In praise of slow

 Image credit: Miriam Miles at unsplash.com

Image credit: Miriam Miles at unsplash.com

I'm just four days into 2017 with the guiding light of SLOW as my word for 2017 - and already I've discovered something really interesting about what goes on inside my head.

As some background - I recently read Carl Honore's excellent 'In praise of slow' (alongside Susan Cain's 'Quiet', but that's another tale for another day) and watched his TED talk which you can watch here - it's less than 20 minutes and is well worth it if you're a recovering 'hurry-upper', like me. 

I'm making SLOW be about slowing everything down, taking deeper breaths, doing less, consuming less, taking more time to really feel into decision-making, generally being more present, and hopefully in turn, connecting with the underlying joyful nature that I am sure exists under all the busy-busy-hurry-upness, that leaves me feeling flat and uninspired.

I noticed really clearly that the voice in my head doesn't actually represent the deeper inner wisdom voice I've come to recognise, but not always live from, and it seems to be running a commentary like this in my head:

On day two of my happy choice to go back to running, because I feel strong, and free when I run..

 "I don't want to go for a run. Running feels hard."

And during that same run:

"oooh, the floor's icy. What if I slip and fall in the road and a car comes and doesn't see me and might run over me and... " Wise, true self cuts in at this point with WHAAAAT?! check out that catastrophising! Stop that, fast-thinking voice!

On seeing one of my favourite mentors has launched another course, just as I promised myself to consume less this year, and to show up fully to the online courses I've already signed up to but not completed:

"I've got to sign up! I don't want to miss out! Never mind that I'm going back on my promise to myself! Sign up!"

On receiving an invitation to deliver a session at a local conference, that I loved doing last year:

"I'm not sure I can be bothered. It's all too much effort and I'm just making myself really busy again."

In my hurry up days I'd probably have skipped the run, signed up to yet another course that I won't complete after promising myself that I wouldn't, and declined the offer of presenting to a local group - something I know is really fun and fulfilling for me.

(In case you're wondering, I went for the run, didn't sign up for the course [but did connect with the course-leader which resulted in deeper connection and leaving the door open], and committed to the presentation :))

 view from the run!

view from the run!

This is an example of how it feels when we're caught up in fast and slow thinking - check out here and here - slowing our thinking down gives us access to deeper processing which isn't governed by that lazy, fast, often inaccurate voice that happens in our heads when we are speeding along through our lives.

Slower thinking requires more mental resources, but gives us access to greater agency, choice and concentration in our lives.

I'm sure for me there's an element of my instant gratification monkey at play too - slowing things down means I really have access to decision making that will lead to a happier, more fulfilled me - not one who managed to avoid discomfort in the instant it was triggered, but who missed out on something that was going to have me feeling stronger, happier and with more integrity, longer-term.

What I'm learning is we've got to get present so we can hear the voices and tell the difference in how our thoughts feel.

Deeper, resonant wisdom over instant-gratification, is what becomes available when I'm not speeding through life with my stress-head on.

At a slower pace, I can feel into my relationship with everything, and really tell what truly engages my spirit and what I can gracefully let go of.

Does this resonate?

Could you be served by slowing down a little and getting in touch with your inner tortoise? :-)

I'd love to know your tips and tricks for slowing down.

 

Why you'll never be alone in a fitness class - lessons from Moky

When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves.
— Brene Brown
 just a couple of foxes comparing pom-pom techniques after class...

just a couple of foxes comparing pom-pom techniques after class...

I absolutely love my weekly dose of Moky awesome.

If you're not Cumbrian, let me give you a little background.

It's described as a "fun dance workout which uses big chart hits and easy to follow dance moves designed to give a fun but intense cardiovascular and full body sculpting workout".

I can't say I'm body-sculpted (there's still time) but I can vouch for the fun and intense part.

All shapes, all sizes, all abilities, whether you're co-ordinated or not, it really doesn't matter. As long as you're whooping and smiling and moving.

I once thanked Moky's founder, Shameem, for creating something that was so important and wonderful in my life. She told me that having fun and making people feel amazing was always the intention.

It's not just a dance workout class though.

It's an opportunity to let yourself go, to whoop, to rave, to party on, to dance like nobody's watching. 

To dance like a cheerleader complete with pompoms.

To thrust your boobs-belly-bum provocatively in the name of dance. Or maybe just hootlessness. 

To hustle like you're a member of Pans People (young Moky-goers will need to look that up. Here you go. Welcome.)

Even when how you think you look, and how you actually look, don't add up.

Whatever age you are. Even if you're more 'cheerio than 'cheerleader'.

