It’s been an intense 2 years. I would say, the most intense of my adult life. Sure, there were pretty difficult times in my 20’s. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when, but I spent a lot of time figuring out who I was, where my place in the world would be and how I fitted in. I would call this the identity and insecurity phase.
But back then I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand what was happening and be present in the chaos. I spent much of it partying, forgetting, railroading over my emotions. There were highs and lows, all over the place.
This time, I’m definitely far more aware and far more committed to seeing through the internal chaos cursing through me. It’s taken courage and a huge amount of learning. It’s been more painful, with less highs and more lows.
When these pivotal periods occur (most of us will have around 4 of these in our lives) some of us railroad through, boozing it up, going off the rails. Others choose to work out what on earth is going on and make sense of it all, using the internal conflict as levers to find purpose and meaning to our existence.
I feel an easing off on the intensity now, there is more flow, more hope, more joy. There have been moments of deep despair. An inability to see the joy in anything and utter, utter confusion. At the heart of all this confusion has been this idea of being and not doing. I’m a doer. A doer through every pore of my body.
So when the idea of being and not doing was introduced to me 2 years ago, I met it with an utter inability to understand what it meant. Being? Do you sit and just look into space? Isn’t that called meditation (which sounds like doing to me)? One day I think I’ve got it, the next, it flaws me all over again.
But my week, this week, has been a series of events and occurrences that I wanted to share, as you may want to try some of these yourself. It has also led me to understand, in part, that actually it’s not as hard as I first thought. So if you’re a doer like me, read on, because it is possible to ‘be’ whilst you ‘do’.
Monday began with a trip to see my dear friend Andrea Lucas, who has the most magical therapeutic hands. She invites you into her space and you never want to leave. Whilst it was a huge effort to get from Surrey to Harrow-on-the-Hill, once there, I can’t tell you how enveloping an experience it is. With an exquisite rose garden and space befitting of only the best 5* healing environments (think Daylesford in the Cotswolds), Andrea gave me the space to be, simply because I fell into such a state of bliss that I could think of nothing but her wonderful, healing hands and words. It was a place I felt I could entirely ‘be’.
Tuesday brought Conscious Café, run by the inspiring Judy Piatkus. I was particularly interested in this evening’s session as it was being run by a friend and fellow doer, Claudia Roth. The topic was ‘Moving from Thinking to Doing’. Perfect. The evening was full of grace, authenticity and simplicity. A type of simplicity that leads to profound thinking. Claudia not only shared her own painful story of moving from a life of striving and doing, to one of being, but also invited us to understand what it meant, by writing down what we’d stand to lose if we tried to make the shift. I considered all that I would lose and felt instantly overwhelmed. My mind was holding on firmly with both hands. Everyone else in the room felt almost elated, joyous, excited at the prospect of stepping into this new reality. I, on the contrary, felt sad, uneasy and bereft.
And so I moved back into that mindset I knew best. The one of striving to get somewhere in life, to be someone, to achieve something. And I forgot everything I’d learnt. It was painful. If I couldn’t ‘do’, how could I achieve? If I didn’t ‘do’, how could I get where I wanted to go? How could I be someone, how could my life mean something in the world, be useful, be inspiring? My logical mind could make no sense of it at all.
But stepping out into the cooler autumnal air, I somehow managed to shake this off. Claudia’s session was gracious and thought-felt and many said it was one of the best talks they’d been to at Conscious Cafe. I knew Claudia was right. She was walking the walk and talking the talk. Claudia knew exactly how I felt but was also telling me it was time to let it go.
And I wondered. How many times do I need to be reminded? A day doesn’t pass without me thinking of this.
