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Do you feel like you’re going nowhere?

If someone asked you where are you heading, what would your reply be? Might it be going nowhere?

That’s not intended as a frivolous question, though many right now might feel tempted to reply with variations around “get lost!”. It could be something around, “don’t ask me questions I can’t answer”. Because such is the state of the world right now that there don’t seem to be answers and many people feel incredibly uncertain and anxious about the future, and even focusing on the immediate can be really hard work and tiring.

What’s your state of the world?

In the UK, there is a decision pending about Brexit, but there’s no sense that things will get better and if anything could get a whole lot worse. In other countries, there’s a lot of unrest, even in places a sense of near-revolt, or continued concern about President Trump or whoever, or a general dissatisfaction with one’s lot, or a wondering if you will get by. Then we hear of the dire state of the climate and how humanity’s future could be in doubt if we don’t change course. We read of stock market crashes, the rising price of fuel, the risks of a trade war, or disasters of one kind of another. The mind, once aroused around fear, will quickly focus on more things and we start to catastrophise, like something dreadful might happen, or going through “what if” scenarios. Just to check, ask yourself: have you over the last week been predominantly optimistic or pessimistic?

One way such uncertainty can show up is in how we feel, like feeling tired, exhausted, low energy, low morale, or struggling to get motivated. It’s like pushing water uphill and not having a sense of achieving anything. Some report waking up at night feeling very anxious, but with no particular reason.

Disempowerment: not being in control

People don’t feel like they can get on with their lives. It can manifest as a sense of disempowerment, or, to borrow a phrase much used at present, “not being in control”. Anger can spill out every now and again, like the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. People need to express it somehow because otherwise the powerlessness gets channelled internally.

I used to work with this state a lot in organisations going through major restructuring which could seriously impact people’s jobs, especially when awaiting announcements. It was the “not knowing” that really did it for them. It was hard if not impossible to plan ahead, to get a sense of direction. People would experience a loss of purpose, even of competence and self-esteem. They didn’t feel valued.

I used to call it a “limbo” state, being in limbo.

It also happens when people are awaiting a health diagnosis. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is or, crucially, what is to be done about it. Will it be serious – or not? Will they be OK – or not?

It’s the not knowing, the state in between, a void, which we try unsuccessfully to avoid.

Afterwards, it’s different. Once people know, they can plan, prepare and get on with their life. Now they at least know where they stand. It might not be that pleasant, but at least they can get on with things.

What can you do?

So it’s important to remember that this is a passing phase. It does not last. Life goes on. Remember the famous John Lennon quote,Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or the Buddhist understanding that all is impermanent, all in process, and that nothing stays the same. So too, we move on. If we allow it.

So, if you are faced with uncertainty in some form, while it isn’t necessarily nice, you can do something. After all you are a responsible being, if you so choose. So, you can act as one.

One is to look after yourself. This is crucial, since stress levels can rocket. So breathe and meditate, take exercise, eat healthily, every day. Remember your values and what and who you love, including crucially yourself! Love endures despite all things.

Two, have options. There is always a choice, even when we feel disempowered. Find things to make choices over, things you can control. Be prepared, at least to cover possible scenarios. Once you’ve thought it through, put it away somewhere and don’t mull over it.

Three, manage your mind, deliberately, intentionally. After all, we are what we think, and life turns up accordingly. So, by managing our minds, we can keep or regain the focus we want. We can manage and let go of anxiety. This is true taking control. This means, as this blog explains a lot, pausing, stepping back from your stream of thoughts, becoming fully aware, in the present moment, letting thoughts go, being in the Now. And stay there a bit, letting anxiety shift from thinking to feeling to dissolving, so that all you are aware of is Now.

Such present moment awareness allows you to shift from going nowhere  to being now here.

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In the end is a beginning

There’s a poignancy to autumn at this time, damp, wet, a chill in the air, sun shining low through golden leaves that cling forlornly to thinning trees. The summer is replaced by autumn and winter beckons. All is decaying – but then all is also preparing for the next spring. The end of October is, it is said, a time when the veils between the two worlds are thinner, at the time of the feast of Samhain. No wonder many often choose to leave. This time of ending, of closure, is a sad time, but it can also contain the seeds of new birth. How often can a person’s leaving this world also be when a new one is born, and in what form? It’s to see the beginning in the ending.

