Foil

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time… ~ T.S. Eliot

I never know who I’m going to be in January. Sometimes the New Year infuses me with dynamic energy and renewed determination. Sometimes the old year haunts the new, leaving me deeply introspective and longing for nothing more than profound simplicity and clarity. Last year’s roller coaster ride has left me feeling weary and buffeted yet believing even more fervently than before that everything is fuel for coaches and writers. All life is learning. Capturing and filtering moments for this column remains a blessing, a constant reminder to stay open and connected and to be grateful for the life-affirming insights I find in the most unlikely of situations.

The other day, I dropped a roll of metallic kitchen foil before I could tear off a piece to line the grill pan. Cursing under my breath, I watched it unfurling like a broad silver ribbon before I could catch it. (Now, if this has never happened to you, I suggest you try it just once!) The beautifully smooth, wrinkle free, neat, tidy tube of shiny, delicate foil, which starts off wrapped snugly around its cardboard core, has to be rolled back up by hand.

I can never, never get it back tight, smooth and neat. Holding the tube at both ends, I wind and roll, roll and wind, but no matter how carefully I do it, I always leave crinkles and the rustling roll that was once tightly, mechanically wound and smooth becomes fatter and uneven at the edges. It rarely goes back into its cardboard box, you know, the one with the saw-like cutting edge. Nor is it ever as easy again to smoothly tear off pieces along the cutter.

But today, I found myself smiling, then grinning as I rolled up the metallic foil, knowing it would end up crumpled and squashed. It reminded me of me.

Every time I pick myself up from a disappointment or a fall, or an unplanned life detour, I’m never the same. As long as I can still do what I was created to do, does it really matter if I never fit back into the tidy constraints of the original ‘box’, a box that was precision cut to contain something perfect and unused, leaving no room for untidy growth, movement or change?!

If we tumble out of our ‘boxes’, if we’ve fallen or ‘failed’ or made a break for freedom and found ourselves travelling, unravelling out of control away from our cores, we don’t want to be wound back up tight and constrained in the same way ever again. Or even worse, scrumpled up into a ball and binned because we no longer fit some artificially constructed notion of perfection. If we roll out of control and need to be gathered up and rescued, it’s nice to be valued despite the wear and tear or because of the wear and tear; it’s even more empowering if we’re the ones doing the rescuing.

All journeys expand the layers of our awareness just as our flaws increase our learning and our wisdom, making us ‘bigger’, richer people – like the roll of metallic foil getting fatter, more crumpled, more interesting as it’s gently reeled in and furled back around its never changing core. We may spiral back to where we started on our journeys, often feeling frustrated that we’re back at the same place – but it never is exactly the same place if we’ve learned and grown along the way.

 

 

Birdsong

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving. ~ Kahlil Gibran

I woke very early today, too early to start clattering and clanging in the kitchen so I grabbed a book, a pen and spiral bound notebook and wandered out into the garden, heading for the table,  sipping the glass of blueberry juice I’d poured for myself.

I laid my books on the table, the blue and white tablecloth dew-damp under my sleepy arms, and I sat there thinking ‘These birds are really loud!’ Cheeping, cooing, chirruping, whistling, trilling, tweeting, chattering…I slowly started to single out each songbird’s soaring celebration of a new morning.

The sun, burning off the last few patches of mist, cast shafts of light through the laurels, turning web-hung droplets to twinkling crystals whenever the fresh morning breeze rustled the branches, dark green against a clear blue sky.

I breathed in the fragrance of moist earth and caught the scent of the mock orange blossom by our back door. Feeling more alive than I had for months, I thought about writing some morning pages, hoping to explore and dispel the shadows that have been settling round me.

I opened the notebook, half heartedly fiddling with my pen as I sat listening to the birds.  Soon I would hear the sound of distant traffic; the humming of an aeroplane across the sky; the faint clattering of cereal bowls and spoons; the sound of kettles and radio alarms carried on the breeze. I put down the pen and leaned back in my seat, unwilling to leave the moment even to capture it.

