I began this year with great gusto, buzzing with a sense of adventure and with all sorts of things planned.
January lived up to all my expectations with an uplifting workshop on ‘Planting Seeds’ with a group of wonderful women who I’m also fortunate to call friends. We talked about setting intentions, set them down on paper in a variety of creative ways, and coached and encouraged each other to bring it to life.
I like to join in with these things too, when we are working in a small group, so I drew a big globe and plotted on the map where I was planning to go this year, with playful illustrations of what I would do when I got there. First up was India at the end of January, which was a fantastic experience once again and I wrote about it in my blog about Feeling at home wherever you are.
And then I caught another virus straight after I got home and was stopped in my tracks again. Little did I know that I would still have chronic fatigue months later. I haven’t even been able to write, as I can’t seem to find the words.
It can be hard to stay connected and motivated when my mind and body is running on empty, and I have often felt frustrated at ‘sitting around doing nothing’.
And yet, that’s not really true. It’s a story I’ve been telling myself at times, being naturally fed up as it’s been 3 years now, on and off, since I first became ill. When I read this quote from Mozart recently, I felt a warmth spreading from my core…
“The music is not in the notes, but the silence in between.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Inwardly I said a big “YES” and breathed a sigh of relief.
In the time that it has been necessary to rest and apparently ‘do very little’ I have also been doing profound inner work, as I feel a deeper layer of myself has begun to emerge. Despite not being at my best at times (nowhere near it!), I hold a solid belief that this is part of my path which will fundamentally influence the way I live and the type of work I do in future. And that is important to take my time over.
Here are some examples of what’s been happening in the ‘silence in between’…
I have taken time to notice how I think, and what patterns and words I use relating to my health, becoming aware of what helps and what holds me back, consciously accepting and letting go of how I wish things were. For example I have been very aware of my tendency to focus on others over my self, and my habit of finding a silver lining in everything, which I now understand can be detrimental over the long term. I have invested in coaching and holistic therapies which have been a lifeline when I have felt adrift at times. I have had lots of lovely messages and offers of support from friends too, but I have just not been well enough to make plans, far less meeting up.
Learning how the mind, body, and nervous system works
Studying the science has greatly helped me to understand why I have been so unwell and not hold blame or shame, or feeling I ‘should’ be better by now. I have also read incredibly insightful books including ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk and ‘No Bad Parts’ by Richard Schwartz on the fascinating topic of Internal Family Systems (IFS). I have done some deep work to embrace difficult emotions and welcomed aspects of myself which have long been buried or ‘exiled’ as Schwartz calls it.
Modelling how other people have recovered
There are accounts of people who have recovered fully from chronic fatigue and post-viral symptoms, highlighting how they think, and what they do to make progress. I am taking small steps forward from what I have learned, and although it will take time, I am feeling a renewed sense of hope.
Seeing clients again
I have loved opening up my diary to see clients, just a few at a time and I am very careful about giving the experience and quality of attention they have come to expect, as well as managing my health and energy levels.
Opportunities for learning
As well as being one of the most challenging periods in my life, this has been (and still is) an opportunity to re-evaluate and open up to a new level of awareness. I have enjoyed getting to know myself in my 50th year, and although it has not been at all what I expected it has been so enriching and enlightening.
So, there you go… I seem to have gone from being stuck for words to pouring out several hundred of them in one go! It feels good to connect in this way again, although now I am ready for a long rest!
I will be opening up for another couple of one-to-one clients in August, either for Executive Coaching or Personal Development coaching, so please feel free to book a discovery call if you think you’d like to snap up one of the slots.
In the meantime, I am wondering what this blog has opened up for you? Are you curious about your own development and the ‘silence in between’?
Au revoir for now, and I hope it won’t be too long til I am back posting again!
I stopped in my tracks as I reached the top step of the open-air restaurant.
I was captivated by the view of the warm terracotta roof tiles and palm trees framing the pale blue sky and the vast Arabian Sea, where fishermen worked for hours every day to bring in their catch.
We had just finished yoga on the beach at sunrise (Cherai Beach in Kerala, India), and I was feeling invigorated by the grace and flow from moving my body , the sounds within and around me as we chanted, and how present I felt in my body and mind. My heart was also pumping from the ride home on the bikes which Carolyn and I hired to get us back and forth from yoga.
