Monday, September 23, 2019

The Practice of Living and Dying

Is there any more perfect day to talk about the practice of living and dying than on the equinox?.
You may ask why I want to write about such a topic. I have many reasons, but these for a start. 
1) Well, none of us are getting out of here alive.   As The Onion announced, ‘World Death Rate is Holding Steady at 100 Percent’.  
2) I want to be good at it!
3) I would argue that our obsession that growth is good, decline is bad is keeping us in denial about ourselves and our planet (more on this at a later date!)
4) It seems that we have forgotten ‘how to die’ symbolically, which limits our ability to fully step into our potential, as people. As leaders.  
Obviously, the topic is big. And that is the thing. It is so big that, particularly in our western culture we shy away from it.   It is something so beyond our control we keep it in dark corners.  We shroud it in taboos, projections, superstitions and silence. 
Which is why, the likes of the humble wise Meredith Little, who together with her husband founded The School of Lost Borders and who has been guiding vision fasts and rites of passage for over 35 years,  has it as her mission, to inspire us to live and die consciously.  Her programme, The Practice of Living and Dying, which she co-developed with Scott Eberle, is a wonderful gift to the world, serving to help break the silence and restore dying to its natural place in the cycles of life.   Drawing from earth-based wisdom, she gently guides us to look into our own nature, in nature, to explore our relationship with death and rebirth.  
For me, the programme is multidimensional, but to give you a feel, here are 3 of its offerings: 

1) To prepare for our own physical death: to have a perspective of how we would like to die (acknowledging it may not necessarily go to plan!) is empowering and liberating.  To reflect in advance of that generally unpredictable event, is a gift to our own life and transition.    To do as much as we can so we do not add to the grief and burden of those we leave behind is a true act of kindness. It gives us the time to reflect about the conversations we need to have (now), to do our forgiveness work, to make peace with our lives.   It helps us to think about the legacy we want to leave, as an ancestor of the future. It gives time to do a will. 

2)To help support someone dying or grieving a death:  How many people around us in our friendship circles, at work, in our community are grieving the loss of a loved one, or are themselves dying? How can we be mindful of their experience?  How do we meet them where they are? How do we turn up for them? Sometimes it may be asking the simple and profound question ‘what do you need?’ and listening deeply to that answer.  

3) And perhaps more powerfully, and certainly something for our everyday life, to explore what needs to die within us, in order to grow into what we can be.   Every day initiates us into living and dying, for we are in constant change.  We can therefore symbolically renew our relationship with life and death and endings and beginnings within ourselves at any time.     It is these “little deaths” and various “rebirths” we can take to call in the life we really want, and in doing so prepare ourselves for the final transition, ‘the big Death that awaits us all’.  As Charles Dubois wrote, ‘the important things is this:  to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become’.    That may be a belief, a habit, a fear, a fixed identity. Anything that holds us back from living the life we were born into. This quality of dying, is beautifully explored in Elle Harrison’s Wild Courage, where she talks about how it creates space for change in our individual and organisational lives. 

And who is our best teacher?


Everywhere it offers its gifts and lessons for how we can gracefully embrace the cycles of living and rebirth.  It is the ultimate in resetting and resourcing.

Autumn brings the fallen leaves and also the harvest, today the sun came up, tonight it will set. Right now, you can breathe in because you can breathe out.  

So perhaps you will take up the invitation Meredith offers: of going out to nature and sitting with something that is dying, and ask it, ‘what needs to die within me’.  And to sit there and listen. 


Word of the Day: ‘equinox’ – the moment today, 23 Sept, when the Sun’s path (ecliptic)crosses the celestial equator, resulting in a near even worldwide division of day and night. Tweet by @RobGMacfarlane.  23 Sept 2019

The School of Lost Borders

Thank you to Meredith and all those beautiful souls, and Diana and Xavi from Transalquimia who wonderfully hosted and held our work 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Death or Dialogue

Conversations can change us.  Conversations can change organisations. Conversations can change climate and our planet’s demise.

In the face of our sixth extinction, where only transformational change in how we interact with nature will turn it around, we have to, to use the words of poet David Whyte, stop the conversations we have been having. 

