Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Twelve Hopes - Day 13

Thursday 13th December 2018

Thirteen is the number of British Colonies from which the United States of America
was formed - this is why the American flag has 13 stripes.
My musical week continues - tonight I am off to the O2 to be at the "Final Bow" of the iconic band, The Pretty Things, who, after 55 years of wowing audiences and fans, are performing their last electric gig. The band was formed by ex-Rolling Stone Dick Taylor and singer Phil May, and have influenced many of the world's most famous artists, including David Bowie, Bob Dylan and the Sex Pistols. I know that it will be wild. 

Today's piece is contributed by Mark Catchlovethe Director of the Insight Group at Herman Miller. Mark is a thought leader on the work environment and what occupiers and designers need to bear in mind when creating great places. If you get the chance to attend one of his events on workplace design and related research, I urge you to go.  I first encountered Mark on Twitter (you can follow him too - his handle is @markcatchlove). He writes an excellent blog and he will make you think. He always writes popular posts for the Adven Blog series, such as our need to be there and shine a light for others. This year's post is more personal to him - he is sharing his 12 hopes for Christmas. My hope is that Mark himself has a wonderful Christmas and an amazing year ahead. I suspect that he will have a peaceful and happy one full of smiles and laughter. Mark is musical - an enthusiastic and accomplished singer and guitarist. Mark is values driven, he does his bit to make the world a better place - such as by running youth clubs and Sunday schools and being a stalwart of his local community. 


"Heartaches, Hopes and High Fives"

Christmas is a mix of all 3 but I wanted to focus on Hope.

Hope is a “feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen”
So here are my 12 hopes – 1 for every day of Christmas:

1. That we can agree to disagree – coupled with a sense of understanding and empathy.

2. That we can still have unity of spirit, even where there is diversity of thought.

3. That random acts of kindness are no longer random, but a part of every-day life.

4. That in this busy world we take some time to look around us, to observe, to enjoy, to contemplate.

5. That children can be themselves and are not driven into conforming to the educational norms which so often stifle creativity.

6. That we don’t always rely on data to prove what we already know and have called ‘common sense’ for years.

7. That we do not judge others that are different to us and we stop make sweeping generalisations that hinder our understanding.

8. That we can be the positive difference in someone’s life and have a lasting impact.

9. That good manners will be the norm again, where please and thank you return to our everyday vocabulary.

10. That we will take time to listen more and think before we respond.

11. That we are all given respect whatever our age.

12. That you will have a Christmas that outshines all your previous Christmases and it is one to remember for all the right reasons

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Finding Balance During Emotional Times - Day 12

Wednesday 12th December 2018

Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as Twelvetide, are the twelve days commencing
with 25th December and ending on the 5th January ("Twelfth Night"). In the song
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" (first published in 1780 in a children's book Mirth
Without Mischief
) my true love gives a total of 364 gifts over the period.

I am really getting into the festive swing - I am starting this morning with a Christmas Breakfast party in Soho, will be seeing my son's godfather at lunchtime and am ending the day with a carol concert in the Long Room at Lords. I will go to bed tired, but with a grin on my face.

To make me even happier, I a delighted to welcome back to the Advent Blogs series my former colleague and good friend Katharine Bourke. She is a co-founder and Director of South West Growth Service (@SWGrowthService), a consultancy that supports small businesses, enabling them to develop, adapt and grow. Katharine is a certified mBIT coach (for those who don't know, mBIT stands for multiple brain integration techniques). Outside work, she is keen on walking and exploring the beautiful countryside where she lives. When Katharine and I worked together we were based in London, but she was born and raised in a farm on Dartmoor and she has returned to her roots (but not farming, although she is helping things grow). Since moving West she has founded a successful IT business and spent four years helping to deliver the government's Growth Accelerator and Business Growth Service in Devon and Cornwall, before co-establishing the South West Growth Service.

Katharine has many varied interests and knowledge that she shares. I recommend that you follow her on twitter (her handle is @KatharineBDevon). I her post this year she shares how she has found a sense of balance and harmony through breathing and meditation, which has helped her through times of emotional heartache.

As in some previous years, Katharine has selected her own illustrations.


