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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

How do you manage your outer space?

In the far-off days, when I had what my mother would call "a proper job", my office was situated in an underground level of the building. I can clearly remember speaking to people on the telephone from my executive desk (probably with executive toys on - it was the 80's after all) and hearing them comment about the weather outside.

"Isn't it lovely" they would say. (Or conversely "isn't it awful" - it is the UK after all)

My reply was usually along the lines of ..."is it?"  Because it's difficult to comment when a) you have no window and b) you haven't been above ground for hours.

I was reminded of this fact only yesterday when I met with a colleague, who has an office at level-2, as she emerged from the depths into the evening sunshine, without any idea that it had been shining all day.

So, I was especially grateful to start work this morning, with wood pigeons in the cherry tree, bluetits feeding from the hoppers in the bird-cafe just outside my window and my dog at my feet.

Our cherry tree is so spectacular at the moment that local Japanese people come and take photos of it - a natural and cultural connection with their home at this time of year. 

Instead of taking my working routine for granted, I am especially mindful today how the outer space I create for myself has a lot to do with the quality of the work I do - which is tightly connected to the quality of my thinking, feeling and inner space.

If this is true for me, then might it also be true for others?

In which case, my inquiry is whether I am paying enough conscious attention to the quality of the "outer space" I create or manage for coaching and learning interventions?

I have some clients where part of our coaching routine that has developed is to meet a short walk away from the working premises so that they are able to "get out". The walk to and from our sessions has become part of the routine of reflection before and after that we use to notice-the-things-I-wouldn't-have-noticed-if-I-hadn't-been-noticing.

Often, these "things" prove to be the basis for further insights, metaphors or metasagas and I realise that there is even more potential to work in the "outer space" than I have been using up until now - for myself and for others.

A principle from the Tao Te Ching floats in to my head from seemingly nowhere, (must be the Far Eastern blossom thing in my outer space connecting with my inner space) on the subject of the fundamental usefulness of space and how the space is what creates the object itself:

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;

But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not. (chap. 11, tr. Waley)

Another Taoist principle is to "know when it's time to stop. If you don't know then stop when you are done" That should give me more than enough to play with for a few days!

How do you manage your outer space?

Friday, 23 April 2010

How are you making the most of today?

Reclaiming my full awareness has been fun - but also a bit scary.

This week I was back on the road, mindlessly consuming miles of tarmac and ancient fossil fuel.

Suddenly, 100 yards ahead (ok - 91.444 metres - but my brain is still wired in yards, feet and inches in the same way as perfecly bi-lingual friends will still count numbers in their own language - which I guess is the power of the language we first formulate - but that's another whole other blog topic...)

So - 100 yards ahead of me, the car in front clipped a traffic cone on the central reservation side of the fast lane. I'd never before witnessed or experienced so closely what happens when a car travelling at 70 (or even 80 mph or more) encounters a stationary object.  It skewed from side to side, looking like a bizarre version of a bucking bronco, from fast lane to middle lane and back again.

By luck more than good judgement, we managed to avoid each other and the car and driver made it in one piece across to the hard shoulder where he or she did whatever one does when we realise that we have avoided serious injury - or death - by a narrow margin.

Following this little drama, I slowed my speed in the universal driver reaction and went slowly and carefully for the next few miles.

Then, at about the time my body returned to stasis after the shock, and the distance increased between me and the incident, my speed crept up again and I settled back in to my ownership of the road.

Then in my left ear, I heard a slight buzzing sound. I looked across to the passenger window to see a large bee, who either was getting irrationally excited about a trip to the Midlands, or was getting upset at being trapped in my car.

Physics was never my strong point, so for a moment I was engrossed with the possible results that opening the passenger window would bring. It seemed like a binary decision - either the air would suck the bee out, or the blast would fling it further in.

I slowed down, opened the window and hoped for the best.

Buzzing stopped, window up, sigh of relief.

Until it started again - this time on my side of the car - I really should have paid more attention to Dr. Robson and the school physics lab at the time.

This time I did the job properly - opened the window completely and watched it disappear - (probably onto the windscreen of the car behind - in case Dr.Robson is out there somewhere?)

Then I was left uncomfortably pondering - was it one bee experienced twice? or two bees experienced once?

Was there a nest - or whatever bees make - in my car somewhere meaning that I might suddenly be blasted with some kind of Hitchcock-style shared intelligence stinging fury at being driven to the Midlands instead of to the South Coast for the day?

Shortly afterwards, a few people, who I never saw before in my life, drove past waving and mouthing something that I don't think was an enquiry about the bee/s or my health and I broke into another sweat and heart rate boost as I realised how little attention I had paid to the road or cars around me during the minutes that I paid to the bee/s. It dawned on me that twice in one shortish journey, I could have experienced a life-changing, if not life-shortening, different outcome.

There's nothing like a close shave to feel lucky to be alive - so having two close shaves within 20 minutes of each other is a powerful lesson.

