Moments of Grace

Posted: Category: Reflections

 Nigel Singer

Early morning cycle, enjoying the cool air on my cheeks, the sun shining, a blue sky. A woman walking toward me, holding a dog on a lead. My guess is she was returning from a walk, on her way out of Ashton Court a large local estate that I was heading into.   

She was walking in what an old teacher of mine called the ready to hug position. Arms out slightly from her sides, the beginning of a smile on her face, her fleece unzipped letting in the air. My eye contact with her was almost non-existent but it was there and she was present and full of life.

She was offering me a wake up and pay attention moment, which I shouldn’t have needed as I was still full of a murmuration.

A few days ago I watched the starling murmuration at dusk on the Somerset levels.  The sun was setting; a fine crescent moon was visible in the sky.  Perhaps 60 or 100 people had gathered, there was light chat and talk as we all waited, getting colder and wondering if we were going to be graced.

A small group of birds fly past and then another is seen in the distance, soon people are looking in all directions, seeing more and more birds.  Glastonbury Tor is in the distance is surrounded by thousands and thousands of birds, only visible at this distance as a sort of thin black smoke, moving of its own volition.

The birds come closer to us, near to the reed beds and then there are a lot, near us, around us, creating their patterns in a way that looks entirely choreographed.  People are laughing and exclaiming; I am full of wonder and delight.

We linger as the birds land, they seem to dive into the fields and disappear, then they rise up, move and land again.  I suspect most of us are waiting for another spectacular show and in their apparent disappearance, the loss of the sun, a few stars and the moon, we have something spectacular.

Its finishing is as important as it happening at all.

Life starts and it finishes, it’s meant to do this. 

I can feel myself being both at ease and profoundly disturbed by this thought.

In amongst the disturbance I know that I am feeling moments of grace – they are powerful food.

 Nigel Singer

My last post started to explore the idea of being centered and offered a simple breathing technique to help you move in the direction of relaxed attention and focus. This post will look at the concept of the comfort zone and will offer a second practical approach that can help you become more centered.

The comfort zone can be shown as the diagram top-right.

The comfort zone (CZ) is a name given to an area of psychological safety.  Within our CZ we feel safe, outside we feel unsafe.  A sense of real or perceived threat keeps us inside this area and the possibility of taking a risk allows us to expand it.

Immediately outside the CZ is a stretch zone – an area that we can see the possibility of entering but that also looks scary.  Most types of change, new learning, new jobs or relationships all sit in this area and often contain a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Beyond the stretch zone is the danger zone.  This is the area where we feel distinctly unsafe, where it is probably a bad idea (for some of us) to spend time. 

As we change and grow over time the different areas shift and change, what at one time seems dangerous, will at another be part of our CZ.

The zones relate to all aspects of our life.  As babies we have an innate fascination which leads us to constantly be moving into the stretch zone.  As adults we vary, some of us choose to keep stretching or moving toward danger, others of us grow comfortable within what we know.  What we think of as risk taking will vary, some people may take up sky diving, others may have a tough conversation with their partner, for some people leaving the house or making social connections may feel like a trip into the danger zone.

If we want to leave or expand our CZ, what is it that enables us to move into our stretch zone? 

There are two facets to this, one internal and the other external.

The external is to do with other people and influences.  The influences may be books, people we hear about, something that we want that drives us.  It is also other people who actively help us, possibly by direct encouragement or by modelling a type of behaviour that enables us to stretch.

The internal is our own sense of resilience, competence or drive.  What we know about ourselves and how we act on this knowledge. It is fostered and supported by our ability to be centered.

If we can center, we are able to look at the stretch we wish to take from a responsive place rather than a reactive one.

Being centered will help us pay attention to our emotions without being overwhelmed by them.   We will be more accepting of our thoughts and feelings and then able to take greater responsibility for them and the choice we are about to make.

This choice may include not taking the stretch – but if we are centered then it is a choice, a response and not a reactive shying away from something difficult.

In my last post on centering I focussed on breathing – I suggest that you keep using this and I realise that if you are reading this post then you have successfully been breathing since reading the last one.  What I mean is choosing to take an occassional deep and mindful breath and now to also pay deeper attention to your body.

How are you sitting or standing right now?

Are you relaxed or tense?

Which parts are relaxed, which are tense?              

How is your posture?

