Posted on

What keeps you going despite the odds

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away“.* What keeps you going? You might have all sorts of clever stuff, and make all sorts of efforts to look convincing to others, but what really lights you up and is your source of passion? What is your “rock of ages” that truly keeps you going and believing in yourself and putting your self out there or simply carrying on in your everyday world when the chips are down and nothing seems to be working out?

Those words from a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer went all over the internet a few years ago, and made a powerful and striking call for authenticity of being. We can put on a pretty show of being various things but what is the truth underlying that? When you are faced with adversity, that’s one time when you can really know it – or notice it’s missing.

It’s that resource within us that gently or urgently nudges or pushes us into our next step even when we are feeling down and feeling depressed and discouraged, dis-couraged. Some of us might have been down for a day or for an hour or two and we just get going again. For others the knocks go deeper and last longer and we can find it harder to pick ourselves up. So for some of us, our resources of resilience need to go a lot deeper.

I suspect many would say they don’t really know what it is that sustains them. Many would affirm some religious faith or a spiritual source. Others it’s pure survival. Some might say it’s their sense of purpose, like they have a goal. Some it might be their will and determination, despite the odds. No wonder so many of us watch films and read books about survival and how people turn their fortunes around. There’s been a fabulous program on TV about penguins and their breeding instinct and utter determination despite seemingly impossible odds: I thought they were excellent mirrors of humans! (Scroll down for the video). Many a parent will no doubt attest to their instinct for their protection and nourishment of their family. If you’re wondering about what sustains you, you might get something from watching this program if you can. I was tempted to wonder if love was truly something that stretches beyond simply humans and their nearest animal relatives.

However, there is something that will sustain us, but we each need to find it for ourselves. To write it in a blog won’t do justice to this enormously important question. However, there is something beyond pure instinct and for me it connects with trust and faith, which we learn from facing these experiences, really facing them, and seeing through the terrible illusion.

I have a program coming up that helps each participant explore their own source, beyond illusion. Click here.

I am also giving talks on the subject.

*From “The Invitation“, Oriah Mountain Dreamer (Toronto, 1995)

Posted on

Are our values at odds with those around us?

It can often seem as though our own values are out of step with those around us. This could include a feeling that in the place where we work the senior managers don’t seem to think the same way, or the culture there isn’t what we ourselves might value. Then the community in which we live might not live quite according to our own ways. Or that the overall culture in which we live is somehow out of step with our own. I read in the news today for example of how a Muslim family felt compelled to move out of what seemed like a “nice” village due to racist attacks, and that the government are forcing through benefit changes that are going to bring about local tax increases for the poorest people of around 10%.

Is this what our society is becoming? However not is all as it seems.

I was fascinated to read recently that the UK has a “values dysfunction” that is higher than other countries in a study made of certain countries’ values. Very many people value things like meaningful relationships and integrity, holding values like “caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, as well as independence, respect and trust”. Yet they do not see their leaders as embodying those values, and national values are seen as being bureaucratic, corrupt, blame-oriented, conflict-prone, etc. It seems that the political elite is out of step with the population it seeks to govern, and that there’s a gap in accountability. Not new, you might think. And I wondered how much readers in other countries might actually think similar things of their own leadership today!

Richard Barrett, who is the driving force behind the study referred to above, says: “Our leaders need to show us the way. They need to become role models of values-driven leadership and they need to show us that they exercise care and compassion for the needs of the elderly and disadvantaged.”

So, when there appears to be a growing gap between different people in society as this recession continues, all is not as it seems. Rather, it might be argued, these values endure and that what we have at present is a crisis of fear. This is what can drive people apart and make knee-jerk responses that can be harmful for others and yet not actually reflect their underlying values. It is that mismatch that can be worth reflecting on, how much do we let our values be sidelined under pressure and allow out our inner demons instead.


Posted on

To mean what you say and say what you mean

Honesty, sincerity and integrity are things many of us say we espouse, but how much do we do it in practice? It’s a useful test: do you mean what you say and say what you mean? So, you might ask yourself, “Do I show up? Am I who I say I am? Do I do what I say I will do?” No doubt many of us can think of people and situations where statements aren’t matched by actions.

