Hold it loosely

Things are as they are. Yet sometimes there is a reaching in us, a grasping, to be right. Sometimes we churn ourselves up when another tells us what is right with that we think is wrong. Inside, we object to their opinion. We are angry that they feel they have the right to tell us what is right. And we bear that anger with us as we carry on with my work. We carry our work and our anger in our tightened fists.

But of course they have a right. The have as much right as anyone else who wants to express themselves and appear as if they come from a place of knowledge. Why should their right upset us so? Why should their opinion trouble us?

It is because we are holding on so tightly to what we feel is ours.

But it is not ours.

Then we get angry at our anger. And we beat ourselves up for not being able to be benign.

But everything is as it is, without meaning. Everyone is trying to make their best way in the world. Everyone is trying to make their mark. So let them.

Why should their mark even slightly affect the way that we are going?

People try to quarrel with you. Leave the quarrel with them. Agree with them, or not. But do not take the quarrel with you when it is past. For they do not do the same.

We must learn to hold it loosely, or else we will perish.

Published in: on January 8, 2013 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Doing what works

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am currently in training to become a counselling psychologist. In my skills practice the other day, I got this feedback from my peer who was observing my session:

“I’m still unsure of your facial expression. I don’t know if it’s congruent with the gravity of the situation. The way you are really shouldn’t work here. But somehow, it does…”

Firstly I am grateful for their constructive criticism, it is the only way that I can build my skills and really know that I am presenting a spirit of openness and genuine concern to my clients and their concerns. Secondly, that statement really sparked something in my mind, a seed of an idea, that has taken root and started to bud towards becoming a central pillar in my practice and in my daily life.

In sharing with the class at the end, I offered this:

I know that we are given tools and rules for these situations. I know we must be mindful of so many things – body language, tone of voice, eye contact, open questions –  in order to ensure that the signals we send are clear to those we are trying to help. But I also know this for sure. By being told that what I do should not work, but does, I came to know that I had to remember to bring my unique self to the relationship. What I was being was congruent with myself, congruent with how positively I viewed this other person, even in light of their situation. I view humanity positively; I think, like Carl Rogers, that we do dream towards our best selves, and that we strive to the fullest expression of our individuality. Because of that, I do not frown or gaze intently at the other person. I wear my expression gently, even positively, and sometimes I even smile. I smile when the going gets tough, because I think ‘I am here for you. Know that I can bear it. Know that I believe that you can bear it. I will be present for you as you figure this out’. I believe, totally and completely, that I have to bring what is uniquely myself to the encounter, that I may have a personal and particular expression that I bring to the caring. And that is untaught.

It shouldn’t work. But it does.

What unique aspect of your self are you bringing to your difficult situation today?

Published in: on October 30, 2012 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,


Breathe without asking – W. H. Auden

An extraordinary thing happened to me the other day.

I asked for help. And I got it.

There are a lot of times where we have the conversation on our own. We know we have a request, and we stall it in our minds and our hearts, because we already know what the other is going to say. We know all the excuses, reasonings, counterpoints and arguments that will be put to us as to why our request is going to be denied. We attribute laziness, unwillingness or lack of humanity to our ‘askee’, ascribing to them all manner or personality which makes them one which does not grant favours. Perhaps our recent and not so recent past has taught us that if we ask for something we are seen as a nuisance, a bore, a busybody, or just plain troublesome, or our requests are deemed too trite to action. And so we sit with our wanting, stewing in our frustration and dissatisfaction, trying merrily to reason ourselves out of the need and failing miserably.

It is sometimes easier to just ask.

It boils down to the basic matter of trust. We have to trust that the other person is going to listen without attempting to prejudge their actions or intentions. We have to trust that one person is different from the next. We have to trust that we can know when it is right to ask and when it is beneficial to try to figure out the answer for ourselves. We have to trust that whatever the outcome of the asking, there is a a greater good to be derived from the encounter. Your resourcefulness may be tapped, your creativity called upon, your humility tested and proven.

Or you may just get what you ask for.

Published in: on September 28, 2012 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

What if?

