What does integrity mean?


It strikes me as interesting how “integrity” is such a loaded word in the English language. I wonder how it is in other mother tongues?

Nevertheless, it’s on my mind.

For me, integrity has several synonyms:
wholeness, alignment, everything-included-nothing-left-out.

In my book, what it does not mean is moralism, which is one of the associations it has been given over time that I think may have something to do with how loaded it can sometimes be for people.

It’s what I want to write about for the end of the year.

I imagine the reason for this topic could be the “finish line fragmentation” syndrome. (I just made that up!)

You glimpse the light (holiday, rest, down-time, down-tools, aka stop “doing”) and the second your body, soul, mind catches the glimpse of that “light” it wants to pack up………….immediately!

The fact that I have more than glimpsed, I have smelled, I have inhaled that light at the end of the tunnel, means, that I am now battling the urge to stop moving at all NOW!

However, my calendar does not align with me. It does not agree that the end of the tunnel is nigh……in fact it tells me that I have another 3 weeks of committed endeavour in front of me before I can don shorts, push back in my Bushwhacker reclining chair and BE on holiday.

Wham, bam! I am out of integrity, in that what I think I want and what I actually have are not aligned. Contrary to certain religious beliefs, this is not necessarily a “moral shortcoming” issue at all. The reality is I, and my life, are not lined up. Of course, it might be argued that the achievement of this is likely a full-time occupation in itself. Maybe it is true that we are never completely in integrity.

But there is no doubt that our experience of our integrity fluctuates, and that sometimes there is a sweet spot close to complete alignment, that makes us long to get back there when we move too far out of line with ourselves.

One of the comments I frequently encounter as a Thinking Environment teacher, and ardent though flawed practitioner (another integrity issue!) is how “humanising” people find the Thinking Environment. That the Thinking Environment is an environment for human beings, and as such when people experience being in one, that in itself brings with it an experience of integrity.

Little wonder then, that living, as we do, in a world that is predominantly organised around the opposite of the Ten Components, we find ourselves experiencing much of life around us as being in conflict with the way we long to live. For example, we experience interruption & distraction more frequently than attention, power differentials of epic proportions, dis-ease, rush and urgency, the proliferation of criticism and mud-slinging, the marginalisation of feelings, crippling levels of fear-based competition, the withholding of information, and the pandemic of false news.

Add to all that, the inference that to be like those that hold power (rather than to fully be ourselves) could benefit us with whatever crumbs might fall from that table, the living of unchallenged limiting assumptions as facts and all this in environments which are polluting, deforesting and sucking dry our home, planet Earth, and it is understandable that by the time we get to the looming finish line when we can take a “break” from that relentless version of life, we might find ourselves staggering towards said line and crashing into a heap.

Many of us do feel that way. Lest I depress you further with this trajectory though, what I am feeling very inspired by is the idea that this year, the time off we may have, however much of it we have, could be used not just to restore sanity, and get some sleep, but could be used to reflect on just one or two things that could bring more alignment and integrity back into life in a sustainable way not just at the start of 2018 but all the way through.

Suspiciously like new year’s resolutions as that may sound, there’s something for me about using the “down time” to reflect and come up with a richer integrity plan for myself for next year that leaves me feeling anticipatory and maybe even slightly giddy.

Could integrity be a “north star” principle.  Might I be able to remember to use that as a compass for decision making in 2018?

Will saying yes, or no to “this” whatever it might be, leave me feeling more whole, more complete, more aligned with myself, or less so? I like this idea. I’m running with it.  Care to join me?

May your holiday season be filled with moments of deep listening and being listened to deeply.

May it be filled with ease. And may you enter 2018 more closely in touch with yourself and may that be a guiding experience as you journey into the forthcoming new year.

Time to think…

A conversation...

My husband Michael recently watched a documentary about a flock of starlings in a disused farm barn whose call sounded identical to the sound of a two-stroke tractor engine. After some investigation, the filmmakers discovered a two-stroke tractor buried on the farm… It hadn’t been operational for 30 years.

The starlings had been passing this two-stroke engine sound down for generations. It had become part of this particular flock of starling’s conversational nature of reality.

This idea of life as a conversation (which David Whyte speaks of in his TED talk: Life At The Frontier: The Conversational Nature of Reality, TEDex Puget Sound) is something I’ve been playing with for 30 years.

Conversations are, by nature, dynamic. But, like the starlings, over time patterns can enter into the life of the conversations we are about ourselves and life, and appear to take on the form of the “way that it is”.

Whenever we are with each other, I like to think of these patterns as a hidden conversation, invisible even to ourselves.

A lot of what is able to emerge in the conversation of each person is shaped by this hidden history, which, when we are listening to each other, we can never know.

We are always in conversation with each other. Each human being is a conversation, made up of the assumptions, experiences, beliefs, history and values they’ve been given by generations of parents, grandparents, and their culture.

