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This week

November 13, 2016
Autumnal walk

Autumnal walk

It’s been a challenging week for so many people in big and small ways. We’re all struggling to find our place in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. This is a good poem to return to again and again.

Desiderate

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
By Max Ehrmann

I love this time of year as we leave winter and step into spring. The temperature warms up and the sun seems brighter.

As the weather changes I tend to get lots of ideas of what I want to change and improve but I’m never sure where to start. This year it feels right that I focus on creating space by getting rid of what I no longer want, and making space for what I want more of. So often we seek better yet insist on staying connected to the “not good enough”.  Things can only gain hold where there is space to embed and grow.

springtime

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably held on to many more things than is ideal; whether that’s material possessions, people or ways of being. Could now be the right time for a change?

What opportunities are present for you now and what might you need to let go of to make these happen?

Do share your thoughts and ideas – I’d love to hear from you!

A well known politician said something similar a while ago and got some stick for it. But I am amazed by how we think we know a lot about people we only see in the media and online. Despite my experience of therapy and being a counsellor I’m always surprised by how much I continue to discover about myself. Often we barely know what’s going on in our own lives let alone the neighbour or the stranger. Yet we are often quick with our opinions, good or bad.

For International Women’s Day in 2016 there are so many global issues that affect women. There are women who have chosen to be mothers, there are women who accidentally became mothers, there are women who for physical or emotional or life reasons have not become mothers. Whether or not we are mothers we’ve all had a mother, whatever her capabilities. Many women mother through adoption, fostering or even mentoring. We are all familiar with the African saying popularised by Hilary Clinton that “it takes a village to raise a child” but in reality the village is hardly ever there.

I am thinking of the women who are separated from their children because of migration, ill health, death and divorce.  So many women have been burdened by these difficult circumstances. I think too of   refugee children; away from home and living with very little food, shelter care and safety, the basics for a decent human life. Many mothers may be making a huge sacrifice to give their children a better or safer life and that looks different depending on where you are standing.

Others of us are stressed by trying to be great mothers and using our children to demonstrate this. We forget we cannot truly create a person, it is this wonderful alchemy between nature and nurture. Our children, however we came to have them, are a gift from God.

IMG_5290

I chose the title because I am amazed how much we can judge each other without knowing the facts. I have two recent examples to share here. First, our son is tall for his age so people tend to assume I have brought him to the wrong group. I keep assuring them that I do know when he starts school. On another occasion I bought my child an ice cream at midday and had an elderly lady looking at me as if to say I was perpetuating the problem with obesity in the world! Little did she know that he’s a great eater who loves to be active. Truth is he hasn’t yet realised that we could have ice cream at home as he only gets it when we’re out visiting museums, galleries, garden centres and play parks.

So what she saw as the whole story was only part of it.

If women are going to continue to make advances in the world then maybe we need to care more about each other’s children, judge less, and speak up more on behalf of those who have no voice. It is time too to be gentle with ourselves. We’re all stretched by modern life, whether struggling or just challenged. And yet we are good enough and we can do well to remember this. Does any of this resonate with you? Let me know what you think/feel?

Pam Warren: From behind the mask to centre stage

Meeting Pam Warren was both ordinary and extraordinary.  She has been through such an incredibly traumatic experience and yet she is generally upbeat and hopeful. When I first heard Pam speak at a local business expo I was mesmerised by her skill as well as her content. From the woman behind the mask she is now the woman at the front of the stage. She is now a motivational speaker and campaigner, roles that came out of her experience as a survivor of the Paddington rail crash in 1999.

For a long time after the crash she was a campaigner for improved rail safety. In recent times her campaigning has taken a back seat as the original goals for improved rail safety have been achieved, although she still keeps a wary eye on the railways and commuters have been known to tell her their concerns.

I spoke to Pam to find out more about her life now given that crucial experience in 1999.

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So how did you become a professional speaker?

I wanted to get back to work but my health can stop me. I have to make sure work is flexible to allow me to rest when I need it. I trained in event management and project management before bumping in to someone who suggested speaking. I took a year out to be mentored by one of the best and he helped me to make my talk more relevant for my audience.

How are you able to share your story and not connect to the pain of it?

Yes, that used to be hard. I know how to get connected enough to talk about it but not to emotionally reconnect with it. I’ve done lots of work with my psychologist to help me to talk about it with some of the feeling but keep myself together so as not to burst into tears. Sometimes I take my plastic mask to do a talk.

