The mirrorball

The touch of nature

 

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I’ve been in Paris for two days and I am starved. Starved of nature. Yeah, there are a few trees here and there. However, they stand or hang, like prisoners, on the side of dirty and dusty streets. Worst of all, no one, no one seems to care about them. So, they try to survive. They ‘re not quite sure why. A bit like the many homeless people I saw sleeping on that busy boulevard last night, or trying to.

I thought I would go to the Seine or to some of the parks nearby. I didn’t. I have been there many times before. I only needed to remember how hungry those visits have left me. Like visiting a zoo. Like watching nature in a cage.

To me, the Parisian parks and very, very small gardens are just either naturally sterile or pristinely manicured environments. Even the birds seem domesticated there, eagerly waiting for the next crumb which they already know is going to be falling off your lunch baguette.

And here I am, sitting in this lovely, small and miraculously still independent Parisian hotel I have been visiting for a number of years now – well, I don’t do chains and I don’t do “points” or “miles”. Can you imagine not being “owned” by anyone? I met the proprietor for the first time on my arrival and she was so keen to get my feedback on the new reception decor. It’s right in the centre of Paris. It’s lovely, as a hotel, and it’s nearly home to me considering the number of years I have known it. Except for the fact that there is nothing from nature in it. Only artefacts and artistic reminders of what nature might look like when it’s alive or, well, dead.

And sitting here, in the lounge, listening to some old American folk songs, I notice that all I wish for is to be touched. To be touched by nature. To be moved by the noise of the wind in the trees. To smell nightfall on moist earth. To listen to the noise of whatever naturally roams around, when you let it.

I nearly got into an e-mail argument with one of my brothers this week on the felling of some trees in his garden. Of course, I didn’t, it’s not worth it. The trees are now dead. And I talked about it with my friend over dinner last night and she reminded me how difficult it is to explain to people how one might feel about nature if they have never felt the same kind of connection themselves before. There is never any reasoning in cutting trees when one knows how alive they are, and how they make you thrive. The truth is that a little bit of me dies when I see a tree on the ground. Yeah, call me sentimental, or idealistic, or whatever. It’s how I feel, really. If you also allowed yourself to feel in nature, with nature, you might get your own experience, and you could also tell me about it. We could swap experiences.

Over the last few weeks, I have been hearing a something in my attic that scratches, or pecks on wood and accompanies my thoughts when I am suddenly wakeful, when everyone else is asleep. I call it my winter visitor. I have never found out what it is. I often think it’s a bird and sometimes consider the possibility that it might be a rat. And I don’t mind. The scratching or pecking is always timely and always seems to know how to put a smile on my face, when my mind is briefly steaming with the thought that it’s only half past three in the morning…

I guess, I could “eradicate” the creature keeping warm in my attic in the winter or “control” its visits. And why? It’s been great company during those frequent, wakeful nights. It’s not doing any harm and the likelihood of it doing any damage to anything is as high as any of those insurance contracts you have signed and paid for all these years without ever having to claim anything back from them. Killing for insurance?

I remember visiting this artist in Belize many years ago. We could only get to her place over rough terrain and the crossing of this wide, very wide river. We climbed on the boat hesitantly: it was operated by roap. You pulled the roap and pulled yourself across the river to the side of the bank where she lived. I looked at her mesmerised when she explained how they had first fought the insects, the flies, the creatures that owned the land they had built their beautiful wooden framed house on. Until they realised that they would never win that fight and that, maybe there was no real need to fight in the first place.

The Ajahn I retreated with this summer at the Amavarati monastery talked about how Western monks never got harmed by nature, when staying in the spiky and temperamental Thai jungle, provided their heart was filled with “metta” – loving kindness. He talked of many encounters with poisonous and potentially deadly creatures. The latter  never harmed the monks. They were never threatened by them.

Work is taking me to Barcelona in a couple of days and I have been told that the hotel there is near the “beach”. So, I am wondering whether I will meet nature soon again there. And be touched by it, nurtured and guided by it, the way it knows how to, when I let it.

When were you last touched by nature?

 

How honest are you?

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Dishonesty often feels like bottled water to me.

Think of the “dis” as the plastic casing that is designed to keep that precious and vital liquid, clean and safe, for your personal consumption – and well, survival. And of course, we know now how noxious plastic is for us, and everything else around us…

If only we could drink fresh, “real” water from its source, the way our mountain ancestors often did…

For those who might wonder, I did stop buying plastic bottled water a couple of years ago. And my Brita filtered water bottle is the best compromise I have found for now. It’s real water, filtered.