If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it – Jonathan Winter

Do you find that there are certain aspects of your life where it is almost impossible to make a decision? Are you stuck in a mindset that says ‘If I give this up now, I would have wasted 10, 15, 30 years doing this thing, and what if I’m no good at doing this other thing, and what if I take a different train and it’s delayed or in an accident or flies off to another dimension, or what if I give up this thing right at the moment it was going to work for me, or what if I eat a poppy seed bagel instead of a plain one and get an allergy?’

That’s the fretful thing about choices. For every yes, there is a no. For everything that you accept, there is something that you are rejecting. And for every possibility that you reject, there are a million ‘what ifs’ that rear their ugly little heads trying to fill your brain up with unhelpful noise and chatter. This noise only increases anxiety. And this anxiety is not useful.

What if you could shut the chattering ‘what ifs’ to hell up? What if you could say one thing that could make them offer alternative bad news until they run out of bad news, or stop and falter, stutter and fall silent? I have found a tiny sentence that works for me…

‘So what.’

If I take the wrong train, that loses me an audition for what may be the biggest show of my life and the part is given to someone else – so what? If I study for ten years and then realise or am told that I’m a crappy psychologist – so what? If the house that I bought under pressure falls down around my ears – so what?

I have found that life is a series of opportunities. And that an opportunity missed is not the last opportunity offered. This is not to make light of the difficult decisions that people have had to make, such as having to leave war torn countries, or walk out on their families, or making bad financial decisions that make life unbearable. This is only to point out that all decisions are not those, and by looking with great honesty at the scale of importance of our decision, we can gain greater perspective on what life looks like when we knowingly say goodbye to an option. I will also point out and always believe in the tenacity of the human spirit, who have risen above such difficult and tortuous decisions and created rich and full lives because they only saw opportunity where others saw hardships.

So, turn your back bravely on something that no longer serves you AT THIS TIME. Learn to say no. And learn to only bring into your vision the consequence of that to which you have said yes. You have no idea what the outcome of your unchosen path would have been. It might have been glorious. It might have been horrific. Who knows? You never will. Who cares? You never should.

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Knowing me.

Have you ever found yourself being unkind about someone for no good reason at all?

 Have you ever found yourself laughing at how boring your friends with kids are, how gauche someone with money is, how ridiculously a fashionable person is behaving? Have you ever said a less than savoury word about a celebrity based on little more than the information disseminated in a gossip magazine? Have you found yourself expounding endlessly on the failings of your friends, holding yourself as the expert because you are in the know, turning a blind eye to your seemingly harmless betrayal?

 I have found that if I do any of these things, it is because I see the mirror of myself and my desires in the other and my own shortcomings are highlighted. If I make fun of the rich, it is because I wish I had their resources. If I make fun of the famous, it is because I wish I had their opportunities. If I make fun of the fashionable, it is because I wish I had their sense of art and style. I can explain away all the psychology about the reality of these wishes, I can find prettier words for them, but under a ‘plain and simple’ lens, these are the only reasons for my unkindness. Envy rears its ugly head and my thoughts and words become ugly. And I catch myself, and ask forgiveness, because each day I strive to do better.

 Have you ever found yourself being unkind about someone for no good reason at all?


Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul.  ~Henry Van Dyke

Published in: on January 15, 2012 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Spin cycle

I am currently doing a workshop of a new musical, written for and performed by ex-convicts with the help of professional actors.

This is an extraordinary project, done by a well meaning charity, hoping to impart life skills and lessons of team work and discipline through art to men who have gone through the prisons system and who may find it difficult to re-integrate into the larger society.

It is also a large learning curve for actors who are used to that cushy atmosphere of ‘la-di-dah, let’s make art, what’s my motivation’, it jolts us into a harsh and unrelenting reality, harsher than anything some of us have ever had to face, and it teaches us about our perceptions, preconceived notions and gives us useful coping strategies and communication techniques which we would not normally derive from our gilded world.

It is also a great place for observation.

There are things we take for granted. How we learn is one of these things. In a musical theatre setting, you are taught a vocal line, you attempt to sing it, you make a mistake, you make a joke about your failings, you try again and you get better.

With the boys, it’s different.

