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.

Filling the well

Inspiration

seeps through

the cracks

like rain

on drought parched

soil.


Today, I sat down to do some work and I ended up taking a tour of some of my favourite blogs. I visited a Dutch garden filled with flowers and kindness, and followed the first post-lockdown journey of a canoe down Dutch canals. I read about walks in Lancashire, not far from where I live, photos of wide-open spaces, flowers and birds. I read about a coyote, emaciated and struggling in the desert in the USA, and the writer’s response to that struggle. I was taken step by step through the artistic process of collagraph printing meadow flowers and grasses (by an artist in Yorkshire whose courses I’d like to take when face to face courses eventually re-open).

I have been so busy recently that I have not had much time to visit these blogs, or to do lots of other unproductive (but enjoyable and inspiring) things. Actually, I don’t like the term ‘unproductive’. So many so-called unproductive things are actually the starting point for creative work.

I like the idea of ‘filling the well’ which comes from Julia Cameron’s excellent book ‘The Artist’s Way’.

In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t…our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant or blocked. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you: think mystery, not mastery.

Julia Cameron

For me reading, walking, canoeing, being in nature, being with friends, gardening, cooking, listening to music, visiting a museum or art gallery, travel, walking on a beach, these are all ways to fill the well and get my creative juices flowing again.

How do you fill the well?


And now to do some actual work and tick something off my to-do list 😉

Career, work life balance and creativity coaching – my coaching page is now live!

I’ve put it here on my blog for now, it may stay here or it might move to a separate website, I don’t know yet. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to post poems and other posts whenever the inspiration takes hold, then it will stay here and this will morph into my coaching / writing / art website. Let’s see what happens.

The focus of the next few months for me is all about growing my coaching business, now that I have a little bit more time to take on more clients. I’m not sure if it’s the best time to be doing this, in the midst of a pandemic, but I’ll find out!

A favour

I would like to start to spread the word about my coaching services beyond my immediate networks.

If you know anyone who might be looking for a career change, wanting to improve their work life balance, to have more time for creative projects or generally looking for a new direction in life, then please could you share the link to the coaching page (https://lifeinthefreshair.com/career-work-life-balance-and-creativity-coaching/) with them.

And of course, if you are interested in coaching, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks very much!

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.

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!

Fighting reality

The moment I accept
the reality of what is,
is the moment
I relax.

Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit unwell, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practice.

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Letting life unfold

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Basho


I have loved this haiku ever since I first read it. Twenty-five years ago I wrote it out on a piece of card and stuck it over my desk when I was revising for my final exams at university.

I felt instinctively that the words were true, yet I was stuck in a life where I had to strive to make things happen; work, and work some more, worry, then work harder, in order to get a qualification, so that I could get a job, so that I could carry on working hard.

The end was never in sight, just a life of effort and busyness.

I longed for a life where I was like the grass, biding my time and then growing when the conditions were right.

Or a life where I was just sitting, observing, not worrying or striving to control the grass (a pointless task!). Just relaxing, waiting for it to grow in its own sweet time and trusting that everything would unfold as it should.

Neither of these were true for me at the time, instead I was full of anxiety about the future. But I always felt that Basho was speaking across the centuaries to me, pointing out a better way to live.

I’ve been drawn to the haiku again recently as I talk to friends and coaching clients and think about my own life.

The idea of something happening, growing, reaching fruition in its own time and when the conditions are right. Of not knowing what the outcome will be, just letting life evolve and grow.

So often I’ve asked the question ‘now what should I do with my life?’ or ‘what should I do next?’ and expected an answer, fully formed and shiny, a new goal.

What happens when no goal appears, when I’m not sure what to do next? Can I allow my life to unfold naturally, following my interests and passions to see where they take me, without expectations?

My biologist self looks at the grass growing by itself and knows that it is only growing because of the coming together of the right conditions for grass to grow; warmth, sunlight, rain, suitable soil, the right numbers of grazing animals, strong roots that have survived the winter, viable grass seed.

So how can we create the right conditions in our own lives?

Sit quietly, do nothing. Or go for a walk, or whatever allows us the space and time to listen. We need the equivalent of sun, rain and sweet time to let us grow.

An idea nudges us in the quietness, whispers in a small voice ‘this is what I want’.

More ideas emerge, possibilities reveal themselves, action unfolds because it feels effortless, the right thing to do.

It takes faith and courage to let things evolve, to see where your path of life leads. Sometimes it can be a lonely road, it seems that not many others are taking it. But they are.

And eventually a goal emerges, a path appears in the undergrowth. There is a map and someone has been that way before. It might take some effort, risk and persistence to follow the path, but it feels right.

You just have to start walking through the grass, which is growing all by itself.

Seek stability where you are

I found this today in an old tai chi notebook, a quote by Wolfe Lowenthal from a workshop in Scotland 10 years ago. 10 years on and I’m still working on this, in tai chi and in life. Decided to share it, despite the spelling mistake, because it’s a great quote.

