The Road Not Taken

Recently I was writing a research paper for my coaching course. I’d picked the topic ‘Decision Making, Intuition and Body Awareness’, something that interests me a lot. I was mulling over how I make decisions, and how I know when a decision is the right decision, when the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost came to mind, the poem that ends

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In the poem, making that choice, the decision to take the grassy, less travelled path, made ALL the difference. There is a note of regret at the end, the sigh, as if perhaps the decision didn’t quite work out as planned. Or maybe it did, I don’t know.

Imagine facing a decision in life with that mindset. That the choice is so important, so life changing, that once it is made it cannot be undone. There can be no backtracking, no wandering along one path for a while to see where it goes, no returning to the wood on another day to try out the other road. It’s an all or nothing decision, and it makes ALL the difference.

Perhaps you don’t need to imagine it. Perhaps this is how you think of decisions. It’s often how I think of them.

A decision weighs heavily on me and it feels like there is only one right and wrong outcome…but how to choose?

It’s easy at this point to become overwhelmed by the decision, the pros and cons, the associated emotions.   It all churns around in my conscious mind and I get stuck and don’t take action. 

Sound familiar?

What would happen if we looked at an important decision with lightness, with an open mind, with an attitude of exploration and curiosity? In the real world, we have a choice. We could take a map, and figure out where the paths go to before we choose which one to walk. We could visit the wood multiple times and try out all the paths. We could knock on the door of the cottage at the entrance to the wood and ask advice about which is the nicest path. We could walk one route for years and then cut across country to get back to the other path. Or we could blaze our own trail through the wood instead of following someone else’s route.

How would your life change if you took a lighter approach to decision making?


A funny thing…I have just realised, while googling the poet Robert Frost (about whom I know very little other than this one poem) that I have walked past his statue many times at Amherst College, where I go for summer tai chi workshops. The statue is in a very beautiful spot on campus, and there is often a small bird sitting on the poet’s head.


The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Lost for words

I have been

lost

for words.


I have started so many blog posts recently but they just haven’t flowed. There is so much to say, yet the words get stuck.

In March I did my observed coaching assessment, I watched the pandemic spread as clients and coaches from around the world all entered lockdown at slightly different times, with slightly different rules. Coaching topics changed from things like ‘I’d like to get fitter’ or ‘how can I deal with x situation at work’, by week 2 of the assessment it was all about ‘how can I complete my work and homeschool my kids’, ‘ how can I make sure the underprivileged kids at the school I work in still get free school meals once the school closes, ‘what should I do now I can no longer run my business’. Staying centred enough to coach while being observed and assessed in the middle of all that was a challenge, somehow all 6 of us going through the assessment month all passed. What an achievement! At the end of it all I wanted to do was sleep.

And while all that was going on my work changed so I was full time working from home, only allowed out for one daily walk, and for essential shopping and healthcare.

Each day on my walk, it was as if spring had flicked a paintbrush overnight at the gardens, the verges and the woods. A splattering of colour at the beginning of March has turned into the full kaleidoscope of May.

And it is so peaceful here in the village. Hardly any cars on the roads, not as much noise as usual, fewer strimmers, lawnmowers, power tools, building work. The birds have taken over. This is what it must have been like pre-car, pre-industrial revolution, the soundtrack of most of human history. I love it. We have been lucky, the weather for most of the lockdown has been lovely and I’ve spent hours in the garden.

After the observed coaching month I then had to do a written exam, record a half hour coaching session for assessment, finish coursework. It’s all done now and hopefully I’ll graduate from the course at the end of May.

And now I have more time! Without really planning to, I’ve been painting. Experimenting with mixed media. Not really the kind of things I usually do, but I’m pleased with the results. So much fun to paint!

I had set today aside to start looking for more coaching clients. Instead I went for a longer daily walk than usual, pottered around the garden, finished my painting, wrote this. The goal of building my coaching business is important to me, but so is rest, relaxation, creativity. Attempting to find balance in the midst of a pandemic.

