COP26 Thought for the Day #4

What is the world asking of me?

In September I spent a few glorious days on Lambay Island off the coast of Ireland. Today I’m sharing the walk I took on my second morning.

After breakfast I pick my way along the tide line following a dark dry trail of bladder-wrack.

There is so much plastic.

I’m tempted to turn away, shamed by the mess being made of the world. A mess I help make. A mess I don’t know how to tidy up. Even if I spent the morning litter picking I’m told getting the waste off island is a problem and of course there’ll always be more cast up on the next tide.

I could ignore it, but remember the words of a dear teacher, Joanna Macy who speaks of ‘holding the gaze’ with the world as it is, the better to listen to our fear, grief or anger at the unravelling of life pressing in on us from all sides. By turning towards it, she says, we might learn what our world is asking of us. So, thinking of her courage, vitality and sheer doggedness, I stay as present, and as open to ‘what is’ as I can manage.

At my feet a single feather points skyward. Lying next to it a knot of fishing line and a lime green picnic spoon. Bone white driftwood. Coiled blue rope. A yellow sandal, ‘adidas’ stamped on the side. There are limpet shells and flat skimming stones, glistening jellyfish, folded in on themselves, in death taking the shape of the rocks. Natural objects that ‘belong’ mixed up with opaque leavings. Unnameable shreds alongside familiar everyday containers emptied of use: white plastic table salt and yogurt pots; a lucozade bottle, and equally empty – a crab shell which I lift and turn in my hand, looking into tiny hollow eye holes.

But it’s a blue rubber glove, the left hand, that brings me to a standstill. Fingers curled tenderly around a palmful of gray pebbles and shreds of dried seaweed. There’s a vulnerability in the gesture, both offering and supplication. It breaks through my preoccupation with the stories I tell about myself and about the state of the world. I feel my hollow shell cracking open, a slipping sideways of my sense of ‘me-ness’, as this tide sculpted tangle reveals presences in both the spoiled and unspoiled world.

I turn to leave the cove returning to Joanna’s question: What is the world asking of me? The response flows through and out of me as far as the dark line of the horizon. There’s sorrow and shame, hope and hopelessness. The answer that surges to the surface as I see the beauty and the brokenness is ‘love’.

Love, I realise, has no frontiers. It will be essential as together we learn how best to navigate the ecological and climate challenges already impacting lives across the planet. The opening lines of a Mary Oliver poem run through my mind over and over, as I walk away ‘my work is loving the world.’

These talks are crucial, what happens after even more so. Whether I trust our leaders or not, we urgently need global agreement and action. I wonder, what turns action towards ‘right action’? Technology is essential, but without hearts that include the interconnectedness of human and ecological communities I fear technological fixes will be fatally flawed.

We cannot afford to fail. What is the world asking of me?

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird – 
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Mary Oliver

COP26 Thought for the Day #3

What do I see?

We all use metaphors all the time, often unconsciously. They are universal, an indirect yet powerful channel for reframing experience or introducing unusual or unexpected perspectives.

Much of my work is about making connections, bringing awareness to patterns in multi-layered relationships that may not be immediately apparent, or are easy to overlook. When a deeper exploration of ‘truths’ that lie below the surface of the everyday is called for, I find myself, without thinking, reaching for metaphors.  

Why metaphor? Perhaps it’s because they connect, carry ideas from one place to another, making complex ideas that are difficult to explain more tangible and understandable. Friedrich Kekule’s snake biting its own tail for the ring-like structure of the benzene molecule; Darwin’s branching tree making sense of evolution; James’s powerful image of a stream to convey the fluid, continuous nature of consciousness; or Einstein’s thought experiments with trains and mirrors to develop his theory of relativity. These all link what is known with what is unfamiliar or intangible. Beyond this there is something visceral about metaphor, something deeply felt that includes yet moves beyond mere reason and thought.

