The artist is a receptacle for emotions…

Pablo Picasso quote

In September I was afforded three particular experiences that have made their mark in me.

I went to Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia. Georgia is a little country that has spent the history of its existence being surrounded by much larger empires that took pleasure in invading Georgia and making it their own.

The majority of Tbilisi’s streets are cobblestone. You can still see the remains of the Medieval city walls, below the level of its current streets. Hot health-giving mineral water bubbles up through the city. Persian carpets are still sold on the same street, called “carpet street”, that the caravans of the Silk Route sold their wares from.

I had the pleasure of helping to facilitate over 60 people engaged in thinking together about the use of art to oppose tyranny. Naturally enough this topic attracted mainly two types of people, often they were both at the same time: artists, and people committed to the freedom of the individual and the rights to personal choice and self-expression.

Tbilisi group
Among other things, we were exploring how people’s choices and actions are often, if not always, motivated by how they feel about something – which feelings, in themselves, are motivated by the assumptions people are making at any given moment.

We were exploring how artists help to translate, and articulate our human emotional world. How artists enable us to be moved, shaken, spoken to in a language other than reason’s.

Without it being explicitly contracted for, I was honoured to observe so much of a thinking environment being co-created by the participants: a space of deep respect for each other’s very diverse perspectives, and a genuine interest in hearing the thoughts of others as well as proffering ones own.

As I assisted, from the background, the groups to articulate ideas using art-forms to influence behaviour such as activism and voting, I saw how human minds connect and separate according to our capacity to stay interested rather than become threatened by ideas different to our own.

I observed, I think, that connected is what we are, and that separation is something we make happen. That collaboration is what we long for and isolation is what we retreat into when we don’t understand, and cannot accept that we do not.

Upon my return I finished reading M Train by Patti Smith. This is the second book I’ve read by this author.

Picasso said:
The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.

Smith’s perpetual observation of life is expressed through an immaculate, reverential and yet mischievous grasp of words. Her absorption of what is happening, without resistance, left me enveloped in what life might actually feel like if I was always present to the connection, and never ejected by a sudden urge to make what is happening wrong.

My being moved by both these experiences raised a dilemma for me. Smith is a consummate artist. Her articulation of every passing shape evokes such a sense of intense communion with life for me that I longed for the experience of being in her world long after the book had ended.

And yet, the idea of personal freedom of choice and self-expression, if approached rationally, suggests the very opposite of communion, and perhaps can result in our focusing almost solely on what divides us and where we differ than it does on where we meet.

My third experience was the two days of the Foundation Course I had the pleasure of teaching in Cape Town last week. From our opening round this group of 10 diverse and previously unknown to each other people fell headlong into a profound experience of trust and connection that enabled deep vulnerability and the kind of authenticity that lights the fires in every soul in the room. We constantly asked each other: “how can this be possible?” So deep, so connected, so soon, so easily?

So I am entering October with a sense of optimism and feeling blessed. We are living in a world gone mad. But I am encouraged by what I have seen, and I am grateful for the caretaking habits for humanity that I have had the opportunity to be part of.

Practicing Thinking for Myself

Being a Thinking Partner

I’ve often said to people with whom I have regular thinking partnerships that it’s important to me they know they can think about the same topic over and over again.

For a start, being a thinking partner is an agreement to listen, with genuine interest and without interruption or judgement to the thinker’s content, whatever it is. If it is content you have “heard before” (there’s an obvious impossibility of it being an “again” thing, if you actually think about that), so what?

There are reasons why this matters to me. It’s essential for independent thinking to occur, I believe, for the thinker to release any requirement to impress or entertain the listener. If we all knew this to be true, we would never be concerned about thinking about “this” again.

But more than this, I have come to think that there are certain topics / issues that we each have that may be on our list of “what I would like to think about” forever and a day.

These topics likely make up parts of our identity. They likely come as soundtracks to our lives. They may very likely be linked to wounds.

If we are growing and developing ourselves, the presence of these unresolved and repetitive issues can start to create a disturbance. The narratives shift from being sound when viewed from the requirement of surviving a particular (possibly painful) experience, to being threatening to our ability to thrive. And, as Arnold Mindell recognised in his seminal work on “edges”, on the other side of the disturbance is a longing for a new narrative: a life with a different soundtrack.