There are also the facts of one’s birth, the racial inheritance you have, the genetic inheritance, the gender inheritance, and all those big societal conversations that shape who we are – all manifesting themselves through us.

Isn’t it fascinating that we wake up on a daily basis and reproduce the “facts” of our lives from the day before. We live through it all over again – often fearful about the assumptions we have taken on, and operating from the kind of thinking that that produces. We carry these conversations with us.

Often when people come together as a set of conversations, we find ourselves operating from a fixed set of conversations having an interaction with another fixed set of conversations. The resulting experience is one of people being like television sets switched on to different channels… We call fact all it is, is people broadcasting at each other.

Most of us like and connect with people broadcasting on a similar enough channel to us, because we find confluence where they are. The people we don’t get on with are the people whose channels are completely different to ours. And here, we get stuck.

Getting unstuck is a choice we need to make: to be able to suspend our attachment to the conversations that already make up who we are, and be able to be open to the conversations that make up that other person.

Levity is a way into and through this aspect of fixation in which we get stuck. Levity means laughter, but also lightness, levitation, the ability to defy gravity. When we notice the conversations that make us up, and choose to take them lightly, the dynamic nature of “life at the frontier” can emerge. This is the gift we can give each other.

Another way to get unstuck is through Ease. If every single human being on the planet were able to access ease, even for just a percentage of the day, what an impact that would have.

In the presence of Ease we are able to access whole brain thinking and the brain, as far as we are finding out now, has the capacity to generate and re-generate. It’s not fixed, and the nature of reality is not fixed either.

Thinking, feeling and being are all interconnected; that is the nature of everything. We’re all molecules of energy coalescing, bouncing off, rubbing against and influencing each other.

So this conversational nature of reality has the potential to be completely dynamic and – one could even go so far as to say magical, if one defined magic as ‘the unexpected and sudden birth of ideas’.

Life is cyclical; things are forming, transforming and disappearing all the time. There is no such thing as the way that it is. There is no such thing as the way life is, I am, this is the way that it is.

Transformation occurs in a moment. The German philosopher Heidegger said: “language is the house of being”. As soon as something goes into the eco-systemic conversation making up each individual, and organisation, or society, and changes the way we language ourselves into being, it changes the conversation in that eco-system.

A whole conversation can shift in an instant, and the minute it does a whole world of conversation opens up that we previously could not have.

This is what happens when we generate Incisive Questions for ourselves and others. Incisive Questions challenge the nature of reality.

We get stuck with stories that can, in actual fact, change at any moment. The difference between us and other creatures is that we can choose.

We can make a conscious choice to change the nature of our reality, and we do that through the conversation we choose to be.

Some things are very hard to change. Sometimes we may legitimately choose not to change certain things. It’s valid as a choice, but not as a truth – not as: “this is the way that life is.”

When we choose ‘this is the way that I am, this is the way that life is’, we might be choosing to trap ourselves into a conversation that we say we have no choice about. We do that on an individual level, family level, societal, national and global level.

And yet what really inspires us is when somebody makes a different choice. When we hear a story about someone whose destiny it was, for example, to be trapped in a cycle of poverty and abuse, and they changed that conversation to include the “what if” nature of possibility, then we stand amazed at the potential of the human spirit.

On connection…


One of the things I teach is how connection is the starting point for the creation of a human environment, one to the other, and one to oneself, that enables each person to be at their intelligent and creative best.

This is the kind of idea that can roll off the tongue. And when they hear it people will nod, as though this is something they already know. And of course, it is something we already know. We know it in the same way we know it is wise to brush our teeth at least twice a day.

If you would care to stop and think with me about this a while though, I think we could discover something new and extraordinary, as I have been doing during my recent trip to Brazil.

I’m not completely enthusiastic about the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, above, but let’s start there. I prefer linked to associated. After all, we can be associated, by default, to many things to which we don’t actually feel a particular sense of connection. Association can be loose and tenuous. “Linked” gets a bit closer to it for me. To be linked to something implies something more definite, even more permanent. Certainly less easy to simply break free of.

In her paper (The Field), Lynne McTaggart says:

At the very frontier of science new ideas are emerging that challenge everything we believe about how our world works and how we define ourselves. Discoveries are being made that prove what religion has always espoused: that human beings are far more extraordinary than an assemblage of flesh and bones………..

For a number of decades respected scientists in a variety of disciplines all over the world have been carrying out well-designed experiments whose results fly in the face of current biology and physics. Together, these studies offer us copious information about the central organizing force governing our bodies and the rest of the cosmos. What they have discovered is nothing less than astonishing. At our most elemental, we are not a chemical reaction, but an energetic charge. Human beings and all living things are a coalescence of energy in a field of energy connected to every other thing in the world…….