On a more prosaic note, paying attention to the metaphors we habitually use sheds light on our thinking.  Years ago, I worked with a man who constantly used war metaphors; relationships were a minefield, work was a war zone, he was under fire, besieged, caught in the crossfire, in no man’s land and unsurprisingly longed for a truce. His images revealed an unsustainable personal and professional situation. Once he noticed he began to play with metaphors, using them to meet obstacles in new ways and access previously overlooked resources. For him, metaphor exposed ingrained ways of thinking, helped shift perspectives, and revealed solutions that might not otherwise have been considered.

Can metaphors have wider political implications? I think so. The ways I describe the nature of our roots as a species, what it means to be human, what is happening now and what lies ahead for future generations – both human and other than human – all this has the power to shape my actions. Whether I realise it or not.

Yesterday the conference proper got underway. From the podium I heard talk of burdens, doomsday clocks, ticking bombs, and grave digging. I found the James Bond analogy particularly disheartening. The vision of the lone (male) hero saving the day is the opposite of collaborative, humble work that values, listens and seeks to understand others. These latter qualities were present in some of the speeches and I believe they will be needed if any meaningful agreement is to be reached.

Today, I want to notice the metaphors I use in relation to climate change and the work going on at COP26. What assumptions, what ‘ruts in the road’ will I find? I wonder, how can I play with, and choose interesting, bold, generative pathways?

COP26 Thought for the Day #2

‘What can I do?’

When we envisage a world in which everything is part of an interactive, connected system everything matters. Our actions, even minute, imperceptible actions, have impact. In this way we can all, in some way, be activists.

But even though I know this, as these crucial talks get underway, I’m aware of the weight of how much needs to be done, and feel small and powerless, ‘what can I do anyway?’ it would be so easy to turn away.

The words ‘attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’ from philosopher Simone Weil, bring me back. Something that was pinning me down loosens, ‘yes’, I think, this is something I know how to do, both as a coach and as a human being.  Paying attention, though often invisible, is important work.  “Attention, taken to its highest degree” says Weil, “is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.”  

Will alone, ‘will without grace’ leads to action that creates more problems than it solves. In contrast, this quality of attending is like a love story, moving beyond self-centeredness, sensitising the heart to the needs of others and the world. If we can pay attention we can become more effective change-makers whatever the context we find ourselves in.

Recognising I make myself powerless when I choose not to know, for today my answer to the question ‘What can I do?’ is to attend with love and faith to the beautiful, perplexing, unfathomable, otherness of the world, and to trust that through attentiveness the wisest path may be found.

COP26 Thought for the day

Day 1 Where to Start?

As October draws to a close, Autumn has come roaring in. Last night wind shredded the darkness, hurling water against the bedroom window, fat drops pounded the conservatory roof below.

While my husband snored gently at my side, I lay awake, feeling caught between two worlds – one reality the cocoon of a warm, dry bed, safe and shielded by solid walls built from the granite bones of the moor – the other? Vast black night, wild and unbiddable, a force that is literally a wake-up call. A force that encompasses small human places like my home but is undeniably more than human – it can be hard to hold the knowledge that human activities impact something as immense and ‘other’ as storm.

Where to begin with addressing climate change?  It’s easy to ignore problems, easier than facing up to reality and doing something. Towards the end of her book Wilful Blindness Margaret Heffernan points out the world isn’t linear, it’s a complex system where small changes can have big impacts. We may not know where to start, but that isn’t the issue – what matters most she argues, is that we start. 

This is something coaches know how to work with, giving me confidence to share a ‘thought for the day’ as COP26 gets underway. It’s borrowed from Heffernan – “Where do you start? You start where you are.” It’s echoed in a quote I often use from Theodore Roosevelt who famously said:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

‘Walking the Talk’ Purpose Led Business

COP26 is almost upon us, convened against the backdrop of profound challenges and upheavals of 2020 and 2021 from the pandemic, floods and wildfires to Black Lives Matter.

Like many others I’ve questioned the ability of our political, economic, and societal systems to take action. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey showed that rather than wait for government to impose change, a whopping 86% of respondents thought business leaders should take the lead and be as accountable to the public as they are to their board and shareholders.