And so there may be things we need to keep facing. And each time we think about the same issue, we engage with a different facet of the topic. We unearth yet another untrue limiting assumption lived as true. We root it out, we replace it with a more liberating assumption and we leave the thinking session with new work to do, which, if we do it propels us in the direction calling to us, attracting us, pulling us over the edge.

I’ve noticed it can be hard for my thinking partners, to give themselves this permission to face “that old chestnut” once again. I struggle with that myself. We live in a world motivated by results and the resolution of things. We are encouraged, perpetually, to be growing, achieving more, to (get a) move on. But getting to the other side of something can be a messy process, a winding road, and it may be many times we have to face something before we can fully dissolve it’s hard-wiring.

And, I’ve been wondering, maybe there are some issues where that may never happen, fully and completely?

So I’ve been asking myself the question: what does it take to keep facing those issues that we feel we may never get to the bottom of?

It seems to me that the journey in answer to this question may have a perennial travelling companion, called shame. If the topic is something you carry shame about, that puts you into an internal conflict.

Learning to move towards that which we feel ashamed about, to lean in to it, to sit down next to it and befriend it has got to be, in my book, a very high order of courage.

Shame has driven me to behave in ways that reinforce the pattern, and cause me to want to do the opposite of facing: to want to hide.

In the last few weeks I’ve had an abundance of thinking sessions, 2, sometimes 3 a week. It never ceases to amaze me how, when I have the courage to go at it “again”, a thinking session can provide me with access to a real shift, an outright liberation, slap bang in the middle of one of those forever issues.

Thinking partners won’t comment. They won’t judge. They won’t interrupt or interfere. In fact, through the combined and symbiotic nature of the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, they will want, more than anything, for you to go to the cutting edge of even the most unpopular and unattractive (to you) aspects of your thinking, if that’s what it takes.

What they will do, however, is to witness.

Lately I’ve come to think that this might be one of the most profound, glorious and moving acts of service we have to offer each other. Witnessing requires the astonishing paradox of connected detachment: where I am receiving all of who you are with pure and unadulterated attention, moving alongside you with every move you make, and, at the same time, I have absolutely no attachment to your outcome. I am free to trust your intelligence. I trust you. You trust me.
This seems to me to be a living expression of what I think might be at the heart of peace, and of being at peace in this world: having no need to approve of you or be approved of by you.

And, that what we have chosen to do with this opportunity of equality and connection, instead, is to promise to listen without interruption and to promise to think for ourselves.

And maybe that serves to provide you, or me, when I am the thinker, with the courage needed to go to that edge and cross over, into a new narrative, accepting the past – without exception, and generating new ideas, trajectories, journeys and adventures for the future.

Going back to my roots….

Golden Rule abides - treat others as you would like to be treated.

In the second half of July I went to England.

The ostensible reason for the trip was to reunite with people who I worked with 30 years ago.

We worked for an organisation that changed name three times in the 4+ years I worked there.

It went from Werner Erhardt & Associates, to Centres Network, to Landmark Education.

Spawned by Werner Erhardt’s iconic Est Training, from early 70’s California – Landmark Education has gone on to become an international educational organisation specialising in personal transformational programmes based on the primordial soup of several phenomenal concepts/theories, from Existentialism, to Buddhism, to Heidegger’s “house of being” that is language. (And so much more………)

Amongst a plethora of delicious servings, a symphony of connection all night long, one stanza stands out for me from the night. Jeremy took the mic and told the story of how he and his wife (now of 30 years) hit rock bottom on a journey back to London, and decided to come and talk to me, at our offices in Macklin Street, off Drury Lane. They told me what was wrong between them, and whatever I did/said/did not say, something shifted that had them turn up 30 years later, still married, wanting to tell the tale.

My participation in these programmes was life-altering indeed, for me, and I know it has been so for many.

Off the back of what I learned there, I worked in many different environments, from corporate teams, to NGO’s to public workshops for interested individuals, to educational establishments, to churches. I worked with communication, with justice, with conflict resolution, with self-expression, with breaking through, with having compassion, with truth-telling, responsibility-taking, with taking a stand, with living out loud.

What I learned there, and the relationship foundations I laid there, are still the bedrock of my life.

Such is the nature of a truly good reunion…….a proper remembering.

The first hour, 90 minutes, two hours, were overwhelming. I kept trying to take it in, people who I hadn’t seen for 30 years, who looked just the same as they always had done, who were themselves, in an environment that supported being human as a way of being in the world.

