A lifetime’s work


Saying the same thing to the same person in the same way
All the ways we use jargon or business-speak
Predictable reactions to what you’re feeling (lashing out, withdrawing, self-criticising)
Tuning out from what’s really happening
Most of our habits
Always knowing, always being sure
Excluding certain emotions
Keeping conversation within predictable, narrow bounds
Saying “I am this way”


Asking “What’s needed now, here?”
Tuning in to the wholeness of the situation – with mind, emotions, bodily sensation
Relaxing your need to know what to do
Letting go of feeling safe, so that what’s needed can arise
Allowing yourself to be surprised – at yourself, at others
Feeling it all
Giving up defending, clinging on, controlling what’s happening
Doing what’s called for, rather than what ‘one does’

We easily become masterful at automatic. 

And although responsive is our human heritage, for most of us mastering it takes ongoing practice because so much of what we’ve learned – at school, in work, in our families – gets in the way.

We could do well to remember that responsive – much needed in our lives – is a lifetime’s work.

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Automatic or alive

Two paths available to all of us, that are an inherent part of being human.

(1) The automatic path

Our bodies and minds have an exquisite ability to learn something new and then reproduce it without our having to pay much attention to it. It’s what we rely on to get us around in the world. Navigating doors, cooking utensils, cars, speaking, phones, cities, social niceties, and paying for things would all be practically impossible were it not for this capacity. Without our automaticity we would have to learn and relearn how to interact with just about everything in the worlds we have invented.  Indeed, without our capacity to automatically respond to the vast and rich background of culture and tools in which we live, culture itself and tools themselves would be impossible.

(2) The responsive path

We also have an exquisite ability to make sense of and respond to the particular needs of the current moment. In any given situation we can find ourselves doing or saying something we’ve never done or said before. Sometimes our creative response can be surprising, sometimes clumsy, and sometimes we find ourselves able to respond with beautiful appropriateness to what’s happening. From this comes our capacity to invent, to respond with empathy and compassion to others, and to change the course of a conversation or meeting or conflict mid-flow. Without this capacity we’d hardly be human at all. We’d be machines.

But here’s a problem. We so often call on or demand the automatic path when what’s called for is the responsive path:

We fall into habits shaped by the strong feelings that arise in our emotions and bodies.

We tell ourselves ‘I don’t like that’ (and so don’t do it).

We say ‘I am this way’ (meaning I won’t countenance being any other way).

We insist other people stay the same as we know them, and put pressure on them to remain predictable in all kinds of overt and subtle ways.

We institutionalise or systematise basic, alive human interactions in our organisations, insisting on frameworks and codes and processes and procedures so that we won’t get surprised.

We repeat ourselves again and again – saying the same things, the same jokes, the same ideas, the same cliches.

We think rules, tools, tips and techniques will save us.

We form fixed judgements of ourselves and others which we can fall back upon when we’re in difficulty.

We turn away from anything that causes us anxiety or confusion. We prefer to know rather than not know. We’re hesitant to step beyond the bounds of what’s familiar, and comfortable.

We would often rather settle into the predicability and sense of safety that our automaticity allows. Sometimes we even call this professional or businesslike.

And all the while what’s most often called for in our dealings with others, in our businesses, in our work and in our organisations is the responsive path – our capacity to respond appropriately to the particular situation and its wider context; to be unpredictable, creative, exciting, unsettling, sensitive, nuanced and, above all, alive.

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Returning To The Path

Here’s Episode 50 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Here’s our source for this week, from Alan Lew’s ‘This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared‘. In our conversation we talk about tantrums, what we do when life falls short of our expectations, the simplicity and difficulty of returning to intimacy with the truth of our lives, and how we can only really do this in the company of others.

Returning to the Path We’ve Abandoned

Spiritual deadness is a habit. Something in us wants to be dead – wants to escape our reality – and we’ve expressed this desire in a hundred little patterns and habits. So a physical shaking up of our stale routines might actually serve to loosen us up inside and lead the way to inner change…

But … eventually [this] stops working too, and sooner or later we have to address the inner roots of the problem of burnout and routinisation directly…

The first thing we should do when we feel we have lost all our passion is to try to find it. This involves a kind of inner turning, an expression of will, an expression of faith, the belief that this passion exists even though we neither feel it nor see it at the moment.

There is a paradigm well mapped out in the novels of Hermann Hesse, especially Siddartha. Siddartha is the story of a young monk who is lured away from a long and extremely devoted spiritual path by his lust for a beautiful woman, a lust that alters the course of his life. He becomes a businessman, totally involved in the corruption and the pleasures of ordinary life. He marries, becomes dissolute, takes up gambling and adultery, and loses his wife. His son rebels against him and finally rejects him altogether, causing him unbearable pain. Finally, broken and despairing, he becomes a recluse, a ferryman, carrying people back and forth across the river. And there on the river, the deep and abiding wisdom he sought in his youth begins to ripen in his soul, until he finally comes to the following understanding:

The world. . . is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment. Every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men. All sucklings have death within them, all dying people – eternal life. . . . Everything is good. Everything is perfect, . . . death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary. Everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding, my turning toward.

The critical moment in this story is a subtle turn of mind — a moment when the hero must bring his consciousness back to the path he abandoned, back to the path he has imagined doesn’t even exist anymore.

Photo by Erik Kossakowski on Unsplash

The horizon that is visible is not the whole sky

When we take the automatic path (see this post, and this), we try to resolve our difficulties by doing more of what we’re already in the habit of doing already.

We try to deal with our overwhelm by getting busier. We think that if we can just go a bit faster we’ll soon get on top of things.

We can’t see that it’s not a question of faster but more often a question of priority, of deciding what’s important and saying no to everything else.

We try to deal with other people’s apparent lack of commitment by speaking more loudly, being more insistent, yelling. We think that if we’re just more forceful then people will do what we want.

But we can’t see that involving others is not usually a question of force but a question of enrolment – that we’d be better turning our attention to inviting a genuine relationship that supports commitment in arising.

We try to deal with our anxiety by turning away from it, numbing ourselves, only to find out that anxiety forced underground is just as painful and, in many ways, causes us much more difficulty.

We can’t see that feelings are there to be felt. That our anxiety can educate us, have us reach out for support, teach us about what’s most genuinely important for us.