Are you slumped in a chair or rigidly holding yourself in position.  Are you leaning toward or away from a sore hip, shoulder or other bodily ache?

It will be easier for you to breathe if your posture is comfortable.

What I  notice is that when we change our posture both our thinking and our sense of well being changes. 

When your spine is straight and head, heart and gut in vertical alignment you may feel more alert and have more mental clarity.

Being centered is not a static state;  it is not about sitting in a lotus position on top of a mountain bathed in sunlight.  It is a choice at any time, anywhere.  I move, bend, slump, switch off and get unfocussed but when I need to support myself, remembering that it is okay to sit up or stand up straighter and take a breath helps me get centered.

Our comfort zone is often a relaxed place to dwell but the following quote also fits:

“if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got”

If you want something different and that requires a move into your stretch zone, take a breath, adjust your posture, ask for help and take the step.

 Nigel Singer

Being effective and clear may be your usual state but what happens to you in moments of stress, conflict or crisis; can you hold onto the part of yourself that operates well?

Centering is a simple key to effectiveness. It is a way of taking a moment to check in; of managing what is going on and supporting yourself to make clear choices.

Centering affects your body, your mind and your emotions.  It is a way of looking after yourself in any situation and importantly, it’s a choice.

No matter what you are doing, if you aren’t centered then you will be operating at less than your capacity.

Being centered is the feeling that you have when you are focussed and relaxed at the same time.  There are a range of things that you might do which encourage centering.  Some sports help, being in ‘the zone’ whilst running, playing a musical instrument well enough that you make music rather than notes, gardening, cooking, writing.  Some activities focus on centering like meditation, yoga and some martial arts.

It is the state where you have a sense of relaxed control, where you feel prepared and are breathing easily.  It is a choice and you can bring this state into your moment to moment interactions and activities.

Centering is the ability at any moment to gather yourself together, recognise who is in charge of you (which hopefully is you) and to then make a decision.  It is about having a response rather than a reaction.

A reaction is what happens when you receive a stimulus and instantly get triggered into some form of action.  We will never stop having reactions, we are designed to have them, what we can do is limit the hold that reactions have over us.

A response is what happens when we start to have a reaction and then notice that we are reacting.  We can then engage with our thoughts and feelings and this in turn helps us toward making a choice.

It’s okay to not be centered, but can you choose it when needed?  It’s easy when you are relaxed and things are going well, the challenge is to be able to choose it when you are feeling stressed or under pressure.

Whether you are at home looking after young children, winning (or losing) a game of tennis or running a large business, there will be a mixture of times when our sense of being centered slips. Perhaps you need to have a tough conversation, there is a moment of conflict or you are  feeling negative stress.

You may be blaming others for your situation, or doing a great job of avoiding something that you know is going to be tricky.  You might spot yourself getting very busy doing lots of things except dealing with the key issue.  Conversely you may seem entirely unable to focus on anything - -flitting from task to task without focus.

These are all great examples of being reactive – caught by the thoughts and feelings that accompany what we imagine will be a difficult situation.

As a coach I often feel that part of my role is getting people to stop ‘doing’, to take a moment to reflect and think and just ‘be’.  Helping them get off the treadmill of reactive behaviour and moving toward making useful responses.  As a mediator, one of my tasks is slowly to help people gain a bit of perspective, so that somewhere a choice starts to seem like a possibility.

There are lots of routes toward getting centered and the two exercises that follow are an easy start.

Quick centering exercise:

  • Take a breath, just one, right now. 
  • Let your belly relax and expand as you breathe in and then contract slightly as you exhale.
  • Now take another, slowly and deliberately

That’s it, you can do it anytime but make it a choice.

Slightly longer exercise:

  • Take a moment, close the door, and put your phone and computer on silent
  • Pause
  • Take a breath and then another one.
  • Try to notice what is running through your mind?
  • Is your thinking relaxed or tense?
  • How are you reacting to being asked to pause?
  • What is going on in your body?  Check it over from your toes to the top of your head.  Which parts are relaxed and which are tense.  Are you still or moving?
  • What is your body telling you (if anything)?
  • Take another breath and when you are ready carry on with your day.

Leaking and identity

Posted: Category: Coaching

 Nigel Singer

This disc represents me (or you).

The blue raised segment is my general sense of who I am in the world and the way that I usually appear and behave; my identity as I and others tend see it.