With this in mind, Wise Goose has taken another step on our journey as a ‘purpose led business‘ we’ve amended our ‘Articles of Association’ to integrate wider stakeholder interests into our governance structure. These are written rules, registered with Companies House, stating how the company is run. In practice little will change, a ‘purpose led’ approach has inspired our work since the early days, but now balancing people, profit and planet is firmly at the heart of our purpose. From now on, ensuring business and operations have a material positive impact on society and the environment, is a director responsibility adding an extra layer of scrutiny.

This is about taking a stand, stating our core reason for existing is richer and wider than solely creating shareholder returns. It’s a way of ‘putting our money where our mouth is’. The world needs more businesses to see their role as creating value for society, and while we may only be a micro business, we are heeding Theodore Roosevelt’s advice, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I’m proud to have found the confidence and courage to start where we are and take a step.

Learning to walk

Here’s the latest post from Wise Goose graduate Helen Tyrrell. Her topic feels timely as a cool April, month long storm in May followed by just enough warmth and rain (though not much sun here on Dartmoor until last week) means this year growth on my allotment has galloped away so it now resembles a jungle – lots of happy nettles, bindweed and giant comfrey. Produce a bit hard to find under all the green.

Here’s a image from the allotment walk Helen T. mentions in her post. Taken before the growth exploded!

“You were running before you were one year old!”  That information has long formed part of my personal mythology: according to my mother not only did I run before I had learned to walk, but I would run everywhere on my tiptoes.

So it seems my early entry into movement was headlong, fast and barely in touch with the ground!

Has that approach continued into my adult world? In a way, yes! I have sometimes rushed headlong towards what excites or interests me, while keeping my feet steadily on the ground has not come naturally.

Let’s be kind and call it a hunger for life!   

The busy, ‘always on’ culture around me seems in some ways an extension of that running, rushing, action-oriented, unbalanced way of being. Somewhere hidden in frenetic activity is not just a high-energy, excitable sense of achievement – of impact in the world – but also a sense of virtue: we can’t be lazy if we are busy! In there, too, is feeling of self-importance: even as we rail against how busy we are, there is often a smidgeon of hidden pride – after all our busy-ness signals we are in demand!

A significant learning for me with Wise Goose was a session where all this was turned upside down. Our tutor, Helen, did an amazing thing: she walked us through her allotment, slowly, through the seasons, using photos and simple narrative.

Gardening is something that you can’t rush!

In the changing seasons and viewpoints were dramatic transformations – and not all wrought by the gardener. In fact compared to the action of time, the environment and the varied potential of each plant, the gardener’s interventions were relatively small. Furthermore the different camera angles dramatically changed the scenery.

How is this useful learning for us as coaches and as people?

Well, it helps us to appreciate the important role time plays in personal and professional development, as well as the unpredictable impact of other factors. An awareness of these interrupts any over attachment to results: if we, like the gardener, plant seeds then this may produce intended outcomes, but not necessarily. We need to see our own efforts within the context of the wider environment, the seasons – metaphorical or actual – the time it takes to grow, the unique potential and stage of development of both ‘seed’ and ourselves, the ‘sower’. And we need to be aware that the perspective, the angle we are viewing our ‘garden’ from may alter the way we see it.  

Germination happens invisibly under the ground and seeds take time to grow. By the same token, dramatic displays of beauty and growth may happen with very little intervention if the time is right.

So our results are not just down to us. ‘Not really’, as Helen S would say. Whatever we are trying to accomplish, that is something to remember.

The gardener approach calls for a slowing, for staying in touch with the ground and watching for what else is going on. While there is nothing inherently wrong with impatience and energy for movement, as with the infant, the fast-and-barely-in-touch-with-the-ground approach is unsteady and may lead to a fall, while slow observation, considered movement and steady step by step progress that factors in the importance of time in development can produce surprising results.

So while I may have run early as an infant, it is only now, as a coach, that I am really learning to walk and enjoy each step!

Hitch your Wagon to a Star

Here is the next instalment about her journey from student of coaching to professional coach from a soon to be Wise Goose graduate Helen Tyrrell (just waiting for her portfolio to be signed off by our external verifier.) We’ve had some great feedback about this series and hope you enjoy reading.

Major milestone 1: I submitted my coaching portfolio two weeks ago! Major milestone 2: my creative living pilot programme, Play Ethic: A Creative Way, has run with 5 wonderful participants and a fab co-host and guest speaker, ready for Hawkwood College in June.