There is no ‘me’ and ‘not-me’ duality to our bodies in relation to the universe, but one underlying energy field. This field is responsible for our mind’s highest functions, the information source guiding the growth of our bodies. It is our brain, our heart, our memory – indeed, a blueprint of the world for all time. The field is the force, rather than germs or genes, that finally determines whether we are healthy or ill, the force which must be tapped in order to heal. We are attached and engaged, indivisible from our world, and our only fundamental truth is our relationship with it. ‘The field,’ as Einstein once succinctly put it, ‘is the only reality.

This gets at, more accurately than the OED’s somewhat dry definition, what I want to share in my newsletter this month.

We do a simple exercise when we work with Presentations in a Thinking Environment. We begin by stating that: “Connection is what establishes the possibility of a Thinking Environment.” We think through ways of setting up connection, and then ways to sustain it throughout the presentation. We then ask each person to take a turn, to come to the front of the room and to experience connection, before they begin to speak, by making eye contact with each person in their audience, in silence, for one minute.

This is a very long minute! Most participants are convinced something is wrong with my timer! Because what we are inviting people to do is to become conscious, and aware, of something that already exists. And yet, it is something we spend so much of our lives avoiding awareness of. We swerve away from it. It makes us feel uncomfortable.

We are so busy avoiding connection with each other, that we have become largely unaware of doing it.

When did you last stop, and look into your beloved’s eyes, or the eyes of your children? When you greet a friend, how much easier is it to go for the handshake or hug (hugs are good!), as opposed to allowing a moment of silent eye contact in which you recognize, and acknowledge, your inter-connected being with one another before moving into the far easier version of “doing” connection, through language and shared experience?

I’ve always loved playing with eye contact with strangers, whilst walking down the street. I love that moment when a stranger makes eye contact and then realizes that you did not look away. There is a flicker of the eyes, an “oh! I see you moment” and then we pass by. But we have touched each other, and we may linger on for each other for the rest of the day.

And then there is the bewildering flip side of this, the people with whom we have every reason to connect, and with whom we want to connect. But when we try, we experience antipathy of some sort: even when we might admire them. Something is in the field between us. Some philosophies of thought and belief, refer to this as karma. Some unfinished business, resulting from past action, is showing up in the here and now between you and another. Here is a chance to resolve the unresolved.

I have begun to wonder if the unresolved that is wanting to be cleared in these relationships where connection is so challenging, might be whatever untrue limiting assumptions, and behaviour driven there-from, have caused us to act in ways that are damaging to the essential truth of connection.

What if the people around whom I am most challenged, with whom I find it hard to connect, are there to teach me that all is well?

Freedom or Suffering?


Sincere apologies for the late delivery of September’s Newsletter. I am back in Brazil, for a month of teaching and my newsletter this month is going to focus on an emerging phenomenon from that teaching.

This is not something new. I’ve worked with it for many years, and my work in the Thinking Environment was a next step in understanding how to release people from its consequences. Yet every time I confront this human dynamic, I am amazed by its power and impact in our lives.

Anais Nin is famous for, amongst other things, saying “we do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”

Put ten people in front of an event and ask them afterwards “what happened” and you will get significant differences in their replies.

Depending on the level of maturity of said people, some of them may be willing to go to war in order to be right that what they “saw” is what “actually happened.” The human story is filled with examples of our tragic need to be right, at the cost of vitality, affinity, connection and love.

Nancy Kline says that assumptions are the precursor to all our feelings and actions.

We know this, we really do, and yet – every day – in small ways and large, we turn life into something that is a particular way. We turn ourselves into something fixed and inviolable: “I am not good at maths”, “I am disorganised”, “I’m difficult to live with”, and we turn those assumptions into truths and hey presto! We occupy our disorganised life, being bad at maths and difficult to live with as if all of that is fact.

Ever since I entered the world of the development of human potential I’ve been fascinated by the power of the human mind to open and close. I’ve been intrigued by the hair-trigger amygdala, and its sometimes frantic attempts at keeping us safe that often result in the “hear we go again” scenarios of self-fulfilling prophesies. And I have been awed by the unbelievable force of the human spirit, which can choose to let loose the bonds of survival and soar above even the most damning circumstances to achieve unfathomable success.

We see this time and again. Poverty is a fact. Rape is a fact. Racism and sexism are structurally embedded in society resulting in facts of discrimination. And yet, some people can turn the shocking reality of these tragic experiences into the motivation to not only achieve the “impossible”, but to become compassionate, loving human beings at the same time as successful.

Some of us do not manage this choice as well as others. We are all at varying stages along the continuum of this ability to fulfil potential and create possibility. It seems to me that each of us faces the dual challenge of cultivating the courage to choose, and the compassion to self-forgive when we settle for the assumption that we had no choice in a given situation.

Viktor Frankl wrote one of the most definitive books and powerful books on this subject: Man’s Search for Meaning. As Frankl reiterates again and again throughout the book, when all else has been taken away, man still has his last freedom — the freedom to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”*

I’m acutely aware, as I write this, that some of us, myself included, have been given an inordinate degree of good fortune, making it an inevitable thought for someone less fortunate to think: “that’s all very well and good, but how would she manage in this life of mine?”