In each of these cases, and in many more, we’d do well to remember Martin Buber when he tells us

“The horizon visible from one’s station is not the whole sky”

Or, in other words, the resolution to many of our difficulties is not to continue on automatic but to turn towards what we’re not currently paying attention to.

It’s to find out that what we’ve taken to be the ‘horizon’ – the way the world is, the way we are, and what we have to do – is only a part of the picture. That the resolution to our difficulties, or at least the lessening of them, is often in finding out that the world of possible relationships, explanations and actions is way bigger than we’d imagined.

This, then, is the path of responsiveness, and the path of development. 

And it’s worth working on with everything we can bring to it.

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Being witness

Many times

the biggest help you can be

is to turn a listening ear towards another

to hear everything they have to say

no matter how troubling how painful how confusing

to give up for a while

being another judge, another critic, another fixer of troubles

to be a welcome to all of it

all of it

and in your seeing and hearing embrace

find out how healing

being witness can be

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The Blue is the Light That Got Lost

On Sunday 9th September Lizzie Winn and I were live for Episode 49 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Our conversation opens with an exploration of the blue of the sky and of the sea, from Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Field Guide to Getting Lost’. We consider together how it’s the very incompleteness of a human being that gives us our particular kind of beauty and possibility, and the mistake we make when we try too hard to compare ourselves to others or to some perfect ideal of how and who to be. Along the way we talk about self-acceptance, making and sharing art, the importance of community, coaching as a way of bringing art to one another and the gift that human beings can be to one another when the conditions are made right by all of us.

Here’s our source for this week, from Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Field Guide to Getting Lost

Photo by Maximillian Conacher on Unsplash

What endures

Time and again, we human beings have had to find out that what we took to be most secure and most solid, was nothing of the sort.

We put down roots, build houses of bricks and mortar, make plans for ourselves. And then, perhaps, we find them swept away in a storm or flood, in a war or earthquake, in political or economic upheaval, in illness or accident, in the ever surprising turns of life.

And sometimes we realise this is how things are for long enough that we remember to turn towards the people around us, our travelling companions on this most audacious and risky of journeys, and appreciate their beauty and magnificence, their sadness and their love, and are able to just be with them for a while.

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Learning to Nourish Ourselves

On Sunday morning 2nd September we were live for Episode 48 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Our conversation opens with an excerpt from Christine Caldwell’s book ‘Getting Our Bodies Back‘. We consider together how the culture most of us live in actually encourages us to take up addictive behaviour as a way of distancing ourselves from our experience (and we include in our definition of addiction here anything that we do compulsively, habitually, at odds with what is life-giving for us and which puts us to sleep), at the same time as evoking deep feelings of shame and hollowness.

As we go we discuss how the first step in our reclaiming our aliveness, and our capacity to nourish ourselves, is the art of paying attention to our lives, and the felt-sensation of our bodies. And, as often, we return to the power of relationship – places and people with whom we can be open about ourselves – as the path to recovering our capacity to properly nourish ourselves and one another.

Here’s our source for this week, from the introduction to Christine Caldwell’s book ‘Getting Our Bodies Back

Learning to Nourish Ourselves

Some years ago […]  on a trip to the local mall, I bought a large cookie to share with my four-year-old son. As we settled down to eat, my attention was drawn to him as he murmured contentedly, munched noisily, and consumed his half with delighted joy. I inhaled my half with obsessive greed, worrying about how fattening it was and wondering if anyone I knew was watching. The contrast in our experiences, given that it was the same cookie, shook me. I felt a stab in my heart as I realized that somewhere along the line I had lost the happy relationship with cookies that he still had. The difference between us in that moment seemed to be that he was awake and alive, while I was shut down and withdrawn.

I vowed to myself that from that moment on I would let myself eat as much sugar as I wanted, but only when I could stay “awake” and truly celebrate the experience as much as my son had. […] What I subsequently discovered was that it was almost impossible for me to do this. At the first sweet bite I would enter a state of oblivion, eat quickly and furtively, and then feel miserable. In short, I was not awake and alive, and this was not a pleasurable experience. It felt more like a driven experience, with the same familiar outcome of self-absorption and self-hatred. As I stuck with my commitment to eat sugar only when I could remain present, I occasionally stayed conscious for a few seconds at a time as I nibbled, and I began to explore this awakeness. In those brief moments, I could see the cookie; I could luxuriate in its smell and texture; I could savor the taste and truly treasure it. I was actually having a rich sensory experience, albeit a fleeting one. I was amazed to realize that I derived immense pleasure more from the act of staying awake than from the actual eating of the cookie. Sensation was wonderful! And as I continued to stay awake, I found that I didn’t really want much sugar. The experience of eating it while awake was so rich and full that a very small amount was all it took to satisfy me. […]

I found myself eating much less and enjoying it much more. A little bit of something sweet once in a while was enough to occasion great happiness. And my body told me when to stop. This in itself, this feeling that my body was choosing, making a clear yes or no statement, was quite amazing. […]

I hadn’t expected my body to wake up as a part of this process, and stumbling onto this result was astonishing. What I was discovering was the incredible power of self-regulation that is our birthright. This choosing power had been lost in the throes of the addiction. […]

The benefits of my awakeness practice have been far-reaching. When I inhabit my body, I can self-regulate; […] I can also know when things like behaviors, relationships, and thought patterns are toxic, neutral, or nourishing. I have only to tune in to myself to know, and from there I must go on to the next, even more challenging step: that of tolerating and even welcoming the joy and health that result from actually being in my body and consistently choosing nourishment.

Christine Caldwell – from Getting Our Bodies Back

Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

The four of you


When you’re talking with another person, remember that there are always more than two of you present.

At the very least there’s you, and them, and your inner-critic and their inner-critic.

Whatever the two of you are visibly up to, there’s an often hidden dynamic between the two inner-critics (who work hard to keep themselves invisible) as they jostle to keep you in line, watch out for attacks or supposed attacks from the other, spur you into defending yourself (often times when no defence is called for), have you be insistent or rigid or judging or withdrawn.

And each critic spurs the other on, inventing slights and hurts, and anticipating what’s it imagines is yet to come.

All of this is one reason why you can sometimes look back on a conversation with bemusement and confusion. ‘What on earth happened there?’ you ask yourself. ‘I thought we were only talking about this morning’s meeting, but now I feel hurt and uncertain, and so does she’.

One way to help yourself and others is to spot all of this and give name to it, at first to yourself. Learn the ways it shows up and what it gets up to when your attention is elsewhere.