A big fat bee came buzzing around the bushes by my feet and made me smile! I hadn’t seen one for months. So many tales of the bees disappearing; with them would go the soundtrack to my childhood garden memories of damp grass and daisy chains, dandelions and buttercups.

Suddenly, a flash of red and a choot choot choot –  a robin, on the fence behind the berberis bush. He stopped, looked at me, bobbed his head three times  and flew off.

And I knew, knew then as I know now, with a certainty that leaves no room for fear or doubt: I was meant to write this piece. I was meant to write. I was meant to wake up early, to love that bee, to be that robin, to share with you the beating of my “winged heart” on a grateful spring morning.

And you were meant to read this. For without the life and the breath and the experience you bring to these words, they would only be pixels on a screen. Like the bee, you touch the lives of strangers, you’re woven through the fabric of a million memories, you create moments that leave the world a better place. You and I – like the robin – have a message to bring, a song to sing in the eternal dawn chorus.

Today, as you choose to wrap your heart around the moments that make up a life, how will you share your precious gift with the world? You were born with talents, you’ve worked hard to build skills, to create connections – but they’re just the channel.  You are the gift.

‘R’ Words…or How to Redefine the Recession

I’ve recently read a surprising number of newsletters and blogs which have used the phrase “the ‘R’ word” to refer to economic recession. Now these aren’t coy writers I’m talking about; they’re highly respected, powerful coaches who inspire and lead many others. I don’t know why they use the phrase, but it got me thinking about what recession means to the coaching world and also set me off on a journey exploring ‘R’ words.

Real estate, reaction, response, re-positioning and relief…

I live in a tourist area where many local newly-weds can’t afford to buy homes because of inflated house prices. In other parts of the country, families are faced with the prospect of downsizing or negative equity because of the post-boom drop in property prices. I’ve seen how distressing this can be, so it’s not a topic I’m being dismissive of or disrespectful about. I’d like to share a story with you about one of the best coaches I’ve ever known.

He started to feel the waves of worry over the US sub-prime mortgage situation last year; his wife works in real estate and they have a young family. His initial reaction was to increase his networking and marketing until the pace became almost hysterical and frenetic. Then, after an aha phase, he responded from his heart by putting the theory of ‘letting go’ into practice. He focused on the abundance he already had – his family, friends, training, experience, wisdom and qualifications – and acknowledged that they weren’t going to evaporate if he didn’t fill his coaching practice immediately. Instead, he started applying for other jobs to supplement his coaching income, even though he already had more clients than most coaches I know. The job offers came flowing in. He  accepted one that allowed him to work from home and the relief was almost tangible, like a breeze of fresh air blowing through his life, bringing with it financial security and a continuation of the family dynamics and routine he’d worked so hard to build. And then – no surprise to those of us who believe in the law of attraction – the clients came pouring in too. Eleven new clients in two weeks.

Redundancy, re-evaluation, readiness, relocation and resourcefulness…

My husband works in the Scottish branch of an international company and we’ve been affected by the global crisis too.  Every October for the last three years, his bosses have announced that hundreds of people in the company are to be made redundant. The list of those about to lose their jobs  isn’t released until December.  It’s become harder for me every year to celebrate Christmas in the carefree way we used to. It’s become increasingly painful for my husband to lose colleagues at a time when workmates all over the world are celebrating the holiday season with office parties and frivolity. But as we’ve narrowly ‘escaped’ for three years in a row, we’ve been given a great gift – the chance to re-evaluate what’s most important to us in a deeply authentic way.

We have to ask ourselves what we’d really like to do with our skills and talents and which risks we’re ready and willing to take, seeing as our children are thriving at school. If we were to move anywhere in the world for work, where would we go? What would we do? Why would we choose to stay here in Scotland? My dad is 84 but has another daughter and grandsons here. Heart-searching talks, provocative conversations. Despite my heart-wrenching wanderlust, we always end up feeling that we’re here in Scotland because we want to be. We’re always left knowing what we’re willing to fight to keep.