Sometimes our Thursday class will see up to thirty, sweating-like-a-pig feeling-like-a-fox,  beautiful women, showing up and being seen at class, even when they're not sure of the routine, or the song, or the steps, or their left and right, or their forward and back,  or whether they are whooping too loud or not whooping loud enough. 

Or whether that chest pop was too.... chest-poppy.  

Or whether their whoop isn't at the right pitch, or length, or tone, or maybe it's more of a 'yeah' than a whoop.

Or maybe they whooped when no-one else did. I've done that and man, that's all the Awkward Feels.

But we're showing up, in all our sweaty, messy, imperfectly jiggly magnificent forms. That's courage, my friends.

Honestly, sometimes when I'm in the back row, I look at these women and love and glitter just shoot out of my eyeballs at how magnificent they are and by association, I am, JUST FOR SHOWING UP. 

To get to class, we had to get on our sports bras and spandex pants (you know who you are) and walk into that room and sometimes smile at people who we don't know very well.

We had to show up even if we're not sure we've got life or Moky all figured out. To sometimes stand in the room trying to look like we're okay when we're wondering if we really fit in, or have something interesting to say, or will belong with the bigger group.

Sometimes we just left a screaming child, or troubles at home, or a terrible day at work, or a health problem, or a sore back, or deep grieving, to come to class.

Sometimes, it took all our willpower to take the time for ourselves, to dance, to laugh, to move our bodies, to sometimes wish our pelvic floor muscles were a little stronger. To show up anyway.

Seeing my Moky buddies from the back row really ticks my 'common humanity' boxes, for all these reasons. That, and they're my tribe.

Sometimes, I think other thoughts, at the other end of the am-I-doing-this-right spectrum.

Of how I might be doing the steps too well, because I was always blessed with being able to pick up dance routines quickly.

Of how I worry sometimes about what other people think of me, and that maybe instead of whooping like a banshee and channelling Beyonce like a diva, I should perhaps tone it down a bit, in case I'm too much or too loud.

As my Mum would say when I was six and getting changed behind a towel at the beach: "no-one's looking at you!".

[The six year old me is certain that they were.]

These days I can catch my thinking early and make sure I'm saying something kind and encouraging to myself. Like - you go girl! Or - you have full permission to enjoy yourself! Or - it really doesn't matter if you went left there. Or - Dance to the beat of your own drum, lovely.

It's ok to do Moky (and life) YOUR WAY.

Given my historical tendency to prioritise getting things right over having fun, Moky's taught me to lighten up, stop taking myself so seriously, be playful, AND not to tone myself down, as long as I'm having fun and not hitting anyone in the face with my enthusiastic pom-pomming.

No surprise that this dovetails so beautifully with the Daring Way and Brene Brown's work around living wholeheartedly.

When we can let go of being cool and always in control and give ourselves permission to act goofy, life gets more fun.

When we let go of perfectionism, we get to go easier and kinder on ourselves, which feels WAY better.

When we let go of caring about what others think, we get permission to be real, to be ourselves.

 

I once had a conversation with one of my Moky buddies who confided that she just wasn't able to find her voice, not just in singing or whooping out loud at Moky, but also in life. We had a giggle as she practised 'stealth-whooping' in songs where we knew lots of people would whoop so that she wouldn't feel so self-conscious. She later reported she had found her voice in a kick boxing class requiring some serious badassery in attitude and power, and after that things got a whole lot easier.

So if you're ever new to class, you're probably not the only one to ever feel out of your comfort zone or to be thinking those things you've been thinking.

And if you're showing up at one of our Moky classes - you belong with us.  You're in excellent company, you foxy thing.

 

I would love, love, love to know what your fitness class stories are in the comments below.

I run workshops around topics like these - please see the Daring Way pages for details!

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What I learned about empathy from a used-car salesman

 Image by Felix Russell-Saw at unsplash.com

Image by Felix Russell-Saw at unsplash.com

If you're anything like many people I know, or like I was before I did some work in the motor trade, you probably can relate to thinking generally about car salesmen like we might think of sharks.

Dangerous, predatory, untrustworthy.

So when I was part of one of the most heart-warming conversations I've ever had, I knew some day I'd be writing about it. I got permission from the people involved to write this, this week, so here it is.

Let me introduce you to a manager and a team - we'll call the manager Mark (because that is his name).

This manager has been dealing with a sales person who recently lost a very young child, after becoming ill with a rare condition that claimed his life after several months.

I wasn't mainly moved by stories I was told about the whole team attending a tiny person's funeral while the most senior manager 'held the fort'.

It wasn't even by the tears I saw in a colleague's eyes as he talked about what it is like to have one of your team go through something so painful.