This segment of this disc has formed due to a range of influences. When I was young, as a consequence of the other people around me I learnt to behave in particular ways. These were usually ways that met the spoken and unspoken requirements of the adults and children around me.  An easy example of this is that I grew up in a middle class family in Liverpool, my parents made sure I didn’t speak with a scouse accent because they thought it wasn’t ‘appropriate’, as a consequence I now have a neutral accent.

As I grew I also learnt that I liked people to like me and also to think I was competent and relaxed – so I behaved in ways that drew those responses.  I saw friends who wanted people to think they were rebellious or different, so they behaved in a manner that led people to view them that way.

At any given time in our lives we will be being ‘us’ in a way that elicits particular responses from the people around us.

When working, I turn up for meetings clean shaven and reasonably smartly dressed.  My preferred state is unshaven and sloppily dressed, but at work I find it easier, usually, to meet other people’s expectations rather than set up an immediate potential barrier.

In the circle above, the blue area represents the ‘me’ that usually appears in the world. 

So my question is - what’s in the other parts of the circle?

In my case a few of these sectors contain things like, the man who had a long term conflict with his dad, the man who cries easily, the man who paradoxically gets lonely and also doesn’t want to be around other people, the man who knows he  is right – and lots more.

These other segments contain bits of me that I don’t always pay a lot of attention to.  Some of these bits I know quite well but I am certain there are plenty that I don’t even know exist (the unknown unknowns).

What happens often when we are in conflict or under stress is that we leak. 

Bits of us that are not normally on display (the other segments) start to appear in our day-to-day behaviour.

Due to our ‘blue’ identity being under pressure our usual identity can’t quite manage the new situation and other bits of us leak from the more hidden aspects of ourselves into our visible behaviour.  We usually don’t notice this as it is happening, but fortunately – or not - other people do.

Ever had someone you know come up to you and say ‘what’s going on, are you okay?’  You may say ‘I’m fine’, you might tell them in detail or you may get angry with them and say ‘of course I’m okay, why are you asking’. 

The reason they have asked in the first place is because you have been leaking.  They have seen a part of you that is often under wraps; you don’t seem like ‘you’.

We all leak, some of us recognise it more than others.  Sometimes when others tell us we are leaking we may get upset, or we may be grateful; it may feel like an attack or a gift.

To manage our own conflicts it helps if we get clear about our leakage – the parts of us that want to say hurtful things, attack others, run away or burst into tears.  If we know these bits exist then there is less chance that they will unconsciously leak.

Knowing these facets doesn’t mean to say we will be perfectly at ease all of the time but we will be better able to take responsibility for ourselves and the impact we have.

If I am feeling ikky (to use the technical term), I may not know why but I will probably be noticing that something is going on.  The way that I can take responsibility is by letting people around me know that I’m not okay. I might say ’I’m feeling ikky and it’s possible that I will be leaking unintentionally’ or just, ‘something’s not okay in me, watch out’.

Naming what is going on makes the leak visible and helps other people to not feel that it is something they have caused. It can also provide an opportunity for me to look at a bit of me that I might sometimes shy away from.

If you are with other people and you notice that they are leaking you can help them to notice it.  Do it gently, the idea is to help them not to criticise them - remember you may need help to mop up your leaks one day.

The Mediator as healer

Posted: Category: Conflict and Mediation

 Nigel Singer

About 5 years ago, whilst on a process oriented psychology course, we were dealing with issues of our own identity, exploring our bigger self – the thing that drives and motivates us.  The exercise had a shamanic aspect and was not using rational, intellectual processes.  What appeared for me through the process was an identity as a healer.

My immediate reaction was one of discomfort and awkwardness.  It somehow felt too big or weird or unlike my general view of myself – the temptation was to push it away and give it no more notice.

To some extent I succeeded, I got on with my life, worked with conflict and only occasional thought about healing.

Recently though it has resurfaced, and this time it has come back again as a body based experience whilst on another course.  I wasn’t looking for it, it found me.

To be comfortably English about this I feel discombobulated – do I ignore it again or do I try it on for size and see what happens?

If I do pick up this identity how do I do what I do through this filter?  Who am I if this is the approach I take to my work, my relationships and in fact to any interaction?

To explore this it seems important to think about my views and prejudices about healing?

From the initial experience, I noticed that my reaction was to view healing as something to do with the ‘laying on of hands’, and that this was mainly oriented towards helping the body.  I did this despite recognising that healing has many forms and works on all aspects of our humanness, but my prejudices were intact and working well – which of course meant that I wasn’t a healer.