How are you making the most of your day?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

What to do about a loose connection?

I spent the first of the really glorious sunny, warm days at the weekend in my favourite spot, double digging a patch of my garden.

The skies of West London were clear blue without a cloud. More noticably, there was not a single vapour trail coursing over my head, nor any rumble from planes taking off and landing since all the airports are still closed. It was, quite simply, silent bliss.

I realise that I am lucky to be home, and not stranded somewhere else, with my holiday or business trip in shreds around me and struggling to make it home, or worried about separated family members like so many other people.

A few days either way, a different set of circumstances and choices, and I would indeed be in that position. I would also be likely to be significantly out-of-pocket as there is no claim against a force-majeure - which quite literally means "a greater force".

I am curious about my own thought process about the greater forces that have - literally - grounded us all. I had the kernel of this same thought in the winter, when all the snow brought us to a standstill.

It is true that in my daily life, I very rarely have to stop and consider the earth and its power, and that when I do, it is usually vicariously - earthquakes in far places, disasters and floods, all reported in to my sofa, heated car seat or wherever I happen to be at the time.

I know, from past sailing experiences and growing up on the coast, that the sea is to be respected at all costs. This was ingrained from an early age when our primary school assembly favourite was "for those in peril on the sea" and I shared playground anxieties with the children of fishing families and life-boat crews during spells of bad weather.

But I am now jolted into realising how 30 years' of busy London living has blunted my senses and loosened my connection with the earth and universe in general. It seems incredible to my modern, yet naive, mind that a volcano can stop the air traffic on this scale.

But maybe my modern mind has mal-developed to become fooled into believing that we are stronger than the forces of nature and that just because I  don't confront them every day, that somehow they cease to exist, or that they can be overcome by modern inventions, science and technology.

I clearly remember the reports, before the terrible Tsunami struck, that all the animals left the low ground for the high ground with the sort of collective intelligence that binds the natural world.

As a developer of managers and leaders, I have frequently asked myself whether, in fact, we have forgotten more than we know when it comes to harnessing the collective intelligence in other contexts.

Therefore, perhaps the really incredible thought is that, with human arrogance and dangerous naivity, I have been seduced into thinking that it is incredible.

It's a mega reminder that my experience and view of the world is only my perception - and as such, perhaps it is a timely reminder for me in some way.

I am planning to spend some time considering how to strengthen my loose connection with the world and personally speaking, in my happy, sunny garden, I am grateful for the reminder.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Where do you find your creative mo-jo?

Where you find your own creative mo-jo is an important question to answer - preferably before you realise that you have mislaid it!

I've really discovered the question out of the frustration of neglecting my own - I allowed it out of my sight and to slip from my grasp back in November and I haven't really been able to find it since. I have a hunch that it can happen to us all.

For various domestic, personal and professional pressures, choices and stories I tell myself,  I seem to have been existing on auto-pilot and that twilight zone of mechanical function, managing task, purposeful action and not much space has shrunk my spirit like a prune.

Thankfully, as a result of years on my very own Human Element bean-bag, I at least now know the difference (for me) between spiritually wizened prune and juicy fruit, between surviving and thriving and my own process of being fully alive - or just scraping by.  Thank goodness for that at least.

Otherwise - I might not discover the need to wake up and keep looking. I simply wouldn't know what I didn't know or what I was missing.

Of course, in my coaching endeavours, I can be a bit of a whizz (so they tell me) at helping other people to find theirs - but it's a more than a bit hypocritcal if my own insists on hiding behind the curtains.

I've spent a while crashing around looking for it, giving myself a good beating for being so stupid as to have lost it in the first place, and then got rather cross with "it" for not playing the game and being found.

Then I got a glimmer when I least expected it. It was gardening with all the delicious smells and senses after a long winter of neglect, a bit of a metasaga and a jogging of a memory of being 10 and moving to a new house with badgers in the wood at the end of the garden. I wanted to see a badger for myself, so every evening, I went thumping into the woods, did a 10 year old's oxymoronic version of sitting still and had no clue about which way the wind might be blowing my scent down to their sets. Needless to say, apart from a few fleeting glimpses of pale grey in the twilight, like my creative aliveness, they were ever elusive.

A new parentally influenced plan involved staying indoors in my own space, but laying down food trails in longer and longer spaces until they led eventually to my back door. Trial and error led me to understand that badgers love bacon - and before long, I had whole families of badgers playing on our patio in the evening light.

So - I still don't know where to find my creative energy exactly but I am now in a place of trusting that it's still there and that I do have to be open enough to let it find me (and I'll know when it does because I think it looks a bit like a badger!)


In the meantime, a few bits of mental bacon in the form of good reading, music, a bit more dancing on my desk and a lot more noticing what I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been noticing and I think it'll turn up soon.

Thanks to my colleagues and coaching clients who all contribute so much - you know who you are and also thanks to all you lovely people who have asked where the blog went and encouraged me to get going again!

It's back - and so am I!