Dancing With The Coat of Fear

I’ve noticed myself being a right miserable sod sometimes, of late. In small interactions I’ve been bemoaning others’ success, questioning positive actions, doubting intent. I’ve not been kind, at times. And it’s not a state that is nourishing me.

Along with this has been an urge to withdraw. I peer at Twitter or Instagram and have this sense of woeful inadequacy: look at all the things I don’t know how to do, or comment on or change or contribute to. Everyone’s wiser, better, more. There is so much nastiness out there. I have no power.

I want to run and hide. I want to bicker at the world as it shows itself to be: unfair, imbalanced, unjust.  When I’m in this place, I slowly, slowly lose my sense of hope and purpose; my optimism and willingness to be in the world well. So I get miserable and small and I moan. 

And as I do this, My sense of my own smallness increases and….oh hello to a joyless cycle.

It’s an old thing. A coat I wore for ages and know well. The coat is bit manky and not very appealing to see or be around, but in it, I’m safe. Wrapped up in fear and inadequacy, I can look a bit rough and mutter hexes or malicious incantations and keep the world away. It has some power. Splendidly miserable isolation. Fabulous life choice. 

But it’s a heavy coat, it takes effort to lug the damn thing around. It’s a bit stinky and leaves me feeling I need a refresh. Sometimes, I don’t notice myself wearing it– then I realise I’m all tensed up and snarky. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in it, I can’t figure out how to get out, wrestling with the damn thing like a kid in a cagoule with a broken zip. By the time I get to that point (probably before I got to that point, to be honest, but I’m a slow learner, at times) I know I need help.

Help comes in various guises and last week, it came in the guise of Playing at the Edge: Dancing with your Inner Critic, run powerfully and compassionately by Steve Chapman and Simon Cavicchia. When I signed up for it, a large part of me was rolling my eyes at myself – why must I always pick the mad stuff?  Proper people with proper concerns don’t choose to do stuff like this. I am the wrong type of consultant and coach. No one will ever take me seriously. The foolishness of me. The folly and self indulgence. Etc etc…

Yeh, well… that’s as maybe… and I don’t want to keep wearing this damn coat. I’ll never be free of the judgement and fear it’s made of, but if I must carry something of it on my person, I’d rather it was pocket hankie sized and not quite so all encompassing. I don’t want to be swathed in stink and smallness. No-one – neither myself nor my clients – does well when I’m there.

So how about I step out of the coat, dance with it a bit, see if I can’t get it a little cleaner, or chop it up a little – make it less huge or more appealing or something.

So I did. We did. I have been running scared of human contact for the majority of this year, so showing up without my ugly coat to protect me and then getting it out in public did feel…somewhat counter-intuitive. OK.. so actually it felt terrifying and stupid and exposing… It is, therefore, a testament to the skill, the warmth and the care of Steve and Simon that I (and others) felt able to look at, work with and start to re-configure our versions of an ugly coat.

Theirs is a masterclass in navigating emotional landscapes with compassion and wisdom. Every time I felt off-map, I could look up and there were two guides, with compasses going: yeh, you’re alright. You are roughly here someplace… want the compass? It meant I was able, willing, to keep going.

It was a profound two days. I left with a sense of knowing how I react and respond when I’m critical or when I feeling under threat.. and a sense of how to shift that, so I’m not so in the grip of the fear. I left with a different sense of my ugly coat – it’s a little prettier, a little less stinky than I think – it and I still have some work to do.

Turns out when I’m not coating myself in judgement and fear, life is more free, richer and I have a sense of ease in the world. Like I belong more. I can be warmer, bigger, more trusting, happier. I can challenge with less fear. I can stand in the heat of clients protecting their status quo and hold for a few beats more, keep the opportunity for difference open for a longer stretch. I’m more compassionate to myself and that bubbles out to others, which generates trust and shift….

What’s not to love?

So as I brush the lapels of the stinky old coat and whisper to it that I’m going to be wearing something with a bit more colour and freedom and joy, more often, for a wee while, but that I know it well and I know how well it can protect me; I’m thankful for being able to see the stinky coat and for places to take it to dance.

The photograph is entitled “Fur Coat on the Run, Tunisia, 1983” by Richard Young and can be purchased here

The Power of Music – #21daysofWriting – Day 15

Today’s topic comes from top Twitter type Mark Catchlove 

The Power of Music.
Where to begin?
ABC?
Do-re-mi?
De La Soul?
La Boehme?
Bohemian Rhapsody?
Rhapsody in blue?
Blue Monday?
Manic Monday?
Do we begin with a beat?  Something that reflects a pulse?
Or with a melody?

When I read a dictionary definition of a melody – a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying; a tune.” – it’s so far from melodic, it makes me smile at the daftness… Some Things? Some Things are beyond words or descriptors.

Music is a language all by itself.

It can seep into your body, through your ears or through the thump of it, the vibration of it through your skin and your bones.

It can be terrible and tinny and annoying – pop-py, repetitive, surface throw-away crap.
It can be so stupidly beautiful, that everything stops and you are entirely alone with it.
It can be something that bonds you with a thousand strangers, as you sing together – one tune, well known, uniting.
It can be lofty, intellectual, refined.
It can be basic, dirty, gritty, ubiquitous.