It’s a bit like truth. You can’t really drink it from its source these days. It’s treated, processed, flavoured and packaged in so many ways before it reaches you that, well, it’s often not so good for you by the time it does. At least, it rarely tastes that good to me.

Let’s be honest – ha ha -, what occasions do we get these days to speak our truth, only our truth and our whole truth? Yeah, except when we are called to be witnessed or examined in a court of law…

It’s hard to be honest, right? To be truthful. To honour who we really are, on a regular basis.

I don’t know about you. What has always held me back in the past is the fear of being judged, of being labelled, of being assessed negatively by others. I needed to be accepted, to sustain that illusory feeling of belonging. And, ok, if I allow myself to be honest here – ha ha -, it was that monstrous fear of feeling REJECTED. How many times I have sensed the biscuit of my truth crumbling under the pummelling weight of judgement before it reaches anywhere it can really be tasted, and maybe, appreciated. I call it the “biscuit stomach crunch” – that crumbly feeling at the bottom of my stomach.

Let’s be honest – ha ha. How comfortable does it feel to stand out with a different view in a crowd embracing the same view? Or what’s the point, right?

And well, the fact is that, for most of us, feeling isolated or rejected HURTS. So, we hide, ignore, pretend or play games instead.

And don’t we feel naked, potentially fragile and vulnerable, when we tell the truth for the first time?

Yet, it’s so good to be able to be who we are and tell what we truly think and how we truly feel. If it’s not directly offensive to anyone specific, if it is honouring our true self, what is wrong with the truth? Why is it that we often feel it’s best to go half way, just in case… That, maybe, adding a bit of citrus flavour is more likely to conquer others’ favour…

Ok, I will admit – ha ha – that it hasn’t been easy to learn to tell the truth, my truth. Most importantly, to learn when the truth is good, when it can have a positive impact – when it can be a source of “healing” for me or the other – and to learn to withhold it, when it is unclear whether it will make any positive change. The reality is that it’s taken me a while on the road of discernment and the offer and experience of plenty of bottled water of all kinds on the way.

And the learning has mostly been about learning to speak my truth whilst respecting that of others, without judgement, without the need to convince them that they are standing on the wrong side of the river.  For me, debates are now like tumultuous rivers that can never be crossed.

I had some very old friends visiting last weekend. I hadn’t seen them for a few years and we had fun reminiscing how wild we were when we first met, close to 30 years ago now. And I can’t remember how we got to it but it must have been something to do with our personal appreciations of the history of our friendship. My friend turned round to me suddenly, looked at me for a brief moment and somewhat solemnly announced that I was the most honest person he had ever known and that he liked that because it took courage to be honest. I looked at him surprised. I had had many, many, many disagreements with him over the years, many heated discussions late into the night. For the first time, he was telling me why he had kept coming back for the next set of stormy debates with me all these years. He was smiling too.

And it made my evening, my day, my weekend. It’s made my week actually.  Worth 30 years of attempting at being honest, regardless of conventions, political games or the simple judgement of others. And this time, we didn’t have debates. We listened to one another and shared our truth. We didn’t judge each other, just appreciated our differences and remained open long enough to learn from them. It was worth the wait.

And my friend is right. It takes courage to tell the truth, to be honest, with oneself as much as with others. However hard it may sometimes be to be honest with oneself; it always feels better – if not immediately, at least later – to be and live “unbottled”.

So, yeah, I know, you are waiting for this now. I’d like to know, how honest are you?

When men gather

I spent this last week mostly with men.

After the last few years of nurturing and enjoying many new female friendships and relationships, it has been surprising to be around men again in this way, to be one of the very few female voices in a contained male environment, for a short or long period of time. It dawned on me that boys, young men and old men have mostly dominated my personal life throughout most of its duration so far – even when we played as kids around the block, I was the only girl.

Until recent times, that is. To my delight and daily appreciation, a circle of strong women has emerged around me over the last three or four years.

This weekend started with my first rowing session back in a quad with…guys. It is now a year since I first learnt to scull on that turbulent and icy river. I was the only woman in that quad too. And I have since mostly been rowing with the women’s team. So, it was an interesting and somewhat sudden change. Once introduced, I was immediately asked how long I had been rowing… I got it: they wanted a good outing. And it was nice to hear that they did have an outing worthy of praise, once we had landed again. Well, deep down, I always knew I could row like a man…

And that’s how it often goes. If you’re a woman, you are judged and evaluated as one, to start with. If you’re a guy, well, you are one of us… I know this is a gross generalisation and it is not always like this. However, my past life experiences have sadly shown me that it has often been the truth.

