Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reset and Resource: THAT Space

In this series of exploring our ‘reset buttons’, is there anything more liberating and inspiring than Viktor Frankl’s reflections in “Man’s Search for Meaning”?

Amongst his wisdom, I find myself sharing this most with the leaders I work with.  Paraphrased as:

Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is a choice.

In that choice is our freedom. 

He starkly and powerfully reminds us that there are always choices available to us. Even when we think there are none.   

Between there and here, between the past and now, there is THAT space. The gateway to a field of endless possibilities.  

The more aware of that space, the potential that exists in it, the expansiveness that it offers, the more we can lean in to it and sit with the unknown. And the more we can respond mindfully instead of with our habitual automatic ways.

This, of course, is the exact opposite of what happened in a conversation with a colleague.

Unconsciously swirling around with fixed beliefs, past hurts, defensive strategies, defined expectations and strong emotions, I was so cloudy I didn't see any space. 

So I reacted from that little girl with those raw feelings as opposed to the woman who may still have those feelings but has a few more perspectives on what they mean and how to handle them.

That space. It may be a split second, it may be longer.

That space usually comes when we literally take a breather...

And come to the present...

And we follow that feeling...

Back to its source...

Seeing it for what it is …

Enabling us to respond with awareness.

And the encouraging thing is that we will get numerous opportunities to practice!  If we pay attention to what provokes us, we will soon notice our patterns – those situations and events, and often projections or transferences cleverly disguised as certain people and their actions.  With every one of these strong emotional hooks, we look to befriend that space.

In doing so, we reset and resource. 

Viktor E. Frankl (2004) Man’s Search For Meaning: the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust, Ebury Publishing

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Reset and Resource: "Start Again"

Not being the most technically competent person, I have this profound respect for the reset button.

So you can imagine my delight to have finally figured out over the years, that we have our very own internal ones.

Our reset buttons are as numerous and unique as we are individuals and I love having conversations which enable us to share them.  I’ve decided therefore to do a series of postings which explicitly looks at how we reset and resource ourselves.

So in that vein, I am going to start with “start again” – the experience of a meditation teacher who first helped me consciously think about my reset button.
Anybody who has done the S.N.Goenka Vipassana will know what I am talking about, when I say…

“Start again”.

“Start again with a calm and tranquil mind. 

An alert and attentive mind

A balanced and equanimous mind”.

Part instruction, part inspiration, the phrase is delivered session after session, in his deep resonating voice. Slowly, deliberately, powerfully and playfully.

Designed to help us practise accessing the present, it reminds us that, in any moment, we can choose to reset.   There is always the opportunity to ...start again. 

Whether it be on the meditation cushion or in our daily lives, despite what has gone on before, what comfort or discomfort we may have experienced, how successful we were or weren’t, what thoughts or feelings we had or hadn't, at any time we can choose to press the reset button, and start again with new resolve, attitudes, behaviours and actions.

Goenka’s instruction draws from the teachings of the Buddha, including the concept of ‘beginner’s mind’ which encourages us to start afresh with whatever we face.     We learn to approach people and life’s events as if for the first time, without preconceived notions, assumptions and judgements.   We no longer operate from our automatic ways or react from what we know but lean into the openness and curiosity of the unknown.  We deal with what is in front of us, the reality as it is as opposed to what has happened or not happened in the past.

And when we find ourselves faulting, retreating back to our old ways, we reset, gently forgive ourselves, open our hearts and start again. 

For, from this moment, this starting point, we have 100% of our life left.  And that gives us plenty of options.



Dedicated to all my Vipassana friends who have inspired and supported my practice, particulary Andreina, Pamela, Paola, Debbie, Isacco and Rachael.

Image via google.images

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Roots or Wings?

Borrowing a borrowed concept, I have been contemplating the importance of ‘roots and wings’ lately, as I bounce from work to the meditation cushion, travel and return home.

It seems that we are cultivating or challenging one or the other at any particular time. 

We see it in the news and in our own lives.  I remembered Obama’s parting comment to African leaders that the continent will not advance if its leaders refuse to step down when their terms end, as I witnessed the recent situation in Italy which has had its 5th leadership change in 7 years.  Whilst some people joyfully choose to migrate, we know how others are being forced from their homes to make life threatening journeys or are being torn from their families.  Every day on social media we see a constant flow of people taking on new roles and offering new ideas.  Much of my coaching and facilitation of leaders is helping them to look within or up and out, mostly both.  At a personal level, I am noticing my 3 year old niece is relishing our hellos and hating our goodbyes.  And I am witnessing friends who are settling down or leaving for new pastures.