It can be painful – I once met someone who found music excruciating – all music. No-one understood how this could be (I didn’t either). It drove them from restaurants, it upset them in lifts, shopping was hideous for them….it seemed to literally hurt their body. I remember saying “you are allergic to music?” and they said, basically, yes.  My reaction of “shit that’s AWFUL” was one they got a LOT. But it wasn’t awful for them. That was their life. Worse was folk like me saying: “How Awful” ALL THE TIME.

There are those who can read music, write music – to me that’s wonderful.. The sheer privilege of being able to create music, not just consume it. Oh what a thing to have. If you are musical in any way shape or form, I hope you appreciate the landscape you can navigate….. I don’t mind if you think you are awful.. if you can play,  if you can read music – if those tiny strange notations on a bunch of straight lines makes sense to you, or more miraculously still, if you can look at that page of notes and “hear’ what it is there,  in your head, without a instrument interpreting it. Wow. That’s a thing.

Without thinking too hard, powerful musical moments can come to mind. As a child, scooped up on my Mum’s hip, as she swayed about the kitchen singing Abba’s “Thank You for The Music” to me. Feeling giddy with the movement and the joy.  Singing in the School Choir for some competition and literally feeling the resonance of voices around me – my arm hairs rising and being slightly freaked out by that. Dancing to “Fools Gold” in a village hall in Fife, copying dance moves off the cool kids, wearing a sun-hat indoor & dressed in jeans so baggy I needed two belts to ensure safe upkeep… having sense I wasn’t a little kid any more. Heading up the M6 with my best mate to her Hen Do in her new fancy “I’m a lawyer now” car, top down, singing Wham songs and Billy Joel (even though it was 2000-and-something) and feeling life gets no better than that. Standing in Albert Square in Manchester last year, 1 year on from the bomb, as the crowd sung Elbow’s “One Day Like This”  -crying with strangers at the awfulness, the sadness, the resolution of staying united.

Standing stunned at the purity of Suzanne Vega’s live voice, last summer, as she sang songs I had endlessly played on a crappy tape machine in my bedroom – emotion shifting through my body I didn’t fully understand – nostalgia, happiness, melancholy for simpler times….

Music evokes.

It is magical, powerful….how lucky we are.

Colour – #21daysofWriting – Day 6

Day 6’s topic comes from the brilliant, creative Christine Locher Second foray into fiction, with a flash of colour, I hope

———

Scotland – 1920 ish

Isla sits on the end of the bed, breath held, no sense of how long she has been sitting there, waiting. Hands on her lap. Feet resting on the floorboards. The clock on the mantle ticks solidly. Everything is still and very very quiet.

She becomes aware that she is cold; and with that comes a sense that she needs to move. So she does. She smooths the skirt of her dress, the fabric soft beneath her fingertips, and slowly rises.

She stands for a second, no clear sense of direction, and catches the image of her face in the mirror above the fireplace. “I am pale” she thinks. She regards her dark hair, curled and pinned. Her blue eyes and prominent nose. Her mouth and the angles of her jawline. She sees dark circles and an unsmiling mouth, a gauntness that makes her look older. She tries to smile, but her nerves stop her eyes from catching the feeling. She turns away, her spirit stubbornly refusing to spiral downward.

Today is the day.

She is ready.

She looks down at the dress. A fine thing. An expensive thing. Beautifully fitted and perfect for the occasion.

She takes a deep breath and goes to seek the others.

 

The men have gathered in the kitchen.

The bottle of whisky on the table, dram glasses gathered around it, belies the fact that it is morning.

They stand, suited, smart, hands in pockets, glass in hand or leaning on the sideboard. Some sit at the table. There is talking, gesturing, fiddling with pocket watches or cigarettes or pipes. A shaft of low winter sun strikes through the gloom, dust motes and smoke moving through it.

She enters the room quietly.

Her father has his back to her. Uncle sees her, nudges Father and nods toward her.

Father turns, expectant, arms opening to greet her as he turns. He takes in the vision of his daughter.  He looks at her for a few seconds, staring. His arms drop.

“What’s this?” He says, quietly.

She doesn’t respond

“Isla?” Still quiet. Ominous. “What the hell is the meaning of this?”

She still says nothing, aware that the room is now silent; that all the men are looking her way; that the moment she knew would come is now here. For all she’d prepared for it, she now feels woefully under equipped and afraid.

She opens her lips to say something… but her tongue is thick and her mouth dry.

Father is standing facing her directly, still across the room. His eyes have ignited – cold fury shining from them.

“Answer me, damn you, girl. What the bloody hell is going on?”

 

“There’s no need to swear at the lassie, Gregor.” – A voice behind her. Mother.

She watches her father shift his position, less certain what to do in the face of his wife.  “Agnes. She’s wearing… she’s wearing…” He gestures at his daughter, unable to finish.

“Red, Gregor. Our daughter is wearing Red.”

He considers this for a second.