I hope you are keeping well and finding ways to cope with the situation we are all in. I know some of you have been writing through the last few months and I have enjoyed reading your posts.

Morning tai chi in the garden

It takes longer than usual

to reach the place

where there is just

movement,

birdsong,

and spring sunshine.

The calm beneath

the crisis

is here,

waiting.

Relax

The most important thing

is to relax.

Everything else is a distraction.

I write these words as a reminder to myself.

I had forgotten recently. Caught up in a whirl of ‘what ifs’. What if my contract at work is extended? Should I stay? Should I leave? How / when do I build up a coaching practice if I’m still working? But what if my contract is not extended? I’ll be out of work…blah…blah…blah. Well, I won’t bore you with all the details but I’m sure you know the kind of thing I mean! Repetitive circular thinking, as if running through the various options again and again is going to make a decision easier.

I’ve not written much here recently as I’ve been busy with work (we’ve just published formal proposals for a section of the England Coast Path and are publishing another section in March), and also coach training. My coaching course assessment is getting closer (also March).

This week, in an observed coaching class, I was nervous. I didn’t perform well. I am usually fairly relaxed when I’m working with clients one on one, but when I’m being observed it makes me self conscious and tense. I started to wonder if I’m actually ready for the final assessment.

Nerves and coaching don’t go together. Coaching reminds me so much of my tai chi partnerwork practice. To do both well you must be completely relaxed, completely connected to your partner / the client. Which is impossible to do if you are tense or nervous.

After a few days of thinking about it, I decided that my focus for the observed coaching sessions should be to relax and connect. To let the coaching competencies that I am supposed to be demonstrating sit lightly in the back of my mind. To give up the trying. To give up the idea that I should be doing it perfectly. To give up the habits of a lifetime. Well….I didn’t say it would be easy!

And then, as I did my evening tai chi practice the words came to me.

‘The most important thing is to relax. Everything else is a distraction.’

Thi is true for everything. The work stuff, the coaching, the future, everything.

Everything is easier if I relax. Life flows, unfolds. I follow. I know this. And I so easily forget.

Wishing you all the best for the new decade!

A glimpse of the wild

A snipe walks

between

sleeping ducks,

visible against the water,

a master of camouflage

against the reeds.

The winter sun

breaks through and

lights this perfect moment.

The pintail and teal sleep on,

turning slowly with the breeze

as we watch,

fill ourselves with

their colour and movement,

and take away our own small glimpse

of the wild.

Its been a bit grey, wet and windy here recently. Today was sunnier so I visited the local nature reserve. Sunday afternoon and it was busy. I started wondering if the birds have a sense of being watched by so many people. Probably not. But I love how we all have our own experience of the birds, of the low winter sun lighting up the reeds, glinting off the water, the fresh air in our lungs. How we take the memories, the images of the birds in the sunshine, and how we carry that light within us through the dark wet grey January days. We return to our indoor weekday lives accompanied by a glimpse of the wild.

Message from a fieldfare

The clocks have changed.
Office hours equal daylight hours,
pretty much.
Work finishes and it is dark.

Why did we create
work rhythms
that lock us away
from the light?

To make sure I observe
this day,

I leave my desk in the afternoon,
head out through autumn colours,
the smell of wet leaves,
face misted by rain,
lungs full of fresh air.

My thoughts settle
to the rhythm
of my walking.

Words of a future blog post
roll through my mind.

A pleasant state,
half here,
half elsewhere,
until the scolding of
a fieldfare brings me back,
as if to say
‘I have travelled over seas to get here,
And you will notice me.’

I look up, into a tree full of birds.

Chastened, I remain present,
as a treecreeper darts
silently
up the trunk
probing for insects.

The blog post I was composing
will have to wait for another day.
The fieldfare sent this, instead.


Listen to a fieldfare here.