Stories about Money

Money is rarely just money to us. Beyond being a means of exchange of goods or services, it’s also wrapped up with meaning – written through with stories and symbolism, emotions, hopes, dreams, possibilities and, often, fears.

And the story about money within which each of us lives profoundly shapes our lives, given that it is an inescapable feature of the way human culture has developed.

A few thoughts about what money can be:

  • A way of trying to stay safe. If I have enough money, I won’t have any worries any more. Of course, like so many money narratives, there is truth here – a certain amount of money is required to stave off hunger, or to provide a clean, warm, place to live. But how much money is required for safety? Once I’ve taken care of food and shelter, how much is needed to keep me safe from illness, loneliness, absence of meaning, risk of accident, death? Is there ever an amount at which the feeling of the essential, existential riskiness of life is soothed? Can I ever, actually, be safe?
  • A source of fear and shame – in which having it is greedy, but not having it is terrifying. In this narrative any move with money is fraught with difficulty, because both accumulating and spending are highly charged activities.
  • A way of accessing experiences and opportunities – education, travel, the arts, places to live. There’s no doubt that money can provide entry to many of these, and the absence of money can keep some experiences well out of reach.
  • A way of having a certain kind of power in the world – to buy or demand the attention of others, to convince, cajole, reward, threaten or influence others for whom money is an issue.
  • A way to bolster self-esteem, or to look good to others. When I have enough money, people will respect me, or love me, or look up to me. When I have enough money I’ll respect myself. A big question in this narrative – how much does it take? And how to deal with comparison – the inevitability that how ever much money I have, there will always be others who have more?
  • Like a stream of water flowing in and out and through – in which my responsibility, and opportunity, is not so much to be the one who determines what flows in, but rather the one who determines where to point the flow. What will the stream water today, this week, this year, over a lifetime? Will it collect in a pool, a reservoir, a lake? Will it water just myself, those close to me, or others further away, perhaps even very far away indeed?
  • A replacement for belonging, rootedness, home – with money comes the power to liquify what is solid, and to move it elsewhere.

There are of course, so many more stories about money in which we can live – stories that are handed to us by our families, and by our culture. And it’s from the narrative in which we live and act that we assess what is of value, what things cost, what is worth spending on, how much to accumulate, what kind of work we should do and not do, when to stop, when to forge on, how much to trust the world, how afraid to be, what kind of person we can be, how safe we feel, and whether we can rest.

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With thanks to Hilary K. who suggested this topic to me some months ago.

How much to learn about love

How much I am learning, and have yet to learn about, love.

How much becomes possible when I see the joy and difficulty of my love and longing for others as well as my halting, sometimes conflicted love of myself, as an expression of a much bigger love – life’s love for itself.

And how life-giving to remember that very love’s presence in the warmth of the sun, in the grey sky, in the call of a bird, in the clamour of the street, in the soft star-shine, in the cutlery on the table and the singing kettle and the pile of dishes, in the slide of pen on page, and in embraces, and in silence, and in separation and rage and illness and disappointment and despair and grieving.

When I know love this way I am no longer afraid of isolation because I see even that as a way I am always part of everything, and everything, always, a part of me.

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Drowsiness is a red alert

In my research for yesterday’s post on our profound sleep crisis, I came across some startling work from Dr. William Dement of Stanford University’s Center of Excellence for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders.

I had to tell you about it.

So many times in my life so far, in order to get somewhere that was important to me, I have continued to drive while feeling drowsy. It’s often seemed to me to be not too bad. ‘Just a little further’, I tell myself. Wind the windows down. Put some music on. Grip the wheel. Sip some water. I’ll soon be there.

Never again.

Dr Dement tells us we must treat drowsiness – which so many of us experience while driving – not as a sign of being a little tired but as a red alert, as the last step before falling asleep, not the first.

‘Drowsiness’, he tells us, ‘means you are seconds away from sleep.’

Although I say to myself I take safe driving seriously, I really didn’t understand the seriousness of this before. And I am shaken by the possible consequences of my self-reassurance, my denial of the seriousness of the situation, and my turning away from the wisdom of my own body.

