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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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Hope springs eternal even in the darkest of days

Winter can drag on, cold days, wet or frozen, windy, long nights, seemingly endless. It’s the time of year that people can feel really depressed, devoid of optimism and hope. We can get caught up in a cycle of depressed, moody days, and it can be hard to shift the mood. What’s the point of even trying since nothing changes. It just goes on and on. Some of us even wonder if we can go on and on.

Here it’s been very wet for days, windy but mild, the days dark, the valley shrouded in mist, people looking sad. The weather gets locked into its pattern. “When will this end?” one wonders. It can be very hard to have hope when things keep going on the same way and nothing seems to change.

We can lose sight of how things change. Nothing stays the same, although it doesn’t seem like it. Everything is in motion. The seasons change, slowly but inexorably. Winter is replaced by spring. Even as I write, the snowdrops are coming up. I brought them from England and put them in a little damp spot under a stone wall and they’ve survived the hot, dry summers and are peeping out of the ground, white tips appearing in the grey, auguries of approaching spring. The camellia,

Camellia perfection
Camellia perfection

battered by winds, is nevertheless likewise a mass of buds opening into pink heaven. Primroses on the lawn are showing buds, readying to flower soon, a carpet under the also-budding cherry tree. The seasonal cycle of nature calls us to remember, that warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Change brings new hope, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

The human spirit has hope. Without it, we wouldn’t do things in adversity. Life has faith, hope and trust built into it. We just need to attend to it.

I always think of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “…these three things remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians, 13:13).

It’s a powerful process, to re-member. We have this awareness within us, but it needs will and determination to shift our awareness within to the candle of love that burns constantly inside each of us. It might be a small, faint flicker, but it is there nonetheless.

Just before the dawn is the greatest darkness. It can even be our “dark night of the soul” as St John of the Cross recognised. The darkness can be black, gloomy and despairing, and it can contain the inner secrets of our salvation. We need to regularly revisit that space, not allowing the darkness to overwhelm us. For this, we need to exercise our will. “This too shall pass”, and the dawn will break once again. Nothing stays the same.

Always have hope, and know that this love is always within.


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When loneliness and feeling alone is no laughing matter

The Christmas season is usually a time when people gather and celebrate together. Paradoxically almost, it can be also a time when many people feel very lonely. The sense of loneliness can affect people who are single and in relationships, living with others or on their own. It transcends cultures, class and locality. It can affect even those who seem the most jolly and full of the joys of life. Particularly after Christmas, there’s a “let down” period. After the high adrenalin rush and the excess, there’s often a “down” time.

Christmas in the West is a big spending binge followed by a feast, a massive media-and-retail-fuelled hype, a collective energy that it’s hard not to get sucked up into. Not surprisingly there’s then a hangover, both physical and emotional. Families get together. Things are said. Agendas are revealed. Behind the jollity there can be other things going on too, ones we may not feel comfortable to address. There’s high expectations, especially for those raised on an idea of the “perfect” family Christmas, one remembered from childhood. Afterwards, when we once again find that those expectations don’t get met, there’s not surprisingly a sadness, even a depression for many.

Of course this is also a time for the religious to reflect on their connection to their faith, and this can be a time that that faith can be tested, as Christ was: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)” (Matthew 27:46).

Allied to that, if one is aware of being alone already, this can be compounded. You’re not part of the fun. Not for you the sense of inclusion, of being part of something. Not the love that others seem to enjoy. The fact that a huge part of the human dilemma is that we are alone can still pass us by.

Existentialists say that this is after all one of the “givens” of being human, that we come into the world alone and leave it by the same route. They would say that we may dread our existence but it is for us to exercise free will and choice, to create the experience we seek. Famously, Viktor Frankl in Man’s search for meaning (1946) argued that for Auschwitz inmates to survive their enormous privations they had to continue to choose, to make meaning: “the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. He said, “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress”.