Wednesday was another fascinating day of learning, courtesy of Street Wisdom and the RSA. It’s an inspiring collaboration between the two not-for-profit organisations, allowing people to come along, for free, to experience what the streets have to offer. It’s a wonderfully simple idea, which of course, like all the best simple ideas, took a long time to create. The premise is to give participants the skills to see their urban environment in a new way, ask a question that’s been troubling them and use the answers they discover to move forwards in life. It’s amazing how images and words jump out from billboards and street signs when you have a problem and a question in mind. As we tell people, why wait for escape to exotic destinations when inspiration can be found on your own doorstep? My role is as a volunteer to help facilitate the quests. I love it and get a huge amount of joy and inspiration from working with people to help them discover more about themselves and more about the environment they so often walk by without noticing a single thing. London is a great place to host a Street Wisdom, so much tiny, fascinating detail to enjoy and wonder at. Try it, you can sign up for any, free, on their website.
Thursday brought some more closure. My business, Learn Shed has been part of a purpose-driven accelerator programme run by a lady I most admire, Carrie Beddingfield. Another ex do-er, who has learned the hard way. You can see her Ted Talk on ‘How Striving Cost Us Everthing’ here. She’s authentic, heart-felt and generous. She is not opting for the easy life in any way, shape or form. She takes life as her classroom, falling down, picking herself up and moving forward, backwards and sideways. One of the things I have loved about Carrie is that you know, when she introduces you to someone, they will be equally genuine, passionate, professional and humble. They don’t pretend they have all the answers all of the time. There have been plenty of lessons at 50th Generation and not all about start-up theory and practice. Carrie has put so much of herself into the programme; and that was lesson enough for us all.
In the evening I felt excited, childlike in anticipation, at my plan to celebrate the Autumn Equinox at the top of the garden! The sky was clear and bright as we lit the fire and toasted our sausages and corn-on-the-cobs. It was magical. Too often we let these precious moments of nature and time pass us by. Getting back to the basics of nature, food, company and fire balances the equilibrium, and for me, brought a huge amount of joy and a sense of peace.
Friday brought more peace in a tiny package called Heddy, a little dog I sometimes have the privilege of looking after. She is the utter master of being. She can take over 10 minutes to cover just a one meter patch of outdoor space. Sniffing and pawing everything. She is content as long as she has cuddles and company. Heddy and I have much in common in that respect, but she is definitely ahead of me in the game of just being.
I can’t package Saturday up into anything other than a full on ‘doing’ day. I had entered to do a one-mile open-water swim in London’s Serpentine with 4000 other mad hatters. Yet it was there, perhaps, with some of the biggest lessons of my week. The pre-swim camaraderie was heart-warming. We each jollied each other along in our seeming madness and encouraged the best in each of us. One lady I chatted to was responsible for women even being allowed to swim in the Serpentine at all, some 50 years ago. This was her first time back into the lake after all those years, and she was elated, totally elated. Now 68, she had spent the last year taking part in similar such adventures like the Great North Run and the Great Edinburgh Run. I felt a rush of gratitude towards her. Her bravery, to push against conformity, was something that thousands of women subsequently benefitted from. Her smile and her energy were infectious. ‘What a life we can all lead’ I thought to myself, basking in the pride she so clearly felt to have completed her swim.
My swim, however, began a little frantic and I wondered what on earth I was thinking, entering with having done very little preparation. I quickly found myself out of breath, having to do breast stroke to bring back my equilibrium. But shortly after, my breath began to flow more easily and the whole experience changed. Rather than pushing, as I had done at the beginning, I began to work more and more in harmony with my breath, my mind and my body. For a time it became almost effortless and certainly meditative and I began to consider the analogies with my own life and how far perhaps I had come, after all. Up until 2 years ago I had been someone who’d pushed to make things happen. Now, I was becoming someone who understood that it doesn’t always pay to push.
And so to today, Sunday. And as I write this, I know it’s all still such a conflict and battle of wills for me. It’s a sunny day, I could be out having a nice long walk with Heddy, in amongst it all, life, people, the trees. That will be exhilarating, I feel it and need no coaxing. Then there’s the cupboard I’m looking at, ahead of me. That needs organising and that will make me feel good to look at it, all nice and neat and organised. And that book I could do with reading…
And so the journey continues, it never ends. But I know now, that as long as I have awareness, gratitude and a sense of humour, then these things, at least, are enough for me, for now.