on walking

dsc_1346Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road. 

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

— Walt Whitman

It’s a bit over an hour when I reach the creek. It’s running fast from recent rain. I am alone and the empty space fills my soul. I have carried dry wood and a billy can to boil water for coffee. I hear the water rushing past and there is bird song.

The wildlife on my walk were quite shy. I barely caught a glimpse of bounding kangaroo. There are no other people and this is what I like the most. I am a novice here but that is okay, I find my way.

The sun is still the morning one. It warms my back and casts a shadow on my page when I sit at the water’s edge to write. The track continues in the dry season, but today it ends at the overfull creek and I am not unhappy to have to stop here.

 

dsc_1318-1The pack feels good on my back and my boots familiar. I hold two walking poles in my hands. My feet aren’t as sure as they once were. It’s been to long off the track.dsc_1339

I take a stick to poke the fire that I have set at the creek’s edge. I imagine the smoke cleansing me and recall the Aboriginal. This is peace. This is contentment. This is nothing, and it is everything. This is something I can cultivate and invest in.

The stones around me, next to the creek’s edge, are innumerable — each a different shape, size, texture and colour. I think to take one away to hold on to my experience. How were I to choose one? When on this day I fancy this one, and on another day I am drawn to the next. Better I admire them all today and do not collect one. It is the experience, not the obtaining of the thing.

dsc_1348I have made a circle of rocks for my small fire. That satisfies me more than anything I might do during a workaday week. It is a picture. I choose a seat in the sun. On the ground. The temperature is mild, and the wind is still, so I can barely feel the air on my skin. There is no breeze and I do not wish one. Everything is as it should be.

There is something in me that makes me want to jump into the flowing creek. But I know that I will not. Yet I am happy that the want is in me. I smile at my primordial.dsc_1340-2

 Then there is a breeze and I realise the tips of my hair are wet with sweat on the back of my neck. I have used my body and it is glad, and I am grateful for it.

 dsc_1351The colours of the forest are muted, but the wet and the warmth of spring brings the first sprinkling of pale yellow wattle and colourful correa. The green moss on the long fallen logs is vibrant and soft. The stark white of the noisy cockatoo flashes overhead.

What do I want? And why do I keep asking this question? Could I be happier than in this very moment?

My fire is coals now and the last of the coffee is in my cup. This is the greatest peace that I know.

dsc_1345

I will pack my things and sleep a short while on the ground, on the earth, by the water and the small fire just for a while, just for my soul.

Lerderderg State Park

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Transitions and Self-Compassion

 

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Healing conflict in the workplace. Begin where you are.

Conflict is less likely to arise in a workplace when people are feeling safe, satisfied and connected. When one, or a combination of these, is threatened we can feel stressed and our best selves don’t show up.

If you’re experiencing conflict in your workplace, can you identify which of these three basic human needs isn’t being met?

Safety

In our workplaces our feeling of safety could be threatened because our job is stretching our capacity in terms of difficulty and complexity. Or it could be a fear that we won’t have the available energy to meet our home/family/community commitments.

The money we earn through our jobs is one of the significant and tangible ways we meet our need for protection and security. It’s how many of our physical needs are met and how we provide for our families. So when we experience stress or a threat to performing in our job, we can feel fearful and vulnerable.

Here’s how Ellen expressed it:

‘I’m feeling really stressed at work and I don’t know if I can sustain it. How am I going to keep doing this for the next 15, 20 or 25years? But everything I read says we need to have over $700k in superannuation. I have to keep working…’

The stress could be a mismatch between Ellen’s skills and the job role, an imbalance between her need to be at work and her need to be at home or in her community, or working in an environment that doesn’t feel like a good fit for her. And working in an environment that doesn’t feel like a good fit includes the people that she works with.

If you get a situation where the three of these stressors come together, i.e. skills mismatch, work/life balance and less than compatible team members; conflict can arise as individuals grapple with a situation in which they feel threatened or unsafe and where they have very little choice or control.