From my days of being connected to the British forces as a very young woman in Germany, and then Belize; to my times of training and working with Muslim colleagues in North Africa and the Middle East.

Or even to those times of roaming the “Kalashnikov markets” in Moscow – that’s what we called them because of the omni-presence of those awful weapons. And the only reason to go there, each time, was the need to buy back the equipment stolen in the office the night before. It was a rigmarole one had to go through regularly at the time. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Eastern Europe had quickly turned into a new Wild West… It is only now I understand what a vulnerable time and place it was for a woman to be there. To be one woman among men.

So, over the years, I learnt to be a “man-woman” in certain contexts and environments. To get attention, and respect, and engagement, and service. Sometimes, it felt that I had even succeeded in becoming one of “them” – life seemed much easier when that happened. I guess these were pioneer times which gifted me with a strong understanding of leadership and what it means to live and work in a cohesive group.

After the rowing outing, I drove to a gathering of leaders, supporters and lovers of rites of passage. To my surprise, when I arrived, there were mostly men there. And the 24 hours I spent with them has left transformational impressions on me. Sitting in traditional council, I saw men daring to open their heart and speak from the heart. They laughed, they danced, they cried and they hugged each other, even tenderly. Every moment was stunning by its beauty. It wasn’t long before I felt honoured and privileged to witness each of these men’s moments of openness, and of surrender to their vulnerable self, to their joy, and to their suffering. I was touched and moved, many times. And, in case you wonder, there was not a drop of alcohol involved here – well, I am in the UK after all, so this might be a fair assumption…. These men did not need help to be themselves or speak their truth. These were truly brave men, who weren’t scare to simply “show up”.

And at the same time, I felt welcome, listened to and witnessed in my own, open sharing. In equal measures. And as a woman.

So, I sit down to reflect today on how times have changed, when men gather, and especially when they are witnessed by women.

And it happened again, a couple of nights ago. I had four friends coming to stay with me. I cooked them dinner and gave them each a bed in my house. We shared our hopes and experiences – we all nurture the wish to bring greater compassion to communities and society at large. They were all men. I thought, even at my age, this would be one of those situations when my father would turn to my mother and comment on how things have changed… And he would be right.

And well, all I can say is that when some men gather these days, it’s not necessarily the kind of gathering one might expect or imagine.

It’s kind, respectful, playful and equal. When men gather.

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A moment of wonder

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She messaged me on Facebook, out of the blue, last week, and all she said is that she wanted to share with me an “AMAZING” moment that had just happened to her. I thought, wow, what might this be? My friend is happily married, with lovely children and with a business that is thriving. I knew this moment would not be what some might describe as an “amazing” moment in mundane life – yeah, you know like, “I’ve won last night’s Euromillions!”. As it turned out, she was about to move into a workshop that morning and I was on my way to Paris to do the same. So, we didn’t talk. It is only the following week that I dropped her a note about it. I was curious. Mostly by the fact that she had felt compelled to message me about it, and wanted to share it with me. I knew there was something in the story for me.

And maybe, so it is with most of the stories we feel the need to share – or we have the courage to share – with others. That we share them because we know there will be something in them for them. Whatever that is, for each of them – in my experience, there is rarely a way to know what that will be.

So, earlier this week, I remembered the note and messaged her again, asking her about that moment. There was a matter of seconds between my message and her call. My note seemed to have re-ignited the sense of momentum, the need to share that moment. And yes, the moment was amazing. Amazing in its simple beauty, in the synchronicity it depended on: in the way in which people happened to connect, and share or bump into each other… It was one of those moments of wonder when everything falls into place and one understands an aspect of the journey wandered so far, its broader meaning and its initially unknown purpose.

It was also one of those moments when life seems to be closing a loop: my friend ended up meeting again, “accidentally”, someone who had been very influential in her youth, after the completion of a major and related project that day. This was one of those moments when you suddenly understand or are reminded that most things are connected, if we can take the time to observe, notice and remember. And that the more we take notice, the more aware we become of those “fortuitous” connections, and the more grateful to life’s everyday little gifts one becomes.