They are taught a vocal line, they attempt to sing it, they make a mistake, the other boys laugh at them, highlighting, spotlighting and relentlessly tearing into their failure, they get angry, the anger escalates, the tension builds, the rehearsal disintegrates.

And that cycle repeats.

It is impossible to blame them. You cannot help but sit and think about the sort of environment from which they came which did not allow them to make even the slightest mistake. The surroundings that they’re used to, where ridicule is the order of the day. The society that they must negotiate, where the only way to save face or earn respect is not through effort but through rage.

And the artistic outsider’s impotence grows…

Can a song and a scene really make a difference?

Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Are you waiting at the starting line, straining to hear the starter’s gun go off?

Are you sitting in the examination room, pen poised, waiting to hear, “You may begin.”?

Are you standing at the door of that beautiful showroom, cash in hand for that thing you always wanted, waiting for the sign to flip to “We are now open”?

Are you waiting for permission to live your life in the way that you want to, the way you’ve always dreamed of?

Who are you waiting for? What are you waiting for?

You can be both the starter and run the race.

You hold the stopwatch. You hold the gavel. You are in charge of the whistle.

Go! Do! Now!

Give yourself permission.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 1:15 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,


I’ve never been happy, really, with the name of my blog.

That’s because this blog started out last year as something completely different. And it didn’t last very long.And I came back to it and it became something else. And the name didn’t fit.

So I decided to change the name. It may not be perfect yet, but I’m putting it out there.

Do you have a situation that you’ve named, that you seem to be stuck with? A situation that you’ve taught yourself to be comfortable with, that you’d rather not change for fear of rocking the boat, that you’d rather continue to bear it, because you’re used to it and people may not like it if you start to call it something else. Has your ‘career’ become ‘just work’, has your ‘faith’ become ‘rote’, has your ‘relationship’ become ‘settled’, has your ‘passion’ become ‘safe’? What would happen if you renamed those things and called them what they were, or what they appeared to be to you at that moment? Would that make you do things differently?

So tell me what you think of the name? Suggest some others if you have any?

Published in: on April 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

What’s your story?

What are the things that we tell ourselves in order to make our life a little more palatable? What do we say to ourselves to encourage our uniqueness?

What affects your story? Is it the experiences you have? The people you love? The goals you dream about? The actions you take?

Is your story filled with truths? Is it filled with fantasy? Is it full of criticism of others, of the opinion of heavy handed negative and limiting voices in your head? Is it full of plans discarded, of boxes ticked, of road maps for journeys not yet fully formulated?

Every moment we add to our story. Are you proud of your moments? Are there moments that you’d rather forget, that you will have to conveniently leave out of your story, so that it reads well with yourself and others? Are your moments held up as examples for the change or remaining of the direction of unfolding of your story? Are your moments ones of bravery, of daring, of folly, of learning?

Every day we have a choice, to continue our story in the way of its telling or to start our story afresh, with new voice, new style, new direction. Which do you choose?

I look forward to hearing your stories and to continuing to share mine.

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Feedback vs. Opinion

I asked the question on Twitter today –

‘What do you do when you find out what someone thinks about you? Do you worry, justify or just put it down to what they think?’

A discussion ensued about the merits of the opinions of people you respect/trust as opposed to those with underlying negative motives. Some people believed that they just live by the tenet ‘I see the positive in people’ and that was enough to suffice. Some people thought that the feedback was only equal to how much they liked the people giving it.

So when do you place importance on what other people think of the way you behave, work, act and generally live? Is there a difference? Can any good be gotten out of criticism or another person’s opinion of what you are? When is it beneficial to listen? Should you truly discard what someone else has to say if it is something you don’t want to hear?

There is no easy answer to this. Perhaps others can see a mode of behaviour in you that isn’t working. Perhaps you are rubbing people up the wrong way, even if your intentions are sound. Perhaps your engagement is too aggressive or too passive? Perhaps others just want to say something negative about you because they don’t like the cut of your jib. Should all these opinions go unheeded, or may there be a seed of wisdom in these misguided or misjudged feelings?

Is it important to heed every bit of information coming in, in order to make a better product that is you?

Published in: on March 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: