Times of transition- swimming against the tide?

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WavesIn one of my earlier posts, “I wonder what’s going wrong”,  I reflected on how things blew out of perspective for me when

a. There was a change of some sort happening in my life

b. When I wasn’t being true to myself

Somehow, it doesn’t matter how planned this change is. We can totally bring it upon ourselves and still find we’re swimming against the tide. We could know a zillion techniques to stay centered and still find ourselves….well….off-centre.

I was speaking to a wonderful lady in Sydney for a peer coaching session. Though it was the first time we’d ‘met’, that too on skype, it felt as if her thoughts were a mirror image of mine. Culturally we were so different but our conversation was around the life changes we’d been through; though decided, planned and the choices being our own, we found coping up with them tough. In our case, this was around re-juggling life priorities with respect to kids, changing career tracks and the whole package that comes with it.

As we chatted, we realized that these changes threw us off-balance because they posed a question that we weren’t quite clear about:

“Now, who am I?”

The challenges and situations can vastly differ; moving into a new job or a larger role; changing careers; moving into unfamiliar surroundings; handling difficult relationships; breaking into new responsibilities. Whatever it is, an awareness of ourselves is important during transitions. And that’s the time when our brain reels in uncertainty. There are some questions we can ask ourselves to clarify where we are.

1. What is my purpose/ vision/ goal here?

2. Am I being true to myself/ my purpose/ goal/ vision/ values in doing this?

3. What’s going on for me right now?

3. How does it feel? Does it sit right for me?

4. How do I want this situation to feel?

5. What can I do to make it happen?

6. What support do I need?

Often in transitions, we lose sight of the original goal. Going back to his helps. Does the goal still hold good? Or is the ladder to where we’re going standing against the wrong wall?

All too often we feel we need to do it all by ourselves or feel that others should automatically understand what we need. Getting through transitions also means asking for support, the right helping hand.

And in the end, it might feel like swimming against the tide – but with the swimming we’re becoming stronger and what’s more, we’ve seen a new  part of the river!

Remembering to fly

I found myself awestruck by these majestic creatures, blue, yellow and red winged. Glamorous Mcaws sat on a faux branch and welcomed us as we literally got snapped up to be photographed with them. They were fed treats for their best behavior and waited for the next set of people.

There were no nets up above so curious, I asked their keeper why these birds didn’t fly away. Sheepishly, he replied that they just forget. This touched me deeply. Why didn’t they fly?

Maybe this place felt like safe space- after all they had all they needed; food, water, companionship. Maybe freedom was too distant a memory to even imagine the wide, open skies again. Many were born here and hadn’t seen a life of un-clipped wings. Perhaps they had been conditioned and taught in their own bird way to accept their current conditions and had learned to be enclosed. It could be that they had no bird examples of it being any different- nobirdy to show the way 🙂

The surroundings did look idyllic to eyes that hadn’t seen wild jungles. I admired the length and breadth of those beautiful wings that had forgotten how to fly.

How different is it really from human lives. How often have we accepted the status quo? For how long might we have languished in safe spaces not willing to test our gifts and challenge our boundaries? When do we let others set the rules? How many times have we lost awareness of choices we have?

This is worth thinking about from time to time. Think alone or with a friend, mentor or coach. Think because unlike others in the animal kingdom, we are privileged with the power to change our circumstances.

The Overview Effect & the Clarity of Distance

“Seeing Earth from space can alter an astronauts’ cosmic perspective, a mental shift known as the “Overview Effect.” First coined by space writer Frank White in 1987, the Overview Effect is described as a feeling of awe for our home planet and a sense of responsibility for taking care of it.” Credit: NASA

I found this striking, as I scrolled through the NASA pictures on Instagram. When we’re on Earth we become immune to its problems. We’re so preoccupied with the nitty- gritties of our daily lives that we miss the bigger picture of cause and effect. We’re unable to see the consequences of our actions- the waste we spread, the plastic we use, the products we buy, the vehicles we drive. In the daily grind, our actions become so unconscious, so to speak, that we are often unaware of why we do the things and what impact this has. It’s only when we step away- paradoxically, when we make things less personal, that our connect with our planet becomes personal. When we see our home with the clarity of distance, we see the miracle of being alive and how our planet supports us and the love we need to give back. This post is not about the environment though.

Just as we inhabit our home planet, we inhabit our body and mind. It’s not possible for all of us to travel from our home planet into outer space but we can all travel out of our own minds. When we are in our minds we are the actor in many scripts. We play out the same bunch of stories in different ways. We go through days (if not weeks, months, years, holding onto our script) . We’re often not sure what’s driving us; why we make the choices we do. It’s easy to consistently respond and react from the seat of our pants.

It makes sense to move out of our minds to experience the “Overview effect” of our own lives. This means taking time out- maybe doing nothing; hanging in empty space like an astronaut watching the home that is our mind. In Coaching speak we call this kind of seeing- ourselves, a problem or situation- seeing with the ‘clarity of distance’. We can practice mindfulness, meditate or go for a walk or be somewhere unfamiliar, to give the mind a break, to feel awe for our own body and mind and feel responsibility for taking care of it.

