daisy-like blooms set against a crown of arching, russet cordyline spikes. A few well chosen plants, but all working hard. Flowing colour harmonies, contrasting heights, leaves and shapes all combining to serve more than one purpose in a small, confined space. Over the years, I’ve learned by trial and error what works and what doesn’t and now I just trust my instincts, have fun and play it by ear when I plant. I’ve learned to do the same with my coaching.

Everywhere I go in my garden, every day, every season, even in the winter as I gently brush the snow off branches bowed and about to break, I hear, see, feel and smell something different, something perfect.  Every coaching session has its own rhythm too, its own harmonies and unexpected treasures, just as every coach has their own reliable evergreens and well trodden paths.

Many coaches are anxious about whether their coaching style is a ‘fit’ with what the IAC is looking for in a thirty minute exam submission. Yet, while each of the IAC examiners must wander through all kinds of ‘coaching gardens’, savouring sounds, silences, shapes, colours, movement and fragrances that resonate with their own unique perceptions, we all know that true beauty can show up in the smallest of spaces  – and when it does, it’s unmissable, carrying with it the power to unite hearts and minds across time and space. A truly masterful coaching session can do the same.

Saving More than Money

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what  you are.  ~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I shop on Mondays. Every Monday, same supermarket, same basic aim. Feed the family healthily, save as much money as possible and build a coaching business. And a blog. Only it never used to be like that.

Was a time when I just filled the trolley. Then came the personal development books. Half an hour’s reading or writing in the supermarket café became a date with myself every Monday. Sometimes it was an exercise in celebrating simple abundance, at other times just extreme self care, time away from homemaking while turning a chore into a pleasure.

Because of the books, I started to enjoy the actual shopping. My ‘choice muscles’ got a workout as I filled the trolley. Is this bottle of wine getting me closer to my goal or further away from it?  In went washing powder that smelled of jasmine and made me look forward to the laundry. Filo pastry inspired me to recreate the hours I spent chatting with my Greek godmother while we made massive spinach pies after a morning squeezing and prodding produce in the noisy street market. Bargain books screamed synchronicity as they reached out to me from the shelves. I even bought a lipstick once because I loved the name Charisma as much as the colour. (Well, some of us stay-at-home mums need all the help we can get… )

Later, when I was  focusing on getting ready to send in tapes for Step 2 of the IAC exam, my shopping evolved.

I started seeing the perfection in all kinds of empty shelf disappointments and trolley collisions. I found myself communicating cleanly if I had an issue at the customer service desk and it got easier to respond appropriately when I could see that checkout staff were overwhelmed. As I worked my way around the supermarket, I found myself enjoying the humanity of it all, indulging my curiosity and wondering what the story was in every trolley.

Now that I’m certified, I’m working on ways to pass on my experience and share the joy I’ve had in every phase of my journey. Ideas flit in and out of my mind like small birds; if I don’t capture their fleeting presence in a note or a sketch, they take off, no doubt  to bring flashes of colour, pleasure and inspiration to someone more receptive.

When I’m not at my kitchen table, I seem to get strangely inspired in the self-service supermarket café, scribbling away as I slowly sip my way through a pot of mediocre, lukewarm tea. It’s like being in an anonymous motorway service station, a Formica filled truck stop far away from the attractions and distractions of my own home. I find it easy to sit and reflect on how far I’ve travelled and to plan where I’d like to go next.

When I write, it helps me to become mindful and aware, to be still and silent enough to see everything, every detail, every sensation as meaningful. My life becomes one big haiku. When I put down my pen and get ready to focus on the shopping, I usually start my week feeling lucky to have a family to shop for, the money to feed them and the time and means to cook healthy meals.

But today I’m dreading the shopping. Spring usually lightens my heart with the fragrance of hyacinths and the sight of jugs of tulips and golden daffodils but not this year.

The supermarket has stacks and pyramids of boxed, foil wrapped, huge, chocolate Easter eggs and golden bunnies atop every aisle as well as in an entire dedicated aisle. In our house, we dye hardboiled eggs red and decorate the house with bowls of them. The Greeks believe they symbolise renewal and the blood of Christ.