Do people sometimes want to touch it and what is that like, given that it was your face?

What people don’t realise is that my face was so swollen that it shrank back to normal during treatment so I used 3 different masks during my healing. It gives me comfort that if someone touches the one I have, it helps to know that I have the others.

How long have you had a psychologist?

I had my psychologist before I recovered enough for work; 14 years now. He helped me to face forward and aim for new goals.  He still thinks I do too much. I know if I work hard then post traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) and depression could kick in but I’m too aware that life is too short to not do stuff. I am prepared to have 50 weeks when I can do fantastic work and possibly 2 weeks when I’m not well.  I came off the anti depressants 5 years ago as it stopped me from experiencing not just sorrow but also joy. Once off the medication then I worked on my coping strategies.

How is your relationship with your family?

Family and friends now come first. If work conflicts, then I’ll weigh up what is more important in life. The choice is not materialistic or about money but who matters most in the greater scheme of things.

How do you cope with stress given what you’ve experienced?

If anything stresses me now I ask myself two questions-

  • Has anyone died?
  • Is anyone injured?

If the answer is no, as it often is, then I realise it is not that important in the whole scheme of things and can refocus and deal with the problem.

What’s exciting for you at the moment?

Because of my experience in the crash I realised that I can’t take stuff with me when I die so I want to see the world and enjoy life. Travelling has become much more important to me and I am genuinely interested in other countries. I sometimes connect with university students learning English and see a completely different part of the country than if I just stayed in the tourist areas.

Where have you travelled to?

Malta, Russia, Egypt, America, Canada, India and Tunisia to name a few.

What is your family background?

My Mother is from Fiji, got married at 21 and moved with my biological father to Singapore. She left when I was 3 and came to England. However, my birth certificate says I was born here in Andover so it’s a little confusing. From age 8 I’ve lived around Reading with my mum, sister and step-father but growing up I always felt out of sync with my family. I explored some of this in my book and when my mum read the first draft she was quite upset but I think it has helped us understand each other better. I am used to getting on with it and that’s how it feels with the crash. I have rebuilt my life. Teenage Pam experienced lots of angst from not knowing who her dad was but it doesn’t matter anymore.

Is it hard to be in a relationship?

I am open to relationships but not yet found ‘the one’ to complement my life in any meaningful way.

How does it feel to be a role model?

I am delighted if people see me as a role model. I was and still am, very aware to stay clear of the celebrity thing. I refused offers to appear on shows that were vacuous when promoting my book. I still don’t expect people to recognise me and feel no different to anyone else.  I don’t like PR but I am happy with public speaking. I remember when I was in primary school I had a good speaking voice so every year I was the narrator for the school play. Also there was a lot of speaking during the campaigning – making a point, giving media sound bites and speaking to the audience in the room – all helped to prepare me for a speaking career.

Someone once said “when the time is right the teacher will appear” and that fits with me. It’s important to not think you know everything.

Tell me about your charity work

The Healing Foundation Charity fund university research into medical breakthroughs for disfigurement. This could be from cancer, war veterans, burns victims like me or the exciting possibility of growing back a limb. I have been an ambassador with them for 16 years.

I also support the Children’s Burns Research Centre in Bristol. Children’s burns are currently treated the same as adults but they will grow and face the challenges of adolescence. The Bristol unit is the first one in the world and being observed globally.

I support the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust – they help disadvantaged young people by using retired sports people as mentors.

How did you get involved in the DKH Trust?

I was introduced to Dame Kelly Holmes by my friend Sir John Madejski and she is one of my heroes so I offered to support her charity straight away. I believe in the vision of the Trust. I remember the first graduation evening watching the kids and how they had grown in confidence in one year – I saw their transformation.

I try to support local charities when I can and Reading is close to my heart as I consider it my home.

Were you always a career woman?

Yes, I was working very hard and doing pretty well as a financial adviser pre crash. My company turned over £1.5 million a year. I was sad when I lost my company after the crash but in hindsight I’m quite pleased I’m no longer a financial adviser. Looking back on the crash it has been a painful sometimes bitter experience but but life is better.

How do you look after yourself now to stay well?

I eat healthily and have a personal trainer. As I have a touch of arthritis from burn damaged joints, he designs exercises for me. I try to get enough sleep and will have a half-an-hour catnap in the day if I need it.  Fitness helps me to fight off infection.