Court of the Lions, Alhambra
Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada

We have just had a nice break in Andalucia and went on a long-promised pilgrimage to the Alhambra in Granada. I don’t know if it happens for you but when we stepped through the doorway of the Nasrid Palaces we felt a powerful energy charge, like moving to another zone. It’s an awesome place, literally! Then, we also soaked up Andalucia, and spending time on the coast was wonderfully restful and warm.

Then on the last night we learned that a neighbour and friend had died and Akasha had to spring into action to lead a funeral ceremony. The next week was frenetic since in France funerals come quickly and there was masses to do and people to support. Now it’s over and we are relaxing back into “normal” life. Except that it isn’t. A lot has happened. And we feel sad, tired and listless, a bit devoid of direction, a bit disorientated. So what’s all this?

It can be useful to be aware of what happens, if this is something that has happened for you, in some way. According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross there are five stages to grief. Put in my layman’s terms based on masses of work with people who experienced loss, there’s very roughly a series of phases, very much depending on the individual. There’s shock; then a temporary phase of denial or minimising of what’s happened; then a period when the tough emotions kick in, like sadness and anger, and their variants like blame, resentment, hurt, pain, and so on; then bargaining, where we might avoid the truth of a situation; depression, what I often called the pits, when it really hits home over time and we have to find a way to process and move on; and then acceptance, where we start to heal, come to terms with what’s happened and find meaning and new purpose. It’s in the last-mentioned that the real potential lies, but let’s be brutally clear: you can’t avoid or rush the others, though, believe me, I’ve seen masses of attempts!!

I’d hazard a guess to say we’ll all of us have this experience in one form or another with major life events, and accidents, being robbed, moving house and many other stress events too. Death and dying though are truly existential: we’ll all have it. So we need to find ways to cope, to see what’s there to learn from it, and, dare I say it, to gain the real meaning we are meant to derive from it. I wonder what yours is?

Which brings me back to our friend and neighbour. As friends we may not be so emotionally involved, but we are impacted nonetheless. There’s a person we knew and spent time with who’s gone, is there no more. Of course it stirs up our own stuff around death, dying and loss. Then there’s the sense of things coming to an end, an end of an era, people leaving, things changing, the familiar replaced by the unfamiliar, an emptiness, nothing where there was someone, a vacuum. No longer the craic (he was Irish), the jokes, the long conversations, the plentiful supply of liquor, the warmth and friendliness, the hospitality. When it’s gone, you notice it.

Then we hear of other changes in train. Somehow other events seem to be happening. They aren’t caused by the loss, but somehow we notice it more. As a Brit in France, we are impacted by Brexit. Then there’s news of other friends leaving, people moving on. So what now for us?

With such endings, we are left with our own meanings to make. What now for our own future? What needs our attention? What have these events taught us that we need to attend to? What does it all mean? Or, as I would say, what meanings do I choose to make of what’s been happening?

TS Eliot has wonderful words at the end of his masterpiece, The Four Quartets. To quote selectively:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The End is where we start from…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

We progress on life’s path, often unknowingly or unaware, and yet it has purpose, even if we don’t consciously know it. Each ending offers us the chance, once again, to bring what is unaware into conscious awareness, to know and feel that which is our truth, that which our soul is calling us to.

During the funeral service, Akasha asked us to reflect while one piece of music chosen by our friend was played. What happened for me was a palpable sense of love, glowing in my heart centre, and with it a contented sense of peace. Maybe that was where our friend was. Certainly that was important for me. That is what I will take from these turbulent last months of his life, a blessing on him, and on all of us.

That’s something to go for!

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Has change just disrupted your view of the world?

How much are you being affected by change and uncertainty right now? Both in and outside of the UK many people are thinking their lives have been turned upside down recently due to the Brexit vote. It’s not necessarily about the politics but more the impact on their lives and their plans. It’s like a major event has serious disruptive results. This isn’t the only kind of change that disrupts our settled view of the world.

Change occurs for us in all sorts of ways, some welcome, some less so. You might be getting divorced, you might have lost someone, your children might have left home, you might have just got married, you might have just given birth, you might be menopausal, you might have taken on your first mortgage, you might have moved house, you might be recovering from a major illness. The list goes on.