“What the bloody hell is she doing wearing red?” He explodes, “It’s a funeral for Christ’s sake, no a…. a… hoor’s convention”

Agnes stands beside her daughter, long black coat buttoned up, the cold from outside still radiating from her. She takes Isla’s hand.

“Isla, my lass. Tell your father why you are wearing red.”

She hesitates. Looks at her mother. Mother nods, gently encouraging. Eyes still on Father.

“It was Robert’s favourite dress, father. He bought it for me. In Paris”

Father looks at her, incredulous. “What?” his contempt is searing.

She takes a deep breath. “This is the last dress Robert bought me. He loved this dress. I told him I would wear it to the funeral”

Father looks between Isla and his wife, trying to take it in. “No. Absolutely No.”

“Gregor…”

“No. No. No. What will people say, Agnes? The Minister? What will the Minister make of it? I forbid it! No daughter of mine goes to her husband’s funeral dressed like that!!”

“Gregor..”

“Hush, wife. I’ll not hear it! I forbid this, understand?”

He rounds on Isla “What possessed you, girl? What are you thinking? A Red Dress, Isla? Paris you say? It looks like he bought it for a…. Tart. Get up the stairs and put on proper mourning attire, or I’ll thrash you like…..”

“THAT IS ENOUGH” her Mother thunders.

Isla doesn’t move. The men seem frozen, too. Only the smoke in the light-shaft moves.

Gregor looks stunned for a split second, then recovers. He puts his whisky glass down, purposefully. The silence is agonising. He moves toward them, menacingly.

“Speak to me like that, would you? In front of all these people?” He hisses, quietly.

Isla is terrified. She bows her head, quivering. Her mothers hand squeezes hers and releases.

Agnes pulls herself to her full height, still smaller than he, and stands between him and his daughter.

“Aye. I would.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

She says nothing. Holds her ground. Dares him silently.

In the silence, in the safety of her mother, Isla thinks about the Red Dress. About Robert, returned from the war unlike so many of his brethren. About how he had passed through Paris on his return home. About how her had greeted her, victorious, with the dress. About how he had not seen her for over a year and when she put it on, he looked at her like she was made of purest gold. About the times she’d worn it since. About the promise she made to him, as he lay, riddled with TB. About her fury with God himself that He would return her Man and take her Man in such a fashion. About the bairn growing in her belly that meant this dress would not fit weeks from now…she takes strength from her anger, her grief, her dress.

She steps out from behind her mother and stares him down.

Gregor is taken aback under the eyes of his child. He’s never seen her thus. His own eyes glare back at him, defiant.

“I’m wearing the dress father.”

He shakes his head, enraged.

She restates “I’m wearing the dress to Robert’s funeral and that is the end of it. No man will stop me. Not you. Not the Minister.”

He considers his position. Looks at his wife.

“Are you proud of yersel, Agnes? You’ve raised a bloody Pankhurst bitch”

He spits on the floor.

Agnes simply unbuttons her coat, the crimson velvet beneath revealing itself to her husband.

“Aye. I’m proud.”

 

 

 

Reflection

I loved writing this. Just loved it.

I hung out with the notion of “colour” for a few days – debating how to frame it. the name fuchsia blue? The colours of emotion? what to choose what to choose….

At some point on Sunday night I thought about a red dress and the scandal of it… that was a hook for other things.. how it once would have been more scandalous (therefore age the thing) how the outrage needs to be placed somehow (funeral? wedding? although in lots of cultures, colours at weddings and funerals are essential). It began in Wales, with the father outraged in a Welsh accent ( you’ll see why tomorrow) and moved home to Scotland, where I understand the tone and texture of the language.

It wasn’t particularly planned.. the crimson reveal happened after I’d written Agnes was wearing a coat… it kind of came together by playing it through – what felt real or not…

Listening to Random People #21daysof writing – Day 3

This is day 3 of the #21daysofwriting Challenge

Thanks to Sarah Sniderman for the topic.. I don’t think this was entirely what you had in mind… but I thought I’d try a little fiction.

“Liam? Do you have something to say?”

Oh shit… his face has done something. An hour of sitting here, carefully keeping it all blank, purposefully not paying attention, yet looking like he was. Quietly laughing at this bunch of saddos. Thinking about his PlayStation game and the YouTube video he’d watched last night. About football. About what to wear to that club he and his mates were aiming for at the weekend. He’d nearly made it.. another 45 minutes or so and he would have been free for another week.

And now Evan, that weirdo hipster twat who carries a stupid man-bag and puts his coffee in a stupid recycle cup, has noticed him. 

“Me? Nah.” 

“It’s just…when Aisha spoke then…. You looked like there was something going on for you.”

He tries not to shoot daggers at Evan. Tries to smooth his face flat. Keeps looking at the centre of the circle.

“Nah.” He says, defiantly.

But everything’s spilling outward.

She spoke of her big brother. Aisha. Was that her name? There’s something about the way she told the story – something about her voice, about her. The rest of them are angry or stuffed grief-full, or they have given up and are just shells -empty, blank. Some come every week because they can’t believe what’s happened and are trying to..what? Fix it? Feel? Whatever.