But Frankl wasn’t just paying lip service to the power of optimism and a sense of purpose: he himself had experienced some of the worst possible circumstances, living through Auschwitz and losing his father, mother, brother and pregnant wife — everyone in his family except his sister — in the concentration camps.*

In his book, he offers suggestions for that which can give meaning in our lives – the ingredient he believed essential to enable us to transcend suffering and turn our lives into an art form in the face of it. Some of his ideas include: love, sacrifice, a cause greater than yourself and a sense of humour.

I also believe that the Thinking Environment offers me a practice that supports the choices that can turn base metal into gold. The practice of Incisive Questions, rooting out untrue limiting assumptions and replacing them with the choice to view life through the lens of something more liberating, is at the core of Thinking Environment work. The commitment to presence the system of human behaviour called The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, with its invitation to practice a 5:1 ratio of Appreciation to criticism is another.

Choosing to face challenges, even those that are emergencies, with Ease, can transform the way I respond to life. Encouragement invites me to move beyond the internal narrative of whether I am good enough, moment by moment and Diversity allows me to celebrate my difference as opposed to twisting myself into a bitter ball trying to fit in to places that would rather see me as “less than” for something I cannot change, such as my gender.

And most of all, the day by day discipline of listening to others in a way that legitimizes them to themselves, is, as Humberto Maturana says, the development of love: “the only emotion that expands intelligence”. If being listened to like this was our birthright, from our arrival on planet Earth to the day we depart our physical form, who knows what kind of exponential growth in our ability to choose might result?

*excerpts from:
‘This Man Faced Unimaginable Suffering, And Then Wrote The Definitive Book About Happiness’, by Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post

Embrace the gap!

Visitors to London who have used the Underground railway system there will be familiar with the recorded announcement that sounds out as the doors open at certain stations:

“Mind the Gap!” “Stand clear of the doors!” “Doors closing!”

I’m pretty certain that whoever dreamt up that series of admonishments to warn passengers had no idea of how symbolic that series of exclamations are for the living of life.

Many years ago I had the privilege of being exposed to a model generated by a wonderfully astute and eclectically well-read man called Frederic Hudson. In his Adult Cycle of Renewal, Hudson shared that the impetus for the model came upon his realisation that the notion of a “steady state”, the attaining of our goals and dreams at which point we could put our feet up, was a rapidly disappearing concept. Instead, we humans needed to strengthen our capacity for constant renewal.

If we get good at constant renewal, we have to get good at transitions. Transitions are the opposite of certainty. And for some reason, we can tend to have a bit of an addiction to certainty. We like to think we know where we are going and what it will look like when we get there. The profession of coaching, and many others beside, are predicated upon the notion that this is:

(a) possible and

(b) a good idea.

I’m not necessarily disagreeing with either (a) or (b). There’s an old Chinese saying that if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there. (Or words to that effect!) So, there’s plenty to be said in favour of planning, and the well-worn, tried and tested theories around milestones, and chunking of goals into smaller achievable outcomes, and so forth. All of this is not the point of this month’s newsletter.

I can’t really know if I’m unusual, or whether it is a function of a particular stage of life, but my life consists of a lot more transitions than it does of steady states. And I love thinking about plans that I might have, but the reality is that when the time for the implementation of the plan comes, a whole host of unforeseen factors, that could not have been thought of at the time of the planning, have entered the picture. Instead of colours by numbers, life is much more impressionistic.  Liminality is one of my most favourite notions.

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete…

So, I’ve been pondering whether my experience is unusual, or whether (and this, I suspect is the case), many people are finding themselves in liminal waiting rooms more often than they are standing on the podium receiving a gold medal for their perfectly executed plans.

Now, let’s take a look at language for a moment. The language of liminality includes the following words and phrases:



Disruption of the status quo

Falling apart

Not yet sure

Anxiously floating in the in-between

The language of planning, goal setting and achievement is a very different kettle of fish.

I must say I am feeling much better about life as I write this! No wonder, if I, like many of you, am an optimistic proponent of the transitions required for a life of growth and fulfillment, that I sometimes feel a tad unsure!

For those of you that are regular readers of my newsletter (thank you so much, I appreciate it deeply!) you will remember that last month’s missive touched on slowing down, and July’s thought-provokers have carried that theme. Slowing down, I observed, brought feelings to the surface: feelings of the messy kind. Liminality is pretty messy as well.

I suspect that, as in Chaos Theory, there is an underlying pattern at play in the liminal spaces of our lives.

As theologian and author Richard Rohr says of liminal spaces, they are …

where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.