I finally found my feet and my voice. I managed to take the mic and say a few things. And what I most remember saying is that the work I do now is about how we treat each other, how to treat each other, how to treat each other as human beings, how to treat each other kindly, with respect, with awe, with love, with genuine interest. And it is about noticing how, when we treat each other in this way, people show up, they self-express, they be who they are.

And when people be who they are……… they are, for the most part, so damn yummy! Honestly!

I know not everyone out there wants to believe me – but people really are………yummy.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a Polly-Anna at all, despite the fact that I am deeply optimistic! There is so much in life that is profoundly scary, deeply worrying, astronomically overwhelming, jeez – just plain, way out there, downright nuts!!!

This is where the Component of Information becomes so essential. And – honestly, folks! – we are not coping with how essential it is and how little of it we are operating with………… Talk about needing to face what needs facing about what we are not facing! Information is no namby-pamby Component – not at all!

But we are also exposed to viewpoints – seemingly backed up by research – therefore: information – that tells us that never before in the history of human-kind have we been so well off! Never before has there been less war, or less people dying of starvation.

I know! I’m also struggling with whether that’s true – but that’s the nature of the Component of Information – what IS fact?

Polarities, these days, seem to be something that we need to get good at navigating.

Because I think that “never before better off” narrative probably does have some facts to back it up. Nevertheless, the overpowering gap between the haves and the have-nots, world-wide, is mind-boggling, mind-blowing, mind-nullifying.

My beautiful, anxiety-prone husband has taken to sounding like a 12 Steps Meeting lately.

His anti-dote is “one day at a time”. Live it with grace, with precision, with an appreciation for how precious it is.

The Golden Rule abides, in the spirit of Ubuntu – treat others as you would like to be treated: go back to your roots.

To give up the illusion of a happy childhood, can restore one’s vitality and creativity

I have an early childhood memory that is providing me with insight for this month’s newsletter.  I grew up in the city of Kampala, which, in those days, was still a small town.  One of our favourite family outings was to the cinema – I think there was only one!

On the occasion of this memory we went – all five of us – to see a comedy called It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, starring Spencer Tracey, Micky Rooney, Buddy Hackett and the Three Stooges amongst others.  The film was nominated for 6 academy awards in 1963, and allowing for the length of time it took to get to the cinema in Kampala, it may well have been 1964. That means I was three years old.

“On a winding desert highway, eight vacation-bound motorists share an experience that alters their plans and their lives! After a mysterious stranger divulges the location of a stolen fortune, they each speed off in a mind-bending, car-bashing race for the loot and the most side-splitting laughfest in history.”

My memory is this: at some point in the movie, one person, who has had an inordinate number of set backs, and is wielding a bicycle rendered useless through all the mishaps that have befallen it and its rider, is trying to hitch a ride from passing motorists.  Two other characters stop to offer him a lift, but keep sending him back to do one more thing before they allow him in the car.

Eventually he has fulfilled all the requirements and is about to get in the car when they drive off without him.  Slapstick at its best!  The whole cinema packed up laughing apart from little me. I started crying. And I was so inconsolable about how mean the men had been to the hapless cyclist, that my Dad and I had to leave the cinema whilst Mum and my brother and sister finished watching.  Dad and I walked up and down Kampala’s high street looking in shop windows, me gulping down big sobs, and trying to stop worrying about the poor man who was stuck in the desert with no lift.

Much of my coaching work at the moment is to support people in staying intelligent and sane in a world gone mad.

Why am I remembering this now?  I’m not distraught about it now, like I was at 3 years of age, but there is still a part of me that wonders why we, human beings, can end up making life so difficult for one another.

In particular I am amazed that there are people who have had the intelligence and determination to rise to senior positions in organisations who then create a climate for their staff that renders it nigh on impossible for those people to progress towards results for which the leaders have asked, or more likely, demanded from them.

I am working with people whose energy is primarily gobbled up by summoning strategies to survive the human environment in which they are working.  And I am surrounded by good people who all know how ineffective, inefficient and costly (in both emotional and monetary terms) it is to expect productivity, innovation and initiative from people buried behind the defence mechanisms they have spent a lifetime perfecting to protect themselves from the petrifying freeze of their anxiety.  These self-same good people, however, continue to behave towards each other in ways that perpetuate conditions in which human brains cannot respond intelligently.

I walk away from interactions spellbound by the ability of one adult to turn another one into a trembling child, grown people wrought silly by fear of disapproval from another.