This was how we started each day on the 8-day NLP Intensive run by Sue Knight and Ramesh Prasad, and I found that I had many a-ha moments outside the training room as well as within it.
I’ve found it fascinating how moving, stretching, and focusing on my body in this way reinforced and enhanced the changes in my mind, and how at home I felt from the moment I arrived.
There was a moment last time when I squeezed a juicy piece of lemon into my tea, and I later anchored* that moment. Right then, I realised that I can feel at home wherever I am. And I smiled and re-connected with that when I had my first cup of tea this time in the garden at Blue Waters hotel, where we had the course.
If you’ve ever read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, you’ll be familiar with the concept of seeking and travelling a long way to then discover that what you were looking for was right under your nose! It was a bit like that, AND I was glad I had such an adventure far away from home to discover it (and re-discover it this time).
Stretching my comfort zone
‘Comfort’ was a theme that came up quite a bit before and during this programme, in how I acted and how I spoke about my learning outcomes. Sue challenged me on it – and I’m glad she did – because it had become a blind spot for me in various aspects of life. Perhaps (at least partly) because of living in limbo with the pandemic, and especially having long-covid on-and-off for over two years, I found ways to just accept things as they were at the time (settle, maybe?).
It feels important to challenge and update my beliefs around my health, as well as what I’m capable of as a professional. I have become a little too comfortable with my natural style which is soft and gentle. It does work well and my clients find they can go deep with exploring and understanding themselves… However, I can flex my coaching muscles and benefit clients by being more provocative and challenging, at times!
I believe that where there is discomfort, there is learning, and I have felt the benefit through this training programme, once again.
“I am STRONG”
One of the a-ha moments was when I noticed a tangible, visceral shift from believing “I am resilient” to “I am STRONG”. This feels so different for me, because resilience implies that there are things to be resilient against. Being strong is about a way of being in the world, from the inside-out, and is not dependent on a set of external conditions. It’s about getting myself – and any stories I might be telling myself – out of the way.
This has been a revelation for me, and I am now exploring what that means in my life as it is now. And the more I pay attention to it and say it to myself, the stronger I feel.
That’s the beauty of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming): it’s about studying subjective experience, learning and doing ‘what works’… and sustaining it, too. Through almost 100 days of training (so far!) I have gained a treasure trove of skills and techniques.
And, most of all, I have found a way home to myself.
“Wherever you go, there you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
*Anchoring is a technique where we can bring about a desired state (or way of being) by choice, for example calmness, playfulness, or confidence, by choosing and activating a signal to ‘switch it on’. It really works!
This is me at 23 years old, arriving at Linlithgow Palace to get married. I didn’t know what the future held, other than the fact that Alan was just getting to grips with a diagnosis of MS (Multiple Sclerosis) 3 days earlier. And as his wife-to-be, I had a lot to adjust to as well.
I’ve written and spoken about these experiences many times, and it feels even more significant now, as we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I am finding that it’s a mix of emotions… huge gratitude, happiness, and celebrations for the life we have lived, and some sadness because of how Alan’s health has declined, and how that has affected our lives over time.
I look at this photo of me as a young woman, and I feel proud… having always been a sensitive soul I had no idea what strength I would find within myself. Much of this has come from the love and support of family and friends, and from new friendships formed, especially in recent years as I have followed a fulfilling, enlightening, and unexpected path into deep personal and professional development. I have often found courage and a willingness to be vulnerable and true to myself, and it has been so worth it.
Having been through some of the experiences I have, for as long as I have, when a path unfolds that feels right, I take the next step however daunting it may seem. With a lot of learning, and twists and turns along the way, I now have a whole-hearted approach to life and to the people around me. This means embracing the highs and lows and being present with each experience that comes along, as best I can. This helps me to hold space for my clients too, as I believe there’s a quality of listening that comes from having lived experience and to come through the other side all the stronger for it.
What would I tell my 23-year-old self, based on the life lessons of the past 25 years?
You’re stronger than you think. Being willing to ‘feel the feelings’ and deal with emotions as they come up will help you to live a life of truth and purpose, learning a lot along the way.