So, maybe instead of trying to idealize normalcy, or expect certainty, or live safely, we could invent a new set of slogans for the liminal spaces on the underground railway of our lives. How about:

Embrace the gap! Straddle the thresholds! New doors opening ahead!

Acting slowly..


Knowledge which is unable to support action is not genuine – and how unsure is activity without understanding?

– Rudolf Virchow 

I found this quotation from the 19th-century physician, anthropologist, social activist and scientist, Rudolf Virchow at the beginning of David Rock and Linda Page’s book, “Coaching with the Brain in Mind”.

One of the series of questions I often get asked when I am teaching The Thinking Session, either in the Thinking Partnership Programme, or in the Time To Think Coaching Programme is “is it enough that the thinker removes their untrue limiting assumption and replaces it with something more liberating and true? How can I (coach) be sure that they are going to translate their insights into action? Do I not need to give them homework, and then follow up on what they did at the next session? If they don’t translate their insights into action, will they mean anything at all, will they make any difference?”

In my line of work, as a practitioner of The Thinking Environment® I assume the thinker’s (client’s) intelligence, all the way through their session, and beyond. I assume that the actions they take, and the ones they do not take, are as much their choice as the pathways they took in their thinking (coaching) session, as the ones they did not take. It is all in the hands of the thinker.

Having said that, there is no doubt in my mind, that taking action in the world on the liberation produced by an Incisive Question will embed the insights differently. The fact that the thinker continues to ponder the insight internally can also be seen as an action, but of a distinct nature.

The work of the Thinking Environment® has much to do with slowing down. This in part, for me, influences the choice not to insist on homework: time-bound actions that need to be achieved between one session and the next. Timing is everything, and sometimes the time for action will not be in the immediate aftermath of a session. Pondering may be the appropriate action for quite some time. This brings me to the theme for this month: living life slowly.

I took action following a thinking session. It was something I had been promising myself I would do for some time. More than one thinking session was needed before I committed to the awareness raised by several Incisive Questions. I did a juice cleanse. For 3 days I drank organic juice packed full of nutrients, drank kefir shots, drank Maca Nut Mylk and Cacao Nut Mylk: it was all delicious.

After the cleanse ended, I felt light and, well, cleansed! I did not want to lose that feeling so I decided to continue to avoid the dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol and sugar that the cleanse had enabled me to separate from.

It’s been two and a half weeks now since I finished the cleanse, and the results of my continued efforts (actions) have resulted in all sorts of outcomes I did not anticipate. I have to slow down in the morning, to make smoothies and juices. I have to slow down and consider where I will be during the day and how I can access food in keeping with my new “regime”. I AM slowed down by the absence of caffeine and sugar. I am less rushed and urgent – many of you know this already – by the living of life mindfully.

But the least expected result of all this is the emotional landscape that has opened up now that I am no longer layering addictive substances over my feelings. The absence of the soothing mechanism of putting something – anything – in my mouth – learned from birth, means that I am much more present to the minute changes and shifting patterns of how I feel. And because “soothing” is often the motivation for putting something in our mouths, the emotions that arise in its absence are the ones we are most keen on escaping from.

I have learned in these last two weeks which of all the emotions is my bête noir. Irritation! I like a good cry. Personally I truly believe it’s good for my health. I’m down with outright anger these days – I love it’s boundary-setting guidance. I’m one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have to deal much with fear or anxiety….but irritation! That’s a feeling I’ll do a lot of chocolate cake eating to avoid. The desire to rid myself of it will produce a sense of rush and emergency. I get irritated with feeling irritated, and go into over-drive to replace that feeling with more calm. It’s something of a losing battle!

Some years ago when I was researching addiction, I discovered that one of the core ingredients of the addict’s personality is the inability to be with life (people, events) turning out in ways other than the one hoped for or expected. It could be summarised by the assumption life (people, events) is supposed to be meeting my needs, whether I have communicated them or not! As I have slowed down to face it I have found that this, usually unconscious, assumption is often at the root of my irritation.

It’s made me realise the challenge posed to me by living consciously: supremely well represented by the choice to be a Thinking Environment® in the world. The world at large is not a Thinking Environment®. It is filled with interruption, power differentials that are used abusively, urgency, criticism, competition, misinformation, denial, limiting assumptions lived as truths, and the destruction of both of our internal and external environments by the greed of capitalism.

As I continue to work to replace this litany of unhealthy and adverse aspects that life seems to drift in the direction of with the Ten Components™ of a Thinking Environment®, I see why we might be tempted to soothe ourselves with substances or the behaviour of avoidance and denial. It can be confronting to live a slow life. It is emotional and awake. But it is also beautiful, wild and deliciously unpredictable. It is not deferring to my expectations, but it seems, for the most part to be giving me just what I need.

May is about play…

May 2017

Some of you may have noticed that towards the end of April my thoughts moved away from criticism and competition towards play!  Phew!