Thus, even in the midst of company, or on one’s own, we can feel alone, or, exercising choice, we can feel alone and, for example, at One. Our experience is our choice. We become not the victim but the master (or mistress) of our choice.

Therefore too, we can feel contented and at peace, just as much by ourselves as in the company of others.

It’s a challenge of life and living.

That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. The testimony of many thinkers and writers over time show that it can often be a very hard path. The demon of loneliness can spring out even with the hardened practitioner. So we need to develop a skill and practice so that we can recover and bring ourselves back on to our path, so that we too in time may feel contentment whatever is going on and whenever.

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Do you love to be in nature away from other people?

Is there a part of you that prefers to be in nature, away amongst mountains, by the sea or in the countryside, where there aren’t any people and you have to yourself the splendour of nature? Do you get times when you want to get away from the stresses and strains of dealing with your fellow humans and the crowded cities? Just recently someone was telling how she comes into her own when in nature, in the silence and stillness of remote mountains and their vast and massive rocky majesty. I thought, “me too!”

Your special place, if that is what it is, is very important. My correspondent was saying that for her there was this raw force of nature that was powerful, moving and brought out her passion and creativity. For me, there is a sense of Oneness, like I am connected to what I behold, as a part of me. Many have written of how they are moved by nature; in fact it helped spawn a whole artistic and cultural movement, Romanticism. For Wordsworth it was also a spiritual experience, beyond the material. It touches your soul.

There’s also this feeling that people and nature are somehow separate. It’s as though we can only be who we are in the depths of silence and stillness, as one can also find in meditation. Of course it is us having this experience and we are people! Yet for those of us who feel like this, we feel that we have somehow to get away from other people for this to work. Hence so many go off to live in isolated settings, being the hermit or in retreats, or having a house out on its own.

If you have this yearning, then try it, and see what happens after a while. For some it works. Others can find that all sorts of stuff comes up for them. One person told me how suddenly he felt acutely lonely and longed to be back with his wife. The aloneness was scary.

However, the other side of aloneness is at-Oneness. It’s perhaps where you put your focus. It might also be your understanding. It can be also be where you go when in silence and alone. There’s the whole thing about how you manage your state, and connect with your Self within.

Then, when you go back, if you do, to be with others, you might resist it. Then again you might feel refreshed and more ready to face what comes. It is worth reflecting that there too is Oneness. In the middle of a busy street, crowded with people, there too is God, or however you conceive of an underlying Presence of Being. When we resist our connection with others, and keep ourselves away, we keep ourselves separate, and can potentially therefore prevent ourselves from connection once more. It’s harder to do, of course, since this connection with others so often brings up our stuff. Yet there can lie our real challenge and our real opportunity.

I coach people to develop their real purpose, direction and life goals. To contact me click here.

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What gives me meaning and purpose is an important issue to address

What gives me meaning and purpose? I meet many who ask this and feel dissatisfied with what currently seems to be in their life or sense there’s something missing. Not everybody has this as a driver in their lives, but it is a significant factor.The absense of meaning can be a big cause of frustration and discontent.

Humans, it is said, are meaning-making beings. We make interpretations, we fit things into a scheme, we connect things to our beliefs and values, we link what happens to our likes and preferences, we look to get value from what we do, and in other ways make sense of what happens for us. For some of us a sense of meaning might be religious or spiritual. For others it might be doing something for our fellow humans. Others might want to be achieving something of value or what sits well with their values.

Many I work with have reached a point in their lives where what they’ve been doing is no longer “enough” and they want to “put something back”. Some find they have achieved a lot in their careers and but now they want something more “meaningful”. There might also be a young person who is inspired by making a difference and wants his or her life to be one about meaning, rather than say money, status or material possessions. Or some event has occurred that has led them to question the value of what they do, who they are and where they are going.