It might be positive and it might really hit you

It might seem like a positive, but you still feel unsettled and uncertain and all over the place. You might be badly affected. It might be really good, for example, getting your first house, but then you get hit by all the responsibilities and the stress and wonder what you’ve let yourself in for. You might find your job is going, there’s nothing you can do about it, and all your hopes and plans are wrecked.

People grieve. It’s well-known: they can be shocked, angry, upset, or depressed, and take time to process the change and come to terms with it and move on. This can be brief or it can take a long time, depending on what’s happened for us. It can affect us emotionally and physically and leave us facing a new world with all the familiar navigation points gone.

Do you feel sad as times change, or do you feel good for what is coming to pass?

It’s worth looking at how you regard change.

Note my words: look at how you look at what your mind does. At one level we can be caught up in some emotion about change, and we can also, mindfully, be aware of what occurs, of what our minds do. We are thus in a state of awareness about what our mind is doing.

Sometimes we adjust happily to change and sometimes it gets to us. Ask yourself: is the glass half-full right now, or more like getting empty?

Change is a constant. It happens. Life is impermanent. Everything is in process. You might be feeling OK and handling change, until something comes along and really hits you. You might just get down, and stay down. Then we moan about things that are happening, and that glass gets emptier still.

Step back and notice what’s happening

It can be useful to step back and notice what changes have been going on, and allow ourselves to really notice how we are allowing ourselves to respond. It can be useful to honestly grieve for what we’ve lost, what is passing, and then see what we can learn, and let go of.

It’s also useful to cultivate your inner core, the part of you inside that never changes, the ever-knowing, ever-seeing, ever-loving, ever-aware self. Then when change occurs, know that you know. It’s a further step that we take, using awareness to re-connect with our inner knowing. Inside, we’re always OK.

Change happens. It can be hard. It can be joyful. It can be sad or painful. Part of you, the real part we might say, is still here, and always is. The real question might be, do you connect with that part?

I work with people who are impacted by change and need to work out a new way forward.

Contact me

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Facing our resistance can be hard but ultimately very rewarding

We may want help to make changes in our lives but we don’t always like the fallout. It’s a seeming paradox of personal development, the desire to get help to move forward but also an apparent reluctance to fully engage in the process and instead a holding back, a resistance, and even pulling out when the going gets tough. As in other walks of life seeing the process through can be challenging and we can’t always be clear that the path we’ve entered on will work out.

Thus clients who come for coaching can hit points of resistance in the process, or people can drop out of courses both in training and in personal development.  Resistance is very common. It’s where the part of us, lets call it the ego, fears what the work is bringing up and puts up all sorts of barriers. The ego is about survival and helping us cope in the world. Yet as we grow as a person, the old ego strategies become past their sell-by date, and yet the ego doesn’t want to let go. Also change can be scary and push our fear buttons.  So we can start to feel uncomfortable when the work we’re doing on ourselves starts to challenge old-established patterns. Let’s take the example of needing to put ourselves out there in the world in some way,which means we’ve got to go and meet others and say present ourselves in a certain way, which could challenge perhaps a shy part of us. Moreover the ego might actually feel quite comfortable in its current unhappy state and shaking up its patterns produces a kick-back.

Thus people will come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they didn’t complete a task. Or while a discussion is under way about making changes, somehow people start to feel like it isn’t “getting me anywhere” or “isn’t useful” or “not helping”. Or people can feel confused and unsure. Or they may suddenly feel perfectly OK and positive and having a good time and why do they need to be doing this work anyway? I’ve seen people suddenly book a holiday, or take a weekend break, or take time out “because it is the school holidays” in such a way that it cuts across their work. These are often very bona fide reasons and yet they have a way of disrupting the work and lead people to question the value of it.

In these circumstances it can be really hard to see that actually it is resistance that’s at work and that what people really need to do is stick at it, and commit. Commitment isn’t a very fashionable concept. People like flexibility, which seems to appear as choice and free will, but can actually not serve us and provide a cover to opt out. Then what we get is our reasons for “it not working”. It can actually be a choice to stay stuck. And that’s OK, believe it or not, but at least let’s be honest with ourselves. And ask ourselves the question, “Does this serve me?”