As I thought more about healing I gently allowed myself to think about working with conflict as a form of healing, even though I continued to identify working with the mind and emotions as somehow less significant, from a healing perspective, than working with or through the body.

After the second experience of being told I was a healer – I felt as if I had to pay attention. 

So, when I engage with people as a mediator, what is my underlying intent?  Why am I making this engagement?  Is it to earn money, is it a job or is it something deeper.  For me it is all of these – I earn a living and it is a vocation, something I discovered that delights and fascinates me and in which I have built some ability.

My intent has often been to help, to see if I can support a conflict to unfold, so that the way forward becomes clear.  I have looked at my own need to feel good by ‘sorting’ the parties and believe I am not driven by this any longer (I was when I started).

If I pick up the healer aspect, what happens?  Is the experience different or new, does my intent change, do I or they behave differently?

I have yet to discover, this feels like a work in progress and I will happily receive any help that is offered.

Whichever aspect of a person I engage with, I am involved in a process of healing and I need to face this directly.  It is bigger than earning a living or feeling good that I helped within a dispute.  It is about saying clearly that mediation offers an opportunity to heal and then dealing with the consequence of this statement.

The consequences run in two directions; toward me and to the people that I work with.

When looking at the impact on me, does this internal stance change me?   My immediate thought is something to do with responsibility.  My usual stance as a mediator is to say that I have a responsibility to the people I work with but not for them – this stance offers me a bit of psychological distance and I believe helps me care without becoming over involved – I can be effectively multipartial.

As a healer, who happens to mediate, I have a sense that this responsibility has shifted but I’m not yet sure how.

Part of my limited understanding of ‘healing’ is that it is something that occurs through the healer – it is not them doing healing, rather that they provide a channel that enable the healing to occur.  The system ‘knows’ what it needs and the healer provides an opportunity for this to start to happen.  The healer needs to clear some space in themselves to support this movement through them and so will have required some training, healing and support for this to happen.

Is this different from the practice of interactive/facilitative mediation?

I am in uncharted territory – I want to know if others who happen to mediate also share this sense of identity, are you at ease with it, does it help or hinder.  Do you talk about it with clients?  If you don’t, what might happen if you did?  Can I offer my services as a healer rather than as a mediator?

How does faith or the lack of it influence this conversation?

At its best, mediation has had its magic moments, those times when my presence becomes irrelevant, the parties have moved into their own process and no longer need any assistance.  Something that had been broken has been fixed, perhaps even healed.  The parties have stepped through a pain into a different relationship.  My interventions have been graceful and fluid – I have been part of something much bigger than me.

Any thoughts, ideas or help will be appreciated on this journey.

A reminder

Posted:

 Nigel Singer

A conversation a few days ago with a friend reminded me about paying attention to my body and what it is telling me.

Two weeks ago my optician sent me directly to the eye hospital, do not pass GO, do not collect £200.  My comments of ‘I’m meant to be in Liverpool later tonight’ fell on unheeding ears. ‘This is a medical emergency, go now.

I went and she was right – and thank you to her - I had the operation and am in the process of recovering.

What I was mainly noticing today was that I was irritated.

Irritated that I can’t yet see clearly out of that eye, despite it being filled with oil.

Irritated that I can’t exercise.

Irritated that I have to put four different drops in my eye at various times during the day.

Irritated that my first check up is still four days away.

Irritated that it is still a bit tender.

Irritated that I have to sleep left cheek to pillow.

 

Looks like I am doing well in the irritated stakes.

Fortunately, there are moments when I get over this state and something more useful happens.  My friends’ nudge helped me move in this direction.

What has the operation given me?

An opportunity to appreciate sight.

To recognise my privilege as a sighted person and to think more about how difficult it is to recognise that privilege when it is my ‘normal’ state. 

A chance to slow down which has helped my hip to relax and soften.

This in turn has led to me making some clear decisions about looking after my joints in future.

To walk places, rather than cycle and to see different things as a consequence.

To think about the question ‘what have I not been looking at?’

As I pause a bit I realise that my irritation is connected to my reactions to the situation.  I have been taken away from my ‘normal’ state and I don’t like this and want it back.  As I relax, I start to get more centred and my responses start to appear, they are softer, gentler and thankfully, more useful.