For the first time I am beginning to appreciate just how far I have come since late 2018, when I lost both my father and my job at exactly the same moment. The truth is that the job and I had outgrown each other, and my father, a Jungian Psychoanalyst, and a person dear to very many hearts including mine (working right up to the day he died aged 89) was unwell and not getting any better. I’d have clung to both.
It may have been a bumpy ride, but at last I find myself at a vantage point from which I can fully appreciate the scale of what has been going on for the past few years.
I am launching as a coach, having found work and a lifestyle that deeply fulfils me, with its own unique rules of play. That feels big!
I’m not exactly like every other coach. The rich seams of Processwork weave their way in, as clients show up wanting to explore their dreams and symptoms. Creativity, too, has taken on a mantle of manifest relevance beyond my own practices (which remain very important and alive) and the other rich areas I am immersed in through my own research clamour for attention, signalling their relevance to my new found work and play. I may not be quite there yet, but let’s pause for a moment to take in the view, looking, as does Hecate, the ancient goddess of boundaries, crossroads and hidden things, behind, now and ahead.
Behind I can see my journey to this place and feel gratitude for all its challenges and twists and turns. In the now I see a different me, changed by that path behind, at last ready to look ahead unencumbered by fear. It’s time to ‘hitch my wagon to a star’ and to trust in that destination whatever the journey brings.
For me, that star or destination involves helping people access their own deep resources and move closer towards their authentic selves, bringing their unique gifts to the world. It means holding space too, for grief, pain and difficulty and encouraging the deep meaning behind these to emerge, blinking, into the light. It means reaching out through creative programmes such as at Hawkwood and through one to ones.
As I think about positioning I find that my own experience of midlife shocks and changes means I’m drawn to help others unravel the meaning and message in the bumps in their own roads. For example, redundancy and loss may be indicators of unknown gifts and talents waiting to be brought to the world, while the experience of not fitting in may indicate a need for new ways of being, relevant not just for the individual, but contributing to the evolutionary leap we, as a species, are trying to make, towards more creative, sustainable living: showing others the way. A star waiting to be noticed!
So, what is going on for you? What is really going on? Have you experienced any bumps in the road lately? How might you respond to those creatively? To explore that further, join us for the Hawkwood course in June, or give me a call and let’s see if we can unravel some of the meaning in that bumpy ride and- even – find a surprising and fulfilling, creative way forward.

Clients, Sweet Spots and Values

Here is the next instalment from Wise Goose student Helen Tyrrell on her journey to becoming a coach. She’s celebrating new clients arriving, one through Wise Goose ‘Find a Coach’ Directory, and getting to grips with self-employment with the help of a friend. She has had some great feedback on previous posts, so do read on…

So, things roll on…. and over the last five weeks I have had the privilege of undertaking a pilot 5 step programme to ‘authentic self-employment’  led by one of my fellow Wise Goose students, Mhairi Mclean.

Many big questions for me were addressed by this short programme and my impossible mountain now looks- well sort of more achievable – maybe. I find I am also less attached to outcomes. The element of fear seems to have dropped out, and, gradually, new clients are beginning to arrive. Of course there are a thousand unanswered questions and things are still as precarious as can be, but I have begun to feel a change. So what has happened?

I can’t reveal all in a dramatic gesture because it is something about the way the course was delivered that has reached me. However I can reveal some learning about the art of exchange: exchange of ideas, thoughts and listening: authentic conversations. If business is a dance between your own needs, talents and skills, and the needs that the world brings to you, how do you navigate that spot? One answer is by bringing your authentic self to every conversation and by listening: both practices which work well with coaching – and which help me understand what is going on out there, beyond the limits of me, in a very real way. Any needs that show up in those conversations do so in a very personal, specific way rather than being faceless, guessed at, generalised, so it is easier to recognise where and if I might help. I also have the chance to become the client when I meet a person or service that fills a need of my own. Everybody wins.