Weaving a life

Are you a specialist or a generalist? Can you fit all your interests into one job, or do they spill out over the edges?

It’s a question that interests me because I’ve never been able to fit all of my interests, my personality, my strengths into one job. I always leave something at the office door.

Maybe this is normal, I don’t know.

We start out in life fascinated by so much, little sponges soaking up language and learning, our favourite subjects at school might be as diverse as art, astronomy and cookery, yet we are forced to choose as we get older.

Art versus science, trade versus a degree, adventure versus security, practical work versus academic work, physical movement versus sitting all day at a desk, fresh air versus an open plan office, making a difference in the world versus making money; we cut out options until we are left with one narrow beam of focus leading us into one narrow career and one particular lifestyle.

Maybe some people follow their passions into this narrowing of choices and end up exactly where they want to be. I really hope so, as that’s the way the world seems to be set up.

But what about those people it doesn’t work for? Who follow the rules, do what’s expected, work hard and then find themselves stuck, half way up the career ladder, unable to climb down, not wanting to climb further up, and afraid to jump off. They look around at a landscape of tall ladders, other careers, and none of them are appealing. What then?

Maybe it’s just not possible to fit everything into one job, and a diverse life can be created, leaving plenty of time for hobbies, for family and friends, for volunteering, for exercise, leaving time to just be. But full time work doesn’t leave much time, and a badly fitting job sucks vitality from other parts of life, leaving no energy for anything other than an evening spent in front of the tv.

I’ve tried various approaches, interesting part time jobs that allowed me time to paint, write, go for walks, practise tai chi. Working full time for a while then taking time out to travel or do creative projects. But always I wonder if it’s possible to weave it all together into one coherent whole, to make a difference and to avoid the times when jobs or income are not forthcoming.

And I know it’s not just me that feels this way.

What about you?

How do you weave all your various interests, creative pursuits, employment, family, dreams and adventures into one life? Any tips?

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Judgment

Imagine
turning certainty
and judgment
into wondering,
into curiosity.
How then 
would you see
this world?

I joined a really interesting coach training course this week, all about releasing judgment.

I thought it would be a good one for me to do, because sometimes I can be very judgemental. The current political climate does not bring out the best in me!

It is so easy to slip into a judging mind-set, comfortable even. It means I don’t have to think, to put myself into another’s shoes, to feel the discomfort of acknowledging that maybe someone else’s opinions are just as valid as mine. To assume that I know why they say what they say, why they do what they do.

And then there are self-judgment, comparison, self-criticism. For as much as I judge other people I also judge myself, and my work.

Two things really struck me:

Comparison

Instead of comparing myself with others, how about looking back at how I was at a point in the past, or how I would like to be in the future? So instead of looking at the blogger with thousands of followers and feeling discouraged, not good enough, I look back to a year ago when I had less than 10 followers and I realise how far I’ve come. Or I imagine a future where lots of people read my blog and I work out how to get to that point and then take the steps to get there.

Judgment

Instead of thinking I know why something is as it is, I could be open and curious instead.

Ultimately, judging is just part of being human. I can just notice that I am doing it and let it go. Another one of those under the category ‘simple but not easy’!

What do you think? Do you have any tips for releasing judgement?

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The spaces in between

The train to Manchester was busy.

Next to me, leaning against the window and not making eye contact, a man with a backpack. He kept his backpack and his coat on all the way. He hunched uncomfortably on the seat, moving constantly; cracking his knuckles, jiggling his legs, sighing, yawning.

The train took its time, and I distracted myself with my phone. Both of us would rather be anywhere but here, squashed into a train with strangers.

The kind of train journey that doesn’t have space, physically or mentally.

This one does. This train, from Manchester to Norwich, is blissfully empty. Hours of countryside pass by; tunnels, rivers, mountains, woods. I barricade myself into my seat, coat on the chair next to me, bag in front, daring anyone to sit next to me. My own little cocoon.

Then the journey works it’s magic.

The rocking of the train, eyes relaxing over the long views, grey skies giving way to silver, then blue, then back to grey.

The train sings nothing to do, nothing to do, nothing to do.

Space

To think

To relax

To breathe

To dream.

Ideas appear, then drop behind. Contentment spreads.

Ideas reappear, then blossom. The future appears more fluid, more malleable.

And all I have to do is sit here and be transported.

How rare it is to find this space, the space in between. Between departing and arriving, between dreaming and becoming, between beginning and end.

The space where possibilies expand with the horizon, where new futures can be envisioned and old bonds can drop away.

My most audacious goals seem possible

And yet isn’t all life lived in this space, really?

How good we are at distracting ourselves from it, filling our lives up with busyness.

As the land flattens out and the towns get closer together, I start to weave my dreams into reality, mapping out actions for the coming months. Dreaming into doing, breathing thoughts into life.

The train arrives. I depart into the cold night air.

_

I would like to find ways of inhabiting this in between space more often, instead of leaving it to chance.

How do you find the time and space to reconnect with your dreams and to plan for your future?

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