And then, over time, bring the existence of the critic and all its manifestations into conversation. This takes courage and openness. But bringing the inner critic out of its hiding place allows it to be seen and talked about, and responded to, and lessens its power to manipulate behind the scenes.

Your inner world is always making itself known in the outer world, whether you like it or not, and it’s true for everyone else too. The more you can give name to, and the more you can bring it forward from its otherwise invisible background, the more chance you’ll have of working with it in service of you and everyone around you.

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The Silent Work of Loving

Here’s ‘The Silent Work of Loving’, Episode 47 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

In this conversation we consider together how the act of loving what we’re in the midst of, and who is around us, can be the first step to a more expansive and inclusive orientation to life. And that this itself has the possibility of relieving difficulty and bringing a necessary lightness to our endeavours. Along the way we consider the gifts of frustration and disappointment, explore how love is not so much a feeling but an intentional practice, and explore the merits of washing dishes and crochet as a path – like any practice – to the kind of intimacy with life that we need in order to face our biggest challenges with grace, courage, creativity and patience.

Here’s our source for this week, by Eileen Caddy, from ‘Opening Doors Within‘.

“You have a tremendous work to do. It is the silent work of creating more love in the world. It is like the yeast in a lump of dough which does its work very quietly and without any fuss, and yet without it the bread would be a solid lump. Therefore love those souls you are with, love what you are doing, love your environment, and love those souls who are your seeming enemies. There is far more grace in loving the seemingly unlovable than in simply loving those souls who love you. Feel the need for love in every soul, and allow yourself to become a channel for love’s sake, so will the heaviness in the world be lightened, for love brings an element of lightness where there was heaviness and darkness. Love starts in each individual, so look within your own heart and draw it forth. Give of it freely and with real joy.”

Eileen Caddy

Photo by Nick Casale on Unsplash

Both sides

In the ancient Jewish tradition, people are thought of as having two primary orientations to the world – an inclination towards good (yetzer hatov) and an inclination towards evil (yetzer harah).

The inclination towards good draws us out of ourselves towards what is most compassionate and most principled. And the inclination towards evil draws us towards our most self-centred interests, from which we care only for ourselves and not for others or the world.

Surely, in this way of thinking, the inclination towards good is itself good and should be cultivated, and the inclination towards evil is bad and should be extinguished? No, say the rabbis, they are both good, and both necessary.

How can this be?

With only the inclination to good we risk spending all our time basking in the wonder and awe of life. Many possibilities for action are denied to us, because they cannot be known to have positive outcomes. The inclination to good, on its own, is noble but paralysed, unable to decide what to do when uncertain about consequences, when the world in all its complexity and unknowability becomes apparent.

And so we need the inclination to evil also. Given free rein, it dooms us to a life of self-centredness, of action purely for our own gain. But without it, say the rabbis, nobody would create anything. We would not build houses, bring children into the world, nor do the difficult and creative work of shaping the world around us. The inclination to evil, with its indignation and rage and cunning and huge creativity is what brings us into purposeful action.

Denying either side leads to trouble. It takes both inclinations in a constant dynamic tension to have us act in the most human, and most humane ways.

And this is the foundational task facing each of us if we want to act with integrity in the world: we must find a way of knowing ourselves fully so that we leave nothing of ourselves out. We have to stop denying and pushing away the parts of ourselves that we don’t understand, or don’t like so much. We have to take our fear and confusion as seriously as our hope and our joy. We have to stop pretending to have it all together.

Integrity is exactly that – integrating all of it. When we bring our hope and our fear, our nobility and selfishness, our love and our disdain, our serious adulthood and playful childishness, our light and our darkness, each informs and shapes the other in a constant dance of opposites. And this is what brings us into creative and purposeful and appropriate action in the complexity of the world.

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I Place My Trust Only in You

Here’s ‘I Place My Trust Only in You’, Episode 46 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

This conversation begins with Norman Fischer’s Zen-inspired translation of an ancient Hebrew poem, most commonly known in our culture as ‘Psalm 16’. Norman has done amazing work on bringing out the simplicity and beauty of words, revealing the deep possibilities of these poems so often obscured by flowery and complex translations, and in this poem he points into a topic we’ve been exploring for some weeks on Turning Towards Life – the ways in which we might develop the kind of faith in life that can sustain us through the inevitable difficulties we face without us turning away.

Here’s our source, from Norman’s beautiful book ‘Opening to You

I Place My Trust Only In You (Psalm 16)
Zen-inspired translation by Norman Fischer

Protect me from fear
For I place my trust only in you.
My soul has said “You are my guardian
Sole foundation of my happiness
And I will find my delight
In all that is yours on earth”

As for all that shuts you out –
Great will be their sorrow
I will not pour out their offerings
Nor call their names – even in my dreams.

You, you, only you

Are my share and my cup
You have drawn my lot
And it has fallen out agreeably

Lovely indeed is my estate
My heritage is pleasant to me
I bless you who brought me to this day
And even at night in the trying times
My trembling body is tethered to you

Your presence is always before me
In all the deeds of my hand
I will not be shaken from it
So my heart rejoices
My spirit is glad
And my body rests secure

For you will not abandon my soul to darkness
You will not suffer me to be overwhelmed in terror
You will teach me the path toward life

Your presence is my sweetest joy
Your right hand is my chief delight



Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Wake Up Lovers!

Here’s ‘Wake Up Lovers!’, Episode 45 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

In this conversation we consider together the perils of seeing ourselves as separate – from one another and from life – and how our mistaken sense of separateness leads so easily to fear and isolation from the deep sources of relationship, love and courage that are available to us all. Along the way we consider what it is to be in a long-term relationship or marriage, we talk about words for the ‘source of everything’ that can constrain or liberate our aliveness, we explore the politics of division that’s arising in so many places in the world, we chat about the joys of wild swimming, and we remind ourselves of what becomes possible when we look into the eyes of another – even one very different from ourselves – and remember the shared beauty that’s there and that gives rise to each of us.

Here’s our source for this week, by 13th century poet Rumi.