Story after story. Stab after stab. Death after Death. Wringing hands over a thing that is done. Over. Walk Away. Wailing, sobbing, stuttering, fury… Like an endless f-ing repeat every week. Pointless.

It does his head in. He knows all this shit. They have nothing new to say.

But she…. She has ……Dignity. The word surprises him as he thinks it.

It’s a word he thinks of when he thinks of his Granma – his Granma with ferocious eyes and a wicked deep laugh. He can hear her saying: “Always conduct yourself with dignity, boy – for yourself and others. Straight back. Firm feet. Heart in the middle. Head without heat”

She would say it when he was little, sometimes sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a B&H, looking across at him like she could see through him. Sometimes, holding his face in her hands, her eyes sparking, her voice kind.

She would say it when he was in trouble or nearly in trouble.

She said it a lot.

He’d never really got what she meant.

Until Aisha.

“I don’t want my brother to be dead. But he is.”

She’s been coming for 3 weeks. This is the first time she has spoken.

Liam’s barely noticed her before – a Teenage Grief-Bag in the midst of a bunch of Adult Grief-Bags. He’d clocked that she wasn’t Fit and moved on.

She sits straight in the orange plastic chair, somehow taking up way more space than her skinny frame should. She is still as she speaks. Head up. Defiant. Not bent by this. 

Her voice is calm, clear. She leaves a silence.

Liam tries to drag his thoughts out of the room back to the weekend ahead…..but she is undeniable.

She brims with tears as she recounts her story. Brother stabbed. Wrong boy in the wrong place. The impact. The ripples. The tears magnify her eyes –pools of liquid colour that catch the crappy fluorescent lights and turn them into something alive and magnificent.

She brims, but she doesn’t tip over. No sobbing. No weeping. Steady. Containing a galaxy of emotion perfectly. He’s in awe of the power within this skinny thing. He can barely look at her. He can’t drag his eyes away.

She has moved so her hands are on her knees, she is still upright, but leaning slightly forward. Liam realises he too is leaning in. He adjusts himself back slowly, tries again to disengage.

She takes one hand off her knee, wipes the snot from her nose with the back of her hand and keeps going, without apology. Those liquid, lit eyes focussed on the middle-distance. The air around her seems to crackle.

She seeks no vengeance. No retribution. She seeks understanding. Compassion. Strength.

“What can we do to help the boys who stabbed my brother?”

Liam feels his throat constrict – it’s like she’s asking him directly – his belly knots, acidic and thick. She speaks with clarity – Her story, voice strong, even when it waivers – even when, at the end, she whispers “I miss him. Every hour.”

Then she just sit there. In silence.

And the rest of them – the ones who normally offer a hug or a tissue – sit in silence too.

Evan says something and Liam wants to slap him. Just shut UP, man. You can’t follow that.

“Liam? Do you have something to say?”

“Me? Nah.”

What the hell can he say? He reaches to find words, but none are there other than: Fuck.

He is physically molten – feet shifting, belly knotted, mouth dry, throat tightening, pulse racing. What just happened?

“It’s just…when Aisha spoke then…. You looked like there was something going on for you.”

“Nah”.  

He can’t look at her. He can’t look anywhere, but at the floor. 

Evan says it might be time for a break. the Grief-Bags begin to stand and move around. Liam can’t move for a second, pinned by the weight of something. 

He glances over and she has four or five people around her, making her tea, patting her shoulders. She is tiny.

Straight back. Firm feet. Heart in the middle. Head without heat…. Dignity

Alright Granma, he thinks, annoyed. I hear you.

He stands and moves toward the tiny girl. All lanky 6 foot plus of him.

He’s uncertain, hesitant.

She turns as if she were expecting him. The Grief-Bags also turn

All eyes on him.

He says  “It was me.”

Her face crumples for a second, questions and shock run rapidly.

He realises what he’s said, horrified and stammers “I mean… not your brother.. I didn’t stab your brother or nothing.. but I did that. Stab. I killed someone…”

She looks confused.

Evan steps in:

“Alright Liam, that’s good. This is a good step.”

Evan hands him a mug of pale tea. Liam takes it, automatically

“Shall we sit back down, everyone?”