Nor even knowing that after returning to work, Mark sent the rota schedule home so the salesperson's wife could complete it to give her some choice over when her partner came back to work.

It was something else.

Mark (he's a parent too) and I were talking about empathy - it's a huge part of the work I do with them and he said:

"How do you do empathy though, when you haven't been through what someone has been through?"

"When they say 'do you know what I mean though?'

And you have to say 'no'.

'No, I have no idea what this must feel like for you'."

Compassion takes courage because it's hard to put yourself in someone else's painful shoes.

Because you can't imagine what that experience is like AND because you have to try, if you are to find the place in you, which knows what they are going through.

I've thought about this a lot.

Partly because I've learned a lot about empathy from this team, and their love and support for their colleague and his family.

And here's what I know.

You can empathise with someone without having had their exact same experience.

Maybe you've never experienced the intensity of what they're experiencing, but you can still relate. If you've known sadness, or fear, or loss of any kind, you can relate.

You can use words like these (I learned most of these from my Daring Way work)

  • I'm so sorry this is happening to you.
  • I don't know what to say, but I am here with you.
  • I will stay with you while you go though this.
  • I am so glad you told me.
  • What do you need, right now?

I think it's more hand-holding and sitting, than fixing or understanding or minimising.

To be willing to empathise, we have to be willing to get it wrong, to maybe say something clumsy, or have it come out not like we intended.

It's okay when we have good intentions to connect with, to feel with, the other person.

It's what binds us in our common humanity.

And if we can be willing to get it wrong and 'circle back' to put it right, we're more likely to try to empathise.

  • I'm sorry, that didn't come out like I wanted it to, let me try again.

or

  • I don't know what to say, but I am here with you. What do you need?

or

  • I don't think I listened well enough when you told me. I'd like to try again. Do you feel like talking?

I wanted to share, because I'm blown away that I'm having these conversations in a culture which most would agree isn't our first thought when we consider places we might find heart-warming empathy and connection.

Isn't that wonderful?

I love that I can easily describe the used-car salespeople that I know as compassionate. Kind-hearted. Empathetic.

This is an extreme story, but it's not the only one I have from my work in the motor trade. Many times I have driven away from a day's Emotional Intelligence coaching in a dealership with my heart bursting wide open with the connection and deep feeling I've witnessed there on that day. 

So if you're wondering if we can empathise with someone's pain, my answer would be yes.

If Mark can do it, so can all of us.

 

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If this post resonated for you,  why not consider coming to one of my in-person workshops in the beautiful English Lake District. See these pages for details.

Self-compassion mantra for ultimate shame-shit-storms

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.
— Christopher K. Germer

I'm on a call with my Daring Way tribe last night and we're talking about the body of work that was the online part of our training - all the posts and sharings and trust-building that happened there. My buddies are agreeing that going back to re-read the messages is valuable and rich and how much they value still having access to that material.

I have the absolute opposite experience to everyone else.

I haven't been able to look at it since we finished in January, I say.

Something that happened in that online training triggered the mother of all shame-shit-storms for me at the time.

The most responsible way I can talk about it is in me making my entire being Wrong-With-a-Capital-W because someone took exception to a response I had written.

The visceral shame response I had in that moment - insides disappeared, everything slowed down, holding my breath, thought loop of 'idiot', all while saying 'fine!' when hubby asked if I was ok - took a few days to pass.

It was three weeks before I could go and revisit my message to really find out what went on there, and once I'd 'circled back' and practiced what we'd learned and committed to about empathy, I never visited that message thread again.

Going back to the online material, even nine months later, would be too painful. I just don't want to go back there. I notice an invisible, powerful reverse magnetic aversion to even thinking about it.

That's not the point of this story though. It's what happened next that was fascinating.

Me too, says one of my buddies. I had a six week shame-shit-storm and I couldn't look at the logo of the company of the other person involved without feeling sick.

And me, says another. I have a dress I had to throw away because I'd had a shame storm in it and I couldn't bear to wear at it again.

Me too, says yet another. I'm going through this right now. I disagreed with my client for a full 20 minutes before asking a question that would have been useful to clarify at the start of the session, and made up that I am an idiot and I should have known better.

I'm in the same boat, says another.  I just royally screwed up my first meeting with someone important because I was more interested in being understood than listening. Have cried more than a few tears since.

Maybe you know that feeling, too. That's exactly what shame does.

Shame gets us all triggered by something and then tells us we're stupid and worthless and nobody else is anywhere near as stupid and worthless and wrong as we are in that moment.

So we're sitting on our call last night, eyes brimming with the tears of connection and being seen, of sharing our most painful failures, and of being loved right there in our beautiful, raw, messy humanness. It makes my heart swell every time, with gratitude for this work.