In the last week of April, I participated in our family’s annual pilgrimage to one of South Africa’s most iconic playgrounds: Afrika Burn – (www.afrikaburn.co.za) – an arts and music festival held in the Tankwa Karoo. A satellite festival of the original U.S. festival, Burning Man, 2017’s Afrika Burn was it’s 11th incarnation.

My husband and I attended the first ever meeting about the possibility of Afrika Burn, under a big old oak tree on a friend’s farm in Bot Rivier. My sons were 7 and 8 when we first went, and under 1000 people attended. This year, at 18 and 19, I barely saw them amongst the 14,000 participants. But what I did see was people playing.

I saw people expressing their creativity, their wildness and their curiosity.

One more time I also experienced living communally, a far cry from the neat four of us at home. (By neat, I mean the number, not my teenage boys’ rooms!).

It’s funny how things come in 10’s……commandments (Moses), Components (Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment) and principles (Burning Man/Afrika Burn). What all three of these sets of 10s have in common, is that they aim for the raising of awareness; a bringing to our consciousness of how it is that we are behaving, and the impact of that behaviour on others.

Afrika Burn’s 10 Principles include: no spectators, everyone is a participant; no money, the economy is gifting (which, unlike bartering is giving with no expectation of return); no relying on others to do for you, radical self-reliance – what you bring you take home – another principle – leave no trace, and by no trace they mean not a smidgen of trace. If it wasn’t in the desert when you arrived, it shouldn’t be left there when you leave. The upshot of these principles is that it really brings out the very best in people, and to see 14, 000 people, expressing themselves, being creative and being at their best is a gift indeed.

This year our camp was relatively small: 25 instead of 45 people! Some strangers from Durban spotted a space in our campground and leaped in without asking – then quickly became friends.

Oh! And I forgot to mention: people dress up! And I mean they really do dress up – Priscilla Queen of the Desert style! People make art, and then they burn it – it is an alive and profoundly lively expression of the Buddhist principle of non-attachment.

So you will be able to imagine my amusement, when, in the middle of this glorious week of play, where strangers become friends and friends behave strangely, I suddenly remembered that I had not written my May newsletter!

As the realisation first flooded in it landed like molten lead in my mind and I was smothered by my good old inner critic – which leapt on me like a cheetah on a buck in the Kruger.

What would people think of me!? Followed quickly by, would people even notice? Followed by a sermon’s worth of admonishments as to my unreliability and my irrelevance! The Tankwa Karoo is not famed for its internet reception (there is none). There was nothing I could do. What was wrong with me? Why had I not gotten it done before leaving Cape Town? What a flake I was……. Etc etc etc! And then I noticed the withdrawal…….no point in talking to any one of my several good friends, who would care? Etc, etc, etc!

Once again it struck me…..the killjoy inner critic vs the human need for play, joy, fun, laughter, creativity and self-expression. Like two ends of a fundamental and archetypal continuum, I watched the play.

I decided to turn towards the magnetic attraction of choice. Let it go. Be here, now, in the desert, in the dust, with the crazy ones who also choose, annually, to depart the default world of thoughtless doing and enter into choice. The choice to create, to play, to connect, to express, to laugh, to feel joy, to give fully of themselves in whichever was they choose. Choice! Our birth-right and our curse at the same time: for as the Existentialists said, we are doomed to be free. There is only one choice we do not have, and that is not to have a choice!

Why, I wondered, is that such a harsh reality for us to embrace? What is it about the ownership of our birthright of choice that makes us so nervous? Is it because of how we are responded to, over the millennia, when we get it wrong, by people who were themselves responded to in that way, by people who were responded to in that way? That response that shames us, and then makes us want to avoid mistakes and failure, looking foolish, getting it wrong!?

What I can say, now in my 50’s (shortly to be in the second half of my 50’s with my 56th birthday coming up this weekend!) is that the letting go and letting be comes easier, and the anxiety of failure, of ridicule, of embarrassment, passes (hallelujah!) with more fluidity and ease. Could it be that 13 years of receiving consciously articulated appreciation as a result of teaching The Thinking Environment has had a lasting impact on my psyche? I think so!

I had the opportunity to listen to a young 19 year old woman struggling with neediness and feeling vulnerable whilst I was at Afrika Burn. I’ve been hearing so much about this anxiety that we all seem to share as fragile (and yet so brave and strong!) human beings. She didn’t want to be a burden, and yet she needed to be cared for. She didn’t want to need attention, and yet we all need it so much – from the minute we get here! Listening to her made me long for the vision Thinking Environment teachers hold: for a world in which everyone is treated as though they matter, uniquely, and are worth listening to – so that they can make the best choices for themselves, and show up in this magical world of ours, with all their self-expression and creativity intact!

So, although you have not received this on the first Thursday of the month, I hope it provokes some thinking and some insight, and as ever, I am deeply grateful if you have read all the way to the end!