Wake Up Lovers by Rumi

Wake up lovers, it is time to start the journey!
We have seen enough of this world, it is time to see another.
These two gardens may be beautiful but
let us pass beyond them and go to the Gardener.
Let us kiss the ground and flow like a river towards the ocean.
Let us go from the valley of tears to the wedding feast,
let us bring the color of blossoms to our pale faces.
Our hearts shiver like autumn leaves about to fall,
in this world of dust there is no avoiding pain or feeling exiled.
Let us become like beautifully colored birds
and fly to the sweet land of paradise.
Everything is painted with the brush of the Invisible One
let us follow the hidden signs and find the Painter.
It is best to travel with companions on this perilous journey
only love can lead the way.
We are like rain splashing on a roof let us find our way down the spout.
We are like an arched bow with the arrow in place
let us become straight and release the arrow towards the target.
We have stayed at home scared like mice
let us find our courage and join the lions.
Let our souls turn into a mirror longing to reflect the essence of Beauty.
Let us begin the journey home.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Until it Flowers from Within


Here’s ‘Until it Flowers from Within’, Episode 44 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Lizzie Winn and Justin Wise dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

So many of us are brought up in a culture that’s essentially corrective, which has us pay attention to all of our shortcomings and what’s absent in ourselves and in other people. And it is easy to spend a life mired in self- and other-criticism because of that. But, in order to respond with courage and grace – and even joyfulness – to the difficulties and challenges of our times, we think something else is called for. This wonderful poem by Galway Kinnell will be the starting point for our conversation about this on Sunday.

In this conversation we wonder together about what it is we’re forgetting about ourselves and about other people when we take up a punitive, corrective stance, and we discover together that ‘remembering’ is, quite properly, ‘re-membering’ – a putting back together of everything that’s been left out. When we remember ourselves more completely, and when we remember others in this way, we very often find ourselves in contact with a deeper, more life-giving possibility for relationship than we’d been inhabiting. And this, in turn, can open profound possibilities for resolving differences and bringing qualities to bear that would otherwise be neglected.

Towards the end of our conversation Lizzie mentions a radio series on BBC Radio 4, in which “Anne McElvoy asks figures from opposing sides of a political issue to listen to each other, and explore the roots of each other’s beliefs, with the help of conflict resolution specialist Gabrielle Rifkind.”. You can find more details about the series, Across the Red Line here.

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash


In Judaism, it’s traditional practice to attach a small ornamented fixture to each doorframe, a mezuzah, inside of which is a scroll handwritten by a scribe who’s dedicated themselves to their craft.

One reason for this, among others, is to mark out transition places, the thresholds between one space and another, with a call to remember. You can see people touching them as they walk past, honouring this and reminding themselves – remembering – their deepest commitments.

Mostly we don’t give thresholds the attention they’re due. How often we sleepwalk from activity to activity, meeting to meeting, work to home, taking what hooked us or preoccupied us from one place to to the next, reacting to each situation from the frustrations of the last. It’s as if, for many of us, we’re never quite here in what we do and neither fully in contact with the people we encounter. And we miss the opportunity to use the liminal spaces – the transitions between one place and another – to return to ourselves and to what we most care about.

Thesholds – in space and in time – are sacred places in the way that they invite us to pause on the brink, before moving on. They call on us remember ourselves, to drop our preconceptions, judgements and our self-absorption so we can fully meet the situation that awaits. They call on us to be open and impressionable, ready to encounter something new.

Approached in this manner, thresholds are an opportunity to wake up to this situation, to these people, to stop rushing all the time so we can be in it all afresh, present and responsive to whatever’s coming.

When you walk into your house at the end of a long day, can you pause in this way to mark the magnitude of the transition from one world to another that you are about to make? Then you can meet the people waiting there for you with your own genuine face, and with your love for them, and they in turn can meet you with theirs.

Photo by Brennan Ehrhardt on Unsplash

On Friendship

Here’s ‘On Friendship’, the 43rd episode of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

In this episode we start with a source from David Whyte’s beautiful book ‘Consolations‘. We consider what constitutes real friendship, and explore together the life-giving possibilities of friendship that is both truthful and in which each person is committed to seeing and elevating the sacredness and goodness of the other. Along the way we explore our own friendship, which has been a source of great joy for both of us, and we talk about the circumstances in which it might be better to draw a friendship to a close if it’s not life-giving.

We are live on facebook each Sunday morning at 9am UK time, and we’d love to have you with us. You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the conversation.

You can find our source for this week on David Whyte’s FaceBook page and read more about it at Maria Popova’s amazing BrainPickings blog.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Gift of Not Knowing

Here’s ‘The Gift of Not Knowing’, the 42nd episode of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

In this episode we start with a source from Christopher Goodchild’s beautiful book ‘Unclouded by Longing‘. We consider the limits of trying to live a life in which we know everything about what is happening, and the possibility, as Wendell Berry says, that ‘It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey’. Along the way we explore what happens when we make ourselves vulnerable and open to the unexpected, and the gifts of contactfulness with ourselves and others that can come from this.

We are live on facebook each Sunday morning at 9am UK time, and we’d love to have you with us. You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the conversation.

Here’s our source for this week:

The Gift of Not Knowing
by Christopher Goodchild, from ‘Unclouded by Longing

Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.
Emily Dickinson

Letting go of trying to work everything out in your head can lead you directly into the most sublime mystery of all. Your heart. Your true Self. To open yourself to this mystery, you will often have to pass through the discomfort of the rational mind simply ‘not knowing’.

What at first might seem like an impending breakdown can easily become a profound breakthrough. This is beautifully conveyed in ‘The Real Work’ by Wendell Berry:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

The emotional distress that often accompanies losing your direction in life cannot be glamorised nor underestimated, when you are unable to come up with a rational solution to your predicament. However, it is true to say that one of the greatest gifts you have received in this life is the gift of desperation directly linked to the rational mind not coming up trumps.

In many ways ‘being’ in uncertainty and mystery is a necessary rite of passage you must go through in order to enter into the heart of what it means to be most alive. As a writer you see it as a vocational calling for you to invite the unfamiliar. In living your life in this way you surrender into something greater, your perceptions are stretched, as is your imagination — pushing the boundaries of what is unknown and unforeseen.

The breakthrough experience, whereby you move from lost to found, is exhilarating. The attachment to the small self is loosened, and an infinitely larger, more expansive Self is glimpsed. It is here, in these glimpses that a startling new landscape, or perhaps a radically new way of seeing, is opened up within you. Here the words of Jesus come to mind, ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’

To embrace the gift of not knowing is to embark on one of the greatest adventures, and one that if fully entered into will change your life forever.