Here's the truth. It's impossible for shame to bring you down for longer than a millisecond when your 'back is got' by army of empathy-warriors (or even a single gladiator).

Shame hangover?

Brene talks about 'vulnerability hangover' as that sense of having over-shared, and I think we can have a shame-hangover too - so much so that it anchors us to places, people, thoughts, dresses, that can re-trigger that painful experience.

The antidote?

Share. Speak shame. Tell someone you trust your story. Practice self-compassion. If that's hard - try these words for yourself.

Self-compassion mantra for ultimate shame-shit-storms

Ok - shame alert.  I'm doing shame. It's happening right now.

Shame Shame Shame.

It's okay. I'm okay. I'm just going to breathe deeply over here. In. Out. In. Out.

What do I need?

Who shall I call? Who has earned the right to hear my story?

Self-Hug.

If needed, insert one or two 'sweethearts' or 'my darlings' or childhood endearment/pet name with happy and comforting associations. If that's too 'fluffy' for you, you might need it even more. Let the inner five year old you and the twelve year old you know they're ok :)

I'm okay. This will pass.

May I be peaceful. May I be loving. May I feel free. May I know I am worthy of love and belonging. Breathe.

 

Or as my wise buddies Pam shared the following day after our call:

"Help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is".


Over to you.

What's your experience?  Want to share your story?  I would love to hear what you have to say.

 

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If you've enjoyed this post, please share it on Facebook and Linked In to the friends and colleagues you feel would enjoy it too by clicking the 'Share' icon below.

If this post resonated for you,  why not consider coming to one of my in-person workshops in the beautiful English Lake District. See these pages for details.

FAQs for the Daring Way and Rising Strong workshops

Is this therapy?

No. The workshops are contextualised in a leadership/organisational development context and are not therapy. The curriculum is a psycho-educational one which means they are about psychological aspects and about education around them, with the focus on the educational aspects here.

Here's an example. If we're exploring childhood shame messages in the workshop, and you identify a critical voice that you think comes from a parent, in therapy you might dig deeper into that voice and a facilitator might ask 'when did you first hear your father say those words?' and 'how did you feel at the time?'. I would ask you 'how does that voice affect the way you show up as a leader in your work?'

You can search for certified professionals in your area on www.thedaringway.com

What's in the workshop?
The curricula (I had to look up the plural of curriculum :)) are different for the Daring Way and for Rising Strong.

The Daring Way explores topics such as shame, vulnerability, courage, empathy and self-compassion, and is focussed on the metaphor of the arena to explore how you show up, be seen and live brave, in your life and at work. It gives a solid foundation from which to explore how you 'do' shame and vulnerability, and from which to start to develop daily practises that better support your sense of worthiness and what matters most to you. 

Rising Strong explores how to get up when you have failed or fallen, and how to develop your emotional intelligence (how you feel, think and act). We may rumble with stories of shame, vulnerability, criticism, anxiety, grief and forgiveness, depending on what comes up in the group. If you are regularly 'triggered' emotionally, you might find it helpful to develop a way of learning about what stories you are telling about events and how you that could serve you better in future.

Can I do the workshops in any order?
Yes, you can. If you want a thorough grounding in how shame shows up for you and building empathy and self-compassion skills, you might prefer to start with the Daring Way. If you want to learn a process for recognising your emotions and dealing with failure, Rising Strong would be a good place to start. You can't get it wrong!

What will my fellow learners be like?
Probably just like you! They may be HR or L&D managers, managers or supervisors, leaders in organisations, people working in helping professions, or coaches (not an exhaustive list). Most people have heard of Brene Brown's work, read a book with their reading group or watched one of both of her TED talks.  They will have similar questions, fears, and hopes as you.

Where can I see Brene's TED talks?
Here, and here.

Will I have to bear my soul?
No, you won't have to do anything you don't want to do. I'll ask you to 'share with stretch', which might mean that you feel some discomfort when you share some things about yourself - vulnerability *is* uncomfortable - that's the whole point of this workshop! But it will be in a small group (between 6-9 people, usually) and we'll have taken time to make sure it's a confidential, safe and encouraging space. 

Connection is important in the workshop - so you will get more from it if you come along willing to open up and let people see the real you. You won't have to speak to the whole group if you don't want to (let me know if this is likely to be particularly tough for you and I'll make sure you get what you need).

How long is the workshop?
Two days, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm on both days, with a 45 minute or 60 minute lunch break (depends on group needs). It's really important you are on time, and there for both days, unless it's really unavoidable - because your (physical and attentional) presence matters to the group, and absences/lateness has an impact. Please do all you can to make this a priority. Thanks!