The classic way of looking at this is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, where he describes his experiences as a labour inmate of Auschwitz and what distinguished those who survived as opposed to those that died in the final winter before liberation. He considered that those that lived, despite the terrible privations, were those that continued to make meaning, “the hopelessness of our struggle,” he wrote, “does not detract from its dignity and its meaning…(his purpose was) to find a full meaning in our life, then and there, in that hut and in that practically hopeless situation.” Each needed to take personal responsibility to find that meaning for themselves.

For those for whom this is an important driver in their lives the question is no small matter. For such people, it inspires and motivates them. It illuminates their lives and enriches them. They feel the absence of it strongly. Knowing your purpose is uplifting. It sustains you even when things are difficult and challenging. When distracted, it serves to bring you back to focus on what matters. It is therefore an important area to explore, and it’s never to late to do it.

I give coaching to help people clarify their mission, vision, and purpose and get the meaning they want from their lives. To read more about my coaching, click here.

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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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Do you view adversity as a failure and not as a learning?

People can experience setbacks and adversity as failure and then compare themselves negatively with “successful people”. They can therefore miss the learnings and the benefits to them of the setbacks and hardships they encounter. It is often said that the successful entrepreneur is viewed from the perspective of their success story, not the reversals and financial disasters along the way. Someone whose has had a serious accident or illness and had to give on their dream in consequence may look back with regret, but not necessarily see what they’ve gained from their life so far. Yet there are those too who recover from the setback and build something new, maybe more satisfying to them than the old.

This is where we can get attached to a particular view of life that for it to be working out OK everything has to go according to plan and we must be achieving our goals. Then when those goals get frustrated or they don’t work out as we thought they would, somehow we’re disillusioned, disappointed or frustrated. The danger then can be to slide into a state of negativity, view life henceforth pessimistically and expect poor outcomes.

This is about the perspective we take and the assumptions we make. What can get missed is that those very setbacks, as we see them, actually might contain important lessons. Maybe we were too attached to the goal. Maybe we were going about it in ways that were harmful. Maybe they weren’t actually the goals that would best serve our higher purpose. Maybe we needed adversity to teach us something about ourselves and about life. Maybe we needed more humility. Maybe we’d become too arrogant or selfish or inconsiderate of others. Maybe we were just too driven and needed to slow down. Maybe now we need to see the finer things in life, that might come for example in what happens every moment, and the ultimately really important things like how we love, the company we keep, our family, or whatever it actually is that we need for our fulfillment in life.

It might be that adversity teaches you or me surrender, letting go and acceptance of what is. As John Lennon famously wrote,  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. We can miss what’s right in front of our eyes and in the moment. There’s an old saying that it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. How you show up, moment by moment.

Adversity can strengthen us and help us gain greater understanding of ourselves and others. It can get us to reassess our values and bring us closer to what really matters for us.

It’s when we need to pause, breathe, let go and be in the moment. Is this what your life is really about?

I coach people on their direction and their goals. Click 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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Having a web detox to help you find what is really meaningful

As so many of us are habitually connected to the web, it might seem strange to suggest that we would benefit from internet/mobile “holidays” or detoxes. Just in case at this point you might be strongly tempted to click out, just pause on this as you might miss out on something important for your health and well-being.

Yes, I felt I had to write that last bit as that is exactly what people do, quickly move on from something that doesn’t have instant interest. Stickability, perseverence, seeing it through, isn’t a habit the net exactly encourages. Yet, this is how we’re, very many of us, living right now: fast, now, instant, mobile, flitting. It’s a norm, such that it doesn’t occur to question it. Yet there’s lots of evidence that it can actually disconnect some of us from others, since the contact is online rather than face-to-face, a very different experience psychologically, and faciliates a form of stress that we aren’t aware of until it has really got us: tense, twitchy, irritable, sleepless nights, etc.

Thus, a web detox is useful periodically just to get a sense of what it can mean to be “off-line”. On this matter it’s worth watching this video. The journalist concerned concluded by saying he couldn’t wait to get back online, so compulsive I would suggest is his addiction, although as a technology correspondent he might have difficulty with that perception.