The other part of the programme that has me still mulling is the area of my chosen business values:  balance, courage and financial sustainability. Thinking though the value of balance has required some deep reflection. What does balance mean in a business context? For me balance means not working all the hours God gives! it means occasional fallow days in the working week,  time for my creative projects, for my friends, time for care of body and for proper care of the ‘household’, our immediate environment– a true ‘ecology’, where we remember that eco once meant ‘household’ in Ancient Greek. The sort of balance that allows me to give of my best and most creative self to my clients, rather than a burnt out shell.  It is easier said than done. Our ‘always on’ culture of perpetual summer is deeply ingrained in many of us, myself included. It’s also more radical than it might sound. Received wisdom says work ethic is rewarded. My creativity workshops were called ‘Play Ethic’ to remind myself of the value of play time…. and yet, still an inner critic harps on, dismissing this approach as frivolous, lazy, entitled, privileged, out of touch with reality, with necessity. Is it? And if yes, how impoverished are our lives by this? How do we navigate the tension between said necessity and, well, life?

Maybe that goes to the heart of my coaching practice as well. It is said that you are best placed to teach what you yourself have had to learn – or in my case go on learning. If you too feel that your best life choices are also often assailed by that inner critic, or that you face a tension between necessity and your lifestyle of choice perhaps we could explore it together through coaching? There is much richness and relevance to your struggles and they have a significance beyond you, to the culture we live in. Maybe you would like an open, free, unstructured  conversation to see if we have a sweet spot exchange of skills or money? Or maybe you’d just like to talk – I know I would! Drop me a line!  And of course if you want to know more about Mhairi and Business and Freedom and that amazing 5 step programme, drop me a line too. Who knows she may run it again before too long!

Image by Helen Tyrrell

Is it (really) OK to be vulnerable as a coach?

Here is another instalment from Wise Goose student coach Helen Tyrrell, as she treads the ‘narrow path between vulnerability and expertise’. This is a paradoxical topic, rarely discussed in coaching and we wish her well on her way to becoming a vulnerable expert.

As well as being a coach, Helen is Processworker and Creative, with a background in Art, Business Operations and Human Resources, you can find out more about her work I hope you enjoy her post as much as I did, and do leave her your comments.

I had some nice feedback about my previous, opening blog for Wise Goose. Getting to this point has involved rigorous training:  a minimum of 60 hours of independent coaching practice, over 125 classroom hours, and closer to 200 private study hours, plus peer and professional supervision, much reflective work and an extensive portfolio to submit. In an unregulated industry this is a far cry from a 2 day online coaching course and launch!  This is a serious undertaking.

As I organise the records of my 60 hours of client sessions for my portfolio, I can see my progression, my tendencies and weaknesses over the last year and a half, but also my strengths, talent and commitment to coaching practice. An absolute cornerstone of the Wise Goose training is honest, self-reflection. No sugar-coating. No overblown claims. We need to be like a clean pane of glass, unmuddied, as far as possible, by our own automatic triggers and responses – or at least able to recognise and ‘bracket’ these where possible – so as to respond to the client from our own best place. This requires a high level of self-honesty.

So, I had nice feedback about my blog. And people said it was vulnerable. Is that a good thing? Was it too vulnerable? Too honest? Should a coach not, by definition, be somebody supremely sorted? Where does vulnerability feature in that? After all, I have many years of experience, many qualifications and much training – should I have focussed on all that rather than on the real, raw edge I find myself at? Maybe. But if I did that, my blogs would be a marketing exercise rather than a genuine point of interest. Not a bad thing, but a different thing and to my mind less valuable here.

Vulnerability seems to be fashionable these days. We are encouraged to show it, as leaders, as coaches – and we all know it is easier said than done. Sometimes we get around this by showing it after the event, from the luxury of a safe place.  As in… when I have so many clients that I am turning them away, say, then I can be vulnerable and admit that launching was challenging! Hmmm – question: can vulnerability ever be in the past tense? Can you really show vulnerability from a safe space? Vulnerability, by definition, isn’t safe! Maybe I was mad to allow it into my writing given the need for robust certainty at this delicate juncture.  

