A view inside the mind

…plan plan plan, talk, worry, plan, plan, decide. Rush, hurry, meet, talk, talk talk, check. Plan plan, rush, decide, talk talk, micro-plan, check, worry, doubt, talk talk rush rush hurry hurry decide doubt check, check, check, talk plan, mini-plan, anticipate, confirm, talk, talk, hurry, worry, hurry talk talk talk talk. Pause… worry, worry, worry, hurry, do, talk, talk, rush, hurry worry. Talk check check talk worry hurry, talk, plan plan plan….

If I am not careful, this is what my day can sound like from inside my own mind.

How about you?  When do you stop or pause?  How do you create space for reflection?

A New Parenthesis Experiment

I have been running one person ‘Parenthesis‘ retreats here in Spain for a couple of years now. This year, working with Hilary Gallo we are adding a new, small group format.

We are going to be running the first one as a kind of beta-test at the end of June this year.

If you are interested in participating let me know soonest (there aren’t many places).

If you would like more information, here is the brochure.

Group Parenthesis beta brochure

I don’t work

Driving down the hill this afternoon, I bumped into my neighbour, Vicente. He is one of the few people (even round here) who lives mostly off the land. I mentioned I was heading down to the office to do a bit of work. ‘I don’t work’ he said.

This puzzled me. After all, I happen to know that this week he and his family have harvested (by hand) several tonnes of olives. ‘I only do what I like’ he said. ‘I don’t have any money, but then I don’t work like you do’.

Actually, since my ‘work’ this afternoon consisted of an hour’s conversation on Skype with my great friend Amanda Blake about her upcoming book ‘Your Body is Your Brain’ I am perhaps not so different from Vicente, at least, not today. And I remembered that just over a week ago I had lunch in Madrid with my brother in law, who is a Professor of Psychiatry at Manchester University. And he said something very similar to Vicente – about how privileged we are to be able to do what we like.

So I wonder what would happen if anyone who can, whenever they can, started acting like Vicente?

Stop working – do what you like.

Opening Movement

I had a revelation this morning. I realised that for years, I have been unconsciously regarding good posture as a fixed thing, as a standard, ideal, static thing to aspire to, as a particular position that I encourage my body to adopt. And as a result, I suspect I have got stuck, in all sorts of ways and that this no doubt contributes to the stiff back and all the other discomforts that I attribute to ‘ageing’.

This morning I realised it might be better to think instead of posture as an inner dance. That how I hold myself, how my body is, is always a movement, even I am not visibly moving. After all I am always breathing. It may be a subtle dance, swaying gently back and forth but a dance nonetheless, not a static thing.

And of course, there is a metaphorical, as well as a literally interpretation of this idea, namely, that when we try to achieve a particular, fixed goal, we get stuck. How much more useful would it be I wonder, in our organisations and businesses, to think in terms of a dance or a movement, rather than a ‘position’?

What is particularly lovely about this is that for once I can track where the insight came from. The seed was planted last week by my friend Adriana in a Feldenkrais class.  Then Roland, who has also worked with Adriana commented on what he had learned from her. Then yesterday, as serendipity would have it, I spent a good bit of the morning reading a draft of an upcoming book about embodiment, “Your Body is Your Brain” by my great friend Amanda Blake.

We will see how I get on. But for now, I am dancing.

The power of the polymath

Sometimes I think there are too many TED talks out there nowadays – it becomes so hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But I love this one. Of course, as a polymath myself I am biased, but I think Ella (who I know from the Do Lectures) makes a great case for why generalists are sorely needed (in a nutshell – cross fertilisation and holistic thinking).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Busy is the new lazy

Being busy is great, isn’t it?  It makes you feel and sound so purposeful, so important.