Alice Miller, the controversial Swiss psychoanalyst said:
“we can never do the right thing as long as we are out to please someone else.”  

She was a voracious advocate for the rights of children to be treated with dignity and respect as fully- fledged humans from the get go. She risked her own reputation and her membership of the prestigious International Psychoanalytic Association rather than be assumed to concur with many psychoanalysts, Freud included, who fudged the issue of sanctioned child abuse in parenting practices in the Europe of her day.

She held the view that the only way out of the cycle of abuse created by punitive, verbally and physically abusive parents was for each of us to strip away the illusion of “happy childhoods”, which we manufacture in order to excuse our parents, whose love and approval we cling to the hope of.

“This ability to mourn, i.e, to give up the illusion of a happy childhood, can restore vitality and creativity if a person is able to experience that he was never loved as a child for what he was, but for his achievements, success and good qualities. And that he sacrificed his childhood for this love, this will shake him very deeply.”

As I listen to so many clients struggle through their thinking around how to manage workplace relationships that are toxic with unmet needs and unfulfilled expectations, I try to be the “empathic witness” Miller wrote about.  Sue Cowan-Jenssen wrote in her obituary for Miller in the Guardian Newspaper that Miller believed that:

“Long-term suffering could be avoided only if the child had an adult in his or her life who could acknowledge the reality of their experience. She called these adults “empathic witnesses” and this acknowledgment, she said, not interpretation, should be the role of psychotherapists (here, I read “thinking partners”) with their clients.”

It is this very issue of interpretation that I am so struck by in the dysfunctional relating that is the source of so much workplace suffering.  It seems to me that we need to learn, or re-discover, our ability to be present to and interested in one another’s experience, and be able to authentically share our own, rather than continuously descending into assessment of one another that leads to rigid interpretations of and behaviour towards each other that reactivates the childhood wounding of needing to conform and perform in order to be approved of.

To “decide” something has such enormous power

I’ve been working with deciding. To “decide” something has such enormous power. It has the same root as other words that denote killing something off – when we decide we kill off the other possibility, the other choice.

The funny thing, I’m finding, is the process leading up to the decision. The countless times I’ve told myself it’s been decided, when in fact, it hasn’t. And I know that it hasn’t because suddenly I’m contemplating the other possibility again, I’m changing my mind.

Now, that’s one of the really nice things about minds – they can be changed, and they ought to be, often – because we are often wrong (more often than we like to admit). When we are pushed into a corner about something we’ve been wrong about, and admitting it is about all that’s left to do, then being able to change your mind is a very handy thing. But not when it comes to a decision!

If to decide means to kill off the other choice, then if you are suddenly changing your mind, does that mean the decision wasn’t made in the first place?

This line of inquiry bumps right up against two other important issues: changing habitual behaviour, and living into the new world you create for yourself with an incisive question.

As I’ve been ruminating about decisions, I’ve also been pondering habits. And it seems to me that something sneaky is going on in the human psyche. I seem to have a slippery slope in my mind that delivers me smoothly into well-worn bad habits without my noticing it………..something akin to addictions – like wheat, and sugar, and Netflix. There seems to be little effort involved in deciding to become compulsive about a Netflix series, to the detriment of many other things I may have thought I had decided to prioritise. In fact, it’s almost as though I didn’t have to decide anything at all. But to decide to go walking every day, come rain or shine, requires an entirely other level of will power, effort and intention.

We know now, through the leaping breakthroughs of the field of neuroscience, about the laying down of neural pathways, the brain’s ongoing elasticity, the amount of repetitions it takes for something to become a habit and the seeming all persuasive lure of dopamine. And since neuroscience is science there are facts and proof involved. And yet, and yet……………..

After 25 years of being a non-smoker I had a cigarette again. And then I had another and another. Can you believe it? Madness. Literally. I’m glad to say now, that I’ve decided to stop. But I have a renewed level of sensitivity to the issue of decisions now: 25 years of stopping before ticked all the neuroscience boxes, and yet…….in the flick of a Clipper lighter that neural pathway went up in a puff of smoke!

It’s complex isn’t it…….we know we are not our bodies, which house our brains, along with all the other organs. We have bodies, but we are psyche’s – we are souls.

We have the capacity to be consciously aware of our consciousness.

I’m wondering if the world we’ve co-created, through activity or passivity, is soul-eroding to the extent that understanding and applying the rules of neuroscience, or, indeed Malcolm Gladwell, is simply not enough.