Satisfied

When you experience satisfaction at work you have feelings of accomplishment, gratitude and having enough. Your hard work and striving results in successfully achieving your aims and objectives. It’s likely that your work is stimulating and you’re motivated to do well, complete tasks and take initiative.

But what happens when things don’t go your way and you can’t get any traction? Conflict can arise when you feel someone else might be thwarting your efforts and standing in your way of progressing. Or maybe you’re not being stretched and feeling bored and disengaged. Alan shared the following:

‘I really wanted this job and worked hard to get here. But I always end up being the lackey. I do all the work behind the scenes but on the day my supervisor takes the limelight and credit. What do I have to do to get noticed around here?’

Connected

As human beings our sense of belonging is so important because throughout evolution our survival relied on being part of a group. Given the number of hours many people spend at work, it’s no surprise that being appreciated and recognized in a supportive environment is something we long for.

If we feel excluded or not part of the ‘in crowd’ it’s easy to feel resentment and jealousy. This is fertile ground for conflict as our connections with others are threatened. Jane said:

‘It really hurts when my manager asks the supervisors to planning days and never asks for my input. I’m the one who works directly with the clients and understands our products and services best from an operational level. I know I’d have a lot to offer and I’d appreciate the opportunity to talk and share about what I do. I guess you have to be more senior to have any voice or input here.’

What’s the conflict telling you?

Try to listen to what the conflict is telling you and your workplace. Of the basic emotions, i.e. love, joy, anger, fear and sadness; conflict is in the realm of the so-called negative emotions – anger, fear and sadness. (I say so-called because all of our emotions are useful and serve us in important ways. The trick is to respond rather than react.)

Anger

For example, anger tells us that our needs aren’t being met and/or that someone is messing with our boundaries. Try to identify if this is the situation for you. Following are a couple of typical examples from the workplace.

  • Are you being recognized for your contributions? (Worse than that, is someone else being recognized for your contributions?)
  • Do you have some control and autonomy over how you do your job? Or is someone else always encroaching and directing. (An example of this might be the manager who always feels compelled to edit your written work even in very minor ways.)
  • Sometimes feeling powerless, or less powerful, can raise anger as we are thwarted from expressing our abilities and skills by a lack of opportunity.

Fear

Fear tells us that something needs our attention because our well-being is threatened.

As humans we are hard-wired for social interaction. Our ancestors didn’t survive long outside of the tribe on their own. So our need to belong continues to be important to our well-being. If we’re feeling on the outer at work, that can feel pretty stressful.

Sometimes engaging with others through gossiping and forming alliances feels like we’re connecting with others and feeds this need. But as most of us know, these behaviours make a day in the office emotionally charged and sometimes awkward. It sucks so much of the energy that we could be applying to expressing our skills and talents and making a difference in our organisation and community. Is that really how we would choose to spend our precious lives?

Fear can also be caused by changes at the top. For example a new manager or CEO will disrupt the equilibrium and we’ll have a heightened sense of potential change which can feel like danger e.g. fear of the unknown.

Sadness

When you feel sad, ask yourself ‘What have I lost?’ Is there some loss in the workplace that could be stressing you and/or your team?

Maybe a restructure has changed valued relationships and activities. Or a colleague has been promoted and you’ve lost that peer whom you relied upon. Maybe everyone’s workload has increased, or the work has become more complex, and you’re longing for the good old days when you used to have longer lunches and Friday night drinks.

Chances are that all of these emotions and their causes are at play in a workplace. What can we do?

Building inner strengths and resources

It’s been said that happiness is an inside job. While it’s important to talk to your managers and co-workers about what is happening around any conflict in your workplace, the place where you can have the greatest impact is often within yourself. A powerful antidote to addressing the stress that can lead to conflict is identifying and cultivating your inner strengths.

Rick Hanson Ph.D is a clinical psychologist and author[1] who teaches Positive Neuroplasticity Training. He provides the following chart to suggest the strengths that can be developed to deal with common negative issues or material.

