Helena Clayton Newsletter - View this email in your browser
Leadership Developer • Coach & Facilitator • Writer

Welcome to the September 2023 Newsletter

And so we come to the end of summer, a time for sharpening pencils and buying new notebooks to gear up for the new term.  

Although when you get this, I'll be squeezing the last drop out of the season, down on Gower for a week.  As I write this the forecast looks wonderful and so here's to swims and walks as well as long hours reading.   

As I say further down, August has been WAY busier with work than I planned (or wanted) but regular trips to the beach for swims have been delicious punctuations marks along the way.  A week spent on a clowning course - more below - also meant there was plenty of joy to be had, and a weekend at Into the Wild festival was magical time, where I saw people I love and hadn't seen in absolute ages. 

This month here, there's:

  • a vibrant conversation with Dr Suzanne Evans about love
  • two new things in the world - one featuring poetry and the other sheep
  • a reminder that the need to rest up over winter starts earlier than we might imagine
  • some wonderful books and a poem I love
September is a very busy month of travel and work so have a feeling that the October Newsletter might be a little shorter than normal.  Let's see.  And in the meantime, let's keep opening to love and see what happens...

Helena x

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Discovering my Clown

So yes, it seems I did a clowning course!

In daily life, there are some parts of me that get heaps of attention.  And other parts not so much.  As I age, I want to make sure that my inner child, my sense of wonder, curiosity and awe, my ability to sit with not knowing and to respond to what's actually happening in the moment and not look ahead, to tune into my intuition, to be ok with failing and looking pretty silly ... all get some space to be. 

Also, when I think about eldership, I think about the older people I know who say yes to things, who respond to life with a lightness, who live life as if everything really matters - yet knowing that nothing really matters.  I'd like to be more like that when I grow up.

So with superb teaching and facilitation from Ali Stockwell and Vivian Gladwell, and with 9 other aspiring clowns (a group that included someone in their 70's, a Israeli rabbi, a drama student from the US, a poet from Sheffield and a carpenter from Pembrokeshire ...) I found myself at Emerson College for an extraordinary week of learning to clown.

I had done a mask workshop with Steve Chapman before, and also a 2 day clowning intro, a few pre-Covid years ago.  And just as well I had. They were really helpful with all those things I mention above, and the muscle memory of fun and silliness, of making things up and being right in the moment. 

What I hadn't twigged though is how much clowning is also:

  • a craft, and a philosophy
  • a form of activism, a counterbalance to what's happening in and to the world
  • a form of love, with joy and wonder at its heart, and the way it says yes to everything and includes everything.
If that sounds up your street, then take a look at what Nose to Nose has to offer ... I can't recommend them enough.

'How you do anything is how you do everything'. 

Martha Beck

You know by now that I love a bit of perspective.  The more I can stand back and see the biggest picture, the most helpful it is for me. I find it both soothing and galvanising. It's one of the reasons I love the work of Systemic Constellations so much.   

But watching Earth, with Chris Packham, a BBC series, 'a guide to five pivotal moments in the planet’s history', moves this perspective-taking to a different level.  It begins 252 million years ago - and all numbers thereafter tend to be big ones as Packham finds a way to gently convey that we're heading towards another one of the those pivotal moments and that humans are doomed.  But that life will certainly go on.

A new poetry magazine

An important new thing in the world. 

Tom Hirons has set up a new quarterly Poetry magazine called Clarion, as a place for ‘poetry that makes your hair stand on end’.   The intention is to create a community of poets (and the poetry-curious and lovers of poetry …) who are interested in ‘poetry for a world on fire’.  Now  that’s an invitation that has me signing up immediately,  How about you?  You can submit your own poetry to him right now - the doors are open - and I'll post a link here as soon as it's possible to subscribe. 

'My hunch is that joy is an ember for or precursor to wild and unpredictable and transgressive and unboundaried  solidarity' 

Ross Gay

My Dark Horses

One of my favourite poems is My Dark Horses, from Jodie Hollander, and I've included it in a past Newsletter.   It's also one that I read out when I run an Acts of Love for Tough Times workshop.  You can probably see why.

And so last week it was lovely to discover that it was the subject of an episode of The Poetry Exchange where poet and writer Rosie Garland discusses it as a 'poem that's been a friend to me'.  Gorgeous. 

Rest, and getting ready

Just back from a couple of days at Into the Wild festival, and very lovely it was too.  During an early morning Qi Gong session, Simon Carey-Morgan reminded us that this is a time for getting ready for the winter, that this late summer/early autumn is a delicate time for our health. 