What if I need to cancel my booking?
We appreciate circumstances change and that whilst no one wants to have to cancel, sometimes this is beyond your control. If you do need to cancel your place, we will do everything within our ability to help you.

Here are details of our 'Cancellation Policy':

  • More than 6 weeks before the event date - full refund will be made.
  • Between 6 and 2 weeks before the course is scheduled to take place - 50% refund will be made.
  • Less than 2 weeks before the course is scheduled to take place - 100% of the workshop fee is charged*

*Alternatively, a substitute delegate may be named, provided that Braveologist People Development is notified in writing of such substitution prior to the event.

Can I connect with you before the workshop?
Definitely! You can connect with me on Facebook or LinkedIn under my name, or set up a time for a chat by phone or Skype (I'm on Skype at jacquisjen). I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have. Previous participants have said they were glad of the opportunity to talk about the content and the workshop before the event.

Hope to see you at a workshop soon!

With gratitude, Jacqui

on rumbling with grief and owning our heartbreak

  I've chosen this pic because I think you can see the love and magic that exists in a person - this person - as seen through my cousin Daisy and Archie's eyes. Every child knows a Magic Fairy when they see one :)

I've chosen this pic because I think you can see the love and magic that exists in a person - this person - as seen through my cousin Daisy and Archie's eyes. Every child knows a Magic Fairy when they see one :)

Ask anyone who has lost someone they love and you'll probably find it's been the hardest thing they've ever faced.

Ask me, here, today, as we approach the 2 year anniversary of my Mum's sudden illness and death 8 days later, and I'll tell you I can't do anything about the visceral response I have when I allow my memory to go to the way she stroked my curls in her last hours, or the tear I remember on her cheek that I willed to be not there at all.

It's like my insides turn to dust, and drain out down through my body and out through my feet.

The sobbing comes from deep within my chest, up through my chest like a water feature, and then out through my eyes as tears.

My crying is in waves, and has a voice. It isn't pretty.

That's what research suggests too - with Brené Brown finding through her fifteen years research into human experience and emotion.

"Grief is perhaps the emotion we fear the most. As individuals, we are afraid of the darkness grief brings.

As a society, we have pathologised it and turned it into something to cure or get over.

Owning our stories of heartbreak is a tremendous challenge when we live in a culture that tells us to deny our grief".

 

As all well-trained coaches know, we've got to feel what we're feeling, so I tried today 'rumbling' with my grief, alongside the Rising Strong process that Brené talks about in her book of the same name. 

She describes three parts of grief, and I'm exploring them here.

Loss

You know that feeling you get when you think you have lost your phone, and the relief when you find it? That's what I think of when I think of loss. Every time I remember my Mum isn't anywhere that I can physically touch or speak to her, I get the rush of her loss all over again.

The main thing I feel I lost is the relationship with my Mum.  

It doesn't matter how many times I'm told she's still with me in spirit, or in my heart, and no matter how much I agree with that,  she isn't here in person, and that's the thing that causes me the pain of loss.

I could choose a different perspective, but the feeling is still there.

It's too big to shift away from the fact that she isn't here any more, in physical form. I can't deny I feel that, if I want to move through it. The pain of that story will define me, if I don't own it.

Longing

I was on a Skype call with a friend this morning, already planned before I knew how I would be feeling, and as I started the call I explained my puffy eyes and snotty disposition. It resonated with her so strongly that in the first 60 seconds of the call we were both snotty messes, crying and laughing with the sadness and shared humanity of having lost our Mums.

She said:

'it's the longing, for me, that is hardest, I think, even after 14 years'.

It has the power to take our breath away, that involuntary yearning for a touch, or a look, or a smell, that defies rational thinking and that is really hard to explain. It doesn't make any sense, because you know you cannot touch what you have lost, you cannot regain it in the same way.

Yet, it exists.

Feeling Lost

We have to reorient ourselves to be in the world without the one we've lost. Who are we now, that the person has gone?

Who am I if I'm not a Daughter?  Who am I if I am not a Mum nor a Daughter? Motherhood and Grief has been a frequent visitor and theme in my life.

How am I supposed to be now that I don't have those conversations we used to have, those private jokes and histories?

I realise through rumbling with my grief that if I want to experience the unconditional love I felt from my Mum, I've got to create that for myself.

If I want the magic she brought, it's mine, now, to make.

If I want to experience her generosity, I'd better get on and do something generous.

Only when we honour what we lost, do I believe we can heal.