Not moving house also makes us more resourceful with what we have. Downsizing our consumption, expenditure and stuff is a pleasure for us, a solution, not a form of imposed deprivation. It makes us feel prepared for anything, like we’d be ready to move if we had to. It makes us feel ‘clean and clear’ while we choose to stay. Most of what we own is useful, beautiful or treasured.

Relishing, ritual and religion …

I’ve also coped with looming redundancy and the threat of ‘forced’ relocation by strengthening my love of ritual. It can be a powerful glue in every relationship, religion and society. My daughter laughingly told her Religious and Moral Education teacher at school that her mum steals the best bits of every religion she comes across!

We love creating our own rituals too. On Mother’s Day, I never expect presents, flowers or chocolates. My kids volunteer to be ‘servants’ for a day and keep the home running while I stay in my bedroom and read a book from cover to cover – a rare and cherished treat. They make me cards and create ‘cheques’ promising to pay me in love, respect, tidied rooms and fewer tweenage tantrums! I laminate those and use them as bookmarks.

We also make homemade cards, sweets, presents and crackers at Christmas and have created fun-filled, friend and family rituals throughout December. It gives us all so much more to look forward to than shop-bought gifts.

It was my mum who instilled in me a love of details and ritual, and although we didn’t have much money when I was growing up, we grew up rich because of her.

I’m sharing this with you now because if you’re anxious about your future or your finances, this is the time to start being open to creative ideas to reduce your consumption and expenditure. You’ve time to design cards, make personalised bookmarks, write books of gratitude and ‘love memories’ for your loved ones, compile photo albums of treasured memories, and create works of art from digital photos. You’ve time to plan home baked gifts and to research unusual charities to donate to instead of sending gifts…You can give away heirlooms now and register the recipient’s pleasure rather than wait to die to do it. You can have clothes swap evenings with friends, bake and take to the homeless, give away the contents of your attic or garage to folk who need it.

I’m having a meltdown at the moment, trying to decide how to redesign my kitchen to get a bigger table in. As I hear of the tragedy unfolding in Burma, it puts my dilemma into proportion. By not buying meat, wine or treats for a just a week, I can send a Burma emergency relief fund enough for mosquito nets, water purification tablets or plastic sheeting for shelter. Doing without pizza or a bottle of Chilean red isn’t going to kill me.

Remembering, regret and reaching out…

My mum died a few weeks before Mother’s Day, while I was expecting my son. She’d gone into hospital to have an aneurism removed and never spoke again. Complications meant she had to be ventilated through her windpipe, even though she was fully conscious. She spent her last weeks on a gurney in intensive care, awake but hooked up to dialysis and a ventilator, defying all the odds. The day before she died, she was restless, hardly lucid and spent the whole day trying to point to her left wrist with her wrinkled, right hand. Everyone speculated; was she experiencing pain down her arms? Was she wondering where her watch had gone? She mouthed the words “I love you son” to my husband before she drifted off and we were asked to leave. That night, she developed an infection and didn’t regain consciousness. My dad was asked for permission to switch off the machines. The next day, I watched her slowly slip away. When the LED displays finally all reached zero, I looked up to the ceiling and said “I’m sorry.” So much I hadn’t said when she was alive. So many memories I’ve relished since.

I reckon she was pointing to where her watch had been, telling us it was time, telling us not to waste it.

Don’t let regret be one of your ‘R’ words. As folk who are involved in the coaching world, the recession is a chance for us to reach out, to inspire, to share our skills and our wisdom and to make a difference. It’s not all about marketing and money.