Being honest is perhaps the painful part. Because somewhere inside part of us also knows what we’re doing, what we really need, and is aware that we’re opting out, resisting. And the same old issues then come back to haunt us. Till, that is we finally decide to really commit – and see the process through.

Understanding the role of resistance in personal development is very important. The way through, the path we’re embarked upon, may not at times be clear, and it can get rough, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, and truly want to heal and grow, then there’s something about trusting the process and having the faith in the eventual outcome, and also engaging our will to make it happen. Then the fog clears, the confusion gives way to clarity, and with the learnings in place we’re much stronger and more confident. And we’ve found a way to overcome those barriers that hold us back and limit our potential.

And we know more of who we really are.

To read more about coaching with me, click here

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Change invites us to change our attitude

It is often remarked that the one constant in life is change. So it is perhaps remarkable that it is also one thing so many of us resist. People tell me how they dislike change and wish things would remain as they are, not necessarily noticing that they themselves are changing, as are the people around them and also their surroundings. It can be sudden and immediate and it can be slow and subtle, almost invisible.

Curiously change is built-in to our way of life. Many advocate and welcome it, seeing advantage in something being new, as contrasted with the “old”. Thus commercial marketing is built around change. We expect people to make changes and generally want them to be beneficial. People can get bored with the same thing, and look for something new. Innovation is praised in technology. It can be part of philosophy and belief: for example a key doctrine in Buddhism is impermanence.  Some would say it is a “given”, a fact of life. Thus some say that there are three givens to life, you are born, grow old and die. Those would add that what matters is what we do with the time in between! Here we have choice and free will.

As too with how we perceive change. It is possible to get locked into seeing change as a negative, usually those things we don’t want. Thus many of us don’t welcome being made redundant – well, generally! We dislike the ageing process. Some see the negative in moving house if they are attached to where they are. Many would react strongly to adverse results of illness or accidents that leave them physically impaired in some way. Most of us don’t welcome the upheavals that come with separation in a relationship, let alone the loss of one’s partner. The reaction to change is associated with grieving and, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously showed, we go through a whole process of adjustment over time to what has occurred.

No wonder therefore that many of us can resist change. It doesn’t have pleasant associations quite often, and stirs up memories. Some change can be quick, but other changes can be long and drawn out. Sometimes it can seem like we have been in the midst of change forever. When, we wonder, will it get better? When will things “normalise”? Or is this new situation actually how things are and will be in the future? It begs the question about what we’re struggling to let go of, which is the other side of the process. Arguably this is where the real learning lies, in letting go and accepting what is, and being in the moment.

Which brings us to the whole question of being in the moment, surrender, allowing, and acceptance. When we let go and be present, we allow other possibilities to be present too. After all, in the quantum moment of now, there are multiple simultaneous possibilities, differing interpretations of “reality”, and different choices about how we experience it. According to various traditions, we can instead draw positivity to us by changing our attitude. One is to give thanks for what we have, to be in a state of gratitude for what occurs in our lives. Thus we can draw different experiences to us.

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New start or same old stuff and not moving forward?

Are you looking forward to a new start with eager anticipation, or do you find you’re quickly back where you were, with the same old stuff going on and you’re no further forward? It can be a hard one, as everybody else can seem all fired up and we aren’t. Who likes to be a party pooper? And so we suffer in silence.

This can be a seasonal thing for many of us,  like a new year supposedly brings new hopes and yet we can still feel we’ve got the same problems. It’s even like positive thinking is for others and not for us. Thus times like January can be the graveyard of many hopes and aspirations as we get deterred by the obstacles that were already there before.

There’s short-term remedies, a new exercise routines, distractions and diversions, entertainment, getting out and seeing people, booking another holiday, reading a self-help book…the suggestions can be endless – and in themselves can be useful. But is it enough?

One question can hover in the background, what real underlying issue are you not addressing?