 

Rumbling here has helped me realise there is a 'clean pain' of grief that feels to me to be whole, and cleansing, and healing. And when we feel it fully, when we welcome it as a natural and necessary response to loss, it doesn't get to drive us from an undercover place, and it passes in waves and eases.

I can choose not to suffer by thinking thoughts that feel bad or that go over painful memories, since there is only now, this moment, and in this moment, all is really well. We really are all in it together.

 

I teach around topics like this.  If you are interested in attending an in-person workshop in Cumbria, or commissioning a Daring Way or Rising Strong intensive workshop for your organisation, please contact me.

A letter to Mum (originally posted on jacsjenitzer.com in August 2015)

 A year ago, you messaged me to tell me you would be here in the morning to tidy up my house and snuggle the cat.You declined my invitation to join us at my Moky dance class, because you had a ‘rather nice casserole made’, but would see me in the morning. Almost exactly a year ago, Simon and I got the call that changed everything, when your dog came home from an evening walk by the stream, a place you loved, without you, which raised the alarm. My cries of denial are etched into our souls for ever.

 

This writing is intended to honour you as we approach the first anniversary of your passing. I’m just going to rampage it out. Maybe it will ease someone else's pain. I hope it does. It doesn't matter. I'm writing it anyway.

I learned this:

That there is a magic and aliveness in high dependency units, and places where life, literally hangs in the balance. Where one person’s family is being told hopeful news; another that their loved one is at the end of their life. That the staff there have hearts as big as the planet, and courage and sensitivity to hold space for the biggest range of human emotion and reactions. That people who loved me, found the courage to be present with me whilst I got lost in the drama of an intense time. That relationships deepen, when things are tough. That I have the best husband in the world. That friends and family matter. That when you work with a coach willing to witness your raw emotion, you find the way out, through, easier. That in later times, having a coach who is willing to share their own humanity,  helps to make sense of it all. We don't have to do it alone. That the heavy sorrow of grief, is like a dense, dark gravity, that pulled me downward and had me surrender to what is, in that moment. No where to get to, no where to hide. The bravest thing to do is to let it have its way with you. There is such healing in being still and feeling it all fully. That grief comes in healing waves, with the depth and vastness of the ocean and is a powerful and necessary part of the surrender. In the beginning, they came fast and frequently and threatened to pull me under with their strong current. Over time, they have become less frequent, but the intensity remains the same, when they come. One came this morning and insisted I write this post. That grief feels like love, and appreciation, and care, and courage. That it is painful, of course, but that the pain is caused by being broken open and because I loved someone. The love remains. That the feeling does have a bottom and we won’t get lost forever in it (promise). That I did find the courage to allow the exquisite intimacy of holding your hand and looking into your eyes, in your final days and hours, and let it be okay that you had a tear sliding down your cheek. I wanted to run from that, to not witness your sadness. I later realised it is okay to be sad when you know you are saying goodbye. To let people experience their experience. That for months afterwards, I would cherish the memories of the way you squeezed my hand or stroked my curls between two fingers, or touched the ‘dear daughter’ necklace you bought me years before. That I would rub away the wording by retracing, over and over, the place where your fingertips touched.

 

That hearing these things helps - that I will have been everything you needed at the end of your life. That showing up bravely is what I did, the best way I knew how. That grief will ebb and flow in its intensity. How other people loved and experienced you and the impact you had. That our relationship could continue 'beyond this temporal dimension'. Knowing that people were sad, that they were holding space for our sadness too. That there is deep intimacy in connecting over sadness in a way that the words 'I'm sorry for your loss' sometimes feel inadequate, in comparison. That I could continue, broken open, with a big wide open loving heart. That we need to grieve, and mourn our losses. That we gain empathy, because we have experienced the deepest sorrow, and we gain wisdom, because we will find parts of ourselves that we didn’t know we had. That in the first few weeks, I would be too sad to smile, or sometimes, move. That eventually I would be able to go to Moky, and let tears run down my face while dancing to Pharrell's 'Happy', and allow my partners in (dance) crime to hold me in my humanness and tell me I am doing so well, and share their stories of love and loss and let me be exactly where I am. We are hard-wired for empathy. That we are not permanent, in these physical bodies. Even though we act like we have a forever of tomorrows, stretching out ahead of us. That it both matters greatly, how I choose to spend my life, and also that it doesn’t matter at all – since there is no-where to arrive at, and I think it’s really about loving ourselves and others and being kind and enjoying ourselves. That we each get to make our own minds and hearts up about meaning. That I get to build something courageous and wonderful on the obliterated place that has been existing inside me, and that it might involve showing up wholeheartedly, and helping the world have more love in it. That, if I choose to, I can hear you saying ‘when I die, just throw me to the wind!’ and I can feel you when it blows. If I let myself believe that you are everlasting and the essence of you is free and expansive, I can find and feel for you there. You communicate now in white feathers, sunflowers, and ladybirds (we have a shared memory, from the time I collected a hundred of them when I was 7, and they escaped from my jewellery box overnight and were in my hair and bed)