A few of my favourite ‘R’words… why don’t you make a list of your own or get your clients to make one as an attitudinal antidote to ‘R’ word anxiety!

reading,
rose scented laundry,
relishing truth,
rugs on real wood floors,
reaching out and really enjoying people,
rainbows (my mum sends them),
rock pools,
rusty-red painted wood,
rose flavoured Turkish delight sweets,
retsina and red wine,
rustling olive groves,
rustic tables (laid with blue and checked tablecloths, bread, olives and salads)

Ebb and Flow

We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (A Gift from the Sea – 1955)

It’s well past midnight. I’ve just looked at my watch and realised I’ve been working at my laptop – harvesting inspiration, quotes and ideas  – for hours. Deep in the flow, I haven’t moved, spoken or eaten.

My first thought? I’m lucky that I love what I do when my kids are asleep or at school – my writing and my homelife coaching. I love the thought of a life spent helping people create that ‘holiday house’ simplicity and clarity in their lives and their homes, ridding their rooms, their bodies and their relationships of clutter. I love co-creating design solutions for folk who feel they’re suffocating under piles of stuff and paper that leave no room for a breath of fresh air or spirit.

Ah, but then, with the almost audible thud of an email landing in the inbox, my heart sinks.  I feel my gut clenching and my spirit shrivelling. I think how much easier it would be to have the funds to pay a professional website designer to sit by me, instantly transforming my ideas into a site that’s a joy to navigate and an inspiring haven for weary surfers.

Then I think of the affiliate links I’ve still to negotiate, the materials and new client contract forms I haven’t created yet, the files of resources to be sorted or written and the website video technology I feel I ought to be mastering. The flow dries to a trickle. A sigh followed by the sound of a laptop lid clicking shut.

One of my favourite questions is ‘Does it expand you or contract you?’ Deceptively simple, but hugely powerful. It works with everything from diet decisions to decluttering, from discovering passions to deciphering feelings. It reminds me of a bush that used to grow in the dusty soil at the foot of a tree in the pavement outside my first apartment block in Greece. It had deep pink and yellow trumpet-like flowers that opened and closed depending on how much light and heat it felt.

I’m back where I was a year ago; writing expands me but feeling I ought to be doing more to make money contracts me.

Surfing through inspiring websites expands me. Always feeling technologically challenged contracts me.

Loving my husband and children expands me; the tiredness that often comes with consistent, conscious parenting contracts me.

Creating an authentic, spirit-filled homelife expands me; trying to explain that ‘stay-at home-mum’ doesn’t mean I’m a constantly available stand-in for every ‘working’ mum when the school needs volunteers doesn’t just contract me, it often twists me up into a squirming, screwed up ball of resentment. And so it goes until I feel like I’m cancelling myself out.

In our society, craving ‘less’, writing to touch people’s hearts, staying at home to nurture kids and coaching people for free or for bartered services or affordable fees all have fluctuating value, depending on the financial circumstances and paradigms of the observer.

On the one hand, many people say they wish they could be doing what I’m doing – nurturing my family and others in a small but deeply authentic and satisfying way, yet, when they’re tired after working long hours outside the home, ‘working’ mums often ask me how my husband feels about ‘funding my hobbies’ and ‘paying for me to stay at home all day’.

Many supportive coaches write and tell me they value my Coaching Moments pieces; others write articles about how it’s damaging for coaches to undervalue themselves and their products and to give too much away for free.

I suspect a bit of balance and some shadow work would expand me right now. So would a week alone in a small house by the sea, writing at a rickety wooden table overlooking a brooding ocean, listening at night to the sound of the waves, the ocean’s sleep breathing.

So, no touching moments of heart captured awareness this month. Just questions, wave upon wave of questions pounding a restless shore.

Loving Letters

“We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.” ~ Goethe

I’d like to start this month’s article by begging you, pleading with you not to take a moment of your life for granted today, no matter how creatively in the flow you are or how jam packed, bogged down or productive your day is. Don’t let one single breath slip by unappreciated, not a smile, or a phonecall, or a scrap of paper from a friend, or a coffee date that you’re considering cancelling because of work. If you’ve drifted away from a loved one because of busy-ness and stress, head for home and find a safe harbour before it’s too late. Say thank you, say sorry, say something.