The point about compulsiveness, addiction if you like, is that we aren’t aware we’ve got it. “It” just runs us. However, if you read between the lines of the accompanying article to the above-mentioned video, you’ll see that he gets time to play the piano, which he usually misses, and has more time for conversation.

When I first tried a web detox, I found I needed to really focus on relaxation. That was perhaps no surprise, given my kind of work, but what I was more struck by was feeling bored. Suddenly there were whole gaps in the day that I was accustomed to filling with the myriad data of the net, and all that online interaction.

Now boredom of course is healthy, potentially that is, as it presents one with a challenge as to how to change the experience into interest. Of course I could simply be in the moment, and be present and aware. This in itself is immensely rewarding, but might perplex very many people not used to doing that and unaware of the whole background conversation around awareness and mindfulness and how useful it is. Another might be to go and meditate, also hugely beneficial. However there was for me a bigger issue to address. What were the most meaningful aspects to my life that I miss out on through being hooked up so much of the time? Like the journalist it could be neglected interests of a non-web kind and of course that vastly missing part of today’s culture, human physical interaction.

It’s worth pausing and thinking about what personal relationship you are neglecting (What are the excuses? eg.”don’t have the time”). Then there is the whole relationship with life, people and engagement. What activities could you do, involving others, that you don’t do and leave you perhaps a bit isolated.

What if the internet was suddenly unavailable to you for an extended period? And what is your life really about? Here’s the really beneficial reflection: what are you doing with your life that gives you meaning? And what could you do about that?

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At what cost do you violate your personal integrity?

What price one’s personal integrity? On the day that a UK MP and his wife are up for sentencing for lying (pun not intended: price…Pryce?!), it’s another of those times to reflect on what we mean by integrity and how important it is to us.

The immediate case in mind is that an MP and his wife lied about a driving offence, the MP, a former government minister, claiming it was his wife who was driving, only to be shopped later when his estranged wife, who subsequently claimed marital coercion, told the press it was a lie. It seems a terrible thing when one’s dishonesty and lack of integrity is so publicly exposed and one’s reputation so utterly ruined.

We might all experience some level of sharing in the shame experienced, such can be the reminder for ourselves. How much have each of us met times when we’ve been in a compromising or potentially compromising situation, where our beliefs clash with a choice for action that might contradict those beliefs? There’s the temptation: we could go for what we want, but then our conscience kicks in, that vital element of self-control, and we pause and then choose not to act. We’d be being dishonest with ourselves if we don’t acknowledge to ourselves that we experience these times. And some of us, perhaps many, go further and take the compromising action.

Maybe we some of us or many of us aren’t so constrained by moral scruple. There are of course those who are so pure, as traditional teaching would have it, that they are always guided by ethical principle. Whole belief systems and religions have been built round such thinking. Not for nothing do we have concepts like sin, judgement and punishment. Many of us can be so influenced by a sense of guilt, that we beat ourselves up even when we haven’t done anything!

If you look up “integrity” in the dictionary, it talks about both uprightness, sincerity and honesty but also consistency of belief and practice. So there’s the reminder there in the term of practicing what you preach. And as many a spiritual seeker has done, there is the “soul-searching”, where we examine our own motives and actions and see whether we match up by our actions to who we say we are.

It’s an incredibly important area. There’s the aspect of how we manage our own conduct, and the choices we make. Than there’s also the views others take of us. In the first, how truthful are we, and how consistent are we? In the second, do others find dishonesty and lack of consistency, and judge accordingly. So powerful is the concept of integrity, that we can find huge adverse publicity attending on our failure to lives up to not only our own but also social standards of integrity.

So, we will see how Messrs Huhne and Pryce fare under public scrutiny for their lapse of integrity. And we could all use this time to reflect on the degrees to which we measure up to our own integrity.