Shifting

As she steps from one space into another, I am struck by how beautiful she is.
For a moment, I feel my throat catch and my breath shorten.
She is stepping into her future self.
It’s an oft-used coaching exercise – we hang out with the old, move into the here-and-now, step into the future.
We move physically, as well as mentally, verbally, emotionally.
We take our time.
At the start, she is hesitant – looking to me to reassure – is this right? Permissible? Am I saying the right thing? Thinking the right thing? Good Coachee?
Others react differently. They jump in and complete the task. They are sure. Unthinking. Certain. They tell me decisively How The World Is… Oh. OK then.
She is much more tentative, more hesitant.
We all start from different places, I guess.
But now? She’s up and running.
She is almost talking to herself…
And she moves.
Determinedly. Quietly. Furiously.
It’s a hell of a thing to behold.
She’s not some 6ft supermodel. She’s not high flyer have-it-all go getter. She’s not special. She’s not beautiful. She’s not quite right yet.
(She defines herself as what she is not – and she is sure about what she isn’t.
Very sure. Defendedly, properly, rudely sure.
I’ve been abruptly put in my place a few times for my questions…)
Me? I’m less sure. I’m deeply curious about the story she has set for herself – the excellent, binding narrative. The “I am/ I’m Not” story. It’s been written over years.
Carefully constructed and edited…the one that has brought her here.
Half-formed. Half permitted. Half certain (but very certain of the half)
As I watch her resolve to shift (maybe dissolve?) something, I am moved beyond measure.
Eventually, after a long time of silence, of talking to herself and to the middle-distance, she looks at me.
A little shy, a little embarrassed, a little defensive, perhaps – I’ve seen her unguarded.
I don’t say anything….
Then I realise I’m grinning and I might need to explain myself….
And we begin a different conversation.

What Matters – The Garden Centre Lesson


So after yesterday’s blog,  I start thinking about What Matters in my work. The things I value…The things that serve me well… I haven’t thought much about these in a while… I have an urge to properly pause for a bit and not do anything much other than stay with the question for a while – What Matters?

I give myself the gift of a few hours. I’m easing into the week from the Easter weekend and nothing is pressing too hard. There are other things I could be doing, of course, and I could allow myself to feel guilty for “wasting time” etc – but I’m over that stuff…. This is a lively, active pause, not a vegging-out, mindless one…. Good stuff will come from this…I’m encouraging myself to do as I said I was going to and stop for a while. No sudden moves. What Matters?

I sit on the floor of the office with a cup of tea in hand. The Dog is delighted I’m at her level and wags over to my side, dumping herself unceremoniously beside me….I cuddle her and stare at the spines of books, wondering which one sort of “speaks” to me – where to begin, where to begin? What follows is a period of picking books up, raffling through pages. Noticing what resonates. Noticing where I shudder…. I give myself freedom to just go with whatever. I notice myself fretting about what’s not on my shelves..is my library good enough?… I manage to laugh at myself a little…good enough for who? Who the hell is watching right now? I figure what is there got me this far & I haven’t read half of it cover to cover – there’s enough here, for today.

Through this process, I reach back to points in my learning and my development as a Practitioner where light dawned on previously dark spaces…. I find myself seeking to return to what I have been shown… Revisiting my training: how to reflect and put that reflection into new action. How to take a thing – a moment, a regular occurrence, a block, a belief, a question-  and look at it through different lenses and positions and therefore work with it differently. What Matters?

Turns out that experience matters – I don’t mean Years-Served-Endless-Hamster-Wheel-Clocking-up-Time experience, I mean the lived experience of being in the world. Of being a fully living, sensing, thinking, learning being operating in a fully living, sensing shifting world. It matters to me and for my work… my lived experience impacts me, influences me, changes me.

When I started an MSc in Org Change in 2012, I was horrified – and I mean properly Are. You. Kidding. WTF horrified – that it began with Philosophy. One of the first sessions was on Phenomenology (cue about 3 months of me having the muppets’ M-numm-M-nunnh song in my head, only with the lyrics as “phenonmenon doo-doo-do-doo-doooo” – very very bad – if you want a different experience from this explanation, view here)

Phenomenologists argue that there is no one hard and fast, objective reality, that there is simply experience, followed by the interpretation we put on that experience.  So when we were sent off to visit places near Ashridge and a bunch of us went to the same Garden Centre what we found was: We went to the same place but Oh MAN did we have different experiences. For some of us, it was all about the lovely flora & fauna – spring, colours, growth – for others, flowers signified hayfever. For others it was about security cameras, warning signs and signs saying: do this/ don’t do that – human rules on nature. For others it was about the quality of cake and coffee – the welcome and offering. The Garden Centre Lesson: Bottom line? We were physically in the same space but emotionally, mentally and experientially worlds apart.

When we got back together to talk about what we heard/saw/ noticed/ experience it was like we had been to different places. Who was right? What was important? Whose experience was more valid? Powerful stuff.

So experience matters – my experience is just a valid and useful as yours. What I see and experience counts. Even if it’s inconvenient to you.  (actually, as a Consultant…arguably especially if it’s inconvenient to you) If we want to understand the whole garden centre, we can’t just see the roses. If we want to understand the internal Culture, we can’t just data-gather from one source  – (ie Leadership, or Frontline, or Customers, or coachee etc) I mean we CAN… but if we do, we need to be clear on the limitations of that view/ experience.. and not arrange the whole world/ training budget around a single view… ( And yes, we need to layer context on to experience eventually, or no-one gets anywhere… there needs to be a value judgement in there someplace or we won’t make decisions.. but later.)

My training: Notice the phenomena. Drop the shoulds and oughts and coulds. Have the experience. Notice the data (all of it – what you think, feel, sense – bring your whole self in) Sense-make and hypothesize. Create meaning. Reflect on it (either in the moment or after the effect – or, if you are me, probably both)…Notice your bias, your Bubble & blindspots if you can…and from there, can I play with that meaning in order to move on?  Can I offer myself choices: go deeper into the issue, or widen it out or just shift it elsewhere… momentum, progress, perhaps? I’m seeking difference, insight, learning.