Surely this, if anything, is a call to wake up.

‘Imagine what it could mean’, Dement says, ‘when you’re behind the wheel of a car driving on the highway. Drowsiness may mean you are seconds from a disaster.’

He continues – ‘If everyone responded as if it were an emergency when they became aware of feeling drowsy, an enormous amount of human suffering and catastrophic events would be avoided … Seconds away from sleep may mean seconds away from death.’

You can read more of Dr. Dement’s work on his website here, or read about his work and that of many others in the sleep section of Tony Schwartz’s wonderful book Be Excellent at Anything (previously titled The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working).

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A profound crisis of sleep

“Ours is the only species that lights up its biological night, that overrides its own rhythms, crosses times zones, and works and sleeps at times that run counter to its internal clocks. We ignore what our clocks remember at our own peril.”

Jennifer Ackerman, Sex Eat Sleep Drink Dream

The evidence is clear. There is little more foundational to our effectiveness (that is, our capacity to do, skilfully, what matters to us), and our well-being, than sufficient sleep.

The more I read about this, and the more I experience it in my own life, the more convinced I am that we are in the midst of a profound sleep crisis that shapes our society, education system, health, politics, and capacity to do what matters – and that at the heart of it is our equally profound forgetting of what sleep is and what it is to be awake.

Each of us has a powerful physiological mechanism, the sleep homeostat, that functions to regulate the daily amount of sleep we have by influencing our tendency to feel drowsy. If we allow the process to work as it should, we get enough sleep simply by responding to the drowsiness we experience – going to bed earlier, taking an afternoon nap, sleeping-in longer, or otherwise arranging to rest sufficiently.

But we live in a culture that teaches us to disregard our own bodies, to pursue ever more (possessions, productivity, status, experiences), and to deny our physical limits. We have unprecedented access to technology to support us in this project – electric lighting to illuminate our nights, devices we carry that remind us of our responsibilities and of what we’re missing out on, and that allow us to be reached at any moment. And because of this, sleep is one of the very first of life’s basic necessities we’re prepared to give up in our pursuit of more.

It’s a huge mistake.

As we resist our bodies’ call to sleep, and as the effect of the sleep homeostat becomes more apparent, we become more and more drowsy, and more and more cognitively, emotionally, and physically compromised. And the effect is cumulative. Every hour of missed sleep is carried in our bodies which is why, after a working week in which you’ve missed two hours of sleep a night, you need ten hours of additional sleep to restore yourself. Two weekend morning lie-ins of a couple of hours which leave you feeling just as tired are a sure sign you’re carrying a significant sleep deficit.

The frightening thing about this is that in contemporary culture, we’ve mostly forgotten what it feels like to be sufficiently rested. We think that boredom, or a stuffy room, or a long drive, or a report to write make us feel tired – without realising that we’re experiencing the effects of our sleep deficit. We keep going because we can’t stand the drowsiness that slowing down visits upon us.

We are a society that barely knows the clarity and crispness and aliveness of being fully awake.

There is compelling evidence that the lack of sleep that the majority of us suffer from has profound effects on our creativity, capacity to solve problems, irritability, propensity to become ill, tendency to make errors, and on our safety behind the wheel. And yet we wear our busyness and tiredness as badges of honour, imagining that our capacity to (apparently) conquer our limited physical bodies is not only required but a sure sign of our personal dedication and success.

We imagine that pushing longer, harder, doing more will eventually solve our suffering, even while we visit enormous suffering and damage upon ourselves and others. And we ask this not just of ourselves but teach this to our children by asking more and more of them too – more activities, more homework assignments, more progress that we think will get them ahead, at the expense of the basic sleep that would be so life-giving for them.

Isn’t it time we gave up the madness and suffering of sleep deprived lives and a sleep deprived society, and taught ourselves again the wisdom that our split-off-from-ourselves bodies know so deeply, and so well?

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Changing my mind

It’s easy to feel sure that who I am is the inner experience I have of myself. To imagine that I am my thoughts, my values, my opinions, what I believe to be true, what I care about. And, consequently, that to change who I am – to grow, or develop, or address my difficulties – I only need to change my mind.