These inner strengths are organised and aligned here to address the three basic needs mentioned earlier: Safety (avoiding harms), Satisfaction (approaching rewards) and Connection (attaching to others).

Safety (avoiding harms)
CHALLENGE RESOURCE/STRENGTH
Weakness Strength
Helplessness Agency
Freezing/immobilisation Action/venting
Inflated threats Protection/calming
Alarm Relaxation
Tension Feeling alright now, making a plan
Irritation/anger Big picture, peace

 

Satisfaction (approaching rewards)
CHALLENGE RESOURCE/STRENGTH
What I don’t have What I do have
Scarcity Enough-ness, fullness
Disappointed, sad Gratitude, gladness
Frustration, failure Accomplishment
Bored, numb Pleasure, excitement
Grief Loved and loving
Giving up Aspiring
Driven-ness Feeling already satisfied

 

Connection (attaching to others)
CHALLENGE RESOURCE/STRENGTH
Left out, excluded Belonging, wanted
Inadequacy, shame Appreciated, respected
Ignored, unseen Receiving empathy
Lonely Friendship, caring to others, and oneself
Resentment Recognise it hurts you
Envy, jealousy Self-compassion, take action, good will
Feeling stifled Skillful assertiveness

 

Once the antidote is identified, you can cultivate that inner resource in your mind which overtime will strengthen that neural pathway in your brain. To put it simply, cultivating a ‘state’ helps you to turn it into a ‘trait’. The science is very clear on this: ‘you can change your mind, to change your brain, to change your mind…for the better’.[2]

There is a lot of useful information on the internet about the efficacy of mindfulness practices on our well-being including Rick Hanson’s website https://www.rickhanson.net/. I’d certainly encourage you to seek out and use this information.

In the meantime there are simple (but profound) things you can begin to do today.

GRATITUDE

Practice gratitude – take a few minutes each day, or throughout the day, to think about what you are grateful for in life including at your workplace. It’s well proven that what we focus on shapes our brains and lays down new or strengthened neural pathways.

By focusing on and taking in the good, we are re-wiring our brains for a more positive experience of the world. As someone put it, ‘if you tune into a country music radio station, you’ll hear country music.’ Direct your mind to ‘tune in’ to the positive. Overtime you’ll know all the words to your favourite songs. There are many resources readily available on Mindfulness including Rick Hanson’s website.

Or jump in and have a go with these simple guidelines:

  • Notice…something you are thankful for.
  • Stop…what you’re doing and focus on the object of that gratitude.
  • Acknowledge…why you feel thankful for it and that it is in your life.
  • Breathe…it in and let it expand and flow around in your mind and body.
  • Repeat as often as you’d like!

TAKE IN THE GOOD

 Cultivate inner strengths – using the tables listed earlier in this article, consider what inner resources might be useful in giving you more peace, love and contentment in any of those challenges listed.

For example, if you identify that the challenge for you is Worry/Fear, an inner resource that would be useful to cultivate would be Focusing on the Big Picture or Being at Peace.

Use Rick Hanson’s table as a guide, but also consider identifying for yourself the inner strength that would be most useful for you in a given situation. Maybe it is one that has worked for you in the past. Once you’ve identified the relevant inner strength, Sit with it. That means create some space and time to contemplate this inner strength as a ‘felt experience’.

Rick Hanson provides an easy guide to taking in the good — H+E+A+L:

H — Have the experience – rest your mind on that quality or strength you wish to grow/cultivate.

E — Enrich it – stay with it for at least half a minute and as long as what feels right for     you. Use the following prompts to support having a fuller and felt experience of it, e.g.:

Thoughts: What are your thoughts, beliefs, perspectives,  expectations, images, memories or ideas about this strength?

Perception: What sensations, sights, sounds, tastes or smells resonate while your mind is resting on this strength?

Emotion: What feeling or mood is invoked? Feel it fully.

Desire: What wants, wishes, hopes, values, drives, motivation, purposes, dreams, passions or determinations are activated?