Some topics for thinking sessions emerge again and again, driven, I feel, by assumptions – which could be called decisions in a true sense of the word – that have become so deeply buried in the psyche as to appear as fact, as truth.

Sometimes to be willing to face these untrue assumptions, lived as true, and to dismiss them, is an act of faith. They feel true, and so to unravel them we have to take a stand: that existential act of courage. And then sometimes we can really meet their untruthfulness in the deepest part of our being, and then it is not so much as we decide, but that the possibility of a decision emerges, and then we get to choose it.

The impermanent nature of things…

One of the cornerstones of the Buddha’s teaching is that nothing is permanent, everything is subject, moment by moment, to change.

This idea makes innate sense to us all, for we see it in front of our very eyes. Right now, in the Southern Hemisphere, the oak trees are losing their leaves, just as in Europe the oak trees are pushing out buds.

What I find so very hard to grasp is that even though everything is changing, minute by minute, and that it is only clinging to things, and wanting to keep them as they are that produces suffering, so much of life manages, when I wake up into each new day, to look EXACTLY THE SAME as it did yesterday!!

Maybe as a way of surviving the swirling, unpredictable chaos of reality, we have perfected the art of making things seem permanent, from the flaws in our own bodies when we examine them in the mirror, to the repetitive thought patterns and problems we experience in that “here we go again” kind of way.

Despite knowing, in truth, that everything passes, and is passing, all the time, we manage to get things to stick in place in ways that can leave us feeling very much stuck!

This is why I love the Afrika Burn festival: because it provides a ritualised and conscious way of participating in impermanence. From the blank and arid canvas of the Tankwa Karoo springs up a small “town” called Tankwa Town. It takes some few weeks to build, and to dismantle: one of its core principles is to leave no trace. For a week each year Tankwa Town bursts into a festival of art, music, dressing up, fantasy and play. Imagination runs riot.

I have the privilege of living closely with one of the men who build the main sculpture. Modelled on Black Rock Nevada’s Burning Man, the San Clan sculpture, like Tankwa Town itself, appears from the desert floor to be marvelled at for a short while, and then to be burned back into the dust.

Knowing the blood, sweat and tears (literally) that it takes to bring “the San Clan” to ‘life’, every year I marvel at the joy and liberation experienced by the team in the aftermath of burning their masterpiece.

The energy that is released, both in the fire itself, and in the hearts and minds of the onlookers, has a certain ecstasy to it that reminds me of Rumi’s writing:

“In order to give light, one must first burn……….Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”

I spent three hours in the Medic Tent at Afrika Burn this year, struggling to breathe, and to contain a heart beating very much faster than normal. Thanks to the doctor and nurses who cared for me, I came right. I don’t think it was as life threatening as it may have felt at the time, but coming up against the physical limitations of the body I inhabit gave me pause. What am I assuming that causes me to stay stuck: when the very fabric of life is impermanence?

In the aftermath of the medical intervention, I feel the flirtation of letting go, more…….and then some more. To a Bull, born in the year of the Ox, unyoking myself feels almost irresponsible, almost reckless.

And this is interesting, don’t you think? That the words we have that fit the flames are vacillating and volatile, whimsical, whirling and wild – that the whole language of impermanence produces frisson, makes one giddy at the thought.

We like to know. We like to be right. We like our comfort zones, that’s why we call them comfortable: for when we are in them life is predictable and we are less afraid of being caught out, in the headlight of not knowing.

But our comfort zones are not truthful. What we know, deep down underneath the soothing illusion of having it all together, is that everything is slipping away, all the time.

I’ve been noticing that when I apply this understanding to being in conversation with others, something magical happens. Like the mythical Pheonix arising from the ashes, when human beings allow themselves to be pulled towards connection, letting go of needing to be right, burning down the need to already have the answer, the possibility that exists just beyond the tried and tested, emerges from the ashes. It belongs to no-one and to everyone, at once.

It’s hard to put into words. But it is tantalising. And, at the risk of wanting to capture and hold on to it, I share this out into the listening that receives it, and wonder what might be birthed by each fierce intelligence that reads these words and ponders them with me.

Stories told and untold..

I’ve been thinking about how when we meet and greet each other, we have no idea of each other’s untold stories. The answer to “how are you?” is hardly ever the whole truth – how can it be?