To be sure, coaches – and other professionals – don’t, in my experience, much like to show vulnerability. At the very least we prefer to bill ourselves as the expert, and there are some coaches who like to trade on an air of guru-like wisdom. There seems to be a slightly bogus cult of personality in the wider coaching field that I perceive is generally absent from its sister profession of psychotherapy, which relies instead on training, professionalism and self-awareness – the same skillset that we need to be good coaches. Yet perhaps because coaching works on fewer and less regular hours per client, over shorter timescales, and is more associated with business than medicine, coaches need to attract clients differently. We have to get smart. We find our niche. We choose to appear in our ‘expert’ role. And that’s no bad thing – why should anyone buy a coach’s services without proper kudos and credibility?

Yet here’s the thing: what makes us experts is lived experience, so being open and vulnerable about that needs to be part of what we do. And here’s the other thing: in our industry it is the client who is the real expert: they are the expert in their own lives! What the coach brings is training:  listening skills, self-awareness, ability to question, knowledge of a few useful, effective techniques to prompt insight and change and, above all, interest – in life and in the client. We know the client has all the tools and expertise to rise to their challenges creatively, and it is that expertise we are interested in getting at.

So as I launch, I find I am treading this narrow path between vulnerability and expertise, mostly zigzagging from one side to the other unable to stick to the sweet spot I’d like, but then, that’s life!

So, is it really OK to be vulnerable as a coach? I still don’t know, but I’ll keep you posted! For now, I have a portfolio to complete…..

Edgy Living

Thanks to Wise Goose ‘almost-graduate’ Helen Tyrrell, for this post as she stands on the edge of a threshold about to step out as a qualified coach. We look forward to hearing the next instalment! If you’d like to find out more about Helen she is listed in our ‘Find a Coach’ coach directory

So here I am, on the edge of qualifying as a coach! Assuming nothing goes wrong, I will soon be the proud owner of an Advanced Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring.

Great! I’ll be fully qualified! And…then what?

It’s been a fascinating journey, and I’ve had the best clients in 2020. But the last few of my clients are finishing shortly and I don’t have any more lined up. That is where the uncertainty begins to creep in. How can I make a living doing this thing which I love?

I spent many of my younger years being driven, especially when I wanted to be an artist, believing I could make things happen with passion and determination, only to discover that what life had in store for me was far more interesting and rich than I had dreamt, but that I had first to let my dreams go as part of the deal. Now I am wary of striving. Instead I attempt to see what wants to come and to accept and celebrate that. And yet, as my supervisor pointed out, if you don’t let people know you are there, how can they come to you? Tricky.

So, how do I get clients? The gremlins of self-doubt gnaw and undermine and a significant (and dangerously powerful) chunk of my thoughts fully expects this not to work. Hello amygdala!!

I set myself a goal at the start of 2020: I wanted the year’s theme to be ‘The Year I’  with a play on the letter ‘I’ and the number ‘1’ to indicate a fresh start. The fuller title was to be ‘The Year I [Believed in Myself] . I wanted to see where I could get to with that simple, confident attitude. If I were to keep that up now, I wonder what would happen?  

It is interesting and significant that I developed a workshop all about creativity earlier last year, which has now run twice. Aptly, I find myself at precisely the sort of creative edge that this workshop is designed to work with: it is a place of not-knowing, pregnant with possibility, delicate, precarious, hopeful. With my creative hat on, my advice to myself is to stay light, and interested in everything that happens, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as a source of information;  to encourage myself to try things out and to forgive ‘mistakes’;  to make time for creative play as well as for work;  to use alternative ways of knowing (e.g. art, poetry, embodied knowing) and to suspend my usually quick judgment of results: new things, being new, are not easily recognised, and being raw rather than slick, are easy to miss and misjudge. Most of all my advice to myself is to be receptive, collaborative and to say yes.

So, when my supervisor, demonstrating what a great coach she is, picked up on my enthusiasm for writing and creativity, suggested that I generate some creative content about this edgy time, I got interested. Interested in my own experience; interested in a moment of my life that, in fact, merits attention and scrutiny over head-in-sand blocking of unnamed, unacknowledged hopes and fears.

And so a new creative content is born – its parents a conversation and an edgy time. Let’s see what happens next……