Heartaches, Hopes and High Fives:

How balanced breathing helps me through

Whilst attending my husband’s employer’s Christmas party last week, I caught up with another of the many partners who were there and we got chatting about how our 2018 had been since we first met at last year’s ‘do’. She asked me a good question, along the lines of ‘sum up your 2018 in one word’. I found myself pausing to reflect on the year, noticing a range of words that popped into mind, and the one that arrived first and kept coming back was ‘emotional’.

Reflecting on my choice of word the following day, I decided to look up the word emotional, to find that it derives from the mid-1500s when it was derived from the French word √©mouvoir which means ‘to stir up or to excite’ which in turn was based on the Latin emovere meaning to ‘move away, remove, dislodge’. Looking more into this, I found references to Paul Ekman’s classification of six emotions being those of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise, and then of Robert Plutchnik’s eight primary emotions of joy versus sadness, anger versus fear, trust versus disgust and surprise versus anticipation.

As a woman in her early fifties, who appears to be going through the ‘change’, I suppose it is not entirely unexpected that I recalled the feeling of being emotional. I have noticed this last year that I have developed an uncanny knack of being overwhelmed by tears, often seemingly without reason, although rarely when in public or at work. This could probably be diagnosed as a mental health issue, but I’m not sure how that would help. My emotions are my emotions, and I feel like the right way for me to approach things is to stay curious, to allow them to emerge and in turn to move on their way, in their own time which so far, they have done.

One of my previous #AdventBlogofferings shared my experience of being overwhelmed by a flood of tears when I joined a Zen Leadership course at Sharpham House in Devon and found myself sitting in complete silence, eyes open, with tears streaming down my face, trying so hard to keep silent and stationary while the tears kept flowing…

When I said the word emotional, I didn’t mean that I spent the year weeping, although tears have been very prevalent, and sometimes overwhelming, especially when they seemed to come from nowhere. As a student of the multiple brain integration techniques or mbraining which enables people to achieve greater coherence through engaging more with balanced breathing and considering the wisdom each of our multiple brains can offer, I was able to reach for their collective support time and again during this year.

I’ve become more aware that tears for me can be the physical manifestation of many different emotions. Sadness of course, but tears emerge from me when I’m feeling frustrated, under pressure, angry, touched and on occasion when I’m feeling real joy – such as when I see or think about someone I care very deeply about.

Most of all though this last year, as I reflect on that word ‘emotional’, I am realising that I have begun a journey to understand emotions better by understanding a little more about their purpose. And by allowing them to teach me what I need to learn. Mid-way through January I decided to recommit to my meditation. I returned to my favoured Insight Timer (which I use a little like some use Runkeeper or Strava or other exercise apps to keep track of their workouts) and aimed to sit once every day. More importantly perhaps I also committed to notice the impact it was having. There is no doubt that when I sit each morning and sit well, I make more of my day. Put simply, more stuff gets done!

That said, I’ve also realised how important a key component of my meditation time is, namely the quality of my breathing.

I stumbled across the power of the breath over 21 years ago now when I was pregnant with our first child. Living in Oxford at the time I was lucky enough to be recommended to a pregnancy yoga class where it was all about using one’s breath to better manage the experience of giving birth. Having worked in the Far East, where women got on with giving birth without much by way of medical support, I was keen to explore as natural a birth as was possible. All the more so as I’d realised that my amazing grandmother (mentioned in another previous blog) had sought out a natural birth in Blackheath in the early 1930s!

Understanding more about the physiology of birth, I was able to combine this with the confidence gained from hearing from other women who had used their breathing to manage their experience of giving birth left me well equipped for that long night when I rang my husband to let him know I thought I was in labour. He was working late, finishing off month end accounts so I took a deep breath (yes really!) and said he’d better get them finished before he came home… and with the help of two paracetamol, I managed to breath my way through labour to deliver our boy a little over twelve hours later.

Since then, I think I’d rarely considered how often I use the power of my own breath until earlier this year when I was on an NLP (neuro linguistic processing) course and we were asked to think about superpowers. Without hesitation, the thought that came to mind was that my superpower came from knowing that as long as I was breathing, I could cope!

And in that moment, I returned to being introduced to Viktor E Frankl and his wonderful little book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, to the part where he talks about human freedom as being that one always has the ability ‘to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances’.