I have been noticing moments when I am present to someone and I can sense the untold story, hear its distant tremor in the heart of the person I am with, and I become aware of it not being released into words.

The context, of course, is everything. If the person enquiring is a dear friend, opening up time together over coffee for two, then perhaps some more of the story comes out.

I have taken to imagining the untold stories, and their longing to be heard.

Being available for the story that wants to come out is something I have all the time in the world for. That is, if only the world would give me all the time needed to listen for as long as the story deserves.

I love the knowledge that attention, mine, yours, has the power to release the other’s story. In my life, I consider it one of the greatest discoveries: an extraordinary gift.

Time and again, however, I think we find ourselves listening to the answers people reveal that are being shaped by our having no time for the real story to emerge.

How, in the course of our daily lives, can we have the time to hear that only last Thursday you helped your one and only sibling, your younger sister, check her husband of the last 56 years into a hospice so as to be able to allow yourself and herself to cope with his stage 4 colon cancer?

When do we have the time to find the courage to speak the words that share that we are feeling lost in a liminal space, our familiar shore a distant smudge, unable yet to see the new land on our horizons?

And when we do speak, when we do have the time and the listening ear that can help us to generate the words of our story, what words do we choose so that we are not locking ourselves into untrue assumptions, lived as true?

How do we language our lives so that we do not keep ourselves glued to a story that will disempower and keep us stuck?

We are bombarded, every day, with perceptions languaged as fact. Perceptions languaged as fact that get repeated and repeated until all around us people are relating to them as the truth.

Language is the house of the truth of Being – Martin Heidegger

It is an extraordinary gift, and responsibility, that we humans have to be able to speak our world into being. We can choose the words we use to give life to our experiences so that our stories allow us to live our lives fully. But this is a huge undertaking.

The decision about hospice can be a choosing of love and compassion, or one of failure and guilt.

The liminal land can be a time of pioneering courage, a new chapter with trade winds at our back – or it can be labelled as rudderless meandering with no purpose in sight.

And I’m thinking that the flip side to this power we have to language our experience into being wild and precious, is the power we have to listen to each other’s stories, both told and untold, in such a way that we serve the storyteller’s imagination.

We can partner each other to be free.

A lesson in letting go of being in control

I am writing from snowy Europe. I am hoping the weather will not delay my flights today and that I can return to warm and sunny Cape Town.

This reflection on the weather as my starting point for March’s newsletter is filled with irony. I want it to stop snowing in Europe so that my flight schedule is not disrupted. I want it to start raining in Cape Town so that we can get relief from the drought.

And is my wanting going to make any difference to the weather? Unlikely!

We are so deeply desirous of control, and that we have so little of it.

I’ve recently had two stark examples of this human conundrum: I’ve been in Europe working with 24 people from all the contours of the map: from South America to the Philippines and many countries in between. The topic was Facilitation.

This was a courageous group of learners, who spent much of their time with us stepping out of their comfort zones and into the challenge of being present in front of the room.

Prior to their final assignment, I was struck by the trajectory of their questions: many of them boiled down to this:

How can I control the outcome of what happens when I facilitate a group?

And how can I make sure that I get it right?

And we know, don’t we, that the answer to that is: you can’t.

Life is what happens to you whilst you are busy making plans! There is a delicious paradox embedded in this puzzle.

Because the answer is not to not make any plans. Nor is it to abandon preparation. In fact, we worked in some depth around preparation.

Preparation and plans, being organised and thinking ahead:
all of these activities create a sense of stability, a platform, a foundation – from which to move into the unpredictable nature of each moment of NOW!

I think of the moment when birds take flight and trust to the air currents. I think of the sailors for whom the earth was still flat, who nonetheless set sail for the edge of the world.

I think of the fathomless depth to which our courage must plumb in order to step into each moment of this wild and chaotic experience we call life.

I think of the Thinking Environment components of Encouragement and Ease – the human wings that can support us as we face the unknown arising of our futures coming to meet us in each moment.

I don’t have a single answer: but I do know that control has little to do with it.

My second experience, an ongoing one, is supporting someone I love who is gripped in the despair of depression. As I listen and listen I have to sit with the helpless knowing that in the end only she can find it in herself to make a different choice: the decision to be happier.

How to stay open and loving and compassionate in the face of someone’s seeming to have forgotten how to make that choice. Are they able? Are they willing?

And to have no control over the answer to that, when I want it as badly as I want rain to fall in Cape Town: well that’s a lesson in letting go of being in control.

And what ignites hope in me time and again, as I have often said in my newsletters, is my unswerving faith in the human spirit.

Watching the Facilitators in our seminar step up to being at the front of the room, embodying their own unique presence, was inspiring.

It showed me, again, as I have been shown so many times, that the courage to own who you are and inhabit yourself as fully as possible is a form of personal authority that supplants control, and allows each of us to take to our own inimitable flight path through life.

Carpe Annum!

Hello dear Brave Hearts,

For the first time since I started my newsletters I did not write in January! Did you miss me?

Instead I went on holiday in this wild, extraordinary land. From the Eastern Cape, to South Coast KZN, the borders of Lesotho and the whacky, delightful town of Nieu Bethesda – and then back home.  A proper South African Road Trip! I even lost track of where I put my cell phone!

I feel very lucky and blessed.

I read five books! And one of them I am still digesting, little by little. Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez. It is one of those books that I can rightly describe as mind blowing, at least for my mind!

He dismantles one of my holy cows right from the start, by asserting that as a result of the lottery of birth, and the DNA of the brain we are born with, and the interaction between that brain and the environment our lottery ticket places us in, we are actually not free!

From there he goes on to expose the fabrication of democracy in the capitalist world. Fascinating research – mind blowing stuff!

I find questioning where I am dogmatic a challenging and rewarding process.

Nancy Kline, in her 2018 trip to South Africa, is also inviting those of us who teach, deliver and practice the Thinking Environment to examine, explore and penetrate anywhere where we are dogmatic about it, or anything else in our lives. I began by realising I was fairly dogmatic about my not being a dogmatic person!!

Lining up with the above-mentioned exploration is the other experience-awareness the start of 2018 has been bringing me – the inquiry into “good enough”. This might well have been a topic in previous newsletters, but I don’t think I’m going to repeat myself necessarily. I realised fairly early on in my parenting journey that I was going to have to adopt the “good enough mother” stance for my own sake as well as for the sakes of my children and their father!

But I’ve become aware since the start of this year, that I need to extend this to my whole life. I can become insidiously self-critical, harsh and unappreciative towards myself in subtle, subterranean ways. I can sum up this dynamic under the heading “self-improvement”.

In 2018, I said to myself, as the pressure for a new year resolution loomed, I want to stop striving so hard to fix myself.

I want to let myself be.

And yet, lurking underneath this resolution was a sneaky hard time I was giving myself for striving so hard to give up striving to fix myself and feeling like I was failing in letting go!

So, I’ve amended the resolution: to being good enough at letting go of striving to be good enough, and being compassionate towards the falling short along the way!

Parallel to all of this, I also want to say how much I resonated with one of the poetry pieces Nancy began the Collegiate Day with. It was an excerpt from one of Mary Oliver’s poems, “The Old Poets of China”:

Wherever I am, the world comes after me. It offers me its busyness.
It does not believe that I do not want it.

Now I understand why the old poets of China went so far and high into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Mary Oliver, “The Old Poets of China”

I suspect much of the “self improvement” I condemn myself to is in response to this drift towards being taken up by the busyness the world offers me, and finding myself lacking when it comes to keeping up.

So as part of my resolution to be with being good enough, I am also looking forward to turning down the seduction of the approval that busyness gains.

And finally, I want to end by sharing that for the time being all I can see myself wanting to do for a living is to teach and share the Thinking Environment.

If you would like to take a next step in your own journey with the Thinking Environment, or have people in your life you would like to recommend it to, please see at the end of this newsletter my dates as scheduled so far for 2018. Carpe Annum!

A festive message…

Like the dragonfly that needs courage to leave the familiar waters to get their wings, we recognise your courage in life.

We want to thank you for all the times and places where you have shown courage during 2017…

Where you’ve had the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and bold. The courage to show up when unsure.

You’ve had the courage to say yes, the courage to say no. The courage to keep going and the courage to know when to stop.

The courage to connect, to be grateful. The courage to imagine the future and act in accordance with dreams and vision.

The courage to tell the truth. The courage to apologise, the courage to forgive.

In 2018, I look forward to supporting you in any way I can with
your courageous next steps.

Here’s hoping you have a lovely time with family and friends
over the festive season!

Please note that our office will be closed
from 20th December 2017 – 17th January 2018.

I’ll be back in the new year and look forward to supporting you through your courageous journey in 2018!