Most often people immediately mention politicians or bosses past and present, and can readily itemise various betrayals. Think of the rousing meetings where your leaders and managers have told of all sorts of exciting things that are going to happen and how we will live according to inspiring values, and then the next day what you’re doing is closed down and you are wheeled in to be made redundant.These things leave a sour taste in the mouth. Then you think back to the boy or girlfriend with whom you were much in love and how you had that really romantic weekend togther, and then they announce they are seeing someone else and you’re dumped. Or when your wonderful father (or mother) walked out on the family and shattered a childhood illusion.

It’s not so comfortable when it gets closer to home and we think of our own inconsistencies. When do I find myself not standing by what I believe? Many of us have probably found ourselves backing down when faced by the realities or when compromising. Where it gets less easy is when we behave in ways that impact others adversely and that contradict what we said before. You might think for example of where a friend was having some trouble and you didn’t speak up for them or come to their aid or be a support. Or where someone has asked you for help and you’ve remained silent, not answered calls or emails and just been invisible. Or when you’ve been indirect and not spoken up and been truthful and said how things really are. Soaps’ plot lines are full of this. It’s worth thinking of all those people who aren’t open and honest and are devious. We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, but it’s not so easy when it’s us who need to act, but don’t or who are indirect.

The difficulty with moralising like this is that as humans we find it difficult to match principle with practice, and the actualities of life somehow push aside what we have previously asserted so enthusiastically. We might of course just get cynical and say that as humans we’re flawed anyway, more of this “orgininal sin” stuff perhaps in another form, except that somehow that doesn’t do it either because we’re not really happy with that inside either. Somehow we want these positive principles to work and we, many of us find ourselves once again trying to realise it, maybe at least tempered by experience and more cautious about what we insist upon.

Yet one big principle of personal development in all this is the really basic question of whether our behaviour is really serving us. In the end, do we feel at one with ourself and the world and at peace? Because where we aren’t honest and truthful and true with others, we’re probably also not being true with ourselves. There’s a moral contradiction within us. Thus people who choose to work on this then decide to “clean up their act” and go and own to their inconsistencies, apologise to those they’ve wronged, admit to where they don’t show up, and choose in the future to live according to the values they honestly believe in. Then integrity really means what it says, and we feel complete and truthful in ourselves and  more really aligned with Who we really Are.

Posted on

How to have self confidence when you don’t know where you are going

Bit difficult, not knowing where you’re going, or what you are about, and still have confidence in your endeavours! It’s a bit of a “chicken-and-egg” question, which comes first? Yet the question of how to have self confidence when things aren’t clear offers important opportunities for insight into your creative potential.

When starting out on a new project, whatever that is, it’s well known that it helps to get clear what your vision and purpose is. Your vision would be some description of the end result and what it will feel and look like. The vision needs to match your inspiration, which inspired you in the first place, and has something powerfully motivating in it to encapsulate all the effort that will going into manifesting it. It needs to feel worth it. The purpose is linked to the vision in that it states what you are doing this for, which might be another way of stating the vision but then it might also state something of your values and what you are in this journey for, what lights you up. So my vision might be to be running x and y courses and my purpose might be to help people know more of who they really are. There’s no need to get too academic about it, but rather come up with something that reflects what drew you to the endeavour and states where you are going with it.

Self confidence then comes with the knowing of what you are about and where you are going. Of course there’s also the doing of it, and we’ll discuss that in other postings, but at least you are a step further towards where you need to be.

Today in Western society there’s a spiritual aridity underlying our culture and a cynicism about the ideal of what we’re about. Vision conjures up negative connotations even. People are struggling to get beyond ideas like “betterment”, and “growth” and lack something that really uplifts us as humans and as key members of the planet. The effects of the recession are to induce a certain hopelessness instead. So, thinking about personal vision is all the more important.