I so cherish those moments. They have become what I call the most meaningful and memorable “acts” in the play of my daily life. I have learnt to welcome each of them, as they happen. Even, or especially, when they challenge me. I know that when they come, I will be nourished, satiated with where I am and prepared for the next stage of the journey – which of course is always an unknown. We are truly brave when we accept to live our lives without a script.

And those moments always remind me that I am loved, that somehow I am cared for. That life is full of wonder, and that I don’t need Disney or any fairytale to experience it. Because it’s real. I am loved. Not by Mickey, but by the source of goodness in life – call it what you wish, if you feel drawn towards religion or spirituality.

And here I am, writing all this on a rainy day. It’s only mid-morning. And it has been a wonder-full day already. I woke up after a full night sleep and some intriguing dreams. I felt good. A ladybird started flying around the light on my bedside table a short time after I switched it on. I marvelled at its presence. Still in bed, I looked at my day ahead, so full of commitments and opportunities. Most importantly, it was full of commitments to myself. Because today, I care about myself more than anyone else. So that I can care for others as best I can. It’s the most important lesson I have learnt over the last five years, finally.

I cleared the dirty plates and cups from last night’s dinner and caught the squirrel springing onto the wet lawn outside my kitchen window. I wondered where the neighbour’s cats were, how safe it was for him to play and hunt on the wet grass seemingly so carefree. Then I remembered that it was his life of possible wonders.

I then sat at my desk and went through all the pages left opened on my screen waiting for my attention. I ordered my first rowing racing kit – the opportunity of a first race has suddenly re-emerged – and was looking at the Playmobil Advent Calendar sets when my friend called.

Yeah, I know… Bear with me one more moment. Buying a Playmobil Advent Calendar set is the best thing I have done so far for myself this morning. It symbolises how much I appreciate being who I am today and how I understand the need to celebrate that, regularly – yeah, of course, it doesn’t involve the purchase of Playmobil figures each time… Those who have worked with me in the creative or innovation fields will know that I have a collection of Playmobil figures and objects which I use in my workshops. Like the Lego sets, they are always a hit. Because they take us back to an aspect of who we really are at the moment we choose and pick one. I loved it when that Vice-President picked that cowboy once at the end of a strategy workshop and talked about feeling so excited at the prospect of crossing “new frontiers”… I am so excited at the prospect of opening a new window and gifting myself with a new Playmobil item for my collection, every morning for three weeks before Christmas. I used to buy Advent calendars with chocolates for my son, until not so long ago. It’s the first time I have bought one for myself. I just don’t need the chocolates. I just want more Playmobils.

I told my friend how difficult it was too choose, how I was discovering there were so many different Playmobil Advent calendar sets to choose from and she joyfully laughed, when she realised I was buying one for myself . So, we talked about her moment of wonder and shared stories. Then suddenly she told me how much she loved me, how she “truly loved me” – her own words – and how she hoped I knew how much I was loved, that others also told me how much they loved me. My heart skipped a beat and immediately filled with gratitude. It’s so, so special to be told you are loved in this way: to be loved for who you are, not because you have anything to give or because something is needed from you, just because you ARE.

Maybe one should never stop saying thanks in those moments. Nurturing gratitude for the openness, the honesty, the authenticity, the goodness that these moments bring – when we allow ourselves to care, and take notice. And it always starts with me – and you. It’s all to do with how much I care for myself, appreciate myself, embrace who I am, with my foibles – I love that word -, and well, my so many contradictions. The wonder of being human.

And so came my own moment of wonder. The realisation that I am loved. And I do believe that I really understood its gift, its depth and meaning, only because I have learnt to really appreciate who I am, to actually love myself – picture me bowing, with thanks, for all the blessings life keeps bestowing upon me these days (when I take notice).

So, go on, how many moments of wonder have you had lately?

Or maybe, how well will you care for yourself or have you cared for yourself today? – please, don’t feel you have to buy any Playmobil…

How do you say “sorry”?

I have been noticing this week how many forgo the need to apologize to others for the wide variety of mishaps that could be expected to require some form of apologetic response to re-establish or sustain healthy, social relationships.

I guess many of us have ran out of time at some point in recent times to turn around and apologise to the person we have just bumped into, whilst running for the train AND answering that important phone call. I have just been working in Paris and people bump into each other all the time… A friend of mine calls it “the zombie zone” and the phrase always comes to mind and puts a smile back on my face after just being bumped into, with, well, no apologies. And the most distressing for me is often not so much about not being acknowledged as visible but to realise that the person who has just bumped into me does not seem to have actually noticed that he or she did.

