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.


“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)

Craving Colour

The weather threw a tantrum here in Scotland last week  – snow, sleet, hailstones and sunshine – but I decided to celebrate spring in my living room anyway. I’m a bit of a cushion addict, but changing cushions and throws with the seasons and adding a few supermarket flowers is a simple pleasure that makes me ridiculously happy. The patchwork cushion is one I did with wool left over from a blanket I crocheted last year. It lives on my sofa, and every stitch, every stripe marks a victory against the low grade depression that took me away from blogging, from photography and from myself for too long.

I crocheted it for the campervan I plan on owning some day, and a few days after I finished it, we got the chance to rent a tiny van; the blanket not only took pride of place, but manifested a few colourful companions. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed, I crave the simplicity of driftwood and a sea breeze; last year, as I dreaded the empty nest I’d be left with when my son joined my daughter at university, some wise deep instinct told me to rediscover my love of colour and build an alternative nest. I was in charge of packing for our few days away in the rented van; my husband laughed when he saw what my packing priorities were!

Van colours

Have you ever grappled with low grade, chronic depression? How did you deal with it? What helped you find your way home to yourself?

Meant to Be

I’m not on Twitter much, but one of the things that keeps me going back is synchronicity. Some days it’s like the universe curated a reading list just for me, even though I know it’s because at some point I followed friends with common interests. (I found today’s inspirational people on Twitter a while back, courtesy of Joanna, a wordsmith and photographer many of you already know.)

Today’s message?

“Right this moment, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.”

Earlier today, after I finished writing a piece about parallel homes and homesickness, which may or may not make it out of my drafts box, I logged on to Twitter and found this post by Catherine Drea.

A few clicks later, and I was reading a beautiful poem called ‘The Gift’, highlighted by Anthony Wilson.

After retweeting Anthony’s post and deciding I’m an idiot for not making enough room in my life for poetry these days, I found this poem. The link will take you to an astonishing young poet, Sarah Kay, reading one of her poems aloud, in the treasure trove that is Brain Pickings.

‘The Paradox’  by Sarah Kay

When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.

When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.

When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.

I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.

On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,

For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.

I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.

So I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.

When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was thankful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.

All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.

And even if it is just for one moment,
I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

Holidaying at Home: The East Neuk of Fife

boat geraniumsThank you for returning, for understanding my absence. If you’re new here, I appreciate you taking the time to have a wander around the site.

I’ve had a lovely ‘staycation’ fortnight with my husband and kids, resting, gardening, going to the cinema, reading and cooking. For three or four days I even managed to resist the urge to log on. I stilled my panicky inner voice by reminding myself that we’re normally computerless if we spend our holidays in Greece, so logging off completely would be the final piece in the holidaying at home jigsaw.

We spent a day on the Fife coast a few days ago, and crammed so much in, it was like a holiday in itself. (Fife is actually called a kingdom, not a county; the Scottish royal family used to live there, before the union with England.) Its coastal villages are picturesque and popular, unlike the inland mining villages I grew up in.

Our first stop was the ancient  town of St Andrews, the home of golf and of Scotland’s oldest university. We parked and wandered through the narrow cobbled streets, with their stone houses and corbie gables, browsing in gift shops and looking for somewhere quaint to eat. One small Italian lunch later (we are on holiday!) we set off  for the beach, our wee gift bags full of gem stones safely stowed in the car boot.

Shell mirror 2We spent a few hours on a vast stretch of sand called West Sands, where the opening scenes of Chariots of Fire were filmed, decades ago. We had the whole beach to ourselves. The sea was warm enough for paddling and the salty breezes bracing enough to fly the ‘Bug’s Life’ kite we’ve had since my kids were toddlers. When the wind dropped, we read, played rackets and collected shells and driftwood to make a mirror frame like the ones we’d admired in a rental property in St Monans a few years ago.

I got carried away, taking photos of my windswept children, wave patterns in the wet sand, crabs in the water and piles of sandy white shells.

When rain threatened, we packed up and headed for Anstruther, a popular fishing village, whose harbour is circled by ice cream parlours, gift shops and fish and chip shops. One of those recently won the title of the UK’s Best Fish and Chip Shop. My kids laughed when I photographed the shop, my fish and chips and the box they came in, but I had this bizarre urge to share the experience with you in case you, too, are holidaying at home and enjoying cyber visits to other parts of the world! The geraniums above are planted in a white painted rowing boat on Anstruther’s harbour front, but they reminded me of Greece.

We drove home via the beautiful coastal villages of Crail and St Monans. In Elie, I stopped to capture a beautiful old mill and a typical Scottish sea-sky to show you.

Spending a day as a tourist in the holiday haunts I enjoyed as a child, determined to capture their essence to share with my kids and with friends all over the world, made me enjoy my home ‘kingdom’ with an appreciation I’ve never had before. I spent the day with a deep, warm glow of contentment and promise, peace and pleasure. I’m not the kind of person who’s permanently brimming over with positivity and happiness, but I am aware… present. Most of my days are good days.