It is a vital activity and if you haven’t done it, and this resonates for you, then perhaps it’s time to take time out to allow your creative juices to flow about what you really want in your life and what it would look, sound and feel like when you’ve got it.

However, there’s also another angle on this, that of how to have self confidence in where you are going when you don’t know what that is. Many people say to me that they don’t know what they really want, again a reflection of this gap I am writing about, and life happens for them in the meantime. They say that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon)!

So, it can also be a matter of trusting the process, which can take a learning about faith, since what is meant to happen will make itself apparent, but usually when we’ve let go of needing an answer in a negative sense. Which points up a vital point in the creation process, being willing to have an intention and then energetically let go of it and not be attached to the outcome. So arguably the real learning, the more powerful insight, can be to have trust and faith that what happens will be perfect. Maybe this is another step in self development, as many would argue.

I give coaching for people setting out on a journey who need to develop their faith, vision and purpose. To learn more, click here.

Posted on 1 Comment

When our values can put us on the spot

Do you recognise occasions where you are asked to make a choice and you find yourself hesitating about what is the right course of action? It can even seem like you are “put on the spot”, seemingly being asked to choose to do or say something that doesn’t sit right with you, or by contrast something where there’s a stirring within you that this course of action you are contemplating is totally who you are and what you are about. These are occasions when we are contronted with our values, with an ethical choice, one that can even strike at the core of our values.

By “right” I mean of course my values, although these might also coincide with societal, religious or other collective values for some people. I have written about the issues that can be involved with “being right” before in this blog, although not so much from the personal values angle.

Just recently I have been sharing with a group I belong to an ethical dilemma I had come across and, without going into the detail, what I was struck by, as so often can be the case, was how multi-layered questions of ethics can be. Most of the group came back with a “I don’t see a problem here” response, which, as can so often be the case in groups when I work humanistically, left me asking what this might be about for me. Now in case you’re curious, the point I’d like to make about these kinds of choices is that it can be useful in self awareness terms to explore the layers of the matter.

There might for example be a point of principle at stake. Do I take a course of action to serve a need I have, or do I hold back because the action would, let’s say, lead to a clash with a strongly held value? We’re being presented with these choices all over the place. Do I agree with planting GM crops because the world has a upcoming food crisis and I need bread or do I refuse my consent because of certain perceived disadvantages of these crops? Do I agree with the state regulation of psychotherapy because it will better protect clients or do I oppose it because what is being proposed is excessive state regulation of very personal matters?

Then there might be a matter that goes closer to the bone. Let’s say I’m asked to stand up in public and talk about what I do, but since what I do can be quite close and personal, might I refuse to be so self-disclosing? I might feel it puts me in a vulnerable position, yet I might present my response both to others and, importantly, to myself, as a matter of values around inappropriate disclosure of confidential work. On the face of it, I might feel justified, and yet in all honesty there might be more to it than that.

In the last example, it is worth exploring whether there’s a personal, let’s say ego-related way, that values overlap with our stuff. Here, I might actually be using my values to mask, even to myself, the real reason for my objection, that I’m feeling vulnerable. And in this case, vulnerability can be a useful awareness in that it flags up to me where I’m not safe  in a situation, and then also it might not actually serve me because the motivation might be let’s say lack of self belief, a sense of unworthiness, etc. This could be a fear boundary where I might instead experiment with pushing through and letting go of resistance.

However, the values choice might also be one that is so strongly adhered to that, even setting aside the layers that might be ego-led, I might still strongly feel worth keeping to. And then I might also question whether this value is really serving me in this situation, or whether I’m actually preventing myself from some new possibility, some new set of experiences, ones that might open up a whole new world. We can be prisoners of our values too, and they may be outmoded in some way.

In a way, such choices can call us again to look anew at who we really are, and who we say we really are.

Posted on

Are you not achieving what you really want?

The word “total success” produces all sorts of reactions in people. There are those for whom it is the sine qua non of their value system, for others the final fling of the capitalist system bankrupted by the recession desperately trying to cling to beliefs past their sell-by date.