Action: What behaviour, postures, knowledge (knowing how to) would be useful or demonstrated here?

A — Absorb the experience.

Absorbing makes memory systems more receptive by priming and sensitizing them. Create the sense of the experience sinking into you by using imagery, e.g. water into a sponge; or a sensation, a warm soothing balm. By ‘giving over’ to the experience, you allow it to change you.

L — Link positive and negative material (optional).

When we activate (have the experience) and install (enrich and absorb) positive material, there’s an opportunity to soothe, ease, put in perspective and even replace negative material. Negative material includes painful or harmful

  • thoughts
  • perceptions
  • emotions
  • desires and
  • actions.

To do this we have to hold two things at once in our minds and not  be hijacked by the negative material. We can do this by holding the positive experience more prominently in our awareness. If the negative starts to take over, drop it or recalibrate it, i.e. make it smaller.

The idea is that the positive material goes into the negative material like a ‘soothing balm’ filling up the hollow places. You will have a sense of the receiving the positive into the negative and end with just the positive.

Next steps

It’s understandable that conflict is going to be part of our lives, especially our working lives, as we all negotiate to get our needs met — feeling safe, satisfied and connected.

Our best chance at managing the conflict in a healthy and productive way is by working on our response. With greater self-awareness we can recognise when one of our basic needs is threatened and call on the inner strengths and resources to deal with those threats.

Every time you ‘take in the good’ you build the resources to match external challenges and internal issues. While conflict may not ever completely disappear, you’ll cease to engage with it and enjoy greater well-being.

So while it can be tempting to place the problems of the workplace or the world outside of us, that is not where our power lies. Sure, work where you can on the organisational and systemic issues that contribute to conflict in your workplace, but start where you can and that is with yourself.

Suzanne Gatz

Suzanne works as a Coach, Mediator, Facilitator and Trainer in her freelance business Open Window — www.openwindow.com.au. She’s recently completed a six-day Positive Neuroplasticity Training course with Rick Hanson PhD (https://www.rickhanson.net/) and acknowledges his work in the writing of this piece.

[1] Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness

[2] Rick HansonSuzanne professional pic

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Developing a Self — Part 1

I began my Coaching Training in 2010 following my own experience of being coached. During the training I was asked to identify something in my life that prevented me from “showing up fully – in life, and in my own, emerging coaching practise.” My Coach Trainer, Teri-E Belf, shared some examples. Some Coaches in Training had wanted to write that book they were always going to write; another was going to lose 10 pounds; a man was going to be more responsible. I could easily understand that the choices were as numerous as the individuals as each of us might try to master the theme or the obstacle that always seemed to cast a shadow over, if not even block out, the sun entirely.write a book

Having learned from Teri-E about ‘reticular formation’, I became aware of how often the intention of my practicum began to show up in life – “to have patience and self-compassion for where I am now.” Just holding the intention (the cause) had the effect of bringing this to my awareness.

I also noted my resistance to this way of being. Patience and compassion are things we might proffer to a baby, the disabled or the elderly; but to an industrialised, capitalist, Western man or woman our cultural is less benevolent. When things get tough, the tough are meant to get tougher (and in my case I was tougher on no one more than on myself). This new way of being that I was attempting to undertake was counter-culture yet not fully counter-intuitive. I intuited and knew, at a very deep level, that continuing to make myself “wrong” or “not good enough” was going to keep me fixed in a way of being that wasn’t attuned with the Divine, or my Life Purpose.

So, I simply had to catch myself not being patient and compassionate with myself and then to apply those qualities to myself. Being patient and compassionate was to be forgiving when I couldn’t get to the end of a task, or complete it to the level I though it should be. It was resting when I was tired or booking a massage when I needed that kind of nurturing. It was tending to my health and eating well. It was the ability to say “no” to requests that didn’t support me. It was to love my body even when the reflection in the mirror didn’t match a societal or cultural template. It was lingering in bed with my books and journals on a weekend and allowing my soul to be fed in this way. It was sleeping in the hammock on a warm afternoon when the grass needed cutting. hammockIt was a lot of things, small things, nourishing little waterings of patience and self-compassion. And it was surrender and awareness that listening to that inner voice of knowing was somehow connected to the Divine, like tuning into a radio station. I remember someone once saying, “If you tune into a country western station, you’ll hear country western music.” The Practicum statement had tuned me into the station of patience and self-compassion.