I’m not a photographer, but I hope you enjoy these and that you share some photos of your own home state or town with us some day.

West Sands

beach day 1

beach day 2

wet sand


sandy shells

Anstruther 1

Anstruther 2

fish and chip shop

fish and chips box

fish and chips

St Monans rooftops

St Monans




If you’ve enjoyed this wee glimpse of my holiday at home, you might enjoy these posts:

Holiday Presence

Holidaying at Home

Patchwork Post: Jasmine, Fireworks and YES!

Rapt Attention, Gifts and Rain

Holiday Presence

A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in. ~Robert Orben

Our oven is on its last legs. Two nights ago, it sighed warm breath over a pizza that took thirty five minutes to cook. I looked at my husband. He looked at me and we knew we had to tell the kids.

After we’d eaten, we asked them how they’d feel about not going away anywhere on holiday this year. We’d both accepted that it isn’t just the oven that needs replaced; two of the gas rings don’t work properly, some of our kitchen cabinets are beyond repair and some of the countertops are so old, they’re crumbling at the edges. We have maintenance work to do throughout the whole house.

I was poised, ready to explain to the kids that in the current economic climate, we may have to move house and ours needs to be in good repair – not just cosy and family friendly. We were ready to console them, to suggest a short break in October, day trips and lots of alternative plans and lists of exciting things to do. We waited.

My heart ached at the thought of our loved ones over in Greece, of the long conversations we have in the cooler evening air on their terraces and verandahs overlooking the sea. How they spoil the kids with gifts and favourite meals and ice creams while shaking their heads in disbelief at how much they’ve grown.

I thought of the long days we spend on the beach, laughing, playing simple ball games, dripping sea-wet hair onto magazines, puzzle books and holiday paperbacks, lying on beach towels and sandy loungers, smelling of suntan cream and summer.

I thought of reassuring rituals, quiet family times alone on jasmine scented balconies, playing Yahtzee and card games and strolling along the bustling seafront in the evening, choosing which noisy laughter-filled taverna to have a meal in. I longed for a table beneath the stars, for bouzouki music and endless salads and village bread, and plate upon plate of mezedhes – tzatziki, wrinkled olives, aubergine and courgette fritters, tangy feta cheese and giant beans baked in a tomato, olive oil and herb sauce – all washed down with retsina from the barrel out back.

My teenage daughter responded first. “You know,” she said, “I’d love to just chill out at home for a change. I’m really tired.” My son agreed, told us how he longed to just sleep until he woke, with no thoughts of alarm clocks, school or after-school hobbies. They both went on to explain that they enjoy everything they do at school, but are bone-weary, tired of timetables and homework.

Stunned – relieved – I asked them if they’d miss Greece, swimming every day, eating out…

“I won’t miss airports,” said my son. “Or mosquitos,” said my daughter, “…or having to get up early to swim because we can’t go outside at mid-day when it’s too hot.”

My husband and I sat there, listening, as they made the perfect case for an at-home holiday, a staycation, talking of how they loved the idea of a few weeks on holiday here, savouring the things they have little time for during a busy school year; the books they wanted to catch up on, the songs my daughter planned to learn on her guitar and all the sleeping late they were longing to do in the damp, cool Scottish mornings.

“If it’s sunny,” said my son, looking at me, knowing what I love most about holidays, “we can drive to a Scottish beach. The waves sound the same.”

“We can go to Edinburgh or Glasgow,“ said my daughter, who, like me, loves bustling crowds of foreigners as much as serenity and silence “We can pretend to be tourists, sit in cafés, go to galleries…”

I suddenly thought how much fun it would be to capture Edinburgh on camera, to send postcards of hills and lochs and castles to my friends abroad.

I thought how my daughter could play her guitar every day and my son could play football outside for as long as he liked without me worrying about sunstroke or dehydration.

I thought of all the unread books lying around waiting to be read, books I could enjoy after a day’s gardening or decorating, or on a Scottish beach, when I wasn’t gathering bits of driftwood or shells.

I thought how good it would be to get the house fixed, to get rid of all the tolerations and little jobs we’d been putting off.  To gut the attic and create a cosy new kitchen. To have months and years of feeling ‘clean and clear’ for the price of a holiday in the sun.

I hadn’t realised we’d been focusing so much on the benefits of an annual holiday that we’d never given the kids the option of staying at home, had never encouraged them to talk about what they don’t like about going away. I hadn’t realised how much those few weeks in Greece keep me anchored in the past and how many weeks of my life I dream away, longing for a pre-arranged change of scene.

A change of scene begins with a change of thoughts. We don’t always need new vistas; sometimes it’s enough to see what we already have with new eyes and be grateful. If we can’t be happy where we are, with what we have, how can we ever be truly happy somewhere else?

The next night, my husband came back from the supermarket carrying a bottle of retsina and the brand of ice cream the kids eat on holiday. “May as well start early,” he smiled.

(This was written as a guest post for Mary Jaksch at Goodlife Zen, where it appeared as Staycation: How far Away is Happiness?)