I go back because it’s a thing that has served me well – reflective practice – an iterative process that moves me from Here to There – wherever There might be. I know there are good models for reflective practice – interested in hearing from others what they use or value

For me? this is What Matters. Taking my experience seriously.  Taking others’ experience seriously. Data gathering from different sources. Discussion. Iteration. And time for reflection whilst cuddling the dog & perusing books that fire my synapses.

What Matters

Image thanks to @GapingVoid

I took some time off.

Over the weekend, the long Easter weekend and the weekend before, I actually stopped working and thinking about work. Since October, fuchsia blue has been working with Greater Manchester Combined Authority on a piece of culture and OD strategy work. It’s a complex, if rewarding, piece with a lot at stake, a lot to consider and a lot of people and pace in the mix. It matters. It’s taken a lot of thinking through, of working out, of asking and gathering, of showing and telling. Add to that the ever-expanding joy that is the Shindig, and what it needs and deserves from me…. and coaching, facilitating, faculty work…I have felt in demand. Stretched. Not unhappy, but working at capacity….
Some will read that and see humble bragging about busy-ness, others will read other things into it. It’s not intended to be anything more than it is what it is, for me. I make choices and work with them. My 2012 self would marvel at what my 2018 self gets up to – I’m grateful for that. I genuinely love the work I get to do – even when it tests and stretches me… I love the folk I get to work with – and their infinite patience with my frowny face at times. For once, I’ve given myself a little credit for stuff I know, which has kind of felt good…. and still I have felt a loss.

It’s been so subtle, I hardly noticed it – mostly because I’ve hardly stopped. Not properly stopping…. The type of stopping that allows pottering, free-thinking, writing, discovery, possibility. It’s part of What Matters.
I arrive at my desk with a pre-formed to do list, a series of calls to make or things to attend to. I crack through what I can and I prioritise what next or what-not. I’m not bad at it, to be honest… but In this mode, I lose connection – l lose space and being in-touch.. with myself, with others… I sort of fold in for a while and rely on what I know and can access.. it is oddly satisfying – I can click through work at a fair pace. Stuff can get done – but after a while, the “Stuff” loses something important, something that matters – it becomes more transactional, task-based… oddly unsatisfying. And I feel a loss of connection to my creativity and words.

Over the weekend I put work down – the only thing that came close was playing with Storyboard technologies for the sheer hell of drawing stuff – not because I’m designing anything or trying to create something for a client – but because I’m curious.
It felt good.

I feel more restored.
It matters.

In a month that promises an Edinburgh Shindig, an Unconference, attending the ODN Europe Conference, my first ever trip to Shetland with the glorious Scottish Ballet, ongoing work with GMCA as we begin to look at getting folk involved in stuff in a different way, in a month where I begin a new conversation with a new supervisor – my intention is to enjoy the work as it comes. To put down the to do list and do some being. To focus on What Matters.

Wonder how that will work out?

Touch

In the moment of the goodbye, she hugs me….not a quick, rapid, throw-arms-round-as-I-buzz-on-to-next-thing hug, but a deeply present, warm I-see-you-we-are-connected-see-you-again hug…heart to heart stuff…. I literally and metaphysically find myself moved. I sink in for a second – yielding and accepting the feel of that message in my body, ready to be received, ready to give back connection, affection, love….there is a brief pause, where we’re just kind of together, and then she disentangles herself and goes… for a moment I am discombobulated, filled with good chemicals …at peace.
Then I sort of exhale and go about my day – a little heightened.
A small moment, a shifting one… how utterly delicious.

Not everyone likes to be touched.
Physically, psychologically, emotionally, sometimes socially, the phenomena of someone reaching us, connecting with us is a profound one.
It’s risky.
It can be thrilling
It can terrify.
Given, got.
Offered, accepted.
Withheld, denied.
It can’t be one-sided.
It’s a relational thing.
This stuff’s loaded.
Touch can be kind, enlivening, empowering.
It can be cruel, belittling, damaging.
It can be intrusive, a violation.
It can be instructive, a revelation.
We have, often for good reason, different boundaries and barriers around connection.
This stuff leaves you vulnerable.
It could do you over.
It could move you into different places and spaces,
It is not to be underestimated.

I’m interested in touch – what am I in-touch with? Out of touch with? What am I connecting to? Disconnect from?
I ask the same of clients… it helps to know this stuff.. or at least get a sense of it…

I have a client who hates to be touched – hugging literally makes them shudder – we’ve talked about it, each fascinated by the other’s ease of preference – I’m physical, a hugger, an arm toucher – the opposite would leave me more disconnect – I don’t understand what that preference must be like.
They spend their life being hugged and touched by folk like me, and it leaves them cold, irritated… compounded by the fact that society seems to value touch and hugs…. their boundaries constantly crossed inadvertently…Why do I need to bloody touch folk? Why can’t you let me be?
These are fair questions.