A relationship with competition…

April 2017

In the last month I have been having a relationship with competition, flaring up in a way that is quite breathtaking when it happens.

It seems to me that what triggers this inner dynamic of needing to be good enough, are a variety of experiences which may all have one thing in common. Our need for approval, and our feeling that we have sacrificed it, often unwittingly, by getting something wrong. Maybe it is also our need to feel that we are included, we belong, we have earned the right of membership to some “club”, and in our own minds we are in doubt about that. Up comes competition, driven by the anxiety that our membership is at stake, and all of a sudden we are not sure we even belonged in the first place.

I’ve never identified as a FOMO sufferer (fear of missing out for any reader that’s not yet encountered this symptom, driven by our digitally-over-connected-world!)

But I’ve watched what happens when I, or someone else, is experiencing that they are missing out, or being left out: that they have not quite made some grade (often one of their own imagining), and that now they have slipped off some tenuously held position in their own minds and feel relegated – projecting this out onto the world around them despite the fact that the relegation has been self-imposed!

Although this quote has been deemed falsely attributed to Buddha, the point it illustrates is a useful one for this month’s newsletter: a man asked Lord Buddha “I want happiness”. Lord Buddha said, first remove “I”, that’s ego. Then remove “want”, that’s desire. See, now you are left with only “happiness”.

Of course, that is easier said than done. We need our ego, just like you need the car, iron or top hat to get round the Monopoly board. Getting rid of it is slightly simplistic. Maybe it’s being able to own it that makes the difference?

I wrote an email in response to a request from a colleague for some shared experience I may have around an issue she was facing. Several others to whom her email was also addressed responded as well. On reading their responses my mind became filled with self-judgement! Theirs were much more eloquent than mine, theirs were oh so very much more intelligent than mine, and, to top it all, theirs commented on mine….. seeming (to me) to say mine was…… (and here you can imagine and fill in the gaps)…. infantile, over-simplified, inaccurate……….(drum roll) – WRONG!


It was astonishing to watch my mind hone in on this experience, and stay there, fretting, feeling mortified, and threatening to withdraw from my relationships with these beloved colleagues! Fortunately I knew, at the exact same time, that this was my own internal competitor, my inner critic, projecting madly onto people that were unlikely, in fact, to be judging and criticising me. It’s at times like this that having The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment can be such a healthy “checklist” to draw on for self-guidance as to a more sane response.

If I knew that seeing shortfalls in the way I respond to something is an opportunity, and not a threat, an invitation to growth and not a sentence to silence myself, what could I learn from this?

Human connection and vulnerability..

March 2017

People say, and it confirms my personal experience, there is a direct link between human connection and vulnerability.

It seems that, often, what creates the moments of “ah! I see you, I am with you!”, is when people are able to be authentic about what they think, and feel, and are able to say, as it really is. However, when you are being very unguarded about your thoughts and feelings, you are risking the potential to be misunderstood or, rejected, or hurt in some way: hence the feeling vulnerable.

But it’s just another of those fascinating twists of fate. If I don’t really show myself then it’s not the real me that’s going to get hurt. This, then, is at the expense of the real me, who, if not shown, is never going to be seen.

Recently I’ve been noticing, when I’m listening to people in thinking sessions: (a place where people are more likely to say what they really think, and feel and want to say – knowing they are in the presence of Nancy Kline’s 10 Components of a Thinking Environment) that people share about the inner-talk they have with themselves inside their own heads. So much of which hardly ever comes out of their mouths in the situations where it needed to. They are editing who they really are, which results in their feeling disconnected, unable to be seen and heard.

We do this, I guess, because we are afraid: of provoking a negative reaction. People won’t like it, they won’t like us, approve of us, will stop loving us. They will judge us.

Vicious circle 101! If we are not saying what we really think and feel in order to be loved, or in order to not lose being loved – it sets us up for failure, because it is not us that is being loved anyway, but rather a manicured version of us that we let out of our mouths.

Sometimes I ask someone , “well, did you say that?” and they look at me as if I’m mad, they shake their heads and chuckle: 9 out of 10 times they say “no!”

I had my own gremlins (as Steven Spielberg and Brene Brown call them) along the way to writing this newsletter. What’s the point of writing all this stuff when Brene Brown has written it already? What’s the point of writing something that’s already been written – that gremlin is a great one for silencing my writing voice.

So what is the crux of this subject? I think it’s obvious – if you are not going to say what you think and feel in order to avoid being rejected, then the ‘you’ that isn’t being rejected isn’t you. That whole process is a double wound. You wound yourself by making the assumption that your truth won’t be palatable, and therefore who you are isn’t palatable: the source of shame according to Brene Brown. We feel ashamed when we think that who we are, as a person, is bad, is wrong.

This is the subtle the distinction she makes between guilt and shame.

Guilt is what we feel when we think badly of our behaviour in a given situation, i.e. what we did. Shame is what we feel when we think that who we were, how we are in a given situation is bad, and wrong.

When I reviewed, in a recent thinking session, the place in my life where I most edit myself, I connected with the assumptions I was making that other people would make about me: that I am sick, weak and stupid. Wow! What a set of labels to be carrying inside of oneself!

Little wonder that that area of my life gives rise to shame! And stays hidden. Secrets are the fuel of shame.

Like many others, I carry a big button about not being misunderstood. We withhold our true selves to avoid people making an assumption that isn’t necessarily accurate, the effect of which, is to risk being unseen and not feeling understood. In other words, being invalidated. And we need those moments of connection just like we need food. They are nourishing, vital to our being fully human. And the irony of it is that when you are vulnerable and you do reach out for connection, 99.9% of the time you get it. Most people, presented with another person’s vulnerability will respond to it with love, compassion and understanding. The very things we risk losing when we edit ourselves as though we are unpalatable for human consumption!

Of course, there is no guarantee. But does that justify the cowardice that we buy into because of our addiction to the myth of certainty? I have hesitated to write about this because it is not simple, or clear cut. The issue of the courage it takes to share our vulnerability as a powerful route to real connection is tricky to write about. I don’t want it to come across as twee, neat or tidy. I want to be able to capture the not-clear-cut nature of it because it is a risk – the person you open up to is not necessarily going to get it, or get you.

I think we need to look at it through the lens of risk assessment. Ask yourself whether the loss of the gain from the upside is worth the risk of the loss you would experience from the downside. When you share yourself authentically and do not hide or edit. The downside is (or might be) that someone could respond critically towards you and you would feel devastated because you had shown yourself and been evaluated as wanting in some way. The upside, if you do show who you really are and it gets met with connection, love, compassion – profound acceptance – is that you are giving yourself that essential concoction of ingredients that will enable you to live wholeheartedly.

And that, let’s face it, is a pretty compelling upside.

Who do we default to?

The Component of Encouragement:

Is it safe for me to think independently?

At the beginning of February Nancy Kline visited South Africa, as she does once a year. One of the highlights of her visit is always her talk, and this year Nancy’s freshest thinking was on the question: to whom do we default?
Well, mostly to ourselves, as the listener. If a friend or colleague says: “I’ve got something I need to think about,” we almost always default to the belief that they need something from us. Immediately we get ready, in our own minds, to speak, and this attitude sets us up in a competitive relationship with them. Even practitioners in the Thinking Environment ® have to remain vigilant in checking who it is that they default to, because this underlying assumption is so engrained in us.

But it’s not only the listener who needs to consider whom they are defaulting to.

When I work in organisations one of the things I often notice is that it’s very difficult for people to take their turn to think in “the round”. They need time to get ready for their turn, and during that time they’re not necessarily listening to what’s being said. Instead they spend their time judging, evaluating and assessing what is and isn’t acceptable to say. The underlying assumption is that it’s not ok for us to think what we think, and so we are in perpetual judgment of our own thinking.

The component of Encouragement talks about internal competition, which can be devastating to our inner world. It’s the internalized negative assumptions we carry about our ability to think for ourselves, perhaps because we’ve had experiences where people put us down, or laughed at us, or ridiculed us for being independent in our thinking.

A person afflicted in this way goes into a conversation with an ongoing internal storyline that mostly absorbs them and stops them from truly engaging deeply: Does the person I’m talking to like what I’m saying? Do they agree with me? Have I upset them, or will they be upset if I say what I really think? This internal competition is very active, constantly checking and evaluating and scanning the horizons for threat and danger, and it diminishes our capacity to think.

Thinking is different to just having thoughts. Thoughts come and go of their own volition, and are mostly repetitive. We have a lot of that in our world. Thoughts never challenge our assumptions, or create fresh thinking. Having thoughts doesn’t give us the courage to go to the cutting edge of our ideas, which is what being intelligent is all about.

The conscious act of thinking is completely different. It’s a creative act. When you find yourself in a situation where you can really trust that the person in front of you isn’t judging or evaluating you – in fact, they’re staying interested in where you’re going – that’s an incredible contract that we make. That’s the component of Encouragement. It says: we might not know where we’re going, but let’s go there anyway, because who knows what we might find there?
One of the things I’ve noticed about Nancy is that she always – and I do mean ALWAYS – defaults to the thinker, even when the thinker is hesitant, or unsure, or uneasy, it’s as if Nancy only becomes more fascinated and drawn in by them, and wordlessly she always manages to encourage them to go further than they ever thought they could in their own thinking.

The Thinking Environment ® gives us permission not to compete with one another, and to stay interested instead. And when we’re able to do that, people fly. They’re able to come up with things that we could never have possibly come up with on their behalf. Quite honestly, in my opinion the component of Encouragement can save the world. When we are bravehearted – when we can go to the edge of our thinking and then fly off into unknown territory – that’s when we are truly alive and present to possibility.