And then as I arrived home I saw this from Rebecca Solnit reminding us that some of the most important work we do with ourselves is invisible, far away from what people (and even we) can see.  A reminder that although we might now be past the time of holiday, we are never past the time for rest and space and recuperation.  I'm intending this winter to experiment more than previously with the idea of hibernating and this is a reminder that the drawing in of energy actually starts about now.

'If you're  sick or injured and healing or growing a new life inside you or just worn out, please notice that that thing known as 'doing nothing' is when you're doing the utterly crucial and precious work of growing and healing and restoring. This also goes for everyone who's just worn down, exhausted, dispirited, and who's not that right now?  I'm not the Nap Ministry but I'm for the power of rest and the holiness of respite and the you that is your cells and circulatory system and all those inner workings that are so mysterious and necessary and regenerative if we let them be. The psyche too does most of its work out of sight, and the imagination, and so creative work too benefits from rest and respite. As a writer I benefit greatly from leaving the work alone and coming back to it fresh, as one does with a relationship; pause, stoppage, inaction, inattention can all be wildly generative, and if they're not that might be its own kind of fruitful that cannot be measured.

Take refuge in that beautiful stillness in which everything is happening in all the ways that nothing is happening in busyness. Everything happening in the depths, like deep water under a reflective surface, a lake reflecting clouds with schools of fish in the depths. Seeds germinating underground. Sitting still as zazen or just daydreaming or watching clouds is an act of revolt against the shouts that we should be doing something/do more/do more faster that are all around us. If you find that nothing is hard to do, it's exactly because it's this kind of revolt against the production/ consumption juggernaut that is a kind of war against rest, depth, and the earth. Inaction  might be another face of peace in our times with stillness the ceasefire in which spring comes again'. 


Image: Shelby McQuilken

Sheep, and related ...

 Lisa Denison, who runs Quiet Walks from Ceredigion, also has a small flock of rare breed Icelandic and Ryeland sheep and so has set up, over on Instagram, as @thequietsheperdess, a place to share ‘sheep keeping' stuff’. 

Lisa also makes the MOST wonderful things-of-beauty sit-mats at a very decent price indeed.  Dom uses his every day on his dining room chair, and mine goes on just about every South Downs walk with me so I can plonk down in comfort.

Talking about love

Dr Suzanne Evans has a lovely podcast, Change Stories, and (finally!) she and I got to talk and create an episode together. 

We talk about love and compassion in leadership and how there's so little space for emotional connection at work - and the impact that this has on wellbeing. About how we need to slow down in order to create this space.  We also dip into the ides of radical inclusion.  Plus the ways that love makes a contribution in creating an environment of trust, collaboration and ultimately innovation and creativity.

The link to listen is here

Lorry at Anthony Passage

Piqued by birdsong, drifting from the verges, hassled by the
tinkering of trees and the repeated open question of field-on-field

he veered from the furthest reaches of the onerous trunk road
into lanes deep with may.

His lorry cut quick flowers and shook low branches, set of buff
and brown birds

plunged through trenches, sounded green tunnels, scraped
bronze-age hedge-slate

spilt asphalt-crust with tonnes of steel, pressed grass into tread

at slow corners heaved round, worked into the slowness of
narrowing lanes

and with an inching metal-wrenching gate, lodged in a dogleg
by the topgate of a field that fell to a wide and slow estuary.

He stood by the tiny cottage and watched as the wind blew the
tops of trees.

A crackling sound as the sea arrived over mudflats.

James Goodman, from stone mountain fairy shrimp.
G00d reads
Some lovely fiction this month.  Kamila Shamsie's Best of Friends was great as was Caleb Azumah Nelson's Open Water.  And then also Ross Raisin's A Hunger.  All recommended.

Workwise, still slowly exploring In Love with Supervision ahead of my supervision training starting soon.
And at work
I used to take August off, and being freelance, that felt a good call as work really was much quieter - some years I barely did anything that month. But things have been different since Covid - businesses just don't seem to slow down at any point in the year. Which is how I'm saying that my August has been busier than I'd have liked!  Highlights were:
  • Proposal for an accelerated development programme for leaders on a Board succession track, plus another one for team development and team coaching. 
  • a wonderful day of facilitation skills training for an in-house team
  • playback meetings with Residential Children's Services, making recommendations for OD interventions that might contribute to culture change
  • coaching a client who's neurodiverse and knows what works for her so well in terms of how to get the best from herself.  This is pretty rare in those of us who might be neurotypical and it's such a joy to work with that clarity
  • loads of project management on two leadership development projects that go live at the end of September

Do get in touch and let me know how you're finding these Newsletters, or if you'd like to see more info on anything I include.   I love hearing from you.  You know where I am on Twitter and LinkedIn, or connect via Email. Or call me of course, whichever suits.

Helena x

07771 358 881
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