When I go and see Mum, deeply bitten by dementia, it is, at times, touch that connects us back, words won’t work here…. hands held, eye contact…a hand on a cheek… these are the gestures that garner a response.

In a novel I read recently, Karen Joy Fowler writes: “They are called feelings for a reason. It’s because you feel. Them.” Things touch us, they move us – we feel. Our physical experience of being in the world, so often overlooked, is such a vital part of who we are and how we are with others…how in-touch are we with this?

I’ll make the argument for opening up, taking the risk, being bigger, connecting more, putting yourself out there, being in-touch with yourself and with others… and I am one of the first who longs to lock-down, protect myself, hide away, out-of-reach.
I struggle with big crowds. I get overwhelmed in the Social Media maelstrom at times….lots of people professing connection… sometimes, the warmth I see and experience through virtual, social spaces, truly touches me…sometimes it feels hollow, vacuous….a scant touch, brief and care-less.

Which is why, when someone hugs me with such open heartedness, such generosity and love I’m bowled over for a second…and then I hug back….
Oh yes… this is what it feels like to be connected…. Wow.

Facilitation: We Move Folk… or Try To…

Much of the work, when we are facilitating, is about moving people’s “states” – working to move their learning, how they see the world, their current story…. this isn’t something we talk about widely in the training of facilitators… but for me it’s a no-brainer. We move folk… or try to.

So Movement is an interesting one – as humans we can be as stubborn and immovable as donkeys. We can be deeply entrenched, utterly unable or unwilling to shift our position or thinking…. And yet we are predictable, persuadable, biddable, impressionable….so somewhere in here is possibility.

I’m clear, when I facilitate (and coach), that I mostly cannot move you if you are not open or able to be shifted. Your life experiences, your wiring, your world-view are there and if you choose to remain within those – if the defences are up – there is little I can do.
I can learn how to persuade and influence. I can make a good case, rationally and emotionally, for a shift. I can ask good questions. I can create experiences and conversations that compel. I can create a little smoke & put you in front of mirrors (not so much my style, but it’s out there, if you pay attention) I can set the environment and the “tone” which give you the opportunities to shift. I can set something up that is as enticing and beguiling as it is possible to make a thing… and still you have to meet me someplace toward it – you need to move.
(and even if you move.. you might move back… so long-term sustained states are better than short term fixes?)

I suspect when we design stuff, this shift of state is what we reach toward, consciously or otherwise.
I’ll come back to this in a bit….

I’m a social scientist by training. Sociology taught me a lot about understanding social systems. We as humans pull toward being interconnected, interacting, joined-up-in-more-ways-than-we-act, social. We influence each other – someone commits an act of terror in London, there is a wider social ripple that effects us all. Someone restructures the organisation… new team and power dynamics run….
We can’t live without cause and effect – movement is inherent in all of this – changed states, shifts and patterns.
Systems are, by their very nature, dynamic. They move and respond in order to survive and thrive. Bits waste and fall out of favour (atrophy) bits develop (emergence). It’s a dance of sorts.

When you facilitate, in the room, it is no different. You work the system, often dancing in the moment, whether you know it or not.

If you work with a group from a single Organisation, folk replicate the system the come from – they carry the rights/wrongs/ culture of the place they come from. It’s in their thinking and actions, in their behaviours and their energy – the system you work with in the room is an echo of a wider system. What is favoured one place, is a bit “meh” elsewhere.

For example, if you’ll forgive the broad-brush stuff, when I’m working in Oil & Gas sector in the Middle East, I might get a repetition of engineering thinking in the room, Sector thinking (lots of emphasis on safety), the cultural mix of Northern European liberalism, Ex-pat nomads and Middle Eastern conservatism, … brought under a shared purpose of pulling oil out of the Gulf safely, which is where the cultural differences must be dropped a little. What might be valued/ permitted in this room is expertise, proven theory, certainty, formal process and action – creativity and innovation might be viewed with a little scepticism… or flat fear.

In a UK Local Authority, the emphasis might be more on social thinking – systems, social care, social justice – what might be valued/ permitted in the room might be freedom to explore ideas, acknowledging complexity, collaboration, creativity and relationship-building… formal process and theory-based slide decks and definitive answers might just not work.

Or when working with a group from lots of different systems, an Unconference or a cross-sector workshop, I know that individuals tend to replicate the social system they know – the norms and behaviours from their world – and group work here can be more hectic, less settled for a while, especially if norms and permissions collide…..