Photo Credit: ShanePix Flickr via Compfight cc

On Relationship to Experience

You’re never just in life, this situation, this moment. You’re also in a particular relationship with it.

So often this is transparent, like the air you’re breathing as you read this. But it’s illuminating to understand that the world you’re experiencing isn’t ever simply ‘the’ world.

Perhaps your relationship is to welcome whatever is happening. Perhaps you’re pushing it away, or denying it. Perhaps you’re treating what’s happening as a huge opportunity. Or perhaps as a curse or problem. Maybe you’re relating to what’s happening with a longing that it be over. Or maybe you’re trying to cling on to it, already mourning the end of it, even before it’s gone.

Another way of talking about this phenomenon is mood. Every mood – anger, joy, love, resentment, frustration, cynicism – opens up a particular kind of relationship to what’s taking place.

Can you see how your relationship to it all shapes so much of your experience and what’s possible for you at any moment?

That each brings forth a distinctive kind of world?

That what’s possible from resentment is different from what’s possible from anger or love? That what’s possible from relating to it all as a curse is different to what’s possible from an orientation of welcome?

Once you see all of this, you can first become an observer of your relationship to everything. Reflective practices can help here – a regular journalling practice and sitting meditation are two that are enormously helpful.

Much more importantly, once you can observe you open up a second possibility of taking responsibility for your relationship to it all.

Because while what’s happening might be just what’s happening, your relationship to it is something in which you’re always a participant.

Or in other words, the world you experience is never just happening but also, inescapably, something you are doing.

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Never Not Broken

In our work as integral development coaches, we draw on stories, metaphors, characters and myths to open up worlds of possibility with our clients. This week we explore a narrative that is deeply aligned with both Turning Towards Life and thirdspace coaching and which expresses the the invitation present in our work.

In this episode of ‘Turning Towards Life’ we explore the possibilities of knowing ourselves at once as perfect and always unfinished, broken, incomplete. We consider the life-giving possibilities of owning up to our messiness, and the opportunities for deepened contact with ourselves and with others when we do so. And we explore the way our attempts to look as if we have it all together (does anyone, really, have it all together?) add unnecessary suffering and difficulty to our lives.

We are live every Sunday morning at 9am UK time, diving deep into topics like this. You can join our members-only facebook group here to be with us.

Never Not Broken

Akhilandeshvari, The Goddess of Never Not Broken, represents the kind of things that people shy away from. You may have bumped into her occasionally hidden in the dark alleyways of life, but turned your gaze away. You’ve likely fallen into her embrace once or twice: in hospitals, at work, watching the news, or in your car, but broke away as quickly as possible.

She’s the kind of goddess you don’t want to take home to meet your mother — she’d give your mother nightmares. But her power is unparalleled.

Pronounced ah-kee-LAN-desh-va-ree, “Akhilandeshvari” translates as “Never Not Broken.” She shows us the power and opportunity of being broken into pieces by heartache, disaster, great fortune, and other life changes and traumas.

However she takes this to the furthest extreme, purposefully keeping herself broken wide open, allowing herself to flow with every current, creating and fragmenting and recreating herself endlessly. She steadfastly refuses to paste herself together into a stable form, shunning the limitations that she’d have to abide and the false identities that would hide reality.

She rides on a crocodile: the very survival-fear that keep most of us chained to the known and routine is her flying carpet!

She is not controlled by the need to keep her identity consistent, or even alive.

She dances and spins and breaks herself into shards of light, tossing out new possibilities for herself like flower petals from a cherry tree.

The goddess Never-Not-Broken promises that the greatest magic is in the transformative moments: the heartbreak, the uncertainties, the pause before we hit the ground… and what we do with ourselves after we land.

She is the goddess of Surrendering to Change, and we are getting to know her well these days.

It’s normal to fear and resist change, but Akhilandeshvari whispers to us also of freedom — liberation from the past, from habits and wounds, from stifling routines, from everything that once was good but has become a burden or a prison.

Liberation, indeed, from all the illusions of the ego.

She is, in the same instant, the personification of destruction and rebirth. But not like Kali the Destroyer who levels us all with her sword. Akhilandeshvari yields to the destruction of herself, her ego and self-identity, so that she can remain in contact with truth — the Divine Source that is manifesting Itself as one individual”.**

**Edited for the purpose of our Turning Towards Life Sunday morning broadcast from this website where you can read more.

Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

Through the Wall of Flame

Sometimes stepping into our lives means stepping through a wall of flame into something bigger that we cannot yet see.

In this episode of ‘Turning Towards Life’ we begin with a piece written by Mark Nepo, ‘Through the Wall of Flame’, which you can find below. We talk about how easy it is to imprison ourselves in a smaller life than we wish for, as a way of trying to keep ourselves away from danger and out of painful experiences.

And we ask ourselves a big question – “What is it that we’re so dedicated to not feeling, that we’re willing to ruin our lives to avoid it?”. Along the way we consider the liberating possibilities that come when we’re willing to encounter what we’ve been avoiding, and to do so with the loving help of others.

You can join us for a live conversation on facebook every Sunday morning at 9am UK time, for a deep dive into topics like this. Join our members-only facebook group here to be with us.

And you can find our more about our work as thirdspace coaching here.

Through the Wall of Flame
by Mark Nepo, from ‘The Book of Awakening

As a frightened man in a burning boat
has only one way to the rest of his life,
we must move with courage
through the wall of flame
into the greater sea.

Living long enough, we each find ourselves surrounded by an old way of being, thinking, or loving that is going up in flames. In that unexpected moment, we usually find ourselves full of fear, feeling trapped by an old way of life coming in on us. But this is the passage of rebirth that we must move through if our lives are to unfold. It is the momentary and painful crossing from what is old into what is new.

It is understandable to stall at the wall of flame, not wanting to face all that is burning around us. Yet old ways can burn forever, and waiting for the flames to go out seldom works. We can waste years in the waiting.

Like the frightened man in the burning boat, we must trust that the greater sea we are jumping into will douse whatever catches fire as we move through. This is what faith is all about.

Without trying to be brave and with great fear, I have stumbled and jumped through many walls of flame. The first time, I think, was in leaving home—needing to go, burning at the edge, afraid I wouldn’t survive beyond the flame of anger in which I was raised. Not much later, I had to move through the flames of first-love rejection. Here the broken part of me was almost willing to be burned alive. I felt certain there was nowhere to go and nothing that could soothe me. I more fell through this wall than jumped and, of course, once in the sea of life beyond myself, the world continued and I healed.