But actually I think being busy is often just lazy.  It is an excuse for not prioritising – for allowing business and work to trump things that are more important.  It allows us to avoid making conscious choices.  It blinds us to the simple things life offers us every day (beauty, a kind word with a stranger, the smell of fresh bread and so on).  It excuses us from honoring our commitments to the people we love (“Sorry I didn’t call/visit/ask/turn up – I was busy”).

I think we should stop the lazy approach that allows us to be busy the whole time and be properly lazy instead and build in time with no goal or purpose.  Time to lie fallow, to allow ideas to mature, connect or emerge without forcing them.  Time to ‘visit’ with ourselves, as my American friends put it.  Even if all you want is to be as productive as possible, being busy isn’t the best way to achieve it.  And if you want a creative, fulfilling, satisfying life then being constantly busy is a sure way to ensure you don’t get it.

Rhythm versus Pace

One of my neighbours, Vicente, lives mostly off the land. Nature made him a very elegant calendar, with a beautiful cadence from one crop to another, preparing, sowing, fertilising, harvesting, pruning. Olives, then figs, then cherries, then chestnuts in a cycle of cycles throughout the year.

Quite a contrast to the clients who always want the workshop by the end of the following month. Three months go by, they call again, and curiously enough they still have to have it by the end of the following month, except that now its June not February.

To me, Vicente has light and shade in his way of working. There is an ebb and flow, which has both rhythm and harmony. Musical notions both, obviously. By contrast, the client wanting a workshop seems to me to have a flat, oppressive sense both of time and of their own priorities. There is little harmony or rhythm there, just a sense of building pressure and stress (driven by technology’s accelerating pace). As one of them said to me this morning “time is evaporating”.

I think we need to learn to appreciate variation more. If, as Tom Friedman suggests, the world is becoming flatter, we might ask ourselves what we have to do to find, or create, ebb and flow, peaks and troughs, intensity and reflection. In general, flat isn’t very attractive.

One thing might be to start to be more thoughtful about when the workshop really needs to be done by…..about when would be the right season for it. To think about whether it is connected more to sowing or reaping, fertilising or pruning. Do this, and my hunch is, we would find the rhythm of our own lives, like Vicente, who is one of the cheeriest people I know.

Social intellectual physical reflective

Imagine you divide your day into four kinds of activity:

–      intellectual or cognitive (like thinking or writing)

–      physical (working out or digging the vegetables)

–      social (not socialising per se but interacting with others – e.g. meetings)

–      reflective (meditation, yoga, prayer, walking the dog)

How would your day divide up?

My idea is that a balance is important, not just over time (though I am sure that matters too) but within each day. When I watch myself, I realise that I do better thinking when I haven’t been thinking all day. Physical activity calms the mind and helps me help me think (and sleep) better.

Some activities, perhaps the best ones, combine several or all of these categories at once. I don’t play golf myself but I find it easy to imagine that golf has all of these elements. Which is maybe why it is so popular. At the moment we are harvesting the olives here – which is physical, social and reflective (not much intellect involved) and lovely for it.

Most people leading an office bound city life spend most of their time in social activity of some kind, predominantly meetings! The aptly named ‘social’ media, put ever more pressure on time to think (intellectual) and physical activity gets relegated to (twice weekly?) visits to the gym or sport at the weekend. Reflective rarely gets a look in, since it doesn’t count as ‘do-ing’ anything. This imbalance can’t be healthy, for individuals or for society. The leaders I work with often seem to regard reflection as a delightful luxury, yet if they are making significant decisions, surely it ought to be a daily necessity?

I first drew up this idea (as a four box grid, of course) about a decade ago and still find it a useful compass. It reminds me of the need for a daily variety of activity and of how easily I get locked into one mode.

One of the things I adore about living in a rural area is that the reflective is much more to hand (all you have to do is look up at the mountains or the stars). And physical activity is woven into things – so much needs mending or tending, harvesting or feeding. I wonder if there is some way to weave the physical (and for that matter the reflective) into city life, so that it doesn’t become yet another thing on the to do list….. (take all the escalators out of the tube perhaps?).