Yet being successful has a much broader meaning than the money and career value usually given to it. To feel that sense of completion, that sense of fulfilment, that sense that I have got to where I want to get to, that all feels right in my life, as I perceive it, with regard to my most strongly held aspirations, this is a strong urge inside us.

In Gestalt we call it the “urge to complete”, to have satisfaction, to finish things off, to get closure, to make a whole. However much of human life can be incomplete, unfinished, without satisfaction. We have what I refer to as a sense of not having got what we want, a continuing sense that we still have something to do, something to accomplish.

Martin Seligman of Positive Psychology fame argues in his latest book, Flourish, that one of our key constituents of well-being is accomplishment, the need to achieve, to have got that result or results that we really want in our lives. It also involves the sense that we accomplish things for its own sake, that we do get results, and that we enjoy the process too.

Do you find you have a lingering feeling inside, lingering in that you are often aware of it and it keeps coming back, that you are not achieving what you really want? Do you even have the fear that it may never happen, and that that’s not OK?

We can have inside a feeling that we have something to accomplish in this world, although we may not know what that is. It is deeply felt, and arguably gets stronger as we get older. Some give up and get disillusioned and cynical. Others keep on at it, maybe even at the expense of real enjoyment of the moment and the company of others.

Depending on your beliefs, this inner sense can be what you signed up for when you came into this life, or it might be what you decided when you got to a point where thinking of these things became possible. Or you may never have consciously done it, but still have that lingering thought inside.

Something in your soul is calling to you. You might feel it as a passion needing expression, or a continued dissatisfaction or a longing for something.

You might be stuck on your next career move, or be “between jobs”, or under threat of redundancy (like so very many of us). You might be about to retire, and it’s scary. You might have just come out of an important relationship and need to re-construct your life. You might have recovered from a major accident or illness or a bereavement, and everything feels upside down and you need to really re-envision your life and find new meaning.

People need meaning and purpose. After these upheavals or change they often ask, “What’s the point of it all? Where am I going? What’s it all about?” And some live their lives without having an answer. It’s like there a question not yet asked and an answer not yet given.

But it’s there, under the surface, waiting for you. It’s about learning to tune in and be aware of and listen to what your inner self is telling you.


Posted on

How near death experiences serve to inspire us

It’s a continuing puzzle for us, how to explain near death experiences (NDE’s) in ways that can sound convincing to those that seek a rational explanation and also to those perhaps already convinced that they indicate the existence of some kind of ultimate reality and thus of an ultimate purpose. When even a leading neurosurgeon has an NDE, it can be tempting to sit up and take notice. Like many other NDE’s, his story is of course very moving, which perhaps also says something about how we need to hear such experience of what is possible, like it serves to inspire.

In NDE’s, which by the way are a very widely reported experience, people report a very strong feeling of contentment, peace and love. They may see very vivid colours such as they’ve never seen in “normal” life. They may go on journeys in space. They may encounter very special beings, wise people and guides and they may consider they have met or had some sense of a deity or God as they understand it.

In the case of the neurosurgeon reported above, Eben Alexander, his brain has almost completely shut down and he says that this included the part of the brain responsible for the more earthly forms of these experiences. He has as a result come to the opinion that NDE’s are experiences beyond that of the brain. It seems to thus leave scientific explanations that rely on a brain-centred view of human experience as somewhat struggling.

If you do however read the work of people like Rupert Sheldrake, as in his book The Scientific Delusion, then to such writers the mind is not confined to the brain but extends out to the cells of the body (as argues Dr. Bruce Lipton in The Biology of Belief) and even, as Dr. Sheldrake would have it, beyond the body.

While the brain-centred theorists have been having much of the running recently in their focus on brain imaging and the linkages they make with how people experience their world, such reports as the above can serve as a very useful antidote or as a balance, cautioning us against treating brain-centred theories as “the truth”. Thus it might give more hope to those whose emphasis on human experience is a core contribution to the understanding of the human condition and not just rely solely on the observations of brain-centred theorists. Were we to rely on the latter, then people like Richard Dawkins can continue to dismiss the experience of the spiritual and the profound, the beauty of love, and the sense of an ultimate meaning and purpose as something to inspire our lives, as nothing more than that of particular brain functions. Such thinking reduces the beauty of “I” to another “it”, and profundity to banality, as Ken Wilber calls it, the thinking of “flatland”.