And then there was the second part of the statement: “and to cultivate a Divine Self I can return to more quickly.” Allowing that I could not always achieve equanimity through patience and self-compassion, I thought to develop a “Self” that would somehow “rise up” and save me from my (little-s) self. So it seemed that my task was on the one hand to practise patience and self-compassion and on the other, to develop this Divine Self.

To be continued…

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Life’s Lessons

I was once asked, ‘What has been life’s most valuable lesson?’

My response was, ‘The death of my child.’

hongi babyThe second part of the question was, ‘What were the lessons?’

The lessons were:

To have the courage to express what is in my heart with the ones I love so that I will not grieve what was unspoken.grandchild hongi

That every life has purpose.

To stop being so afraid – the worst has already happened.

That I am not in control.

That to be present is the greatest gift I can give and the memories of the quality of those times will sustain me.hongi14april12

That many things in life just aren’t important and many other things are.

Not to let the suffering be for nothing. Find the gift. It is there.

That my world can change very quickly.

That there is very little that is certain in the world. In fact, I can think of nothing except that it will end. My life will end. And the lives of those I love will end. And many of those endings I may have to experience.

That having to see your children in terrible pain and anguish possibly hurts as much as the pain they are in.

That the tighter you hold onto something, the more painful it will be to let it go.

That it is better to try not be attached to people, things or ideas – holding on to them does not make them so.  And to try to walk in the world with my hands loosely clasped or open.hongi men

That when I begin to feel attached, to try to feel presence instead. That is love. I think that is love. So if you embrace your elderly father, or your young son who is now a man, or your baby daughter – breathe into the moment, a few deep breaths, it is a way that honours your love for them and grounds the moment in your being. Share your spirits. One day, maybe tomorrow, or maybe in the future, I may recall that moment of shared presence and take comfort in it.

That the Maori of New Zealand have a beautiful expression of this in the ‘hongi’.hongi baby

That living and working for the future is not honouring of my life today.

 

That death is final but that the hope of knowing my beloved again is not.

 maori kids hongi

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On waking in autumn

I wake up too soon.

The window is open to last night’s rain and autumn air.

The skin on my exposed arm is cool.

tumblr_mceos0G78b1qh3nd2o1_500I touch it with my cheek and smell its coolness.

The skin of my arm, my skin —

I observe my self

And fear less what is beyond.

But I would miss my cool skin,

in the morning,

after autumn rain.

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I still believe in Selma

What if I sat in stillness and looked out of the window of my bedroom at the darkness of pre-dawn?

If I looked out the window at pre-dawn instead of switching on to a device with its glaring screen.

ipad in bed

The screen that can take me anywhere in the world except for the place where I am.

Is there so much wrong with the place where I am that I shouldn’t want to be there?

Brighter lights.

Greener grass.

It is tiresome.

I am weary.

I am weary and overwhelmed.

By the war in Ukraine

By the planes at the bottom of the sea

By the planes on top of mountain ranges

By the missing schoolgirls

By a geography class of countries I never wanted to attend —

ukraine

Syria

Afghanistan

Iraq

Palestine and Israel

Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone…

We know you all.

And maybe that is why it is hard to be still in the safe bed of privilege —

comfortable

but made uncomfortable by my conscience
pour souls cartoon

as a refugee family

sleeps in a frozen muddy tent in Syria

or in a hot, mosquito-infested tent on the small island of Nauru.

I write letters to politicians

I march in the street of my capital city

Because 50 years later I still believe that Selma mattered

But we sill have such a long way to go, Ferguson.

Selma

And history will judge us

And we will say ‘we did not know’.

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