That’s the thing. The silence is the killer. The absence of that gesture, that word indicating that there was a better intention than what was acted, that there is the desire to go back in time, that there is the wish that whatever just happened did not happen.

And this is it, good apologies are spontaneous and immediately follow the mishap. Just dare think about what to do for just one moment and you will have missed the opportunity to be truthful, to repair the damage that has been done and is continuing to creak away in the other person’s mind and heart, whilst you wait.

Yet, it is always worth saying it, even late. I saw that beautiful film a little while ago – well, to tell the truth, I have been in love with Colin Firth ever since he came out dripping of that lake in the TV series “Pride and Prejudice”, so many years ago. The film is about the subject of forgiveness, the difficulties of forgiving someone who has done you harm, and often the long-term need for the other to ask for forgiveness. I recommend it to you. It’s called “The Railway Man“.

And well, yes, I have also been noticing those who don’t keep silent, for whom the word “sorry” slips off the tongue effortlessly, and often finishing their apologies with a smile.

I have been travelling by train a lot recently and on one of those recent journeys, the mobile phone of the businessman sitting in front of me started ringing. REALLY loudly. Unfortunately for him, he was sitting in the “quiet” compartment so he immediately got stared at by a few passengers around him. I was stunned to see him switch his phone with embarrassment on his face and immediately apologize to me and those sitting around us. I then surprised him by thanking him for apologizing. There have been so many before him who have blatantly ignored the “quiet” choice and imposed their private conversations upon me. I was just so grateful to him for saying “sorry”.

This is the thing. If we appreciated others more for admitting to have done something wrong, even accidentally, maybe they would be encouraged to admit to their vulnerability, to the fact that they failed to meet others’ needs from them, more often than many currently do.

Tell me you never ever get even slightly annoyed when someone’s phone suddenly starts ringing really loudly near you. OK, maybe, it’s just me.

It’s interesting to see the effect of just saying or hearing “sorry” though. I have noticed how it tends to wipe my emotional plate clean immediately. It puts me on an even keel with the other. I am immediately ready to “start” with them again. I felt vulnerable, because triggered, and he or she by saying sorry is admitting to wishing they had not triggered me. Apologies. They are really quite a beautiful thing to experience, and appreciate.

So, I wonder, how easy is it for you to say “sorry”?

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Will you look at the sky today?

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The question here is not whether you will just see the sky, it’s whether you will notice it, really look at it and take a moment to explore what it might bring up in you – emotions and, maybe, memories or insights, inspirations and new ideas…

How often do you take notice of what is happening in the sky, above or ahead of you?

For many years, well, OK, for most of my adult life, I have mostly looked at the sky to work out how wet or dry my day was likely to be and what precautions I needed to take. Trust me, living in the UK, it quickly becomes a somewhat face-saving necessity – one of the social skills one quickly acquires after a couple of disastrously public “dripping” moments.

And of course, like many of you, I am sure, I have marvelled and taken lots of pictures of the beautiful sunsets I saw here and there. And thinking about those moments, it was a little like going to the cinema, or going to some firework display. It’s the “oohs” and the “aahs”, the “wow, look at that”, I  took the picture and I moved on to the next experience, to the next “most amazing” sunset…

Thinking now of all the special pictures of the sky in my mind right now, I notice that there are very few that really stand out.

There is that red sky in Michigan that surprised me during my walk of the labyrinth I used to know in the woods there – pink reflections on the stones made me lift my head and there it was: I was bathing in red.

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There is that famous Key West sunset on that boat in the middle of the ocean with the Red Chilli Peppers being played really loud – that sunset became quite a story in our family as it was so hard to “catch” and had to be pursued for a couple of days  until, of course, it suddenly sprang upon us on the third day, unexpectedly. We had, by then, given up on the hope of seeing it, of course.

There is then that famous sunrise in that ancient grove of bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains in Eastern California. It was the first sunrise after four days and five nights of time alone in the wilderness with no shelter and no food – just a gallon of water for each day – and with the invisible company of mountain lions, tarantulas and rattlesnakes. All I really remember is how the sun filled my heart with gratitude that morning. It really was the beginning of a new day.

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And then, I have to jump to the skies witnessed each time I came out for a walking meditation, a labyrinth walk, or just a walk, during my first retreat at the Amavarati Buddhist monastery at the beginning of this year. It was our last day of meditating in the noble silence tradition and the first day of 2015. And it is during that last morning that I really looked at the sky for the first time in my life – I swear. I don’t have a picture to show you as we had gone off grid for the whole duration of the retreat. The picture is indelibly printed on my mind.