It makes intuitive sense to think this way, firstly because of course we are each uniquely privileged observers of this particular, own-most inner aspect of ourselves that we call mind. And, secondly, we’ve been conditioned by our culture and its strong background of Cartesian dualism to treat mind as primary and everything else as as secondary.

But it doesn’t take very much looking to see how far my identity extends into the world – how ‘who I am’ is part of the world, shaped by the world at the very same time as I shape it.

I am who I am in relationship with others, for example. The kind of son, brother, husband, parent and friend I am is affected moment to moment by the people I am son, brother, husband, parent and friend to. And who they are with me is equally being shaped by their relationships with me. And in this way our identities are inextricably and continually entwined with those who we are in relationship with.

I am who I am in relationship with what I own and use, too. That I now choose to have a phone without email on it, for example, is profoundly shifting my experience of myself, the kind of attention I pay to life and other people, how preoccupied I am, my sense of what I’m supposed to do moment-to-moment, and what I feel (I’m much less anxious). Similarly, my home, what I choose to wear, the art on my walls, the food I eat, and how I travel are not just expressions of me but an extended part of my identity, continually shaping and shifting and reminding me who I can be in the world.

I am who I am in relationship to my actions and body. The me that I am when I live a life of hurrying and frantic activity is quite different to the me that takes time, that puts things down, that is attentive to movement and space. The me that I am when I ask for help is quite different from the me that tries to do everything on my own. The actions I take shift my story about myself, as well as what I notice, my capacity to respond, and how others relate to me including the stories they have about me.

And because of all of this, any time I want to learn, or grow, or change, or be more genuine, or take up my freedom, or reduce a difficulty I’m in I have to do more than just think differently or hold a different set of beliefs about the world. I have to act, in each of the domains I’ve described above.

It is this very practical step of taking new bodily action that brings about a new identity, a new relationship to life, a new relationship to others, and to the stuff around me. And I have to do it not just once, but over, and over, and over, until it becomes habit, skilful and familiar enough to fade into the background.

Then I can say I have changed.

And this is the case even though the culture I’m embedded in, as well as the voice of many coaches, advice columns, and self-help books, would tell me that if I change my mind, everything else will take care of itself.

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The non-obviousness of what’s obvious to us

When I feel ashamed, particularly by something someone else has said, my body quickly steps in to defend me. I tighten up, contract, shut down, back off, go silent, get out of the way. It protects me from the feeling of being wounded, but it makes staying in conversation and in relationship quite difficult.

Other people I know, in exactly the same circumstances, have bodies that have them rage, or puff up, or cry.  And some step in, opening, softening, allowing themselves to feel and be vulnerable, coming into closer contact and into questions and curiosity about the other person.

Knowing this reminds me that what seems so obvious and familiar in my body, because it’s been practiced for decades now, is not the only path. Seeing how other people are able to respond shows me that there many different responses to shame, many different stories about it to live. And not all of them involve freezing, or running.

And all of this is a source of hope for me, because I see that with diligence, and practice, and kindness, and some measure of courage – but mostly with practice – I, too, can find a way to stay in contact with feelings I really don’t like to feel. And, as a consequence, to be more open when I’m shaky, to be more present when I’m suffering, to maintain integrity even when I want to give in, and to be curious even when I want, most urgently, to get away.

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Projects for the imagination

Here are some projects to which it’s possible to turn your innate capacity for imagination.

All of these are meanings already given to us: handed to us by our families and culture, and made up – constructed – by other human beings.

Which means you, and I, and all of us, have as much possibility to imagine and declare new meanings and stories for each of these as anyone who has yet lived so far.

Close in

  1. Who am I – beyond or different to the roles and stories I’ve already taken up?
  2. Who might I be?
  3. What a feeling – bodily or emotional – means (ever noticed that feelings stir up familiar, habitual stories about what’s happening? Perhaps other stories would be more appropriate, life giving, possibility-filled).
  4. What’s possible for me to do?

A little further out

  1. What’s going on in the relationships I’m in (that might be different from the way I’ve imagined it so far)?
  2. Who are others – beyond the roles and stories I have about them?
  3. Who might others be?