I guess this year, more than any other that I can recall, I have made more space in my day for moments of balanced breathing. I will make time to pause in my car or as I get off a train, in a client’s reception area or even to make an unnecessary trip to the bathroom simply to allow myself a few minutes of deeper breathing. As an executive coach I find this helps to make sure that any challenges that one client may be facing do not contaminate the next coaching space I hold for someone.

After a four-year gap, this year also saw me back on the Zen Leader mat as I attended IZL2, my second course with the Institute for Zen Leadership, this time in Somerset. It felt good to be back sitting for about two hours a day (45 minutes to start the day, a few stretches, then another 30 minutes before breakfast, with a further 45 minutes or more to finish each learning day), even though it was possibly even tougher physically than I’d remembered!

Powerful things happened to me during the four days of the course, the most memorable probably being in a field as a group chanting as we stood together after practising some tai chi exercises, and being aware that a fly had landed on my arm. Through all the various om chanting exercises, this fly stayed with me, it didn’t fly off, it seemed to be enjoying the tranquillity in my body and possibly the resonance in the chanting.

Curiously, once the group chanting was complete, we all were invited to make our own ways back to the meeting space and I found that my legs had a rhythm all of their own. I felt a bit like a cyberman, taking very regular steps as I headed through the long grass back to the path and then along the path. I was in my own world, I kept the pace that my body seemed to want, feeling strangely out of body as well as completely in my body, noticing a feeling of real peace combined with an awareness of the little things that I am finding hard to put into words. It was several hundred metres before I realised that I was the only one left on that path, heading back on my own, as everyone else was already back in the room!

My thoughts on breathing and meditation are simple. They are offered here only as a sharing of what works for me and what has helped me to work my way through a wide range of emotions this year without falling apart. There are many good quality meditation guides out there, so please know that this is offered from someone with no formal training in meditation simply an ambition to encourage others to breathe better.

Find a space where you are comfortable, not too hot, not too cold. Make sure you are sitting on your sitting bones (whether cross-legged on the floor or sitting on a chair) and relax your arms into your lap. If you are cross legged on the floor, make sure you have three points of contact with the floor using firm cushions to make yourself comfortable yet active. Your sitting bones should be able to support you to feel as if you grow up out of the ground as your breathing deepens – at least that’s what happens for me.  If you’re sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor and they support you as much as your sitting bones do.

Then breathe, allow your breath to flow in and out naturally, and allow that breath to ease any areas of tension. I often find my neck is stiff, as are my shoulders. Breathe into any areas that feel tight, encouraging tightness to release and let go. I find that counting my breath helps me into that beautiful quiet space within, allowing thoughts and emotions to come into consciousness before I release them as I stay present, focused on my breath. I often count to ten, one on the in breath, two on the out and so on. And when a thought comes to mind, I’ll acknowledge it, let it go and resume counting from one again.

I invite you to join me in the Insight Timer community, where you will find many far more experienced guides than me, along with all manner of music and sounds of nature to sit with including om chanting as options to accompany your breathing. I hope you will also find your own way into the truly remarkable and powerful space that I believe is within us all. For me, when I’m there, my emotions seem to find their own way so that when I emerge, I feel reinvigorated simply by being present with my breath.

Monday, 10 December 2018

I know pain - you can’t hurt me; I’ve seen defeat - you can’t stop me - Day 11

Tuesday 11th December 2018

11 was the number of the Apollo spaceflight that landed the first two people
on the moon on the 20th July 1969. To this day there are regular allegations

that the whole mission was/is a hoax with evidence such as a 'flapping flag'
and a star-free sky being used to substantiate these claims.
Today we have a very personal blog, written from the heart, by Gary Cookson. He is an HR, OD and L&D expert who runs a consultancy business, EPIC HR. Gary is a key member of the HR community and I am proud to call him my friend.

However, the most important thing in Gary's life is his family - his adored wife and four wonderful children. His eyes light up whenever he talks about them. 

Gary is a caring, brave and wonderful man. He took note of my plea for interested parties who might want to run the Advent Blog series to contact me. I really do believe that the series (and you the readers) would benefit from a fresh pair of eyes and a new focus. 