What do you see when you take an overview?

Fresh Off The Treadmill!…..Learning Along a Fitness Journey

DISCLAIMER: While the context of this article is around a health and fitness goal I had, the learnings are universal and the goal, immaterial. So, you won’t find any before- after pictures here!

To give a context, I’d been working out regularly for years and eating what I felt was healthy for a long while, but nothing much had shifted on the scales for me. The workouts felt great but as a mum of a 10 and 5-year-old, I did want to be at a healthy weight too, particularly at…… (ok not divulging my age 😉).

Great things happen when people share their success stories and they want others to benefit too. We had serial marathon runners over for dinner one night and naturally the conversation led to health and fitness. The evening ended up with my better half and I signing up with a nutritionist. The next few months (and much exercise and food up-haul later) ended with us collectively losing 16-17 kgs.

  1. Know when you don’t know

The journey began with the realization that “I don’t know how to do this”. When I figured out that what I was doing was not working, it took just a few phone calls to get the right kind of help. Seeking help is not a weakness. It’s always a smart option.

  1. Two’s company

Doing something for someone you love (In this case meticulous menu planning and execution, when I DON’T enjoy toiling in the kitchen) increases love. When you do things together there is healthy competition and you want one another to succeed. It fails unless you BOTH win. This applies at home and in our teams.

  1. Constraints breed creativity

When you put constraints around something, you usually get creative. The weekly menus were tough.  Keeping it tasty and interesting meant experimenting with new ingredients and thinking about things I usually found tedious! But more than edible things did emerge from my kitchen! I’m sure this applies to work and other situations in my life, too.

  1. When you have time and negative energy

I started working on this goal because I was emerging from an energy draining situation. The options were to brood or replace this with something positive.  A new experience, learning a new skill, playing a sport or doing exercise are great ways to get out of a rut. Your brain builds fresh connections, leaving you for new.

  1. Self-image

We often have an image of ourselves that we tend to hold on to. It’s what we’ve read; people have told us; we’ve told ourselves. These can become our limiting beliefs. In this case, “people don’t get back to the shape they were before babies. You won’t be as fit at… (not saying age!)…as when you were twenty. Long held beliefs become crutches that hold us back. It IS ENTIRELY possible to identify them and move beyond.

  1. Discipline and moderation

If you must indulge, indulge in your loved ones. For most other things, (particularly health and fitness) moderation and discipline, goes a long way.

  1. Everyday is a celebration

Last, but I’m sure not the least, the little things are the big things. Health really is wealth. We are so lucky in so many ways everyday. So why not pause to celebrate?

 

 

Talking Tom Conversations

Talking-Tom-2-New-moves-1My younger daughter was sitting face to face with Talking Tom of the iPad. Those familiar with him, know that he says what you say… back at you. And so pointing to me, she told him, “She’s my mummy!”. Tom, instantaneously and equally emphatically responded, “She’s my mummy!”. She raised her voice, “No! She’s my mummy!”, to which he replied, “No! She’s my mummy!”. The debate over who I belong to continued for a few minutes resulting in my daughter becoming quite frustrated at Talking Tom’s non- cooperation. Till I swept him and the iPad out of her hands. Steve Jobs didn’t give his child the iPad 🙂

It occurred to me that this is not a sequence of conversation limited to Tom and my daughter. We adults are often on the giving and receiving end of ‘Talking Tom conversations’ too.

Do these sound familiar…?

We are expecting an e-mail from someone. It hasn’t arrived. We’ve  made up our minds that this person is incompetent or they’re not giving us the priority we deserve. We convey this in our tone of voice, the words we choose. The conversation goes nowhere. there is acrimony and the work doesn’t get done. We wonder why.

We’re home after a bad day , busy flipping though WhatsApp pictures, Facebook and Twitter, pretty much simultaneously. Between screens, the kids are hankering for attention. Irritably, we raise our voice, tell them they have no manners and they hanker some more. We wonder why decibel levels are so high at home.

We’re often so preoccupied with stories in our mind; the argument with our spouse, the misunderstanding with our friend, feedback from our boss, a client meeting that did not go as planned, that we don’t really disengage from the last interaction before engaging in the next. The stories intermingle and we wonder why we’re not getting through to people. It’s not just about communication.

There is no denying the pressures of daily life. David Rock, an expert in the field of Neurosciences, Leadership and Coaching talks about 3 validated tools to manage pressure in today’s demanding times.

  1. Labeling- It is an act of putting a symbolic language onto an emotional state. When you describe what you are feeling in a couple of words, you end up regulating emotions, even if that was not the intention. It has been researched that putting words on an emotional state reduces the stress response.
  2. Mindfulness- If we are not mindful, we have no capacity to ‘experience our experience’ or change it. Mindfulness is the capacity to observe our own experience and it gives us the capacity to intervene. It also helps us to know ourselves more and be more compassionate.
  3. Re-Appraisal- This is re framing or re-interpreting situations in a way that reduces our threat response.

Let’s see how this might work.