You don’t need to have all the answers. Trust that you will handle whatever comes along, even if it’s not clear or easy at first. You will always find a way through.
Trust your instincts and intuition. What you will learn in the years to come will take you on a spiritual path of discovery, and you will become attuned to energy, within and around you, and become much more aware of embodied signals and instincts that will help to guide you in all aspects of life.
You will have the most wonderful, heart-bursting, fun and joyful adventures beyond anything you can imagine, and you will delight in celebrating the everyday moments as well as the big things.
You will love and be loved beyond measure.
You will find your voice to speak from the heart in a way that helps other people to deepen their awareness of what’s important in their lives, by writing (including a book… yes, really!!), giving talks, and sharing the truth of your experiences in-the-moment.
You will have a career beyond anything you expected or wanted for yourself, and you will light the way for others too, by helping them to connect with all they’re capable of.
You will have two amazing kids who are now grown up and tower over you. And they will be the greatest joy of your life.
Here’s to living life to the full, whatever it brings. I’d like to leave you with a quote from Maya Angelou…
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.”
This little girl is me, age 9, proudly clutching a brand new ‘Boots Minigrip’ camera. It was a Christmas present excitedly bought with a gift token, along with a pack of 10 flashes and some spools, and was the beginning of a lifelong passion for photography… noticing, appreciating, and capturing moments and sharing them with others.
Around the same time, her Gran gave her a Korky the Cat jotter, where she wrote stories for hours on end, with such enthusiasm the pages bulged with inky scrawls, rustling as each leaf turned over. Only recently, this memory returned after publishing her first book, ‘Roots for Growth’, and someone asked: “Did you always want to write a book?” It turned out, she did.
She had no idea then what her future would be like, or how much creativity would play a part in navigating through life. She had a happy, safe childhood with stereotypical daydreams of fairy-tale happy endings, unaware that significant adversity was lurking around the corner… and her husband would have to give up work due to a medical condition in 1997, three days before they got married. They had no idea back then if they would ever have children, and were blessed with two, now young adults and amazing human beings.
When she was growing up, she wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, and later, a graphic designer. The essence of all these roles has come through in writing, doodles, creating visuals, hosting workshops… supporting people to live mindfully, find their resilience and confidence, and understand themselves deeply so they can life life to the full, in alignment with who they are.
She was a sensitive child, not appreciating at that time what a gift her sensitivity could be. Challenging experiences pushed her to develop herself, personally and professionally, and create a path which would fit with her life and how it is evolving over the years… finding courage to take brave steps against the odds, time after time, and never regretting a moment.
Last night I walked home after having dinner with my sister and nephew. That might not seem like a big deal, but for me it was a significant milestone for my physical health, and my belief in my ability to recover from prolonged effects of COVID.
I haven’t walked that far for several months because I haven’t been able to, due to fatigue, breathlessness, and chest pain. As we were planning our evening out, I noticed that I was tentative about walking back – a little bit anxious, even – because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk the whole way. Plus, physical exertion can bring on my symptoms again and it can take days or weeks to recover.
I felt the feelings, paused, and reflected that I could manage a section of the walk and if need be my husband could come and pick me up. I would take it slowly and enjoy my surroundings. I now realise that, in that moment, I also ‘dropped the story’.
This quote by Pema Chodron stood out to me this morning because it’s simple and memorable, realistic and hopeful.
The photo was taken around a third of the way along the path, and as we walked, we were treated to an hour of the spectacular setting sun. Nature encouraged me along the way in the beautiful, lush woods we passed through, and in the rippling blue water and burnt orange sky. We even saw (and heard!) some geese flying south. Unusual, when it’s still so warm, but they know what they’re doing!
My encouragement to you today is, if you’re running a story that limits you in a way that could be overcome*, or at least could be tested or stretched a little bit: feel the feelings and explore… what might be possible?
*I’d like to acknowledge here that not all physical or mental health challenges can be overcome with such a simple strategy. In this case, I have already made a gradual recovery over several months. If you or someone you are close to is experiencing long-term effects of COVID, my thoughts are with you. I can recommend a very supportive, positive Facebook group if you are interested. And I also support people with ways to cope with long- and short-term challenges. Feel free to get in touch for a chat.