I have had this relationship with the sky ever since: I greet it and silently converse with it every day. These make for very beautiful and memorable moments each day. I was comforted to learn last week that Hawaiian Kahunas do cloud readings.  I thought, hell, maybe what is happening for me with the sky each day is normal.

It helps to be aware to really see the sky. And to focus one’s attention on the present moment, on what is. Without judgement, and without expectations. Sounds easy, right. I dare you to try.

And what I have been learning from the sky each day, since that first day, is the real meaning of the concept of impermanence. How nothing ever stays the same. How every thing – myself included – is in a constant spiral of change. Even when the sky is completely clear. And even when I am completely still.

Nothing ever stays the same.

And with that realisation, everything, every moment becomes precious, unique. The present is a true gift. Even when I am in pain. Because I know that nothing ever stays the same. So, the sky each day is teaching me both the incomprehensible beauty of nature and well, resilience. When nothing feels beautiful, I know, it will soon change.

So, will you look at the sky today?

Who am I and who are you?

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Have you ever asked yourself the question? Have you ever surprised yourself by something you thought or did? Do you really know who you are?

Of course, we know our names, our histories and our preferences. And is that all that really makes who we are?

I have started teaching qualitative research methods again – with the wonderful Research Academy here in the UK – and have been reading on all the latest on behavioural economics. It’s all about the realisation – through research evidence – that we rarely make a choice deliberately and consciously and consider all the possible variables and changes in outcome…

Ouch, yeah, do you really know who you are and why you make the choices you make on a daily basis?

Of course, many of us think we know who we are, what we like, dislike, what we dream of, what we live for. And some of us don’t. And it’s often even more difficult to talk about who we are to others – try a bit of therapy and you’ll see how long it takes to really get confused about what you are saying about yourself…

I was recently invited by a very nice man to consider coaching him in his search for a “brand identity”. He works in the creative field so his “brand” is currently who he is.  I had a lovely meeting with him and after an hour of exchanging thoughts and ideas, I clearly heard him express the wish that someone would listen to his story and just write-up who he is, for him to share with others. The thought completely stopped me in my tracks. Imagine, being given the expression of who you are, delivered on a plate. “This is who I am”… Wouldn’t life be full of clarity,  and not so jammy with all that haze of uncertainty, that obsession with pondering and wondering. The what ifs. The maybes.

It is a guy called Adyashanti who first asked me that question. OK, he didn’t ask me personally, it was on one of his earlier recordings. Adyashanti is a meditation teacher in the Zen Buddhist tradition based in California. It was in his early days – he is pretty well known and revered now. I loved his simple, laid back and pragmatic directions to the route of enlightenment – after all, don’t we all meditate to maybe, one day, get on the road where everything is “light”? I don’t know.

And the question struck me of course as the most important one. What else matters in the very big picture of all things? Are we maybe not here to find out exactly that: who we really are and why we are here? Oops, I’ll stick to the first part of the question for now.

I treated myself to a walk through Selfridges in London this week. It had been a long time since I had been there. Sheets of water were steadily coming down outside, so it was time for a sheltered distraction. I thought I would wander to my favourite perfume maker – I did help develop a couple of their juices in my younger days and always blamed the work for being hooked on their range of flowery scents. And there it was again. The question. Staring at me.

I couldn’t help smiling. And the beautiful sales assistant started looking at me with inquisitive eyes, when I started taking that picture.

Who am I?

I am a little closer to a full answer than I have ever been before. And I am well aware that the answer cannot be, will not ever be definitive. I am surprising myself most days still. So, I completely get the new science of behavioural economics and the wish for someone to simply tell me what I should say to others when they ask me about myself… And yes, I guess that is why I meditate, to find out a little more about who I am, a little bit more every day.

So, do you really know who you are? Seriously.

On the subject of fear

I have been arrogant enough in the recent past to think and to say that I am no longer fearful, of life, of anything – I know…

Ok, it’s not true.

I discovered last weekend that I am (still?) fearful of pain.

And yeah, pain comes in many different ways.

Last week it came in the form of a cracked tooth. I am not kidding. The pain was so intense, I started taking painkillers. As some of you know, I don’t “do” pills of any kind, I believe in keeping “natural”. And yeah, the pain was, well, very “natural” and so, so intense. It’s simple and obvious, right, when a nerve gets exposed to the elements, it hurts, a lot.