It all started in the attic. I went up to find a map for my son’s homework and while I was rooting around among teetering piles of cardboard boxes, I found an old plastic bag with Portuguese writing on it and I knew it must contain something from the time my husband and I spent teaching there twenty years ago. I carried the dusty, musty smelling thing down to my bedroom, spilled the contents onto the bed then gasped with my hand to my face as I saw piles of envelopes covered in my mother’s handwriting.

Guilt came first; here were all the letters she’d written to me in my years abroad. So many letters. Most of the time, between brief phonecalls, all I sent my folks were scrawled postcards and clichéd tourist gifts. She ended every letter with “We love you” and every letter was an expression of unconditional love. If she was saddened by the self-obsessed way I neglected my family or anxious about me living alone in foreign countries, she never showed it.

Tears streaming down my face, I realised, for the first time, that my mother had a gift for fresh, immediate writing. I savoured, in a way I’m sure I didn’t back then, the details of her everyday life as she described, with a canny eye and gentle humour, the simple goings-on in our Scottish mining village.

I felt her presence wrap itself around me as I laid them to the side, knowing I would keep and treasure them – but I had to read the others now. A window to my past, to another world, to another self had been opened. Like an archaeologist, a time traveller, I kept reading.

I found cards and letters of love and support from friends I’d written to before I went into surgery to have a tumour removed. I suddenly remembered sitting by the hospital bed, writing ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’ letters to everyone in my address book – just in case. How I wish I could turn back the clock now and thank them again, with an older, wiser understanding of how powerful and authentic their messages were. There is deep, raw strength in the honesty that brings us closer together in situations where we feel the wings of death brush past our shoulders.

A pile of flimsy blue air mail envelopes with their red and white striped edging, letters from my best friend in his beautiful Greek script, teasing me and loving me, unaware that in a few short years his life would be tragically cut short by cancer.

A funny postcard in what we called Portuguenglish from a linguistically brilliant student of mine who’d become a good friend; he threw away his lonely young life with a heroin needle a few years later.

A bundle of fat envelopes addressed in the small, shy handwriting of a Scottish friend I’d been at university with, envelopes bursting with beautiful, expressive, heartfelt letters to cheer me up and keep me company during many a painful, lonely time abroad before I met my husband. He wrote to me about music, art, books, life and love and it didn’t dawn on me until today – so selfish and self-centred was I then – that he was in love with me. My heart stumbled and I wiped my wet face on the back of my hand as I  realised that he saw then the very best of me, a glimpse of my real self, my soul, the part of me that has been rediscovered and nurtured by my marriage, my children and my coaching journey. He let me go eventually, “getting rid of dead wood” he called it, and the pain I felt then was excruciating because I didn’t realise why he was doing it. I do now, but I can’t apologise, can’t thank him, can’t start again and show him pictures of my kids. And I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone.

As I sat  shredding letters for recycling, letting go of all but a precious few and whispering silent apologies and gratitude for the memories that made me the person I am today, I decided I’m going to write some real letters and notes to the folk I love, something they can hold and choose to keep in a ribbon-tied bundle if they want to; real letters in unique handwriting on scented notepaper or carefully chosen postcards like we sent back then, when people left a part of themselves on paper and thank God they did.

War of the Words

If you’ve never argued with your spouse, kids, partner or family members, then I don’t know whether to write to you for advice, shout “…pants on fire!” or campaign to get you acknowledged by the religion of your choice! Most of us have hurt others with our words at some time, and even though we may be trained coaches and linguists, I’m convinced that most of us still don’t fully comprehend the power of the words we use to shape – or destroy – our lives.

