Hello all, and I hope the approach to winter has started gently for you. I think you know I love the darkening times and this year really hope to do a lot more hibernating.
A highlight of this month was a week at Arvon, on a poetry course with poets Nikita Gill, Karen McCarthy Woolf, and Fiona Benson. Wow - quite a week. Easily the least experienced of the group, I had to get used to writing and then reading out the poems I'd written. I learned a lot about being a beginner!
Also a couple of days training on systemic constellations with Judith Hemming, one of the foremost practitioners in the field, now pretty much stepped back from working with groups. So amazing to watch someone at the top of their game at work, and an older woman, too.
But also a three day period that I won't forget for a while - hopefully ever. I was called back for further tests after a mammogram and, while I read and fully understood the line in the letter, that 'most women who attend the clinic for further tests do not have cancer', it was the first time I’d ever faced the possibility that I might have. I got the all clear. Nothing to see. I cried at the news. But I went to some interesting places in the three days between the letter and the appointment:
First – and deeply predictably for me - the resistance, like running into a hard wall, at all the changes to my life I’d need to make, because my life wasn’t going to be my own for a while. This was tough for me. I plan. And I assume those plans will play out. But now, I'd have no control. And I watched myself with amazement at how angry and upset I was that I couldn’t have the life I wanted.
Perhaps also not a surprise, along with three days of queasy dread, came grief and sadness. Not so much at the death-and-dying part, but at things I’d never get to do because of what the ravaging cancer treatment would do to my body and my identity in the meantime, and the deep sense of loss for all that I am now.
But to my enormous surprise – and I can barely believe I’m sharing this here (it is not without risk - but it it is with intention) I watched a part of me quickly finding a way to try to blame myself. ‘I made the wrong decision to go onto HRT. I brought this on myself by trying to bypass my body’s natural processes'. But it got worse. There were a couple of things I had done in the week leading up to getting the letter that I wasn’t proud of. Unbidden, came the notion that this was punishment for those things. I took action and put things right. Atoned. That feeling of self-blame didn’t last long, but wow, it was powerful.
And it took a full 3 days, until I was sitting on Worthing beach, in the hours before my appointment, talking to the sea, when was genuinely able to say: ‘whatever’s coming, I say yes to it. If I have cancer, it’s already part of me and there’s nothing that will change in the clinic. If I have cancer, then ok, I say yes to that. I’ll turn and face it. If it’s here, it’s here’. Not just a deep resignation that this was how it was going to be, but a genuine and open acceptance of whatever life had for me.
But I was lucky. This time, anyway. And let’s just say that if I have always been connected to gratitude, I'm even more so now.
And finally, I've increased the number spaces on my (free) online workshop Acts of Love for Tough Times, part of an occasional series of events building on my 2019 research into love in organisational life - so there's room for more.
And I'm excited to say I'll be running an in-person Love workshop in Jan and will let you know more details soon. In the meantime HOLD THE DATE - Friday 20 Jan.
See you in December and in the meantime, remember that Auden says 'we must love one another, or die'.
how bereavement has been a gateway into deepening her understanding of love and listening
the importance of creating human connections in a worryingly fragmented world
the ways we need to create spaces to talk about what doesn't usually get much airtime - our fears, grief and loss, our feelings of anger and hopefulness
and the #SpacesForListening sessions she runs with a colleague to provide a place to listen and be listened to.
If you liked this, you might also like Episode 8 with Meg Peppin.
And you can read a fabulous piece from Brigid and her friend Belinda Weir here about 'living in the middle of all the shite', aka living with grief and living with cancer.
Seeing the System
Now is not the time to be looking at issues or problems in isolation - to be ignorant of context. Now is the time to bring in as much of the wider system as possible.
Yes, we can narrow in. We usually need to. But first, we should zoom out and attend to the part in the context of the wider systemic context it operates in. That's also the case for those of us coaching, working with change or in the field of OD where we can generally benefit from slowing down, standing back and allowing our attention to become wide and spacious.
Matt and I have both trained in this field and we're discovering that even though it seems to take YEARS to become a really skilful practitioner in this work, there are some very simple core aspects of of it that can applied immediately - and to great effect - in organisational work.
Come along. We're aiming for interesting, playful and practical.
With delight, just learned that Tiu de Haan has a new programme. If I wasn't already over-committed, I'd be signing up in a heartbeat. Here's what Tiu says about The Path...