At least I still consider myself as brave: I made an appointment with my dentist first thing on Monday morning. This is in view of the fact that I have been haunted by dental traumas from early childhood. This truly registers as a desperate move in my personal dental history.

The dentist told me that the choice was simple: I could have the tooth taken out or opt for a root canal procedure – removing all the live tissues in the roots of the tooth and filling them with cement instead. I thought I had entered a war field. I found myself engulfed in fear.

And this is the thing with fear. Most of the time it is a dramatic fantasy created by my mind. A delusion. And, I know it. I know that unless it is rooted in an event that is directly threatening my survival, my fear is rarely funded on anything that is “real”.

My fear of root canals stems from the experience of having fillings as a young girl without any anaesthetic – it wasn’t fashionable then. I also had heard horror stories about root canal procedures. There wasn’t one happy story I could think of. I tell you, the word simply opened the door to a dental hell in my mind.

So I focused on my breathing and carefully went through all the reasons why I should probably prefer to have root canal, fearful or not. I’ll admit that I did have to remind myself to breathe a couple of times during that monologue.

And I booked it the next day. What I then did surprised me the most: I decided that my decision was a simple act of love towards myself, my physical self. I mean, honestly, how could I choose to sit on that chair for one hour and an half out of anything else but love?

I knew I would have plenty of soothing injections, that the dentist and his assistant were kind, confident and experienced. Why would I be fearful? I sat on the chair ready. My mind was peaceful and nearly serene – I am not kidding. What I noticed throughout the procedure is a variety of physical events that surprised me and even amused me. My heart would start beating wildly at the sound of the drill. I would suddenly find my my back muscles tensing up when my eyes would catch an unexpected move. So I found myself focusing on a routine of physical relaxation that must have puzzled my dentist – he was too polite to ask anything.

And that’s the problem with fear. Once experienced, it’s memorised in our body. The struggle is in releasing it, because it is distorting the present, it is no longer really relevant.

Yeah, so all went amazingly well. I actually left feeling grateful for the experience – I know, maybe this sounds like a little too much but it’s true. Think about it, when do you get the chance to face old fears and shoo them away, one by one, every time they return, until they realise that you are no longer falling for them? An hour and a half is long time to say goodbye but it was well worth the wait.

And yeah, for the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I love my dentist. He is a remarkable man: caring, precise, effective and discreet. I just love him. And I can honestly say that I look forward to seeing him in a couple of months time for the second half of the procedure – I know, I’m weird.

Do YOU love your dentist? – well, you would, or you might, if your are married to one, right, but that is not the question…

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Letting the future emerge

Nothing is ever what it seems. That’s been my motto for a long while now.

I find that it doesn’t matter how much I know and what I know, the reality of the moment I am experiencing requires much more openness and imagination – than knowledge – to really understand what that moment might really be about. And yeah, I still say “might” here, as I have come to the humble position of acknowledging that I simply never really know what is really happening, at any point in time.

Whatever happens, it’s best to go with the flow of life. To embrace the unknown and welcome the unexpected. That’s the most important thing I have learnt in recent years – and I am grateful, it really was about time.

That’s particularly my experience when facilitating sessions with groups, especially large groups. It doesn’t matter how much of the internal politics I am aware of, I can’t anticipate every individual’s move within the realm of our activities and dialogue sessions. Nothing is ever what it seems. We may have a plan for the dance, we just don’t know what exact choreography will emerge from us, when we are all together.

And, it’s been a good motto to have. It prepares me for anything, at any time, I guess. In a good way. Mostly because it keeps me open. And because it also helps me allow the future to emerge, naturally.

I once met a guy in a bar in Barcelona – shortly before a dark shadow sneakily removed my handbag from the back of my chair – who told me that the average age of a company was around 12 years. He had a lot of experience in starting and helping companies. I was quite surprised to hear this at the time. I had never thought of a company as “ageing” and as likely to reach a “terminal” stage in its growth or evolution. I had always moved with the needs of my clients. I was young. I had no limiting beliefs about the future. I then thought I still had a few years to go for my company to reach that kind of “end”.

And I never forgot that conversation, and yeah, maybe the late night in that Spanish police station also helped etch the whole evening in my memory. Still, it has always reminded me how important it is to keep agile in business, to evolve with what is needed rather than keep offering what we know is easy or easier to offer.