The conversations that lead us to this point. The ones where we don’t truly listen but just wait to speak. The ones where the conversation is more like ping pong, where we just trade opinions and beliefs.  Opinions and beliefs which we really don’t even know the source of.  Or the ones where we seek evidence to justify or build on what we already know. The ones where we sit rigid with our fixed agenda or narrow focus.  The ones where we shout simple answers to complex problems or shut things down, because we can’t bear not being in control or not knowing. The ones where we don’t reveal how we actually feel. 

At Earth Converse we help leaders have the conversations they need to and guide the development of their dialogue skills.  In many respects, it is back to basics, unlearning and relearning to foster inclusivity and creativity, create systemic shift and generate collective awareness and positive action.   Where we remember our innocence and curiosity to ask questions. And to sit with those questions.   Where we listen, as the poet Mark Nepo says by leaning in softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.  Where we become more aware of how our biases filter our view of the world, and influence what we embrace and what we dismiss.  Where we notice how our life positions influence how we regard ourselves and others, and how we turn up and engage in conversations.  Where we learn to sit with the emotions that arise and find new ways of responding. Where we learn how silence contributes to dialogue.

One of the most profound team conversations, was where I turned up in an Italian town and simply asked the team of European leaders as we sat in a circle of 7, what is the most important thing we need to talk about today?  It showed, as advocated by Otto Scharmer of Theory U, with an open mind, open heart and open will, we transform through dialogue.  Boundaries do collapse and from there, we can co-create new possibilities and paths.

Monday, April 22, 2019

For Earth Day

Activist and author Naomi Klein tells about the time she travelled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.

Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her "secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink." 

After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business?

"Before you can fight," she was told, "you have to know what you are fighting for."

Nature is worth saving for its own sake. 

However if we as humans want to co-exist, we need to realise our connectivity with it. We can so easily disconnect ourselves, particularly if we are sitting in an office feeling far removed. It can bypass us that everything around us is born from the earth, that everything we do has an effect. To ponder on the raw materials and production processes, that made this home, this computer, this cup of coffee, one can only be humbled and awed at the gifts of nature and the ingenuity of people, and be pained at the impact we have.

This Earth Day lands in a particular moment in time. In a Rosa Parks kind of way, Greta Thunberg, has sparked a gear shift change in the conversation about our existence on earth.  Individual and collective awareness and action are ramping up, with the likes of SchoolStrike4Climate inspired by March4OurLives, and Extinction Rebellion undoubtedly fueled by the Brexit shambles.  The call for systemic, structural change is getting louder and louder, as here with George Monbiot. It has to. Everything and everybeing is interconnected.   

Photo: Delfino Corti

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reset and Resource: Sacred and Delicious Idleness

If we are talking about resetting and resourcing, the festive season provides the ideal occasion for us to do exactly that.   If not ideal, it can certainly be that time of the year when we need it the most.

Cue for some delicious and sacred idleness…. 

If you know something about Italy, you would have come across the expression and concept of ”dolce far niente”, delicious idleness.  The sweetness, pleasure and carefree feeling of doing nothing; the enjoyment of sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness.

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

I first came across the term through my work with physicians from Epstein’s ideas on encouraging medical practitioners to take time out, in order to cultivate habits of mind, such as attentiveness, curiosity and presence, in order to enhance their own well-being and effective medical practice.  

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

As some leaders experience when we ask them to reflect on themselves, such as ‘the leader they want to be’, it can be deliciously sweet and blissful. For others it can feel anything but, at least at the start, especially for those not used to not-doing, or contemplating who they are and what they do.

Sacred Idleness can take various forms; there is no prescription. It depends on every individual and their situation, but it is about being fully with yourself in stillness embracing it all – whatever arises. It may involve retreating to the mountains, to meditate or to trek quietly in the glory of nature. It may involve sitting silently in front of the fire, encompassed by its warmth and security, seeing the reflection of your mind in the changing, dancing flames. It may be relaxing in your favourite spot,  reflecting on the year that has been and what you want to take forward into the new year. Or it may just be a dedicated 10 minutes by yourself between dinner courses or between juggling demands of the dog, children and relations, to not only ‘catch your breath’, but to sit there with it.

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

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

Festive cheers to all.