Roots and Wings. 

Our roots are our connection with ourselves, others and of our place in the world.  Cultivating them gives us a sense of identity, of belonging, of ‘coming home to who we are’.  They are the foundations which keep us grounded, connected and contributing.  They are the relationships with those we love and with the complex and supportive fabric which nourish our inner core.   They give us security and stability.

Our wings give us the ability to reach out far and wide, expand our horizons and venture into new territories.  With them we express our innate curiosity, our sense of adventure and exploration and discover new ideas and opportunities. They are the means for which we allow our independence and initiative to flourish. They give us flexibility and freedom.

Arguably a balance between the two enables us to fulfil the depth and breadth of our potential.  If we get too focused on our roots, they can constrict and bind us.  Sometimes we just need to uproot and go to new places, in our mind or literally, to survive and thrive.  To create a new life. To gain new perspectives.  With too much focus on our wings, we can exhaust ourselves floating around and become disorientated, unfocussed and isolated.  

Attempting a balance may be something we do in the moment, or it may be stretched over longer periods, as we find ourselves giving priority to either one, over days, weeks, months or years. 

Some of us have a personality preference for one or the other. I find myself making generalisations about national cultural differences, such as flying independent-travelling New Zealanders ..and ironically acknowledge that our national treasure and icon, the kiwi, evolved into a flightless bird - as a result of having no enemies it decided it had no need to fly so lost its ability to do so.  More broadly, perhaps we can also draw on the difference between the eastern philosophies that we are already ‘here’; what we need is within us, and the western perspective, where we are driven to look externally; to go out in order to get ‘here’ fully. 

In integrating the two, we balance stillness with movement, being with doing, activity with meditation, solitude with company, introversion with extroversion...

As David Richo said “In short, we need to get up and go, but we also need to sit and stay”.        

Noticing our situation, preferences, focus and patterns helps us make those choices more consciously as opposed to automatically from a place of habit or fear.  We ask ourselves what serves us best. Sometimes it is about doing the opposite of what we would prefer to do.

What is your priority at the moment?  Roots or Wings?

Thanks to Jennifer who first introduced me to the concept of ‘roots and wings’, as passed on from Buster whose Mum might have heard it from the quote by Hodding Carter “there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots; the other, wings” which according to Wikipedia, was borrowed from Henry Ward Beecher

BBC, Obama warns on Africa leaders refusing to step down, 28 July 2015 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-33684721

Richo, D, (2002), How To Be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, Massachusetts p. 4

Photo via google images.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Future Self Now

I love the new year, for its celebration, pause and hope.  My past postings for this time of year have explored appreciating what we have, knowing we can start again, learning to control our mind, and the power of resolutions and resetting. So on that theme of our own resourcefulness, here is 2018's offering. 

It is a 9 minute recording from meditation teacher Tara Brach.  A contemplation which reveals aspirations for our evolved future self and acknowledges that which is in us already. 

A beautiful way to start the year. Or the day. Or the moment.

Image from google images.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gifting yourself delicious and sacred idleness this festive season

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

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

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

Like delicious idleness it is the opposite of work.  The difference is that it is less about laziness and more about learning.

It is a time of rest, restoration and rejuvenation but also of reflection.

We don’t just stumble across it, we intentionally dedicate time for it, honour and relish it.  

It nurtures us at a deeper level and develops our wisdom along the way.

It is earnest, but also allowing; it is purposeful and yet is more about suppleness and emptiness than activity and focus. 

It is when we are fully aware, alert and present in the moment.

It can be deliciously sweet and blissful, but it can also taste sour and feel anything but blissful,  at least at the start, when you are not use to not-doing, or contemplating who you are and what you do. 

It 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 the nothingness and the everythingness...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Festive cheers to all.


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

This has become a regular festive season post since 2012. And this year, a version was also featured on Impact's blog https://www.impactinternational.com/blog/2017/12/sacred-festive-idleness.     

Sunday, November 5, 2017

“I haven’t got time to have a 1:1” - “You haven’t got time not to”.

Not to do ourselves out of business, but I do believe that companies could make a step change in their individual, team and ultimately their organisational performance - and save money from employing external consultants  - by doing one thing: having dedicated 1:1 conversations with the people they lead, to build collective understanding and systematically review performance and progress.