None of this is right or wrong .. You mostly roll with it- but going back to the point above, if you are looking for the shift, if you want to successfully facilitate Movement (of learning, ideas etc) understanding the System & what it tolerates, values or rejects can greatly help your design & approach… and you can’t absent yourself from it – you will have an impact on the group you work with…

Movement & The Facilitation Shindig

we’re going to work with the theme of Movement at the May #FacilitationShindig. I’m going to use a couple of things to explore Movement in and around the system.  (If you don’t know about the Shindig yet, have a look at www.FacilitationShindig.com or follow @Shindiggery1 ) Broadly, a breakdown of what we’ll cover looks like this:

  1. As with every Shindig, one of the core principles is It Starts With You – we’ll look at what moves you and what keeps you grounded. The system is about to get mobile around you in the room – you need to be a stable point, not dragged about by others’ stuff – to be able to stand, relaxed, open, not-anxious, curious…
  2. Practical activities help you do that (be organised, understand your “flow” etc) and we will focus on physical elements which help – practices of physically centring and re-balancing. I’m drawing from Embodied Work from my teachers in this field, particularly Wendy Palmer and Amanda Ridings. Wendy looks at the physical, embodied nature of being in the world and asks how we can actively connect to our strength dignity, and warmth. In the room it is this: can you connect to the Good Stuff and extend it out, extending your personal space, creating a felt-sense of calm, inclusion etc ?
    You can find out more about Wendy’s work here:

  3. Beyond-self. Looking at understanding and moving the system. We’ll look at mapping – using 3D System Sculpting – and some stuff around movement in the room (what do we need to think about/ try when we move folk round? What happens if we are faced with physical restrictions?)
  4. Finally we’ll look in to and use Constellations – roughly speaking, this is about experiencing where we stand in relation to each other, to the sytem, to a situation or a pattern – looking at it from a number of perspectives.

So we are looking at Movement – in every sense of the word – and how that fits in our practice as facilitators and what more we can do with the dynamics we work with and are influenced by.

register your interest for the event on the 4th May click here

 buy a ticket for 4th May Movement session click here

 

 

 

The Truth About Collaboration

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So the truth is there is a way to work collaboratively, co creatively and constructively with others.
Even with people who have vastly different approaches/ preferences.
And the truth is this way can’t be defined in a top-10-tip list.
And collaboration needs worked at hard for the results to show.
And it’s the less-easy path, because self-interest, self-protection and self-centredness is pretty easy to access.
Including and involving others, trusting, sharing? Ah, now… that’s a lot more complicated.

When I want to work collaboratively, it is this:
I need enough clarity, purpose & articulation to make sense.
Know why I’m doing what I’m doing…and ensure folk know that.
State my case.
Why I think what I think & stand within that….
But not stubbornly. Not blindly or narrowly.
I have to be able to give, to yield, to be as wrong as I am right.
To be interested in others.
I have to not be a petulant child.

This is Relational Practice as I understand it.
It is stuff the oils & fuels change in organisations.
The stuff in between the process and procedure and formal mechanisms and rules.
It’s thinking with clients.
It’s working with ambiguity & knowing that not-knowing is transitory, but necessary.
It’s loving the questions.
It’s not fearing new solutions.
It’s not single handedly designing a 24 week organisational solution to be delivered like an Amazon Parcel.
It’s building in consultation, iteration & experimentation.

It’s sharing findings for bigger, more expansive outcomes, rather than tightly holding small fiefdoms.
It’s uncovering answers together… because somehow going slower makes us faster.
It’s pulling existing knowledge into being & building on together that so it’s better and stronger.
It’s getting over yourself to the space beyond you.

It’s encouraging technology for progress and positive outcomes
It’s about quiet time in the crazy.

It’s putting heart and soul in & knowing that cannot be quantified, but seeking the data to explain how it worked & articulate it as best we can & repeat if we can anyway

It’s about power.
The power we think we have.
The power we exert.
The power we deny we have.
The power we are clueless about.
It’s about how kindly or thoughtlessly we use that power.

It’s not dismissing anyone.
It’s not elevating anyone either.
Everyone is important, therefore no-one is
Everyone is different, therefore we are all the same.
It’s about respectful opposition
And about humour in tough circumstances.

It’s about sitting in tough & tender conversations.
If we prefer the tough, it’s facing into the tender.
If we prefer tender, it’s putting yourself in the tough stuff.
It’s about stretch.

And about dignity.
Not denying your femininity / masculinity. Knowing you have both.
I have the capacity to be assertive & strong & directive & agentic.
I have the capacity to yield, to be soft & open & commune.
I can be certain.
I can be afraid
And these are right, proper at times.

And at the heart, it is about love.
Love of self.
Love of others.
Love of the possible & the unknown.
Love of the impossible & the known.
Living with what these give & what they take.

It’s about a hundred stories of hopes crushed & fights fought and getting up and cracking on anyway.
It’s human spirit in all it’s heartbreaking, excruciating beauty.
It’s human nature that tests things of beauty to breaking point.
It’s the terrible things we do to each other to make ourselves feel better & the terrible things we do to ourselves at others’ behest.
We are so clever… we are so dumb…..

And when I look at all of this…. the richness and the depth and the complexity of it all….
I think it is unsurprising that we turn from work that is relational, social, emotional – We go for simple narratives and binary decisions.
and it leads us to a post-truth world, where rational data co-exists with “alternative facts” and “he-said/ She-said” is the basic narrative – a stuck one. An adversarial one.
Here, there is such certainty, it undermines certainty itself.

So how about we sack-off certainty and seek to collaborate, co-create and work through relationships with a little maturity and grace?
Hard work as it is.
Try it. Today. See what happens.