Thank God for Eben Alexander.

Posted on

Where are you going with your life that gives you meaning?

A theme that I hear a lot concerns the “prevailing gloom” in our society at present, ascribed as it is to the still-ongoing recession. Despite brief attempted “fixes” like the Olympics or the Jubilee here in the UK this undercurrent seems to run and run. We can get brief “fixes” from all sorts of directions, entertainment, eating and drinking among them, but when there’s an underlying malaise the problem doesn’t necessarily go away unless we deal with what’s causing it.

Not surprisingly with another economic downturn, there’s lots of change happening and motivation at work has fallen. A brief respite like the Olympics can still leave people with longer-term issues being put on one side, such as what to do about a career that has perhaps stalled with a succession of economic ups and downs and business restructurings. “Where am I going?” is an important question that many can find hard to resolve.

It can link in with other things that might be missing in your life. Maybe there’s an unresolved relationship issue, or there’s been a problem with your health, or you’ve been off work with stress, or your finances have been getting the better of you despite all your efforts, or what you’d expected would happen with your life hasn’t materialised.

We can get to points in our lives when the current dispensation is no longer working. It can even feel like it’s come to a standstill.

As regards work, you will probably know that familiar job interview question, “What are your career goals?” which you respond to with some plausible-sounding waffle that gets you the job, but you might not have any real goals beyond getting and holding down the job you’ve gone for. Those in work might be thinking, if anything, about lateral or promotional moves, but if asked about a longer-term strategy may struggle. It’s when people lose their jobs and realise their career isn’t going anywhere and that this is now an issue for them that they might start to look seriously at the question.

In general, those who find they’ve hit a real, big crisis in their lives can be hit with this dilemma. Some major accident or illness, a bereavement or some other upheaval can leave people wondering what is all about.

It’s time like these that some of us start to look for the meaning in it all, like what will give meaning to my life now, what’s it about, and what do I want it to be about?

This journey, if really addressed, can take us in new directions that can bring us far more satisfying results. But we need to address the issues that brought things to a crisis and find out what it’s got to teach us that is truly meaningful for our life path.

Those who might be serious at addressing the issue can benefit from thinking about what their purpose or “mission” is, what for example their chosen line of work is for, or what do they want in general from their life. For example it might be to serve some ultimate goal, such as a particular type of work for which you need to get the training and experience. Or you might have some higher goal, which your work is intended to serve, such as helping others in some way let say.

According to Martin Seligman, the proponent of Positive Psychology, a key determinant of well-being is meaning. According too to Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, humans need to derive meaning from their endeavours. I have over and over found in my work that those who struggle to find a way forward have difficulty answering the question, “What do you want?” with regard to their life. As many often say, they so often haven’t known the answer and life has just happened for them by default.

This is about taking control and making a conscious decision to move things on. While we’re all stuck in recession, this question is perhaps plaguing whole chunks of our society right now. No wonder people are depressed. Yet we all have the answers potentially within us, when we find a way to unlock them.

I help people do work on their meaning and purpose, in my coaching.

Posted on

Athletes too can lose their sense of purpose

It’s not just the spectators who feel a drop in spirits after the Olympics. Athletes do too. The post-games depression is a very real occurrence that many sports lovers will know well. There you are, for two weeks absorbed in what might be for you the best sporting event in ages, caught up in all the drama, sharing in the emotion, rejoicing when your stars win, it can become almost a life of its own. And it brings people together and we all feel the collective joy of a particular success by some sportsperson. Just think of the enormous cheering and applause that greeted particular successes. Then it’s over, and you need to get on with your life. Some have great difficulty coming to terms with the loss.