I have also often thought of David Bowie and Madonna and of the many conversions they went through in their respective musical career. Maybe we all need to allow the artist in ourselves to emerge, grow and guide us in our choices.

And I realise that I have never kept doing the same thing. Clients have often come to me with requests that didn’t fit any profile. They just had the intuition and the belief that I would find a way to help. From cross-cultural qualitative research for the biggest international brands to creative problem solving for many different and often, as well known entities, to the heart is now approaching its next chapter. There is the emergent need to reflect what I see and understand to be today’s reality, to be the real needs of the worlds I wish to continue to serve.  And these are mostly about facilitating understanding and change with the help of the many processes, tools and techniques I have picked up on the way. May this part of the journey be the 12 years it needs to be next.

I am letting the future emerge.

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Maybe I’m “creative”. So, are you?

He swiftly inserted the needles into my earlobes after casually mentioning that there were over two hundred contact points in the ear alone. I realised that I believed anything he said to me. Because I could feel in my body what he was telling me was going to happen every time he stuck another needle into me.

It’s all about energy, you see.  That “Chi” thing, and then there is the “Yin” energy and the “Yang” energy, and it goes on. I won’t get into the Meridian lines stuff either but they also came up in the chitchat we entertained ourselves with, throughout the hour we spent together. All I was grateful for was the immense sense of relief and relaxation that was slowly inking all the invisible pathways in my body. I could feel it slowly coming over from my lower limbs up towards my torso: he had started with my feet… He said he was “re-balancing” energy in me and I knew he was right.

The good news is that I only needed a “top-up” – unlike when I first met him about two years ago when I felt like a very rusty car being oiled again for the first time after many years of neglect on the busy roads of life.

And he is one of those people who will also (casually) remark about my creativity. It’s as if he can see it, feel it – he knows very little about me and about what I do. And it’s always hard for me not to react to the label of “being creative”. I always want to respond that “no, in fact, I am not that creative”. My truth is that I just try to live my life with the greatest possible openness in me. That is all.

And being, staying “open” is so, so hard. It means that I don’t compare, that I don’t question, that I don’t evaluate or judge, that I don’t disagree. Can you imagine? Yeah, I fail on all counts frequently. And sometimes, when I am open, everything flows. All is in balance. Maybe that’s what is meant by “creative energy”.

And all I need, to stay open, is to be in the present moment, embrace it with all it has to offer and welcome all the gifts it brings with it. This present moment is marvellous. After a week of stormy rains, it’s all nice, sunny and fresh outside my window. The window cleaners visited in my absence and I can see it all clearly from my chair. I am grateful. Then the sun beams reflected on the car sitting in front of my office window suddenly make an appearance on the wall next to my screen. There is just a lot happening, when I take the time to notice. And I am sitting comfortably surrounded by mementos, visuals and words that mostly remind me of other beautiful moments experienced alone or with others, here or there. It’s a creative moment. The words are flowing out of me effortlessly. I never know what I am meant to write every Friday until I actually do it. All I need to do is connect fully and honestly with the present moment. Then it comes. Whatever needs to come, here and now.

I put a big proposal together yesterday and reviewed many of the photographs I had taken over the last couple of years. In that process, I re-discovered pictures I had forgotten, like the picture below.

This is still a very vivid and beautiful moment. I was sitting in a restaurant at JFK airport after a week at the annual Creative Problem Solving Institute conference in Buffalo in the USA. I was glowing with creative light. And there it was, the plastic bag sitting on the luggage trolley by the table next to mine that summarised it all for me. You have to smile when these moments happen. And what I remember next is how I had one of the best overnight flights back to Europe, ready to work in Paris later that next day. Thanks to that body massage I decided to go for, a few minutes after taking that picture. The best $100 I ever spent in an airport. I was surprisingly rested, fresh, and well, creative the next day. On another continent, in another language, in another context. I was at my most “creative”. Only because I connected with the present moment and realised that the offer of a body massage in JFK airport seemed as necessary as it seemed extravagant to start with. Well, how can you keep seeing clearly ahead on the road, when you never wipe your windshield?

So, yeah, I believe that we are all “creative” and that all it takes from us is to learn to stay in the present moment, and keep open. Yeah, yeah, yeah, tools, techniques and processes are useful – I can see some of my “creative” friends around the world starting to sit-up on their seat reading this. However, I am finding that they are becoming increasingly like what you find in the mechanic workshop when your car is stalling and no longer knows how to tap into the energy needed to fuel its creative engine.

So, okay, maybe I am “creative”. So, are you?

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