Even bigger

  1. What is the organisation in which I work (a machine, a living organism, a pulsing-fluxing-pattern of conversations, a means to make money, a means to make meaning, a way of building community, a way of bringing about contribution)?
  2. What is work for?
  3. What’s the nature of the world I live in (a battleground, a competition to reach the top, a flourishing field of life, a flat dull expanse, a source of continuous disappointment and boredom, an endless wonder)?
  4. What is life?
  5. And what is life, itself, for?

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Movies of the Imagination

In one way we human beings are masterful at repeating what we’ve already learned. It’s our capacity to make sense of what we encounter, starting from a very young age, and to respond to what we find by developing skilful ways of coping, that makes it possible for us to navigate the already existing world in which we find ourselves.

Without our capacity to become familiar with whatever world we’re born into, so much would be impossible for us. Every new development in culture, language and technology would be so confusing to us. Imagine what it would be like if all of us were to wake up each and every morning unfamiliar with beds, shoes, doors, speaking, phones, cars, social custom, police officers, government, tables, computers, schools, forks… It’s our very capacity to develop a kind of background, habitual understanding of everything that makes the development of new culture and new ideas a possibility for us at all.

But our habitual familiarity is also a constraint for us, because we so easily keep on trying to cope with a world that has changed, long after it’s changed. We repeat, for example, the roles and actions that we learned in childhood long into our adulthood – trying to get the approval we sought from the adults around us, or nursing old wounds, or replaying with our friends, colleagues and partners the roles we took up around our parents and siblings in our family of origin.

Which is why a vital counterpoint to our familiarity with the world is our capacity to imagine. We are not fixed, however often it might seem that way. Neither are we doomed to play out reactive, repetitive patterns throughout our lives. We can imagine bigger worlds, and bigger possibilities, and new stories for ourselves and others.

And when we find new stories – with more expansive roles for ourselves and those around us  – and bring them to life by living them in our language and practice, with artistry and creativity, we can actually change the world… at least the world for us and for those nearby. And that is, always, the only place to start.

Such acts of imagination are necessary for all of us. And they, like so many forms of creativity and generosity, can be learned and practiced over time.

And it can be one of the most exquisite gifts of a human life to imagine and bring the new possibilities we see to other people’s lives, as well as to ourselves.

Inspired by Georges Méliès, whose imagination helped him see possibilities in film that nobody before him had seen, and by Martin Scorcese’s beautiful film Hugo, which features him as a central character, and which I saw with my family today.

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Returning to myself

Here’s what I’m learning this week:

I need more sleep than I usually allow myself. Much more.

Solitude really matters. I really need sufficient time away from people, projects, words – even from books. The longer I am alone, the more I am able to let go of all the ways I’m bracing myself, clinging on, holding back. The less obsessive I am. The more keenly alive. And I’m kinder – to myself and others – when I’ve had time to encounter myself more fully.

There is little that is more opening than a wide sky – whether blue with high clouds or speckled with stars.

And there is little that restores me to myself more than trees, silence, and the sea.

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Study is the pathway to curiosity

It’s not generally or easily possible to shift into a different mood by declaration – saying “I’m happy”, for example, doesn’t generally have me be happy.

It’s my experience that moods are much more subtle than that, more complex and sophisticated, and not so amenable to my attempts to manipulate them. It’s as if each mood is really its own complete intelligence or personality – and most moods are wise to my efforts to get my own way.

But I do think the capacity for a wider range of moods can be cultivated over time, by how I pay attention, how I choose to use my time, who I am in relationship with, and the actions I take.

Fascination or curiosity can, in my experience, be cultivated by taking on the study of something with sufficient regularity and sufficient openness – astronomy or cars, for example, or human personality, what happens in groups, mathematics, music, or the amazing animals and insects that live even in a small patch of the garden.

Study something closely enough, for long enough and – crucially – keep going through the uncertainty and difficulty of getting going and soon, as the subject’s depths are revealed, curiosity and fascination start to emerge as more readily available moods. And what’s more, the practice of looking with wide open eyes, cultivated in one domain, opens up the depth and endless mystery of almost everything else. Even the contours of something as mundane as boredom can be fascinating when looked at in this way.