For me, many chocolate Easter eggs symbolise something entirely different.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of The Slave Trade Act. It effectively ended Britain’s role in the transatlantic shipping of human beings, although no restitution was ever made to those who suffered. Sadly, statistics show that human trafficking is now the fastest growing crime problem in the world, second only to drugs. In West Africa, especially in the Cote d’Ivoire, young boys are trafficked into slavery to work in cocoa production.  Many major well known manufacturers buy their cocoa from there, citing consumer demand as their reason for persisting. Fair Trade companies and producers of organic chocolate don’t. My children will be receiving fewer chocolate eggs this year and they won’t be their favourite, cheaper brands.

I’m concerned with what my shopping will cost me at the final checkout.

Shaking off the Shoulds

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides. ~ Artur Schnabel

I opened the kitchen curtains this morning to an eerie brightness and snow falling silently outside.

My kids’ delight in the snow is not contagious. After I packed them off to school, wrapped up, laughing and excited, I sat down at the kitchen table, hugging a steaming mug of coffee as I remembered my own childhood winters, trudging through blizzards to school, with frozen, aching fingers and toes, breathing in damp wool from the scarf I’d been mummified in.

So, no ski slopes, toboggans and brightly coloured bobble hats for me, I’m afraid. Snow’s for Christmas, when the tree tops glisten, Bing and Dean croon, fairy lights twinkle outside on snowy conifers and I snuggle up in front of the fire with a feel good film and something yummy. Today I’m having a snow day. No ice-dancing with other cars on roads like ice rinks; I’m staying in and going nowhere.

It’s all too easy to let the shoulds gently freeze out the To Be list, the fun and the wants, till you can’t even remember what they were – but today I’m giving myself a day off.

A day off from self imposed routines and unquestioned obligations; a day off from marketing emails designed to make me feel anxious and lacking. A day where no-one cares whether I have a niche or not.

But having a snow day doesn’t mean that nothing gets done. It’s often in moments of silence, idleness or mundane activity that inspiration and creativity take us by surprise.

I’ve whizzed through the cleaning and clutter, choosing to tackle the windows to let in more of the bright snow light. I’ve ignored the ironing but cleared out an entire kitchen cupboard instead, just for that glorious feeling you get as you bag up objects you neither love nor need. I’ve listened to an inspiring audio clip from Byron Katie’s new book, ‘A Thousand Names for Joy’ and I’ve done some chatty email coaching, slurping hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles, glad I’ve not got a  webcam. And the avalanche of marketing emails in my inbox?  To unsubscribe, click here Click…. Click….Click….

While I’ve been sitting here writing, it’s stopped snowing and some of the snow has thawed. I’ve just watched a laurel branch bounce back from under its burden of snow, launching it like a catapult.

That’s how I feel as I shake off the shoulds, the rest of my snow day beckoning me like our snow covered front garden, silently waiting to share its treasure when the kids come home.

I might be tempted to build a snow wolf or make some snow angels with them. Or most likely, I’ll put on the kettle and watch them through the living room window, daydreaming of a new year stretching before me like an empty beach full of promise, a cinema’s COMING SOON trailers, a tempting pile of unread books, hyacinths hidden in a bowl, a brand new journal to cuddle up with and bustling pavement cafes full of people to meet and delicious treats to tempt the senses.

A year of choices, not shoulds.

The Sound of Music

Everything in life responds to the song of the heart. ~ Ernest Holmes

I love hearing silence used beautifully. The perfect pause that reaches out like ripples around a pebble in a dark pool. A poem where the unspoken word can say more than the most carefully crafted chapter. The silence between the notes that makes the music.

I went to a Scottish folk concert last night and sat in awe as the fiddles and pipes had a spirited conversation, the flute became a voice, the guitar wrapped itself around them all and the drumbeat turned into a heartbeat, a handclapping, footstomping hall full of joy and applause. As I sat listening to the band, watching the stage lights pick out their foot tapping, swaying forms in beams of changing coloured light on the dark stage, I remembered how I used to feel performing my own songs in the heat of the lights, savouring the silence between the fading of the last note and the start of the clapping.