 

That on the night you died, I felt euphoric. I felt you – the essence of you. The worst was happening, and yet I was feeling more clear, and alive, and purposeful than ever. That when you died, I realised that the only other person who could give me what you gave me, was me. That if I want the magic and unconditional love you gave me, I can give it to myself. I hope your spirit continue to be free, and that everyone who loves and misses you can feel your presence and love with every cell in their bodies. Love, Jacqui Anne.

 

Shame Starts Young

I'm at my weekly aerobics class and in the line in front of me is a young boy, about seven or eight, he's come with his mum and aunty and it's his first class.

Halfway through the first song, after throwing himself into the moves, and getting them mostly wrong - it's the first time he's ever done them remember - he rushes out of the front row, sits on the steps at the front of the hall, makes his tear-stained eyes and flushed cheeks invisible to us by putting his head in his hands, and he refuses to look at, or speak to his mum, aunty, or anyone else trying to offer him encouragement.

Disconnected. Shut down. Moved away.

How many of you remember moments from childhood when time stood still because you were told off, or got something wrong, or didn't do something perfectly, or were bullied, or felt like you stood out in the most excrutiatingly painful way? I know I do.

And how many of you are still living those patterns today?

I was struck by how I could be witnessing a shame storm right there, in that young boy. I make up that he tried, he couldn't do it perfectly first time, he quit.

That young boy is a potential leader, potential surgeon, potential politician, potential husband and father, and it's possible that that moment in the class could have frozen him into a pattern of being seen that will show up again and again in his adult life.

He moved with his mum and aunty to the back row, and later in the class I saw him laughing and joining in, safe out of the limelight and able to give being awkward and just learning the steps another.

Ordinary courage is getting up again when you fall.

How are you with getting up again when you fall? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments below.

 

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what to do when you fail at empathy

  Image credit: Dayne Topkin at unsplash.com

Image credit: Dayne Topkin at unsplash.com

You know those people who never seem to mind or notice what others think of them?

Well, that's never been me.

Once upon a time, I was someone who thought the worst thing you could do was to be disapproved of or to upset someone.

So you can imagine my angst as I read these words, in response to a reply I had written to a fellow student on my course:

'Jacqui, I felt uncomfortable when I read your words, and I don't appreciate this kind of comment'.

Uh-ho. Shame-shit-storm alert. Heart pounding. Time slows down. I'm holding my breath.

Here we were, learning about empathy, connection, and trust. And here's me, having failed at that.

I'm such an idiot.

I got it wrong-got-it-wrong-got-it-wrong-got-it-wrong GOT IT WRONG.

What's a girl to do, mid shame-storm?

Ok. Type reply. Make sure he knows he interpreted my message incorrectly. Put him right. Defend myself. TAKE HIM DOWN.

Typed it. Felt bad. Deleted it.

Stomped around the house, huffing and puffing. Said 'nothing!' in a bright, breezy voice when hubby asked what was wrong. Felt like my insides were coming off. Totally disengaged my brain.

Pause. Wait a moment. Pay Attention.

I'm having a shame attack. Name it. Shame shame shame.

Reach out. Tell my story to someone who has earned the right to hear it. A colleague I trust.

Her reply was like a cooling balm on my burning shame-iness.

"Bravo for reaching out. You're in the arena. I'm here. What do you need?".

Shame can't survive in the warm embrace of empathy, of being seen, and knowing we're not alone.

Ok. Deep breath. Circle back. Put this right.

New reply typed, from a wholehearted, open, honest place. Connection made with original poster. We see each other. This is the work.

 

Over to you.

What's your experience? What happens for you when you fail?  What works for you when someone is trying to understand how you feel?  I would love to hear what you have to say.

 

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Tempted to advise your clients?

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Don’t you have a duty to advise your client, when they bring a topic you know a lot about?

Shouldn’t you be sharing your expertise, if you know you can save your client time, energy, pain and money by sharing your experience or opinion? (Asked my brilliant and caring client, recently.)

Well, no. Or at least, not necessarily. And here’s why.

Work that self-management muscle, coach.

Coaching works by asking, not telling. If you’re a co-active coach you’ll already know the power of holding space for your client and in asking powerful questions. Think back to a time when someone told you what they thought or made a suggestion – whether you asked for advice or not. How did you feel? More than likely passive, or even inferior. Maybe you took the advice or suggestion, or maybe you didn’t do anything with it, perhaps because it wasn’t your idea. There’s an imbalance in the relationship at that moment where the giver of the advice becomes the expert.