Perhaps the greatest wall of flame I had to jump through was the pain of cancer and the prospect of dying. It seemed the entire sea was on fire. Even once overboard, drifting farther and farther from the flames, I thought I might drown. How could I know that greater sea was the womb of a deeper life? I’m sure this is the same for anyone struggling to break out of any form of addiction, illness, or abusive relationship.



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You were always in safe hands

Here’s ‘In Safe Hands’, the 39th episode of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Lizzie Winn and I dive deep into big questions of human living.

This week we begin with a poem by Jeff Foster which makes the radical suggestion that what we’re trying to get to, and what we’re trying to run from, obscure a simple and vital truth: that we’ve misunderstood what we are. And that what we need is right here, just where we are, waiting for us.

Along the way we talk about what it is to find language for that part of human experience that is, essentially, unsayable. And we remind ourselves that while we’re often far away from ourselves it’s always in returning home that healing happens.

You can join our members-only facebook group for live conversation and community here.

Here’s the source for this week’s conversation, written by Jeff Foster.

In Safe Hands

You get tired of half-truths, don’t you? 
You get tired of pretending 
You get tired of the world’s promises 
You get tired of… waiting. 
You even get tired of getting tired.

You get tired of ‘you’ – 
The one who ‘gets tired of’.

A divine disillusionment 
And a great paradox – 
For who gets tired of whom?

In the midst of despair 
You find yourself staring life in the face 
Naked and unprotected 
in front of its sacredness. 
And for the first time 
(For whatever reason) 
You do not turn away.

It breaks you open 
It shatters your dreams 
It burns up your certainty. 
Even your dreams of enlightenment 
do not stand a chance.

You shit yourself with fear 
You cry out for help 
(Why has it forsaken you?)

And then 
For the the first time 
You feel deeply alive 
Undivided from life itself 
Resting in the arms of the One 
you always sought 
Unprotected yet utterly safe 
Free at last 
Free at last.

It destroys the one you thought you were 
But it never touches the One you are.

This is the road less travelled, they say 
A road leading not to the future 
Not to the promised land 
But to the one reading these words now

To the one who knew all along 
That all along this road’s ancient edges 
lies the shed skin of lost identities and unkept promises.

Clean yourself up, my friend 
You were always in safe hands.

– Jeff Foster

Photo Credit: Meanest Indian Flickr via Compfight cc

Practicing Radical Self-Responsibility

Here’s episode 38 of ‘Turning Towards Life’, our weekly, live 30 minute deep dive into the bigger questions of human life, in which I’m joined by Lizzie Winn as part of thirdspace coaching.

This week ‘Practicing Radical Self-Responsibility’, a call to action from activist Taj James of the Movement Strategy Centre, an organisation dedicated to “lead a transition from a world of domination and extraction to a world of regeneration, resilience, and interdependence… To put love at the centre, reimagine possibility, navigate into the unknown, and step into the new future that is calling us forward.”.

In this conversation, Lizzie and I consider the balance between strictness with ourselves (so we remember our responsibility to act) and kindness (so we can draw on our goodness and capacity, and not collapse into shame or self-righteousness). It’s a tricky and life-giving act of paying attention that’s called for in any of us who want to actually take care of the world and not just talk about it. And we celebrate the ordinary everyday acts of responsibility that can inspire us to rise to the bigger acts of taking a stand that our times are calling for.

You can join our members-only facebook group for live conversation and community here.

Here’s the source for this week’s conversation, written by Taj James.

Practicing Radical Self-Responsibility 
(notes to selves)
I can only speak for myself
I can only change myself.
There are some things about myself
I can not change.
They are aspects of who I am.
I need to learn to accept and love
All aspects of who I am
I am not
who I think I am
I Am Everything
Responsible for
every little thing
i am
Intentions matter and
I am fully responsible
for ALL of the impact I create
Without consciousness
There is no choice
Responsibility is Complete.
Weather actions or impacts flow
from conscious or unconscious
Choosing unconsciousness,
knowing it is a root source
from which harm flows,
has specific consequences
Cultivating consciousness
requires healing, support
great courage and spiritual discipline
Self-harm, isolation, shame and regret
perpetuate the cycles of of harm
and prevent healing, repair and restoration.
Dare to be free
Shame and silence
are the most harmful forces
in the multiverse
Harm flows
from the shadows
we have not embraced
followed close behind
by certainty
Yes, Love
is the only
And, all other forms of certainty
are only
domination and hubris
masking fear and a
desire for control
i have been harmed
i have caused harm
that makes me a human
Focus on the love you have shared
not just the harm you have caused
Celebrate and soak in
the gratitude and
Do your best to acknowledge and
clean up the messes you make
Pay your debts and
pay all the debts you can pay
even those you may not be responsible for
Acknowledgement, connection, an apology and a smile
don’t cost anything
Some debts can never be repaid.
If you owe a debt like this,
spend each day of your life
grateful for the opportunity
to fail everyday
at repaying it.
Reconnect you to your bigger self.
Regret, self-hate, guilt only deepen the harm generated by
your unconsciousness and disconnection
generated by your fear, thoughtlessness or delusion
born from the harm and traumas that flowed into you
Whenever I forget any of this truth
Please, quickly, firmly and gently
remind me.
— Taj James movementstrategy.org

On Feeling Like a Fraud

Here’s episode 37 of ‘Turning Towards Life’, our weekly, live 30 minute deep dive into the bigger questions of human life.

This week ‘On Feeling a Fraud’, an experience common to most of us but which we keep hidden for fear of being found out. But what if being ‘found out’ is a path to discovering our own capacity and entering into the kind of life-giving relationships we long for?

You can find out more about thirdspace coaching at http://www.thirdspacecoaching.com

Here’s the source for this week’s conversation, written by Lizzie.

On Feeling Like a Fraud

The feeling that I will be found out one day. That someone will come and lift the facade and see me for all my faults and inadequacy. That the powers that Be will expose me, exile me, shame me. That finally and once and for all I will be outed for all the things I don’t know, all the ways I’ve been half baked. All the ways I have made it look like everything’s ok when I am really like a duck on the water, (looking like water does indeed run off a ducks back), and my little legs are going wild beneath the surface of the water trying to stay afloat and keep this whole thing going.