You might just no longer be grabbed by that job of yours. You just cannot get along with that boss you’re now stuck with. Your relationship has brief revivals, but you wonder how long you can keep going with the same person when there’s an unpleasant truth you don’t want to have to face. You yourself have been getting increasingly negative about life, other people and even yourself, and your partner is getting fed up with it – or you’re beginning to ask whether the real problem is you. Life is passing you by and you wonder when you’re finally going to get up and grab it and say that it’s time you had your turn now. You’ve passed some major milestone in your life, and you are asking, “Is this it?”

You might have some prevailing pattern going on, which you seem stuck in. It might be a cycle, that you keep going back to, and “it” isn’t getting fixed. You might know what “it” is, but until now haven’t plucked up the courage to address it.

When people do finally decide to make the move, and address the underlying issue, it can be the real change that changes everything. And that change might simply be the decision to do something, something real, tangible, and yet life changing. This sort of choice is an act of will. “I am now going to do something about this”. It has the quality of no going back. There is only forward.

When people really make these kinds of moves, they can be transformative, although they don’t seem it at the time. There is however a crucial element of hope. And it has the power of intention with it. You will now move forward.

And then go and get that real, solid help that will support you in fulfilling that intention.

Like come and get some coaching, that addresses these underlying goals and supports you in taking action towards meeting them. Then you can really change your life.

To talk to me about how my coaching might help, contact me here.

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What do you regret?

It’s a useful question to ask, and many of us hit occasions when we do just that – on the last day of your life, what do you regret?

A palliative care nurse recently compiled a list of the top 5 things the dying stated they regretted. These might not surprise you:

1.    I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
2.    I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
3.    I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
4.    I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
5.    I wish that I had let myself be happier

You could check how much this list fits with your everyday concerns, and whether key ones in this list are not actually attended to by you on a day to day basis. In other words, what’s really missing?

The thing is we don’t come up with “I wish I had done that trip to some special part of the world, or had this or that experience, or made my fortune and retired happily ever after, or had this or that lifestyle”. It’s the really fundamental things, those that strike at the core of our being, who we are.

Where you feel the power of the emotion of that thought.

This is really key. Depending on what you believe, there are many traditions that say we go through some kind of life review at the end of our lives. This question brings us up face to face with what we’ve really been doing or not doing with our lives. And there can be something unfinished, incomplete, not resolved.

There may be an aspect to this that we may of course come to learn to accept. Letting go of regrets and forgiving others can be part of the journey of personal and spiritual growth.

However there are others that we may well have choice over in other ways. Yet we continue to plough our furrow and not deal with them. We deflect ourselves away from making contact with these fundamental things within us, and thus live life on the dimmer switch. We deny our own life force. It can be almost perverse.

Yet we do have choice. As humans we do have free will. Will you choose life?

So, here’s where you can make your choice. Use the up-coming workshop next Saturday to explore for yourself:

1.    How I might choose to starting living a life where I am true to myself
2.    How I might make changes in my work that meet my real life goals
3.    How I might be more authentic
4.    How I might be more connected to others
5.    How I might bring lasting happiness into my life

You can book here: click here.

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Does change make you feel anxious or optimistic?

As things change, there can be a point of poignancy when there’s perhaps an awareness of regret for what is going and mixed feelings about what is to come. Autumn is one such time.

We’re in this time of autumn here in the UK where the trees are turning golden brown, almost red, and leaves are piling up on the ground, in gutters and on pavements. The air is damp with a chill in the air and the grass is wet with dew in the mornings. Depending on how you are feeling, walking among trees can be a bit sad or beautiful or both. There’s a growing a growing carpet of golden brown or bright yellow. As I write there’s a fog hanging around on the hills here in Wiltshire. Sunsets even seem to echo this trend, as with this one, which looked like the horizon was on fire.

Splendour in the west - October sunset
Sun setting in autumn

Now autumn is an annual event but it is a change none the less and it can serve as a reminder of what we’re like around change. It’s worth noticing what your reactions are to change. Do you find yourself feeling regret, almost instinctively, like it’s a knee-jerk response?

This can be how we tend to deal with change. Some changes we resist, others we welcome. I often find some people have these patterns of responding, whereby change feels uncomfortable, and people can tend to resist it. This can be an inheritance from past unwelcome changes, which stick in the unconscious memory.