Each mood has its own pathways of practice and observation.

And if study is the path that cultivates curiosity, then appreciation is the pathway to gratitude, and generosity is the pathway to love.

Photograph by Justin Wise, Monet’s Garden, August 2014

The inner work required for work

Everything I wrote about yesterday – how we’re so often relating to split-off or denied parts of ourselves rather than to what’s true about others – is in play in our workplaces as much as anywhere else.

Who gets promoted and who gets sidelined, who gets invited and who gets ignored, whose ideas are given space and whose are shut down, which projects get the go-ahead and which do not, whose voices are heard and whose are suppressed, who gets admired and who gets judged, who gets to be in and who gets to be out… all of these are so easily an expression of the hidden inner worlds of those who get to choose.

Which is why it’s incumbent upon any of us who want to extend our cares beyond ourselves and our own self-interest to study and get to know our own inner landscapes.

Such work is not idling, nor pointless navel-gazing, but a necessary step if we want to bring about a world for the benefit of everyone. And this inner work is especially necessary when we have positional power, authority, or influence of any kind (which is all of us if we choose to take it).

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The parts of ourselves we see in others

There are parts of us we know well – those that are in close – and parts of ourselves we know less well – the more hidden, invisible parts. Sometimes, simply giving a part its appropriate name allows us to see it and to interact with it more skilfully. The inner critic is one such part. Seeing it, naming it, entering into a different kind of relationship and conversation with it – all of these can be powerful moves in having it take up a more helpful and life-giving place in the constellation of entities each of us calls ‘I’.

But there are also parts of each of us that we have disowned or split off and that we barely see as part of ourselves at all. These may be parts of ourselves that we dislike, or judge, or abhor. Or they can parts we long for, but do not feel are available or appropriate for us. But parts of us they are, and since we can’t bear to identify our experience of them with ourselves, we readily project them into others.

So often, when we find ourselves disliking other people, when we get irritated by them, feel judgment or scorn or disdain or even hate towards them, we’re seeing in them what we most dislike or scorn or are irritated about in ourselves. A simple way of saying this is that what we encounter in them reminds us so strongly of what we’re trying to get away from in ourselves, that we try get away from it in them too.

The very same process can also be in play with those we are drawn to, admire, or put on a pedestal. In this case perhaps we’re seeing in the other, first, a reminder of split-off parts of ourselves that we deeply long to be reunited with but do not consciously know as our own. We feel drawn to the other person, or good about ourselves around them, precisely because of the feeling of wholeness and re-unification it brings about it in us.

Perhaps it becomes obvious when described this way that the work for us to do with people who irritate us is not to try to change them (which in any case does not address the primary source of our irritation or anger or frustration) but to find out what it is about ourselves that we dislike so much and work with some effort and diligence to understand, turn towards, and accept it.

And with people we love and admire the inner work for us to do is much the same if we want to love and admire them for who they are rather than because a hole or an emptiness or a longing gets filled when we’re around them.

Then, we can find, it’s more and more possible to be around a wider range of people with openness and warmth and genuine regard. And it’s also more possible to be close and compassionate with those we love most, who are so often the very people with whom we have the most difficulty because it’s in them we find parts of ourselves most readily reflected.

 

 

For the sake of…

In the end, nothing works out permanently.

Even the biggest, most robust organisations pass and fade away over time. Life as we know it keeps on changing, despite our best efforts to stop that happening. And eventually, all of us die, leaving everything we’d accumulated and created behind us. Before long, all of that disappears too.

So whatever you’re working on now, whatever glorious future plans and hopes you’re working towards, it would be worth checking that what you’re doing is also worth it for its own sake, regardless of how it turns out.

Because in the end, that it mattered at the time might be all that’s left.

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The unseen chances of life

I didn’t know what to do. I was tired, and deflated, and miserable in my work. But I didn’t know how to choose anything else.

It was Davina who first showed me that it might be possible to open to something new.