And from working with leaders, it seems it is the one thing they are reluctant to do. Here are three of the most common responses:

“I see them every day so we don’t need to have formal 1:1s”.   The informal, spontaneous interactions we have on a daily basis are the glue of organisational life.  However, the danger is that often conversations can remain at a somewhat superficial level, where we end up trading facts and opinions, talking nice or talking tough, usually about the transactional task or project at hand.  There is little space to have real dialogue, to talk strategically about one’s development, motivation, working relationships and goals.

“I have got so many people, I can’t know them all”.  This makes my heart sink.  As we go up the leadership pipeline, what we value and how we spend our time, has to be people.   It is not about knowing each individual intimately, but given that it is your people that are making things happen, surely you want some understanding of what makes them tick, why they are prepared to turn up day after day to work.   One manufacturing director came away from a programme recently with the action to meet with every individual at his plant.  He had been inspired by  Andy Dickson, Head of Global Solutions at Impact, who in sharing his ideas about creating a ‘Great Place to Work’, talked about the time he had a 1:1 with every member of his UK team, direct and indirect reports.  Andy revealed how it was a fundamental moment for him in his leadership – that by doing this simple act, committing to a 30 minute conversation, helped to build his own understanding of the people and organisation he was leading.  It is no surprise to any of us, that we all want to be listened to – and a conversation that does that will always transform us.

“Yes, I have 1:1s - at every annual performance review”: We are getting to the end of the year, and in some organisations, this will mean a performance review, perhaps the first 1:1 for the entire year.    Depending on one’s experience, relationship and view point, we will be dragging our feet or skipping along to it (or something in between).  More often it is the former, with many 1:1s feeling like you are ‘going through the motions', undertaking a process that has to be executed – rather than what it really can offer...the opportunity to step back and reflect deeply on experiences, learnings and ways forward. We know from experience that leaders often find it difficult to nurture the time, energy and discipline to have even biannual or annual review conversations with the people they lead. The prospect of having 1:1 conversations quarterly, monthly or fortnightly, is for some, unthinkable. Which quite frankly, is a shame and wasted opportunity.

There are many reasons why leaders do not have 1:1s.  Besides the obvious one of time, there are often fears at play – of being overwhelmed,  ill-equipped, uncomfortable with the intimacy or intensity of a person to person conversation, the fear of not being in control with the unpredictability of actually dropping into a real dialogue.

The reasons are as individual as we are, but there are many reasons why regular formal conversations alongside the spontaneous and informal, are critical.   They are the only real route to creating engagement, generating ideas, building understanding and releasing potential.  The best thing we can do is to set the intention to turn up for these conversations, and let the possibilities unfold.

So here’s a challenge: undertake regular 1:1s with your people, and see what difference they make in performance. And let us know about it.


Originally written for Impact’s “In Good  Company” - https://www.impactinternational.com/blog/2017/10/i-dont-have-time-11

Image: from a dear friend Cathy Teesdale www.cathyteesdale.com

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Be creative - seek solitude

Solitude.  Some of us seek it. Some of us avoid it.  Ok, maybe most of us, avoid it.

As poet David Whyte recognizes “the first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are”.

Afraid or not, it is crucial for real change, and lies at the heart of creativity.  

In a largely extroverted world, we see creativity as needing to happen as a result of sparks and connections with others.  But even the most creative person, will tell you it is crucial for recharging, reflection and restoration. And digging deeper, we know that change must come from within. We need the support of our own solitude to be able to listen to that inner wisdom.  

In her stirring book Wild Courage, Elle Harrison speaks eloquently of the gifts of stillness. Creating periods of silence and stillness in our working lives, in balance with times of activity and connection, is a powerful path to success.  She quotes inventor Nikola Tesla who said “the mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think.  Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us, cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born”.

Dedicated solo time is one of the most appreciated and transformational aspects of the leadership programmes we run.  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.

As 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.” 

In his reflections, a senior executive realized 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 realize how important is having time to think. 

This solitude is a felt experience that stays with the participants long after they have left their tent on the hill side, long after they return back to the office.  In the experience, they remind themselves that stillness, solitude, silence is accessible at any time, and creativity will emerge, if they are prepared to make space for it.  

How will you make space for it in your life?


Notes and sources:


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

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) quoted in the New York Times by Orrin E. Dunalp Jr in “Tesla sees evidence that radio and light are sound”, New York Times, 8 April, 1934, p. 9. Col 1 in Harrison, E. (2011) Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business, Watkins Publishing, UK

Harrison, E. (2011) Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business, Watkins Publishing, UK