I had a foul exchange with my husband the other evening, but even while I was in mid-rant, our consistent language patterns kept standing out in sharp relief, as if I was watching a soap opera. I drive him wild  by constantly analysing, mid-argument, the words and intonation he’s been using. He sees it as an annoying diversionary tactic and proof that I’m not really interested in what he’s saying. I naively think it might help us see how we’re snowballing into hell. We cover lots of unpleasant ground in our arguments, from raising our voices and talking over each other to intensifying the language we use.

My husband’s most hurtful argumentative language pattern is to exaggerate his adverbs of frequency and the intensity of the words he uses. “You’re always attacking me for…” “You find fault with everything I …” “Everyone hates it when you…”

Most of us crank up our adverbs of frequency to some extent but I’ve started to notice my daughter doing the same thing, and that really worries me. I’ve started gently asking her if she knows it to be true when she begins a complaint with “She never….” or “You’re always…..”. I’ve also tried to discourage her from answering everything with “OK.” So many words available to her in her rich vocabulary, to describe her days, her experiences, her feelings yet how much teenage indifference and misery can be expressed in those two syllables! I’ve also tried drawing her attention to how often she peppers her speech with sarcastic ‘actually’s.

And what kind of messages do we send our brains when we dress the relatively undramatic events of our daily lives in the most colourful, intense language we can, convincing ourselves that we’re doing it simply to be more expressive? Did he do something without telling you that mildly disappointed you or did he ‘stab you in the back’? Did she say something that peeved you a bit and made you vaguely sad or did you ‘take great offence’ at the way she ‘attacked’ you? Are you ‘shattered’, ‘terrified’ and ‘heartbroken’ or simply very tired, a bit worried and feeling hurt and sad?

How often do we torture ourselves with ‘should’s when a ‘could’, or an honest, authentic ‘want’ could turn our lives around?

 How often does a sloppily worded email cause unintentional offence?

Another area of language that can truly change lives is first to notice, then change how often we cancel out the best of intentions with a ‘but’. “I love you but …” “I’m sorry but ….” “I’m good at _ing, but I’m useless at….” Try, just for a week, to listen out for the phrases we tag on after a ‘but’ – then leave out part two! Let’s try loving and apologising unconditionally, or revelling in our strengths for a micro second before we cancel them out with a ‘but’!

I created this piece in my head as I stood at the kitchen window, watching the falling snow bend our trees in the eerie orange glow of a street light in the middle of the night. I’d gone to bed mid-argument, couldn’t sleep, my husband  came to bed, I got up, so I’d decided to go and make some camomile tea. I stood at the window, mesmerised by the swirling orange snowflakes and wondering how something as delicate as a snowflake had the power to bend and break the branches of trees. As I stood watching, I saw one supple branch rebel under the weight of the thousands of snowflakes heaped upon it,  catapulting its burden with surprising defensive venom. I went outside in my bare feet and dressing gown and gently swept the snow off the remaining trees with a broom, knowing it was too late to take back the thousands of tiny thoughtless comments I heap on my husband over the days, weeks and months until he feels he has to lash back at me about my lack of appreciation and my seeming obsession with perfecting details. I hoped I could at least save some of our branches.

The morning after our argument – we never usually go to sleep angry – my husband apologised graciously and we narrowly avoided having a fight about who was most sorry! I’d like to leave you with a great tip for apologising. We’ve taught the kids to do it, and although it’s really hard, it can cancel out huffs and resentments with the positive power of language and empathy. We call it the three part apology.

First, we say sorry for what it is we think we’ve done. Then we try to empathise with how the other person might be feeling; if we get these firsttwo  parts wrong, it’s still useful because the other person has the perfect chance to explain kindly and simply what was going on from their point of view! The third part is to ask if there’s anything we can do to fix things. So, an example might be: “I’m sorry I criticised you for buying things at the supermarket that I didn’t want. It must be really frustrating for you that I didn’t empathise with how tired you were and that I mentioned the things you got wrong without praising you for everything you got right. How can I fix it?

 And by the way, bare feet in the snow? PAINFUL!!!

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.