I thought for a while about studying law. But my friend Jonny, who I first met on a summer camp when we were sixteen, had been grappling with his own choices and suggested I speak to his friend Jane, who worked as an organisation development consultant – a field I’d been interested in for years.

Jane told me about a personal development course that she thought would help but I couldn’t make the dates. I remember how disappointed I felt, but I asked around about alternatives and Zahavit, who I knew from another part of my life, introduced me to Cheryl, who pointed me in the direction of Sue‘s wonderful programme on the same topic.

And at Sue’s programme I met Susan, who I happened to tell me over lunch that she thought I’d really enjoy the programmes at Roffey Park. And so within a couple of months I was there, beginning a Master’s Degree in Organisation Development, and where I met Paul, who ended up in the same programme design group as me. Paul invited a colleague of his, Deborah, to speak to us, and Deborah introduced me to a book that would change so much – James Flaherty’s “Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others“.

Two years later, I was a student on James’ programme in integral coaching, half-way across the world, hardly even really knowing how I’d ended up there. And James, seeing a possibility in me that I was only just starting to see in myself, invited me to become a leader-in-training for the extraordinary programmes that I now teach in London and which are among my greatest joys.

Had any link in the Davina-Jonny-Jane-Zahavit-Cheryl-Sue-Susan-Paul-Deborah-James chain not happened – and so many of them came from purely chance conversations – who knows what I would be doing now, and with whom?

And these are merely the chances that I know about. How many must be the other, unseen, coincidences that made what I have described here possible – the chances that brought people together, into the path of each others’ lives, so that any of what I’ve described here could come about.

This is the way life always is, even though so much of it is invisible to us.

It occurs to me on remembering this how illusory is any idea that I’m really in control of what happens in my life. And I’m humbled, and grateful, that life so often seems to have a way of bringing what needs to be brought, even when I can’t see it, fail to appreciate it, or fight it away.

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One choice you get to make

As we encounter each of life’s difficulties, we get to choose:

Consider ourselves cursed or mistreated, as if we are owed freedom from hurt, pain or confusion. As if life owes us happiness. As if we are meant to be in control of everything. This is, essentially, a fight against life as it is.

Or draw on difficulty as part of life’s path, an opportunity to turn more deeply into life rather than away from it.

And while, with each successive difficulty or joy, we find that we understand life’s movement less and less, perhaps this way we learn to live it more and more.

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Protector Parts, Defender Parts

We are rather less a single, unitary ‘I’ than a system or community of parts, each in relationship with one another. And it can be so very revealing, and practically useful, to get to know the parts – their intelligence, their blind-spots, and the very particular projects they’ve each taken up in our lives.

I’ve written before here about shame, a familiar background mood for me, as it is for so many people. It turns out that there are at least two parts of me that are actively involved in protecting me from shaming by others – one which pre-emptively shames me, and one which more directly defends me from shame. Each has its own form of good intention, and each often causes me difficulty.

The first part is an inner critic part. It’s so dedicated to me not being shamed by other people that it will frequently take pre-emptive action by shaming me itself. The logic is clear, and compelling: if I can be made to feel sufficient shame beforehand, then perhaps I’ll hold back from acting in a way that would cause others to shame me. It’s a simple exchange – the lesser pain of my own internally generated shame to protect against the more soul-searing shame that comes from the disapproval of other people.

This is the part which would have me hold back from speaking my mind, from becoming angry with other people, from showing too much love, from being a surprise or a disappointment or a bother or mystery. This is the part which, for years, held me back from dancing, having me be ashamed of myself even before I begin. It’s dedicated to forever scanning the horizon and keeping me within very tightly contained boundaries so as to avoid the kind of pain it knows I could, once, not tolerate. It is willing to exact quite a price in order to do this: the inner price of feeling some level of shame at all times, and the outer price of holding back what is, most truly, mine to bring.

The second part is a protector part. Should the antics of the inner critic fail, so that I actually get shamed by someone else, it throws itself into action. It’s not interested in waiting, nor does it have any time for curiosity or learning. What it most wants is the shame to go away. The protector part brings forward my defensiveness, my justifications, my denial. Insincere apologies, pretence, lengthy justifications for my actions, tuning out, disconnecting from people, freezing, abandoning my commitments, bending myself out of shape – all these are the order of the day for the protector part.