It can be important to be aware of this, since change is arguably an inevitable part of us as humans. Nothing stays the same, all is in process at some level. What we need to learn is change flexibility, using awareness to notice our reactions and yet be able to hold on to our centred state which never changes.

This is the big challenge, getting to know that centred state that dwells within each of us and, once we’re anchored there, we’re not easily thrown by what life has to give to us. Because at our essence, all is permanent. Then we see change as an illusion. While we’re still anchored in the ego world, all is uncertain, full of flux, anxiety, unpredictability. Finding and knowing our centre of awareness enables us to step aside from all that and be as a Witness to it.

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Being closed off emotionally in the recession

Interestingly people’s “emotional intelligence”, their ability to be aware of and manage their own emotions, respond effectively to those of others and to build good relationships, has declined in the recession. It seems that with the onset of the recession many people have not surprisingly being feeling threatened and insecure and have reverted to “survival behaviour”. Thus it is easier to handle the situation by shutting down on how you feel, or at least not revealing it, and also being closed off emotionally to other people.

This is a not-uncommon reaction to a threat. Under pressure we can flip into a survival behaviour, the flight/fight/freeze response, and this can become ingrained if we aren’t careful to re-connect with our self awareness. This increases stress. We can lose flexibility and alertness to our environment. Empathy with others gets weaker and we can miss vital signals from others. Our relationships get weaker too and thus our bonds with others, at some level. Trust declines. We might be less positive and more prone to things like stress and depression. If we bottle up our feelings, then we are the ones who can get sick. It is literally sad.

This is the challenging part of self awareness, handling things when times are difficult. We tend to close in on ourselves. One difficulty is that it can be hard to reach out to others and utilise support networks, although this is one way to regain our equipoise and sense of wellbeing. People can find it difficult to face their own feelings too when they seem predominantly negative.

This is where developing skill in self management, a set of emotional intelligence skills, is so invaluable. This is about facing and releasing negative feelings rather than holding on to them. Now most people think of releasing emotion in terms of having a good cry or going and beating up some cushions, healthy though that is. It can also however be about being aware of the feeling in yourself and not being atttached to it but releasing it as an energy shift. This is where the power of being able to witness what is occuring without being caught up in it is so useful. It is a sophisticated skill but can be developed. It can involve doing some exploration too on what buttons are bing pushed by adversity and dealing with those too.

I give coaching to people going through change where they are being impacted emotionally by the change. Click here.

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Getting that you are going through change in your life

Getting that you are going through a change in your life can be the hard part. Humans can be fundamentally very conservative creatures and we a lot of us don’t like change. Particularly at the moment with such a sense of insecurity in the air. We don’t see what’s really going on till we’re  right in the thick of it and things aren’t going as we’d like.

Change can come in clusters, and this can be a clue that it’s more fundamental. So if I take midlife crisis as an example, as described in the last post, we might experience a loss of a job, a break-up in a relationship, a move of home, financial difficulties, significant illhealth, loneliness, loss of a sense of role and self-esteem and so on. On the Holmes-Rahe stress scale, these are high-stress items on their own but in a cluster it’s serious stuff. If you really work through the list in the link just given and put in the items I refer to in this paragraph, with their various sub-categories, you can easily be in the “high-risk” category. So, this is no laughing matter.

Other examples of change clusters can be classic life events like going to college or uni, getting married (yes!) or a major relationship breakup with family and home implications, retirement, or serious illness. People can report that they lose a job, their relationship breaks up, they have an accident, they home is repossessed, they go bust, etc. It all seems to come together. Or you might be reaching retirement age and you notice most of your friends have moved away or retired and gone abroad, your children have left home, your health isn’t good, you are wondering what to do with yourself and perhaps you need to move house. You might be wondering what it’s all about and where are you going, both literally and metaphorically.

One point in all this is to acknowledge that change in your life is happening. You are in a transition of some kind, and it needs to be embraced and not resisted. Resisting it can pile up problems, when we probably need to work through how we can address the issues that have arisen. Only then can the benefits of change be realised. While we hang on to the past, all we get is what we don’t want. This is where people need to let go and move on themselves and work out a whole new direction, meaning and purpose for the next phase in their life. After all, nothing is without a reason, at some level.

I coach people going through a change or transition in their lives. To learn more, click here.