I get off a less than harmonic telecon this morning. I feel like biting someone’s head off. Before I leave the room, I take a few deep breaths and label my emotions, “I’m feeling angry and misunderstood. But I’m going to let that go now and be present in the current moment” As a conscious act, I put aside the unpleasant feelings. (Labeling)

I have another conversation lined up. I decide to become a little more centered, lest I carry over my bad mood. I close my eyes and pay attention to my breathing. Feel the in- breath and then the out-breath.Repeat, till I’m present and focused. (Mindfulness)

I think of the unpleasant start to my day in another way. At least, I wrote a blog post due to the experience 🙂 (Re-appraisal)

 

 

Small shifts…big change….

drop-of-water-597109_1280We often think that changes in our lives, have to be big to make any sort of difference to how we experience life. It’s surprising how very small shifts in perspective or little, creative changes in our routine, can make an impact.  I was reflecting on how I really dislike being bogged down with housework. I fantasize about my home looking like a 5 star suite without my having to lift a finger 🙂 In my mind, I have no time/ space/ peace to meditate. I also  have two small children who love me hanging around when they are playing- particularly when I’d like to be doing something else (sounds rather mean when I write it down, bless them!).

It was one such mundane moment at home when the children wanted me to be around, I wanted to meditate and the dishes needed to be done.  The beautiful 4pm light streamed through the windows. My girls were within sight, drawing and joyfully showing me each masterful stroke. Unusually, I was drawn to the kitchen sink. I picked up a utensil, felt the cold water, played with the lemony freshness of the soap suds and watched the grime slip off, leaving only the afternoon, reflecting off the dishes. Water flowed and splashed. In the next room, the girls giggled and fought and giggled some more. I picked up another utensil…then another one. I noticed my thoughts, and another, and another as they slipped away, leaving no trace. It was a beautiful, peaceful, mundane moment. Something that I essentially don’t enjoy doing, turned into mindfulness meditation.

I was reminded of a coach and facilitator, who on a training call shared that he traveled very regularly and no matter how much he wanted, couldn’t fit in meditation. One morning, instead of doing a quick shave, he decided to go back in time. He took out a shaving brush and soap and an old fashioned razor blade. He  had to slow down and use deliberate movements, lest he cut himself. The little change in routine, helped him exercise mindfulness; to experience all his senses before the onslaught of a crazy day. This became part of his routine. A small, simple change but one that made a huge difference.

And of course, I viewed doing the housework in a slightly different manner!

Is there a way you can turn a pain into a totally different experience? What minor adjustment might go a long way?

(Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditation practices that are described in detail in the Buddhist tradition)

The gift of losing my smartphone!

balance-110850_1280(1)This year, on my birthday, I lost my phone. We were on our way to Kerala, on holiday and I felt a bit daunted to say the least, at the prospect of having to manage without my phone for the next 10 days. I mean it had everything in it- my Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, my favourite music on Soundcloud, e-mails, important messages, favourite links to absolutely everything (luckily pictures and contacts had been backed up). In short, for a person who works mostly from home, my link to the big, wide, world.

As we went up the winding hills, I adjusted to pulling out the heavy camera, rather than brandishing the phone the moment I needed a quick click. I fought with the feeling of wanting to ‘share’ each sight, sound and experience, while it was still happening. I looked to my hand, every time I heard a notification on someone’s phone. Even my daughter looked on wistfully if someone had the same ringtone as my beloved ex-phone.

It felt like I didn’t have much ‘to do’ as we waited for lunch to arrive.. till I noticed the curious painting on the wall, the quaint chandeliers, two people at the table next. It’s not that I would admit to being a screen-o-holic; in fact I had my pegged myself at being fairly mindful if we were out, especially with our children. But without the phone, there was a spaciousness that I had long forgotten. I have to admit, it felt unfamiliar. Initially, I wondered where to take my attention, and I felt a strange awe, as I could keep it there. Time was rarefied and stretched. I could use all  my senses! (if you think I’m exaggerating, please lose your phone!)

Over the next few days, my husband was surprised that I didn’t take up his offer of checking for messages or updates, using his phone. My children joyously shared my mind-and eye-space with just the mountains and hills and exquisite beauty around us. Gradually, rushed semi- experiences drew out into experiences. I was ready for these to marinate, rather than share at the first chance. Glances turned to gazes.

By the time I came home and was ‘plugged in’ again to everything, I noticed the number of unnecessary notifications in my inbox- things I hadn’t even signed up for-news I didn’t need- things that needed my action, that really didn’t. A sense of urgency that was not required. A feeling of unease was trying to push itself into my space again- that every issue was a burning one, that everything was wrong with the world or that nothing was ever wrong. Information from so many sources to which you ‘had to’ react, have a view and comment upon, without even knowing it’s validity.

It dawned on me that I hadn’t missed my phone at all. I hadn’t missed always being on or being notified for everything.

I had missed the connection with those who matter to me. The ability to reach out, when I wanted or they needed.

For starters, I spent some time unsubscribing from unnecessary mails that always appeared unread and made me feel I was behind, for no reason. (Using an app called Unroll me). I now try to keep the phone at a bit of a distance, rather than treating it as a long lost appendage or vital organ.

I want to stay connected…to the spaciousness …to the breath of fresh air.

Wonder if you relate?