The protector part is also willing to pay a price to protect me from shame, most notably having me act at odds with myself, with a relationship I care about, or with my deepest, most sincere commitments.

And while both these parts have honourable and noble intentions, they are way out of date, having swung into action when I was very small and really needed some protection. They don’t take into account that I am an adult now, and that there is another part of me, more akin to the me-myself that exists over the entire span of my life, that no longer needs their help. This part, which could be called essence or self, is really quite able to be in the world alongside shame, and anger, and hate, and disappointment. It is vast enough, deep enough, alive enough, and quite strong enough to experience whatever comes its way. It is curious, open, timeless, and willing to learn.

Naming the parts has power. When I see that I am had by the inner critic or inner protector, I am increasingly able to ask them to relax, to step aside – to reassure them that I’m quite fine, whatever happens, and that I do not need them to protect me any more. And, in the space that this affords, I’m more able to step, willingly and without panic or rush, towards genuine relationship and inquiry, and into the world as it is rather than the world as smaller parts of me imagine it to be.

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Holding on, letting go

How long do you hold on to the hurt you feel when criticised, or judged, or when you don’t feel seen?

I know that I, first and most habitually, can interpret slights and hurts as a sign of the unravelling of a relationship, the beginning of the end. And so perhaps it’s little wonder that I have over time developed the kind of body and mind that easily holds onto them, feeling ‘the end’ again and again when I meet the people (usually those I love most) around whom I got hurt in the first place.

It was a revelation to discover that the world simply isn’t this way for everyone else. That there are people, close in, who care for me deeply and who have moved on within hours – and quite often within minutes – from the original intensity of encounter. For them, fierceness is just fierceness, disappointment just disappointment, anger just anger, gone when it’s gone and certainly not the end.

And so I’m learning, gradually, to pay better attention to what’s actually happening now and over time in a relationship rather than taking as true the story that my body and emotions – conditioned by years of practice and habit – hold on to.

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Blessings for all of it

In the Jewish tradition, as in other religious and spiritual traditions, there is a blessing that can be said for pretty much anything. A blessing for waking up, and a blessing for going to sleep. A blessing for sunsets and for lightning. Blessings for food and for rainbows. Blessings for new clothes, for reaching special days, and for anniversaries. Blessings for the bathroom. Blessings for encountering others. Blessings, even, for bad news and for dying.

The simplest way to understand blessings is as an act of thanks. But they’re also a practice in remembering what is so easily forgotten – that even the humdrum and mundane is neither humdrum nor mundane. And they’re a practice in noticing all those phenomena and entities which are often in the background for us but upon which all of life is standing. In this sense blessings require no belief in a deity but simply a commitment to marvel at life’s sheer beauty and complexity. They are a practice in staying awake. They are an invitation to live in a state of what Abraham Joshua Heschel called a state of ‘radical amazement’.

The rabbinic tradition invites people to say at least a hundred blessings a day. What would become possible, I wonder, if just now and again we each started to look at what’s become most ordinary and most unremarkable in our lives, perhaps even that which we’ve come to resent, and turned to wonder at the blessing within?

I’m republishing this today for P, a source of exquisite blessing in the lives of many

Learn together, Oct 1-2 2015

In one way or another, my writing here in ‘On Living and Working’ is always about what it is to be a human being, how development comes about, leading to a growing capacity to respond with wisdom and skilfulness to the world that presents itself to us, and how we can participate more fully in our own lives and the lives of others.

These themes are also the heart of the programmes I run though thirdspace coaching, the organisation I founded to bring these questions to the world of organisations and beyond.

The next opportunity to learn with me is coming up in London in October. It will be a chance to learn the first steps in integral development coaching, a skilful means to support your own development and the development of others, combining both theory and hands-on practice, and with practical application for work and the rest of life.

Coaching to Excellence runs in London on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd October. Early-bird rates apply until 9th August.

It would be thrilling to have you join us.

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