Uncertainty

Recently, I find myself
paralyzed by uncertainty,
weighed down by the weight 
of my own
expectations.

These really are strange times. Even though here in the UK the lockdown is gradually lifting, there is so much uncertainty about what will happen next. With the virus, with the global economy, with life as we know it.

I am actually finding this stage harder to deal with than the full lockdown! So many ‘what ifs’. So many parts of life that might not get back to normal for a long, long time.

The strangeness of having family or friends to visit, so wonderful to see them, but they have to sit in the garden (in the rain on one occasion!) and I have to think twice about offering them a cup of tea.

The sense of almost-back-to-normal when I meet with friends for walks, and the difficulty of remembering to walk 2 metres apart when we have 3 months worth of catching up to do!

Skyping family and friends on the other side of the world and wondering when I’ll actually be able to see them again – could it be months? Years?

Hearing that I won’t be able to go back to the office 6-12 months. I really like working from home, and I normally work from home 3 days a week anyway, but I’m starting to feel a bit isolated without my weekly trips to the office to chat (I mean work).

Uncertainty and worry over work, the pandemic, the economy, the future…it is paralysing! It stops me from doing what I need to do and what I want to do.

It stops me from writing.

It stops me from painting.

It makes me agonise over decisions – or not make decisions at all.

It makes me want to lie on the sofa and scroll through the news AGAIN, as if the answer is there somewhere if only I scroll further.

The uncertainty is not going to go away anytime soon.

I’m the one who is going to have to change, to learn to live with it.

Adjust my expectations about what I can achieve during this time. Find a way to move forward, to make choices, even when I don’t know what is ahead. Enjoy what I can do instead of focusing on the things I can’t do. Simply enjoy the summer.


What about you? How are you coping?

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!

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!

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.

I really should be working

The sun streams onto my desk

distracting me with an open invitation.

I wander outside into the crisp

freshness of September

(I really should be working)

air cool, sun warm,

what a delicious combination.

I stroll, and admire the flowers.

This year’s robins practice their trills

and chase each other around the garden

(I should be working, really)

Dewy cobwebs sparkle.

The Chinese lanterns glow

like orange setting suns.

(Should I really be working?)

I have all the time in the world

to work,

long years of it left,

but this one moment of early autumn,

this particular combination of weather

and flowers and birdsong

will never happen again in

exactly the same way.

So I savour it.

Security and adventure

Here it is again,

that old familiar tension

between security and adventure,

a central dichotomy in my life.

For a while now I have clung to employment

like a life raft through turbulent seas,

rescued from joblessness,

begging not to be set down again.

But suddenly today

a lifting, a shifting

physically in shoulders and upper chest

a releasing and then

a new perspective arrives.

I dare to imagine again

the freedom of breaking from the nine to five,

boarding a plane to who knows where,

making money who knows how,

I dream, and work looks a little dull.

It’s back,

that old familiar tension

between security and adventure.

In the past I’ve see-sawed between the two,

now I want to learn to balance.

Open Plan Office Blues

When you open the office door in the morning to be greeted by beige and grey,

Dry warm air and the smell of computers

And yesterday’s lunches

And your heart sinks, shrivels and goes into hiding.

When your desk and the space around you is the smallest size it could legally be,

When you have no choice of whether or not you can sit by the window

And anyway the window might not even open,

And the view, if you have one, is the side of another office, or a road, or a block of flats.

When your senses are assaulted by the sound of phonecalls and the tapping of keyboards

And you feel yourself shrinking, contracting, trying block it all out,

And you wonder why you can’t concentrate,

And your mind runs around on the same old wheels, dreaming of a way out.

When others around you are beavering away

Seemingly oblivious to the distractions and ugliness,

And you wonder what is wrong with you and why you don’t fit in

And how on earth you can cope with this for another 30 years.

When you sit in a room with 50 people, but barely have a conversation for fear of creating too much noise,

And you feel trapped in a cage,

And you think you must be too sensitive, not good enough, not trying hard enough,

Just remember, escape is possible.

You’ve got the open plan office blues.

(Yes, I’ve been there, and yes, I did escape!)

The washing up can wait

How to fit a creative project into a busy life?

Prioritize it and ignore everything else.

Begin the day with some painting or writing.

Then do the things that ‘should’ be done

Sit down, start creating.

The washing up can wait.

How to be creative when you have a full time job

Right now, I have a full time job.  It’s interesting, sometimes challenging, and it pays the bills.  Mostly, I enjoy it.

I’ve never really liked working full time, however enjoyable the job is. Because I like to have time to do my own creative stuff.  To paint, to write, to mooch around dreaming up ideas.  And time to be outside. And see family and friends.  And exercise.  And…..how to fit it all in?

I’m not sure I’ve found the answer yet.

Though now the nights have drawn in, I find myself reaching for my  watercolours.  Ideas form and want to be written down or painted.  The summer was for outside, for evening walks after work, for pottering in the garden.  Now, in the post-work dark evenings, time is opening up, time to get up off the sofa and away from the TV, time to start creating.