Friday, December 30, 2016

A year of resolutions

Like the slogan “a puppy is not just for Christmas”, I feel resolutions aren’t just for the New Year.   From those resolutions we purposefully set, to those that spontaneously emerge, each help us take control of how we live our lives.

For many people, the strike of the clock at midnight on New Years is that exact time to bring forward a new commitment, thoughtfully considered and crafted in advance.   

For others, it may just be about carrying those over from the previous year, for our old patterns are tenacious are they not?

As a morale booster, it is comforting to reflect on those that we no longer have to set.  We can dismiss these so easily, forgetting their significance, so they need to be remembered and celebrated. I’ll include my 23year old resolution giving up smoking, or that simple habits like drinking 2 glasses of water each morning, meditating or exercising daily, have long become part of my routine and no longer need to be on the list.

Trust also, that profound resolutions will pop up during the year.  They will stir within us and will not obey any fixed arrival schedule.  Like a bud, they cannot be forced open and will blossom in their own time.  And they will feel easy. Because they will fit with who you are. For me, decisions like volunteering 3 hours a week at MSF or becoming (mostly) vegan - did not come out of any plan but perhaps had their origins deeper in my psyche.

Beware of course, that resolutions are fodder for the ‘Trickster’. When we think we have something nailed, life teaches us that it may not be so.  We may find for years that we need to stop something or start something or give up something.  Often it takes many failed attempts and soul-searching to figure out that we have been resolving to do something externally when it requires an inner resolution.  Many a year I have resolved to find love.  Now that has changed, to being love.   

After all that, perhaps the most powerful resolutions of all are those we make in each precious moment of our lives. Those moments, when we see the wants and fears that are driving us. Where in the ‘now’,  we resolve to break out of our old ways and choose a different response.   It may be when we drop our shield of anger to reveal our vulnerability, decide to be appreciative rather than critical, be generous when we tend to withhold, open up when we typically shut down, and stay when our impulse is to run.  And when we find ourselves faulting on our momentarily made resolution, we take a deep breath, gently forgive ourselves, open our hearts and resolve to try again. 

2017 like any other year will provide more opportunities for resolving to be [happy/successful/insert your word/s here] than you realise.

Happy New Year and beyond.

Image: Winter Rose, oil on canvas, by Fiona Read – posted by Vivid Greeting Cards 13/12/13

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Gifting yourself delicious and sacred idleness this festive season

Delicious idleness: the well known Italian expression and concept of “dolce far niente”. We know it as the sweetness, pleasure and carefree feeling of doing nothing; the enjoyment of sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness.

And then there’s Sacred Idleness, perhaps its more serious cousin.  

I first came across the term through my work with physicians from Epstein’s ideas on encouraging medical practitioners to take time out, in order to cultivate habits of mind, such as attentiveness, curiosity and presence, in order to enhance their own wellbeing and effective medical practice.   Extending this across sectors, I have introduced this to other leaders through coaching, webinars and workshops and have had the fortune to help facilitate the likes of a European Executive Leaders programme, that specifically creates such sacred time.

Like delicious idleness, sacred idleness is the opposite of work.  The difference is that it is less about laziness and more about learning. For it is a time of rest, restoration, rejuvenation and also of reflection. It nurtures us at a deeper level and develops our wisdom along the way. We don’t just stumble across it, but intentionally dedicate time for it. We honour and relish it through our attention to the present moment. Earnest in its purposefulness, yet it is more about suppleness and emptiness than control and activity.

As some of the leaders experienced on their mountain solo to reflect on the ‘leader they want to be’, it can be deliciously sweet and blissful. For others it felt anything but, at least at the start, for those not use to not-doing, or contemplating who they are and what they do. 

Sacred Idleness can take various forms; there is no prescription.  It depends on every individual and their situation, but it is about being fully with yourself in stillness embracing it all – whatever arises.

It may involve retreating to the mountains, to meditate or to trek quietly in the glory of nature. 

It may involve sitting silently in front of the fire, encompassed by its warmth and security, seeing the reflection of your mind in the changing, dancing flames.

It may be lounging on a chair, feeling the sensations of the sun and sea air on your skin, reflecting on the year that has been and what you want to take forward into the new year.

Or it may just be a dedicated 10 minutes by yourself, out in the garden or in your favourite spot in the house, between dinner courses or between juggling demands of the dog, children and relations, to not only ‘catch your breath’, but to sit there with it.

May you gift yourself sacred idleness this festive season, and carry on the practice as an ongoing commitment to your health and wellbeing. 

And may you gift yourself delicious idleness for the same reasons.

Festive cheers to all. 


A term coined by George MacDonald as quoted in Poor Man's College Quotations, 1994. in Epstein, R.M. (2003b)  “Mindful Practice in Action (II): Cultivating Habits of Mind”, Families, Systems & Health, 21(1): 11-17.

Photo: own

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Poetry and progress

Four days after the US 2016 election, Brainpickings Maria Popova, in an inspiring act of leadership, teamed up with the Academy of American Poets for an emergency pop-up reading of poetry they called Verses for Hope.

Here was my offering...

A triumph

What can triumph from this
we shudder

The rumblings of the earth
forewarned it
A little bird had told us
but it took a ballot box
of a dirty dilemma
to jolt us from our
toxic slumber

Stumbling and fumbling
in the darkness
created by our own hands
we shrug, sulk, snarl and shout
while the lanky melancholic poet
quietly leaves the table
as he said he would
leaving us wondering about
cracks in everything
and questioning
sorrow and redemption

Squinting towards the light
not yet convinced it is
bright or bold enough
to break through this
bleak blackness
There amongst the rubble
we notice
that for every breath in
there is a breath out
And as the leaves fall
and the days constrict
on one side
the blossom lifts
and the days lengthen
on the other
and we are comforted
that perhaps miracles
do come

We just have to go
to that edge
peel off our masks
unleash our chains
prick our ears
and stand there
And even if
we sweat and squirm
we hold our nerve
trusting in the treaty
between ourselves
of open hearts
of open minds
of open will

This will be our triumph

We turn to poetry to help us make sense of what is going on in our lives. The things we can’t seem to understand, explain or articulate - poetry seems to nail.   In writing it, reading it, listening to it, our imaginations are stirred and our feelings of belonging, heightened.  Bridging our inner and outer worlds, it is the language of the soul.

Leadership and poetry have long connected. Many a leader has taken its guiding hand, to gain clarity from complexity, to provide comfort or challenge, to celebrate and urge us towards truth and betterment.  In essence, to progress in our humanity.  John F. Kennedy offered “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses”.

Through my own lens, it seems poetry is popping up increasingly in the workplace.  It ranges from the unspoken, quiet murmurings and underground ways, to being actively encouraged and nurtured. Whether marketing are using the haiku form to sharpen their key messages or teams are expressing their views on the most recent change through sharing their poems, there is transformation.

We have much to thank, poets like David Whyte for, who have boldly stepped into the corporate world to show how poetry can create new conversations and improve working lives.  In doing so, Whyte has been fundamental to the development of workplace spirituality as a mainstream organizational issue.  As he reminds us in the beautiful audio,The Heart Aroused we are responsible for who we are, how we live our lives and for creating the organizations in which we work.  

We have seen poetry’s impact on the leadership programmes we run. Bringing it into the experiential mix, leaders benefit from a fresh self awareness. They grow and develop in a way only poetry seems to engender.  A memorable moment was witnessing how a Finance Director tapped into his own depths, and found new ways of expressing himself in a tender poem.  In courageously sharing it amongst his peers, he found an inner source of power he hadn’t felt before.  Going beyond his comfort of control and logic, and revealing his vulnerability in a safe and creative way, only added to his credibility.   In opening up in this way, he inspired others to do the same, generating more real and meaningful conversations, spawning higher levels of empathy and sparking ideas and connections.  One of his colleagues in a previous cohort, also counts his new found identity as a poet as one of his key learnings and outcomes.  He said he has become the one amongst his friends who writes poems to help others. In work he has found a way to be his authentic self.

Now that’s poetry.

 Photo (own). Part of the 'Big City Life' project Tor Marancia, Roma