My little legs are going ten to the dozen because:

I have to go this fast just to keep up
If I don’t keep momentum then I will fall behind
If I don’t paddle hard I will be seen for what’s really going on inside
If I let up I will be cast out for my uselessness
If I stop and be real and admit it’s hard, I will be outed as the shameful creature I really am. This duck, like any other duck.

Who feels incapable, ineffective, confused, sad, grief filled, flawed, lacking in confidence. Who is doing their best to be loved, to be good, to be successful, to be worthy and to be noticed.

If anyone could see the flapping, the freak outs, the procrastination, the laziness, the incompleteness, the disorganised, the short cuts, the mistakes, the arguments, the lack of knowledge, just how much I’m winging it.

I would surely be cast out. The worst of human shame. To be lost and exposed and raw in the surety of being faced with my own brokenness – fully acknowledged by the world and the people who are powerful and important to me.

And yet.

In the sharing of my inadequacy, I gently find out that I am not alone. And it turns out that all these feelings, all this fear is a universal thing. It’s not actually mine. It’s a general consequence of humanness. And we all had parents and cultures and education systems that used shame as their main source of power. Because they didn’t have anything else at their finger tips when faced with the human in front of them.

So each time we share, each time we open and each time we join one another and undo the shame by seeing each other and accept the unacceptable. We heal and we grow in confidence that we are good, we are worthy, we are loved. We are vulnerable and that’s how it should be. Unfinished, messy, lovable, doing the very best we can. And doing that alongside our fellow humans in connection, in warmth, in kindness.

And together we journey. All flawed, all broken, all holding one another in the great web of life that is human community.

— Lizzie Winn

We are the environment for each other

It’s clear that we human beings are deeply affected by the environment in which we find ourselves. We are in a constant exchange with what is around us, both shaping it and being shaped by it.

And so it’s worth remembering, because it’s mostly so invisible to us, that we are each the environment for one another.

Which means in turn that difficulties that occur for other people and with other people can often be addressed, first, by taking responsibility for what is ours, and how it’s affecting those around us.

Don’t be ashamed to be human, be proud

Here’s episode 36 of ‘Turning Towards Life’, our weekly, live 30 minute deep dive into the bigger questions of human life, with Lizzie Winn.

This week, “Don’t Be Ashamed to be Human”. So many of us figure that we have to go through life essentially alone, like super-heroes, hiding all our difficulties and failures and in the process finding ourselves far away from the joys of deep human contact and support. We wonder about what it takes to turn towards the life-giving support of others, and how coaching, community, friendship and family can be ways of entering into this with one another.

We also talk about the extraordinary two-day introduction to Integral Development Coaching, ‘Coaching to Excellence‘ which will be offered by thirdspace in London on 1st-2nd October 2018.

Here’s the source for this week’s conversation:

Romanesque Arches
Tomas Tranströmer
Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous
Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel with no face embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
“Don’t be ashamed to be a human being, be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.”
Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora Sabatini;
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.

Good learning undoes us

It’s common practice in many organisations for people to demand, with some force, a ‘take away’ from every learning experience, course, workshop or coaching session.

Perhaps it seems obvious, at least to start with, that this should be the case. After all aren’t we busy, productive, results-oriented people? Why would we do anything unless it obviously moves us forward, to the next step, the next project, the next success?

By insisting on this we’ve confused learning with other, more familiar, activities. And we’ve profoundly misunderstood the nature of any learning that’s really worth our while.

Firstly, the confusion. Learning is not like going to a meeting, finishing a project plan, coming to an agreement, or delivering a product. When we insist that learning be like every other activity in our working culture we’re not really engaging in learning at all. We’re confusing learning with deciding, or getting things done, both of which are worthwhile activities in themselves, but don’t change us much.

Secondly, we’ve misunderstood or wilfully redefined what learning can be. We’ve reduced it to knowing a fact, understanding a step-by-step process, or knowing about a clever technique. We want to learn with the minimum of our own involvement, in a trouble-free, predictable, and narrow way. We want it recognisable in form and structure. We do not wish to be too troubled. And all of this is insufficient for learning that really does something.

Unless we want our learning to keep us within our habitual, predictable boundaries (and I am arguing that this is not learning at all) we have to give up our demands that it be familiar. We have to allow it to confuse us as well as inspire us, to dissolve our existing categories and rigidity, and to confound our everyday understanding so it can show us something new. We have to allow it to render us unskilful for a while so that we can embody new skills that in turn open new worlds of possibility. And we have to allow ourselves to feel many things – elation, excitement, frustration, disappointment, wonder, surprise, boredom, joy – so that we can be affected by the experience and not just observe it in a detached way.

Good learning undoes us.

And for that reason the ‘take aways’ we demanded at the start may be quite different from what actually happens. And what lives on in us as a result may not appear at the moment we walk out of the room, but as the product, over time, of living with, practicing and inquiring into what we’ve only just begun to see.

By demanding we know what learning will do before we begin, we’re hardly learning at all.

Photo Credit: acase1968 Flickr via Compfight cc

And For No Reason

In episode 35 of ‘Turning Towards Life‘, our weekly 30 minute deep dive into big questions of human living, Lizzie and I take up the topic of joy as a necessary orientation in human life.

What is it about joy, we wonder, that makes it different from ‘happiness’? How is it that the way we get obsessed with our difficulties, or with completing goals, interrupts our capacity to be in contact with the wonder of being alive? What were all the ways we got taught from a very young age that joy is somehow a distraction from the serious work of living and getting things done? And what if opening to joy is a radical political act, a deeper commitment that we can bring to everything as we start to be honest about the finite nature of our lives and our limited time?

In this weekly project from thirdspace coaching we dive deep in a live, inspiring, unscripted 30 minute conversation. Our aim – to learn as much as we teach, to discover as we go, and to give support to all of us in turning towards our lives with depth and creativity rather than turning away.

Here’s the source for this week’s conversation:

And For No Reason – Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

For no reason
I start skipping like a child.

For no reason
I turn into a leaf
That is carried so high
I kiss the Sun’s mouth
And dissolve.

For no reason
A thousand birds
Choose my head for a conference table,
Start passing their
Cups of wine
And their wild songbooks all around.

For every reason in existence
I begin to eternally,
To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn into a leaf
And start dancing,
I run to kiss our beautiful Friend
And I dissolve in the Truth
That I Am.

We’re live every Sunday morning at 9am UK time. You can join our facebook group to watch live, view archives, and join in the growing community and conversation that’s happening around this project.

