Monday, 1 September 2014

Tip 13: How to carry on the holiday at work!

September 2014

My clever chiropractor brother says interesting things about relaxing your back when it's tight or tired - and I thought, "Well, what about tight or tired conversations?" So although your holidays may be over, here's a way to carry on relaxing - even in the middle of a stressful conversation ....

Friday, 1 August 2014

Tip 12: Useless communication – and why it’s a good thing!

This week, a journalist writing in The Guardian newspaper questioned the Labour leader's 'politics of empathy', saying that it means nothing without effective policies. "I don't want a dentist who can feel my pain", says the journalist, "I want one who can remove it". In one way, I agree with him: empathy is always 'useless' - but THAT is the whole point!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Q31: What can Marie Antoinette teach us about communication?

According to the popular story of Marie Antoinette, the Parisian mob was thronging at the palace gates demanding bread when the French queen appeared in the royal balcony and, with a wave of her delicately gloved hand, declared, 'Let them eat cake!' 
The starving peasants, intent upon survival not pleasure, did not take kindly to the charming comment - and promptly cut off her head.[1]

Making suggestions which don't match other people's needs can be so risky that I've given it a name: the Marie Antoinette Syndrome ...

[1] The story is apocryphal. The popular myth apparently conflates one of several bread-shortages prior to the French Revolution with the revolution itself; and the comment was almost certainly invented (or recycled) by revolutionary polemicists and others using a phrase earlier coined (or invented) by Rousseau. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Q30: Can politicians speak mindfully?

This May, I had the privilege of attending the launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on mindfulness.[1] Here I was, invited into the Houses of Parliament simply because I meditate! For many of us long-term meditators, this was an unexpected turn. When we started out (for me, in 1983) we were 'weird' or 'way out', we then graduated to being 'cool', and what are we now? Trend-setters! Even a force for change in the establishment!

I was surprised to learn that over 80 MPs and peers have learned mindfulness on courses at Westminster.
Having calm and resourceful politicians can only be a good thing, of course. So how soon will we hear the benefits in their communication?

[1] The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness was launched on 7th May 2014 in the Houses of Parliament to enquire into the role of mindfulness in public policy. The group is supported by The Mindfulness Initiative, a collaboration of three UK universities which are centres of research and training on mindfulness, Exeter, Bangor and Oxford. The Mindfulness Initiative, founded by Madeleine Bunting and Chris Cullen in 2013, is supporting the MAPPG. It is dedicated to advocacy of and research into the role of mindfulness in public policy. 
[2] Professor Mark Williams and Chris Cullen from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre have been running mindfulness courses in the Houses of Parliament since January 2013. To date, about 80 parliamentarians from both Houses have attended. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Q29: What can great art teach us about listening?

I spent my Easter bank holiday gazing at the sea paintings of Turner, at Greenwich Maritime Museum. Apart from my love of Turner's seas and skies, I wanted to learn more about listening ....

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Q28: Why do I go blank – just when something matters?

Pausing is what our systems do because they're alive to a complicated set of circumstances that we call 'now'. It's what happens when we find our normally intelligible words and sentences turn into unexpected umm's and er's; or even grind to a halt completely as we go blank. But this is neither daft nor decorative ....

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Q27: How can my body help me to communicate?

One reader sent me a question about my January tip, Q25: Do you want to conquer your fears this year? It was about limiting beliefs, the views and assumptions which stop us doing what we want. We were exploring ideas of can and can't. Beryl asked what I meant by:
  • 'I can't achieve what I want (making money, a job etc) ... But I can trust my abilities.'
I'm grateful for Beryl's question, because it gives me a chance to talk more about what we know; not on a head level, but in our wider being - in our bodies.

Your body knows the answer
In the exercise, I suggested:

Take time to feel what you CAN do instead. Wait until you feel this deeply, viscerally - so that is it not a second best, but comes with a warming glow, or a fresh, good energy.

Whatever you long for, if you can imagine it, you know it. That's why you long for it. Of course, just now, you're separate from it - which is why you feel bad. Your feelings are telling you what you want.

If you give space to what is wanted, the answer comes from the level of your feelings. And feelings come from your body. So you can take a problem or issue - such as 'not trusting myself to make enough money' - take a deep breath, and ask yourself-as-a-whole:

'How would this feel, if it felt all alright?'

You may not feel the answer immediately. First, your fears may want to tell you just how fearful they are. But when you give it enough space, your body responds:

'Ah! THAT's how it would feel!'

Now, you have a visceral sense of the answer. This is stronger than ideas, because it is embodied. Aside from practicalities (which happen in your head), your body KNOWS how it feels to trust yourself. (If it didn't, you wouldn't know what you are longing for.)

Trusting your gut instincts
This puts a particular spin on trusting your gut instincts. Your fresh, visceral sense of what you want acts like an inner compass. It guides you forward. Your longed-for goals are present in you, as a living spring. So confidence and hope come naturally. Instead of anxiously arranging your life, trying desperately to achieve a distant wish, you trust the wish to manifest what you want.

Allowing your body to feel happier and more vibrant, even when your cherished plans have not (yet) come true, may seem strange at first. But it makes sense. Your abilities flow more creatively. You're better placed to deal with life as it is now. You can bridge the gap between where you are this moment and where you would like to be.

An exercise for grounding and centring

This mindfulness exercise comes from Mark Walsh, who specialises in techniques for embodiment (more about Mark's work and forthcoming training events are available on his website:

Mark writes:

Under pressure, 'bad habits' quickly take over. Neurologically this is not surprising. When we're stressed, the famous 'fight or flight' response effectively turns off our capacity for higher reasoning in the neocortex region of the brain - and we revert to what we know best. It's what we've practised most, after all. But this isn't always the most helpful way forward. But once you centre and ground your awareness in your body, you open the door to your more creative and flexible responses. They come through you naturally.

You might like to try this simple and effective method which Mark recommends.

'ABC' Centring
  • Awareness: Become aware of your body, especially your feet and back
  • Balance: Balance your posture physically, either sitting or standing, notice things and people in your awareness - all around you through 360 degrees
  • Core relaxation: Relax your eyes, letting your vision become peripheral. Soften your mouth and jaw and your belly (so you can breath with the diaphragm 'into' the different parts of you)

Does it work?
I asked Mark where he had taught centring, and the effect it has on people. He told me:

I taught members of the Sierra Leonian Army to use it to keep calm during mediation sessions. In a gun culture, threats easily escalates into dangerous conflict. Many people have told me that, after centring themselves, they were able to break free from habitual responses which would normally lead to open confrontation and physical violence.

Business people, too, practice centring at the start of meetings to increase efficiency. One client of mine even used it to relax during an earthquake in China! Memorably for me, first dates and family Christmases have been the real test!

Try it for yourself. The key is practice. And it is a wonderful preparation for that life-affirming question:

'How would this feel, if it felt all alright?'

Elizabeth English
with thanks to Mark Walsh and Peter Kuklis

Mark's work and forthcoming training events on his website:

Peter has just launched his Life at Work website in Slovakia:
http://www.Life At - Life At Work