I sang my way around Europe when I worked as a language teacher and translator; my voice was a vital part of who I was and what I did.  After I had my kids, I moved back to Scotland and slowly, imperceptibly, I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped playing the guitar and even stopped speaking the foreign languages I was fluent in. Silence gently settled around my soul like snow.

When I drifted into life coaching, on my journey out of what I now realise was low grade chronic depression, my passion to tell the whole world about it bubbled up, spilled over and finally gushed out in the torrent that helped me rediscover my voice.

Meeting other coaches in teleclasses and online was a bonus, like watching a film with a cast of wonderful, colourful characters. I have a colleague who coaches with the quiet, understated elegance of a Grace Kelly. One coaching buddy has the gentle strength and loving radiance of a spiritual leader – I’ve never met her but I just know  she has a twinkle in her eye! Another has a voice like hot chocolate; her coaching sessions are like a studio where you turn yourself and your life into a work of art. And we all know someone who coaches like Bette Davis on a bad day, right? So who would you be?

I suspect I’d be Maria from The Sound of Music, twirling around on a mountain top, squashing innocent edelweiss underfoot, tripping my way clumsily through cobbled streets and coaching sessions oblivious to the fact that I was knocking people over with my swinging guitar case as I sang “I have confidence in sunshine…!”

It didn’t surprise me when I failed Step 2 of the IAC exam. I gush, I interrupt inappropriately and I have this overwhelming urge to fix things, to make children’s clothes out of curtains and get people singing about their favourite things.

Can I see myself ever getting certified?  Well, Maria never did make it as a nun, although, thanks to her Mother Superior’s glorious rendition of  “Climb every mountain”, she got the handsome husband, the home full of happy kids and found her dream. Am I glad to have my voice back, a spirited, life loving, world worshipping voice? Oh yes. Oh, dear God, YES!!!

Heading for Home

Yesterday as I was driving home from the supermarket, winding my way through the hills listening to Jose Gonzales’ haunting voice and guitar chords, I felt more at peace than I have for months. I’d finally allowed myself to envision our summer holidays by the sea – far away from IAC certification, recorded sessions, triads, teleclasses, marketing emails and coaching sites.

My kids hate shopping for clothes – I don’t know how long that will last – so into the supermarket trolley alongside the broccoli and bananas went bargain T shirts, suntan cream, mosquito spray, antiseptic wipes, books  and some beaded, jewelled sandals for my daughter, who’s caught in the tweenage years between pretty pastels and peer pressure. I even surprised myself and bought a black and white polka dot dress – with frills.

As I contemplated some San Francisco crime thrillers to read on  the balcony in those peaceful hours when the children are sound asleep and the crickets are singing, I remembered in amazement how I’d studied a different Proficiency every day of our holidays in Greece last year. It’s been a roller coaster of a year.

I thought back to the past few frazzled weeks of unsuccessful recordings, studying, buddy coaching, email correspondence, doing critiques and writing feedback. I’d burned meals, fed the kids junk food, watched the house get grubby and struggled to remember all of their after school arrangements. My days grew wearier and I looked on sadly as my husband kept the family together while I drank too much coffee at my computer.

The day I stunned my Sensible Self and recklessly sent in the only two recorded coaching sessions I’d done unselfconsciously, I bought myself ninety days of peace. Ninety days of enjoying my children. Time to relax in our garden and take trips to haunted Scottish castles and dark lochs; time to make memories in the local park; time to fall over in turquoise waves and drink Greek coffee in seafront cafés. Ninety days of salads and wine, jasmine scented evenings and candles.

My life’s the session I want to get a passing score for and when I’m not grounded in my daily rituals, the simple, joyful details of my life – a jug of freesias on a scrubbed wooden table, a hearty meal served on a mismatched collection of crockery, a new book, a furtive kiss on a teddy bear’s nose as I make beds –  my intuition withers and I struggle to create anything at all. Bad news for a coach, especially one who loves to write.

Driving home from the supermarket, windows down, savouring the smell of drenched earth in the rain, I turned up the music and decided I’d wear my polka dot dress on the day I get my exam results back.