Let me tell you a bit more about Gary: his business, EPIC, helps people to Evolve, Perform, Improve and Compete. Gary himself is physically competitive - a keen sportsman, he is a regular participant in triathlons and has managed some representative sports teams. Prior to running his own business Gary worked in HR in various sectors including Housing, Education, Not-for-Profit and Public (for the DBS). Prior to HR he qualified as a secondary school teacher (teaching History). He has a way with words - he blogs on the EPIC site and you can also catch his wisdom on Twitter (his handle is @Gary_Cookson) as well as hearing him at various conferences and events throughout the year.

I a delighted that he has come forward, as I can think of few who would match him in running this series. I am quite looking forward to being a contributor...


The theme for this year’s advent blog series is Heartaches, hopes and high fives. The announcement of the theme prompted some deep reflection on my part - as per usual, my year has contained all of these in good measure, and, as usual, my blog is a personal account of this.

I’ll take them in theme order even though as I’ve planned this blog I’ve thought about things in chronological order. The quote which makes up the title of this blog is one of my favourites and comes from the ex WWE wrestler Tazz, but somehow seems appropriate here.


I’ve had a few.

My mum, who last year I said was having treatment for cancer and who I was estranged from, went into remission for part of the year but the cancer returned and she has resumed treatment. Perhaps the only good thing to have come from this is that it has helped us begin to repair our relationship.

My brother's partner, only in her early 30s, is also undergoing similar treatment and it seems out of proportion to be affecting our family like this.

My youngest son, at the time only 5 months old, was rushed into hospital for 3 days with suspected meningitis and whilst we were glad it ended up not being, it was still a serious virus and a very worrying time for us. 

My eldest daughter, now 13, decided this year that she no longer wished to live with me half the week as she had done since aged 3, and has gone full time to her mum's. Neither she nor we have any real explanation for this, but it shows no sign of changing and I’m heartbroken that someone to whom I was so close, for whom I was her hero and prince, who I loved beyond measure, can suddenly decide everything has changed for no apparent reason. I barely see or speak to her now and it’s left a massive gap in my life and heart. Worse is the effect this has on her two younger siblings, one of whom cries every time the elder daughter comes and goes, and wants nothing more than to play with her, and the younger of whom is growing up not knowing his eldest sister.

And finally I’m reminded of my own physical weaknesses. The male members of my family have a history of heart disease that strikes in their 40s. Knowing this, I’ve kept myself more fit than any other family member for a decade and had thought I might buck the trend, but there have been signs in the last year that my body thinks differently and I’m having tests to check what is going on with my heart, which aches.


I obviously remain hopeful that all the heartaches will resolve themselves but in addition to these I have the following specific hopes.

That my eldest son passes his driving test and does well in his mock A levels, giving him a clear path to University.

That my two youngest children make a successful transition into full time school and nursery respectively.

That my wife makes a successful return to work after her maternity leave ends. 

And I hope my business, EPIC, continues to grow and develop in its second year. Even though I’ve done well in year one, I would like to be able to secure more income streams and add more value to clients and be able to relax more. 

High fives

Thankfully there have been lots of these. In no particular order:

My business was set up and has exceeded my wildest dreams in terms of its success. I did it at the right time and for the right reason and that fuel has helped me do things I didn’t think possible.

My eldest son got some impressive GCSE results and even bettered my own tally. He also began to realise his potential in our main sport and began to surpass my own levels of achievement and ability (even though I had a great year myself).

I’ve seen my eldest daughter develop some real and unexpected artistic talent, previously no one in the family has possessed this.

And I’ve seen my fourth child born and grow so well, with the high five going to my wife who managed a home birth with no pain relief!


Apologies for the very personal blog but it seemed appropriate for the theme. Often this year I have focused on the heartaches as these tend to dominate one's thinking and emotions, but having a theme like this reminds me, and all of us, that life doles out heartaches, hopes and high fives in roughly equal measure, not necessarily equally in one given year but certainly across a lifetime.

One can dwell on any of these areas but remember - they’re all there and more will come in each category too.

If, like me, you’ve not had a perfect year, then maybe, like me you’ve had an average year.

And that’s neither good or bad. It’s a sign that you’re living your life.

Doing your best.

When things go well, celebrate the successes, but when things go wrong, learn from the fails and stresses.

You’re going to have more of both. Get used to it. It’s called living.