If you find yourself coaching someone and hear yourself saying anything along the lines of ‘Why don’t you..?’ ‘How about….?’ ‘What I would do is….’, you’re disempowering your client by suggesting that you know best. Nancy Kline goes as far as to say that we ‘infantalise’ others when we assume that we know better than them in that moment. It's disempowering. As human beings, we seek mastery and control over our own lives.

It’s the process of being coached, that brings so much value to the client. Having to search within, to find the answers that are meaningful to them, which has value. Giving someone the gift of deep attention and listening, and recognising that your client is perfectly capable of thinking for themselves, that they would be well served by you paying respectful attention so that they can access their own ideas first, means that you are serving your client by helping them take responsibility for their own thinking and judgement.

 

Holding space for quality thinking

This morning, I had a Thinking Pairs session with a close colleague of mine. You can read about Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment here, but the basic structure was that we each listen to each other for 10 minutes each way, with the listener holding (silent) ease, encouragement and appreciation for the thinker; interjecting only to offer nods or brief words of encouragement to continue, and, on noticing a silence which doesn’t feel as though the thinker may have finished, asking ‘is there more’?, allowing the thinker to keep thinking on the topic they chose.

At first, it’s tricky as both the listener and thinker – because to take the full ten minutes to think aloud, whilst knowing you won’t be interrupted – or to give someone else the gift of that listening space – feels strange. As the listener, I wanted to intrude, to ask questions, to add my voice to the monologue. I knew I could add some value by ‘coaching’. But as I listened, something incredible occurred. I noticed that every time I was tempted to intrude or speak – my thinker went off in a totally different direction than my intervention might have caused her to travel in. At the last prompt for ‘is there more?’ – my thinker came up with an amazing insight that she hadn’t considered before. She developed the idea aloud, and then said ‘hah! That’s it! That’s what I need to do. That’s amazing. Thank you!’. And I hadn’t uttered a word aside from the encouraging prompts. There’s magic in deep listening, folks!

A word from our sponsor….

CTI are very clear about the role of advice giving in coaching:

Co-Active Coaching is an experience of personal and professional development unlike other kinds of coaching. Based on the Co-Active Model, it begins by holding the coachee as naturally creative, resourceful and whole, and completely capable of finding their own answers to whatever challenges they face. The job of a Co-Active Coach® is to ask powerful questions, listen and empower to elicit the skills and creativity a client already possesses, rather than instruct or advise.

 And you can hear Henry Kimsey-House speak directly about advice-giving if you want to go deeper into this topic (9 minute audio which really gets to the heart of this issue).

Five things to consider when you're feeling the urge to give advice:

  1. Make sure your designed alliance has really clearly set out what you and your client have agreed together around sharing your expertise. If something arises, or if your client asks for your advice or opinion, make it clear that you are taking off your coaching hat and putting your mentoring one on.
  2. Stick to the client's agenda - not your agenda for the client. It's imperative that you spend the time together to get clear about what your client wants to get out of the coaching and their life! If you aren't clear, you'll be working too hard as coach.
  3. Be conscious and discerning when the temptation to give your advice or option arises. There will be occasions where you have expertise or where your knowledge is likely to save the client time, pain or money, or when it wouldn't make sense to withhold what you know from your client. Ask your client if they would like this knowledge, AFTER you have found out what they think; stay unattached to your perspective, and make sure your client sees this as only one option available to them, and not the only, expert option or viewpoint to take.
  4. Get clear about the kind of coach/mentor you want to be. It’s possible you are discovering your marketing positioning is becoming more a guru than collaborator or supporter. Nothing wrong with that – but make sure you’re clear on how you will self-manage through certification and when you are co-actively coaching so that you aren't positioning yourself as the expert or mentoring when you should be coaching.
  5. If your client is consistently seeking your advice or isn't willing to come up with their own ideas, there may be a co-dependency issue. Check that you aren't playing the 'Rescuer' for your client. If you have any ethical concerns, seek support from a fellow coach and refer to the ICF (International Coaching Federation) guidelines. Might be worth an inquiry for you as coach too, to see if there is a value of yours being honoured by giving advice. Mastery, perhaps, or competence? In the case of my client, there was a value of efficiency driving the need to save clients wasting timebeon making poor choices. It is essential to know your preferences, if you are to be discerning about how these unconscious influences play out in your coaching.

Over to you. What have you found works, around self-management?  Have you noticed the urge to advise your clients or share what you know? What would you say to a client who brought this topic to coaching?