'I have created a once-in-a-lifetime year long life-changing adventure for six participants that will span the whole of 2023
It's an adventure that takes place deep within, as well as in the outside world - a real life quest, created and curated just for you, tailored to amplify your soul’s calling and to gamify your challenges, to fully realise your hopes and dreams, and design a truly meaningful life and legacy
It encompasses 12 hours of one to one bespoke coaching with me, 5 one day wonder workshops in real life, multiple meetings as light beings in a truly incredible virtual world, masterclasses by a magician and an internationally renowned expert in systemic constellations, and even a residential retreat weekend, in a beautiful place in the countryside. Along the way, there will be a myriad of tools and techniques, gamified goals, permission to play, pause and go off-piste, as well as peer mentoring, the full archive of all my online courses and many more resources'.
New independent bookshops are always A Good Thing.
Just born this year, The Bookshop By The Sea is online but if you're anywhere near Aberystwyth, do pop in and say hello to the wonderful Freya Blyth who runs it.
And if you're more southerly, then Bert's Books (pictured, with my step grandkids) in Swindon is a cracker. I have no idea if there's an actual Bert, though.
How would you feel about your organisation having a poet-in-residence? Some organisations do that. Although, maybe you feel your organisation isn’t quite in the right place for that?
Then what about having a poet come and read their work? Read their work that explored something you wanted to raise greater awareness of? And what might it be like to raise awareness through poetry rather than via a slide deck – especially an area that’s thought of as delicate or difficult to talk about.
I’m thinking here of ‘women’s stuff’.
It's certainly the case now that women's experience is getting more of an airing in organisations. And there’s greater discussion about what my colleague Joy Burnford, in Don’t Fix Women, describes as the 4 Ms – menopause, maternity, miscarriage and monthlies. Yup, periods. Maybe the one out of those four that gets the least attention?
Someone who's doing powerful work in this area is actor, voiceover artist, mother and writer Stephanie Moore. In Bleed Between The Lines, Steph writes about periods and the menstrual cycle. She started this book during a period of ill health as a way to understand her own body. I've also heard her read other poems about having and raising children, medical misdiagnoses, of having her voice shut down, of depression and of peri-menopause and more. A powerful and compelling voice.
Introducing these period poems, she says: 'I'd love women to reach for this collection when they need comfort for the difficult moments in the month and to know that they are not mad in their inconsistencies and inability to be the same version of themselves every day'.
And her publisher says: 'society is still catching up but by publishing Steph's poems we hope to make Bleed Between The Lines a tool for education and empowerment and above all a way to help remove the shame around menstruation'.
So here’s what I’m hoping for. I'd really like to find a way for Steph to join me in some of the women's leadership work I do in organisations - sharing her work and discussing it. It would take a bold organisation, but I think they exist. What do you reckon? Do you have any sessions in your Women’s Networks, whatever that might look like, where a poet’s voice might really bring something fresh and impactful? If you think you might, you can contact Steph direct on …. Or drop me a line and I’ll put you in contact.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
by Maggie Smith
A few good reads
So the second in the Boudica series from Manda Scott has been a wonderful bedtime read. Gripping storytelling, just like the first one. Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand That First Held Mine turned out to be an excellent swap for a £1 in a charity shop. And the Booker shortlisted Treacle Walker from Alan Garner is one I'm going to read again, not just for the language and the imagination, but also because I'm not at all sure what it was about and that's a rare thing in a book these days.
This month, a lot of the time on the motorway, on trains and in hotels. Way more than I'm used to these days. And am realising that a week of travelling that gets in the way of me walking, swimming and doing yoga isn't a week I want very often at all.
Spent a few days in Leamington Spa working on a series of workshops with groups of Directors exploring Empowerment. We're getting to know their culture pretty well now and that understanding really makes a difference in creating trust and a solid container for learning.
The Board of a client wanted to experience for themselves one of the workshops I run for their staff on Gender Allyship. Great to see how they loved the stuff on unearned privilege, and were really up for exploring their own personal experiences of feeling excluded as well as some practical things they could do more of.
And a few interesting conversations bubbling about possible work including how a session on love might land in a women's leadership programme, plus the first design conversations for a new public sector senior leadership programme that I feel excited about and deeply honoured to be part of.
And if you think a conversation about how I might support you, work-wise, might be useful, please do get in touch. You know where I am on Twitter and LinkedIn, or connect via Email. Or call me of course, whichever suits.