Equally the athletes can have trained for years for this event, and its become like an all-embracing obsession. They get through the heats and they have their victory, if they’re the lucky one, and then there’s the adulation, the praise, the interviews, the victory parades, those medals, and appearances on chat shows, conference key notes and other events. Then it all goes quiet. If you’re still continuing your career, then there’s training for the next event. But if not, there’s very often a loss of a sense of purpose and identity. Who you were was this very successful person, but who are you now? What are you going to do, what are you about, what will give meaning to your life now? For some it can be really serious, almost like a bereavement such can be the nature of change.

This is where people need skill in identifying a new sense of purpose and finding meaning once again in their lives. It’s a learning curve all of its own, a transition to a new life no longer defined by what is now past, and no longer therefore living in the past but creating something new. Thus it was interesting to learn the other day on TV how Dame Kelly Holmes after her retirement following her double Olympic golds in Athens had set up the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust to help disadvantaged young people (a great cause), gives sports training help to young people herself and is now planning to develop a business.

So, it’s not just people who get made redundant who go through this change process. Top performers, and not so top, do too. It happens too for media stars who are no longer in the public eye and are no longer working because they are no longer in demand. There’s an adjustment, a coming to therms with the loss of a role and a need to work out something new. We can go through a transition process that was well described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a grieving process that can be emotional, involve depression and if embraced and worked though lead to a new sense of purpose. For goal-focused, perhaps very driven people, who need to be motivated and in action, this shift into a new sense of direction is very important. As many say, they need to be doing something worthwhile for them.

I coach people who are going through a transition to work out a new sense of purpose and mission, often in their careers

Posted on

The mid life crisis is an opportunity

People often joke about the mid life crisis, which somehow makes it not OK, but which suggests a discomfort about a very real occurrence for very many people. The recipient of the joke, or humour at another’s expense which is whatt I often call it, then looks embarrassed and changes the subject. It’s a pity, since this occurrence needs to be embraced and seen as an opportunity.

Both my wife and I work a lot with people at this stage in their lives. In general, it’s a realisation that the paradigm that one has been living one’s life out of is no longer relevant. I heard a colleague recently describe it as the experience of having done everything there is and got the T-shirt, only to find that it’s the wrong T-shirt. I spent many years as an enthusiastic school teacher and was regarded as very successful but it gradually dawned on me that defining myself in this way was not who I was. People say to me that they wake up wondering, “Is this it?” They’ve been living life under a set of understandings about themselves, other people and life, only to find that they no longer apply and they wonder what it is really all about. They find they’ve lost the zest and interest in life they once had. They question their old assumptions – and start to explore new ones.

One way it shows up is in a crisis in some area of their life, like a job loss, a bereavement, a break-up of a relationship, or a major illness, or in one or another of those key things in our lives that we hold as important to us, that we may be emotionally attached to. The old certainties no longer apply, like the need to build up assets, to have career success, the two kids, partner and home thing. It might seem that what they’ve been striving for had turned out to be pointless. People wonder where the meaning is.

This Great Recession is doing that for a lot of people at the moment. Imagine it: your business has gone bust or you’ve just lost a cherished job, your partner has left you and the home’s been repossessed. Or the same has happened after an accident or major illness. Or your partner has suddenly died and left you with the children, the finances and the debts, and an empty bed at night.

I wrote that it is actually an opportunity. It might not seem like that when you read the above. Yet, when we embrace it, and work on it and through it, we can find some great answers to our life dilemmas. In fact I very often hear people say that this had to happen for a reason, that they could find what they eventually do find if they succeed in working through it.

For example we live in a culture in the west which is very devoid of meaning if taken at face value, and yet we can find our own meaning in a way that fulfills us if we look for it. Life can seem, as the existentialists taught, empty and meaningless and yet we can find our own meaning. Relationship can take on a whole new level, in which you can for example meet another at an authentic, mutually respectful level. You can find a new direction in your career, break out in a new direction, or renew an existing one. You can sell up and move to the wild open. You can stay put and find new friends, new interests and make a contribution in your community.

It’s not necessarily about changing things on the outside, but more about what changes on the inside, and what beauty you find there.

We provide coaching on life transition, and we also explore these issues on our programs.