Photo Credit: kaddisudhi via Compfight cc



In the Jewish tradition, any story is an invitation to interpretation, to imagination, to invention. You read a story not so much for what’s true in it, as for what can be imagined into the spaces. So a straightforward story can become the launching point for wildly differing interpretations, all of which are held alongside one another even if they’re paradoxical, mysterious or downright contradictory.

It’s a tradition known as midrash and it embodies a commitment to see things from many angles, to have many different kinds of explanations for what might initially look obvious and simple. In midrash there’s no such thing as a story with a monopoly on the truth.

Often, it’s helpful to do midrash with your own life, with your work, with your relationships.

You probably already have habitual ways of explaining who you are, who others are, what’s happening, and what’s possible. Perhaps you currently have only one telling available to you, one that’s so familiar, so trusted, you can’t even tell that it’s there.

Making midrash from your own life involves starting to tell a different story from the one you’re currently telling. Maybe you’re not the righteous, wounded hero after all. Perhaps they’re not out to get you, but are trying to help. Maybe you’re not as in control of your life as you think – or perhaps you’re much more in control already than you knew. Maybe it is possible for you to be someone who asks for what you want. Perhaps there’s a contribution you’re making that you can’t see because of your self-critical stories. Maybe life has an invitation for you that’s not going to come from trying harder and harder until you work yourself into the ground.

These are just a few of the stories you might have about yourself and life, and a few of the alternatives you could start to imagine. You could also ask others how they’d tell the story of your situation – great midrash can begin simply from here.

Even if you have only one way of explaining your life, it’s already midrash, already just one interpretation of many that are possible.

So much opens, and so much suffering can be avoided, when you stop believing your own stories as the only truth.

Photo Credit: Renaud Camus via Compfight cc

Waiting for Events to Save Us

Here’s episode 34 of ‘Turning Towards Life’ episode with Lizzie Winn: ‘Practice, Not Events’. In this episode we talk about the events that can shape a life, and the mistake we make when we wait for events to save us. What comes instead, we wonder, when we hold on less tightly to what happens and dedicate ourselves to a life of dedicated practice? Along the way we talk about near-death experiences, weddings, and organisational change.

In this weekly project from thirdspace coaching we dive deep in a live, inspiring, unscripted 30 minute conversation. Our aim – to learn as much as we teach, to discover as we go, and to give support to all of us in turning towards our lives with depth and creativity rather than turning away.

Here’s the source for this week’s conversation, from an earlier post on this blog.

Practice, Not Events

Between June 2011 and the following July I had three close encounters with death. Three life punctuating events brought about by sudden and unexpected changes within my body, each shocking and frightening, each a reminder of how fragile and unpredictable life can be.

As I recovered from each episode I expected – hoped – that I would in some way be profoundly different. I wanted so much to find myself more grateful, more accepting, more joyful of life’s many small blessings, less judgmental, less afraid, less irritated by small things, more kind, and more dedicated to being present and welcoming and loving with the people who matter to me.

But it didn’t work out so simply. I emerged from each experience blinking and shaken and grateful, and soon settled back into many of my familiar patterns.

Over time I’ve found myself thinking about this differently. What happens if I allow these experiences to inform the way I live rather than expecting them to change me? How can I, having encountered the possibility of death so closely, use my experience to commit fully and wisely and generously to life?

In taking on this question I’m finding out that the change I seek is a question of practice rather than of events. And that I am an ongoing process much more than I am a thing with enduring properties, an object that is a particular way. I live myself into being, day after day. I am always living myself into being by the very ways in which I live.

How I move, how much I take care of myself, how I express curiosity and interest in the world, how I speak and listen, how I sleep, how I sing and laugh, how I play and create, how I bind myself up in community, how I practice compassion and stillness, how I love, how I work – all these shape the life I am living and who I become, far more than the punctuating events themselves.

And this tells me so much about the mistaken ways in which I look for change in myself and in my relationships with others. When I mistake life for a thing I imagine an event of sufficient power will do it. An affecting conversation, a kiss, a show of force, a book with a revelatory idea in it, an illness, a windfall, a conference, an argument, the right gift, or a brush with death will fix things, in the same way that I might fix a dented metal bowl by attempting to knock it into shape. But when I know myself as a living, unfolding process, events take up their proper place as teachers rather than fixers, educating me about the ongoing practices by which I can take care of this one precious life.

The more I imagine events alone will do it, the more I set myself up for the despair and frustration that comes from relying on something that cannot help.

And the more I commit to the ongoing, long-term, diligent and patient practice of living in a way that brings life, the more genuine reason I have to hope.

We’re live this Sunday morning at 9am UK time. You can join our facebook group to watch live, view archives, and join in the growing community and conversation that’s happening around this project.



How easy it is to be up to something while simultaneously denying it.

I have sophisticated strategies for trying to be in control while looking like I’m being inclusive, for trying to get people to love me while looking as if I’m just trying to help, and for being stubbornly attached to my own view while looking as if I’m asking what other people think.

All of these allow me to hold on to a particular kind of self-image (kind, accommodating, self-effacing) while simultaneously getting my own way. And they involve some sophisticated kinds of denial – spinning stories that blind me to my real intentions.

When I relate to other people in this way, things can get pretty complicated.

Sometimes, though – sometimes – I am able to see what I’m doing while I’m doing it. The intentions which I was subject to become object, moving from the background to the foreground, and then I have a chance to intervene and to take responsibility for what I’m doing.

I am less had by my strategies. I become someone who has them.

This move, making what we are subject to become object to us, is at the heart of all profound developmental transitions. Every time something moves into view (a part of us, or a way we’re thinking, or a way we’re constructing the world, or a way we’re being shaped by our interactions with others) it affords us more freedom to act, a more inclusive view of ourselves and others, and a greater possibility to take care of whatever and whoever it is that we care about.

And this move requires that we get onto our own con-tricksall the ways we’ll convince ourselves of our rightness and deny our part in what’s happening.

Often, it seems, what I’m hiding from myself about my intentions is pretty much the worse-kept secret of all, known to everybody else but me. And that is why, for each of us to develop, it’s so important to be surrounded by people who extend love our way, who see us for our goodness, and who extend the kindness and respect required to tell us the truth (with care for timing, and in ways we can hear and understand), rather than keeping what they see to themselves.

Photo Credit: Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography via Compfight cc