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

This has become a regular festive season post since 2012. In 2017 a version was also featured on Impact's blog    

Photo own of a favourite spot

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Reset and Resource: Solo Time

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.” 

To spend time alone is a precious way to reset and resource.  To have solo time in nature, is even more transformational for our energy, wellbeing, perspective and creativity.

Yet many of us don’t do it.  And even avoid being on our own – busying our time with activities and perhaps drama.  As poet David Whyte recognises “the first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are”.

Sometimes, we just need the encouragement to stop doing, and go into nature to just be.

Dedicated solo time is one of the most appreciated and transformational aspects of the leadership programmes I help run at Impact. We tend to keep it as a surprise and when we disclose to the participants that they will be spending 2 hours alone on a hill side, it is met with trepidation, intrigue, resistance – or on the odd occasion, a plea of “can we have more time?”.  For one particular executive programme, the participants are asked to reflect on their leadership in solitude, in nature, without distractions of watches or phones.  It is a simple action or rather non-action, which proves to be a turning point for many.

For example, in his reflections, a senior executive realised he felt guilty for taking time out for himself, and had the insight that “If I don’t care for myself, I can’t care for others”. The experience completely changed his philosophies and leadership practice.  Another senior manager came up with his own motto and a commitment, which he named “888”, no work before 8am, no work after 8pm and aim for 8 hours sleep. One described how her mission “just came to me while I was sitting there”.  Others simply and profoundly realise how important is having time to think. 

Back at home in Mallorca, I have started offering ‘solo together’ sessions whereby I invite people to come and experience a 2 hour solo, but which begins and ends as a group.  It is not done in the context of a leadership programme, but just as curious individuals with their own intentions and open to the experience. Some want to have this thinking time, some have a specific issue they want to contemplate. Some are just curious about what happens.  Here is feedback from two recent participants:

"As somebody who finds keeping still very difficult, the Solo Together showed me how beneficial solitude (without distractions!) can be. Guided by the lovely Penny and safe in the knowledge that my companions were close by, my very active brain was able to rest and focus on more creative thoughts. I returned home energised and determined to make the effort to really get away from it all more often. Thank you!” (Participant)

“The Solo Together was a fantastic experience. A small group, with an accessible (not strenuous) walk to a lovely clearing, where we all experienced 2 hours in nature alone, yet knowing others were close. A powerful experience to slow down and connect with the self. The facilitation was just right to gain from the experience. Will definitely be attending again, and highly recommend for all (participant)”

Solo time - how will you make space for it in your life?

Whyte, D. (2016) Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, USA

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Reset and Resource: Sleep

Out of all our reset buttons, could sleep be the most magically restorative?  At the very least, its absence is an effective indicator that we need to reset and resource.

As Sleep Revolution author, Arianna Huffington said "I can tell you with authority that when I'm exhausted, when I'm running on empty, I'm the worst version of myself. I'm more reactive. I'm less empathetic. I'm less creative. And all of us can testify to that."

Yep Arianna, I can.  I am known in my family as someone who needs their sleep.  As a child, whenever I got grumpy, mum would send me off to bed.  Now as an adult, I am clearer about whether I need to actually ‘process some emotions’ shall we say or indeed go for that siesta.  Whenever my niece and nephew come for a sleepover it makes me wonder how many parents must be sleep walking around this earth.  So it is no surprise that sleep has been identified as 'an issue the corporate world cannot ignore' with research indicating a majority of managers across the board are getting less sleep than the recommended minimum. This is showing to have a real impact on manager’s health, social and emotional lives, and is having a negative impact on their performance in managing complex tasks and displaying effective behaviours. In The Business of Sleep, Professor Vicky Culpin goes on to say, “having approximately 1.5 hours less sleep a night than you need means that you are about one-third less alert the next day. If you have three people working for you, this is the equivalent of paying for one person to be asleep all day!”.

Certainly when we get leaders talking about how they can look after their well-being more effectively,  the majority will talk about needing to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep.  The irony is not lost, that after this meaningful walk and talk, we stick them in a mountain hut to sleep in bunk beds.   If you want a mini case study in the correlation between happiness and sleep quality, there it is.

Sleep – it is a natural phenomena. We all need it. We all do it.   And as natural and common as it is, we must give it the attention it deserves. From the perspective of being our common reset button to feel resourceful and rejuvenated, here are six sleep reflections…

Share:   Professor Culpin recommends we put ‘sleep on the agenda’ – and in business where sleep deprivation seems to be carried around like a badge of honour, this is particularly important.  We need to have conversations about it to share how different ways sleep loss can affect us and share tips on how we overcome it.

Maybe don’t share!  By its very nature, sleep is a very individual thing – and - can be so dependent on others.    I remember how unromantic and sad I thought it was that my grandparents had single beds. Now I get it. Maybe a sign of age, but friends are expressing a desire to have separate bedrooms and even sleeping rooms from their partner.  This is a delicate topic to raise and one too important not to have.  

Tune in (with or without technology):   And so we take control of what we can, to enhance our sleep.  Which requires that we tune into what our mind, body and soul needs, test and try out what works for us from the plethora of sleep advice tips out there, and make choices accordingly.   Some friends have found wearing a Fitbit useful for the data it provides – helping them to dispel their own sleeping myths and to create some new patterns.  

Let go:   Surely to sleep is our most regular lesson in letting go.  In order to sleep, we truly need to relax and surrender. As Professor Tom Rath, author of Eat Move Sleep,  who advocates focusing on small choices which lead to big changes says, “at the end of a lousy day, before you make a small stressor into something bigger, give sleep a chance to do some repair work overnight”.  The magic of a sleep to put things in perspective is literally mind-blowing isn’t it? How much sleep we need is individual – ex British Prime Minister was known to sleep only 4 hours a night.  Arguably she should have had more.  

If not you, who?:  So yes, if you find it easier to do things for others rather than yourself, think of the wider impact of your sleep habits. Culpin brings in the time when in 2007, President Bill Clinton was interviewed on the US TV programme Daily Show and discussed his theory on how the relationship between sleep and mood shows up in US politics – "You have no idea how many Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate are chronically sleep deprived because of this system. I know this is an unusual theory but I do believe sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today".  Suffice to say, we owe it an individual and societal level to get enough sleep.

Dream gifts:  For sleep not only resets us physically, but emotionally and is a chance to delve into our resourcefulness at a subconscious level.  I see sleep as one of the best personal development workshops around. In Wild Courage, Elle Harrison explicitly encourages us to start noticing our dreams as a fundamental way to develop our intuition, which is so integral to our creativity, innovation and decision making capabilities as a leader.

Sleep – all going well, it occupies about a third of our life.  Something to be treasured indeed.

photo own of my nephew’s creation of putting his toy parrot Steve to bed!
Links to books referenced:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Reset and Resource: Be Porous

As a coach and consultant, I like to help people find their own ways to self-regulate, to reset and remind themselves of their own resourcefulness.   Each person is unique, our reset buttons numerous and our potential unlimited.  And I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write up some of the common ways we can reset and resource, and share them.

One teacher who is particularly generous at sharing, is the ‘distinct Western Buddhist’ voice of Tara Brach.  She offers many gems – and one which really resonates for me, is the invitation to “be porous”.

She talks about it in the context of us defending against our vulnerability.  Fundamentally aware of our mortality, we are constantly bracing ourselves for danger around the corner.  This of course helps protect us and gives us boundaries, but it can be exhausting and cuts us off from joy, creativity and connection.

We may be composed of atoms but we walk around as a “bundle of tense muscles protecting against our existence”.  If we can become aware of our body in any moment, that can be our opening.  If we can stop and breath into any tension that exists, with gentleness and curiosity, we can reset and resource.  Becoming porous, we can literally feel the aliveness and energy move through us. Our options expand.  

My coachees in a police force have talked about how being introduced to mindfulness has given them a feeling of space.  They may not use these terms, neither may you, but in practising being porous, we are learning to “meet our edges and soften”.  We are more than our rigidness portrays.

As Tara Brach offers in her talk, here is the nature inspired poetry of Rumi also inviting us to try it out…

Very little grows on jagged rock

Be Ground 

Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. 

You've been stony for too many years. 

Try something different. 


Photo: own
This particular posting refers to:, and draws on teachings incl from Chögyam Trungpa and Rumi.