Pre-crash Pam saw family twice per year now post crash Pam sees them at least every 3 weeks. My family includes my sister who nursed me after the crash, my step-father who raised me, my mother and both my mum and sister’s husbands. They were a constant source of strength during all those years of recovery and I love them dearly. Plus, I am really blessed to have a network of close friends – my safety network – they kick in if I am unwell and I like to support them too. For example, I need to take special care and find distractions coming up to the crash anniversary and they help me through this hardest part of the year.

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I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Pam Warren: the lady behind the mask. She is a survivor in life and in business.

Pam’s book From Behind the Mask is available from Amazon, major bookshops and for an author signed copy check out www.pamwarren.co.uk .

When Malcolm Gladwell’s book first came out it had a massive impact on those trying to understand cultural changes.The premise of this book is a desire to explain sudden massive changes in human behaviour.  It’s not that one big thing changes but lots of people make a small change which results in a change of epidemic proportions.

In order to define this Gladwell comes up with the 3 rules of epidemics. He looks at the American shoe brand Hush Puppies which went from 30 000 sales to 430, 000 in the space of a year.  The brand’s attractiveness spread like an epidemic and the turning (tipping point) from falling to rising sales came between 1994 and 1995. The change seemed to be the result of some key trendsetters making it cool and then the brand was being picked up by the fashion media, taking it to the masses.

When he explores crime figures in poor parts of New York the figures show that  within a 5-year period in the 1990’s murders dropped 64% and total crimes by almost 50%.  Although many economists and criminologists would say the fall was down to rising economic conditions, decline of the drug trade and an ageing population, none of these changes are enough to explain the dramatic change in crime.   He asserts that lots of small changes eventually made a huge difference. These little things involved cleaning up the city physically and making it clear that previously ignored low level crimes (on subways, street corners,) would not be tolerated. Eventually people felt safer and less vulnerable to crime which made them more confident and more likely to report criminal activity as they now believed someone would take it seriously.  It’s an explanation that sees crime influenced more by the environment than the individual. There are cultural thinkers who disagree with Gladwell’s analysis of that time.


Gladwell sees epidemic changes as being:

(i)    contagious

(ii)  little changes can have a big effort

(iii) change happens dramatically not gradually

This third point is what he calls ‘the tipping point’ which tries to explain how a trend can change direction quite suddenly

So what 3 rules govern this tipping point? Gladwell’s research has led him to believe that these are:

1 the law of the few (connectors, mavens and salesmen)

2.the stickiness factor

3.the power of context.

Gladwell uses Stanley Milgram’s 1960’s experiment to illustrate.  In the experiment Milgram recruited 160 strangers to get a package to one particular man in Boston he found that most people achieved this in around 6 steps (through six people). This led to the idea of 6 degrees of separation.  Surprisingly 50% of these random strangers were sent their package via 3 individuals. These 3 people are what Gladwell calls connectors, they know a wide range of people, belong to many niches and bring different people together.

So whilst connectors help to spread the message Gladwell turns his attention to the message itself. For these he uses the Yiddish word maven: mavens are people who accumulate knowledge. They absorb information about different places, prices and products and want to share it with others.

Finally he identifies salesmen as those who persuade us of the importance of the message. Through various examples he shows how we can be persuaded through nonverbal cues.

His third rule is the stickiness factor.  He uses this to explain that the message needs to stick to persuade us to do something differently.

Gladwell makes use of Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment which showed how assigning regular people to the roles of prisoners and guards had a massive impact on their behaviour and their feelings. Changing ones situation can have a dramatic impact.  This is how context relates to epidemics.

Think of how you decided on the last place you visited or the last thing you bought, whose words encouraged you to make that choice?

If you would like to write a book then this is a great afternoon workshop for you.

Many people would like to write a book but few create the space to make it happen.

Do you have a story to share? Have you had interesting experiences in your life so far? Is there a family story you would like to record? Do you have a message that you would like to put into the world?

During our interactive session we will explore the steps you need to take to get your book into the hands of admiring readers.

Join others on a similar journey and be encouraged in the process.

We begin where you are and help you plan the route ahead.

Book here for June workshop.

It’s Saturday 14 June and my husband is looking after our son. I am meeting up with a longstanding friend and very much looking forward to it. It’s one of the highlights of the summer where we do something arty, eat some nice food and share about our lives. We are professional women who are wives and mothers too. We were born in the same year and married one day apart.

This year we’re attending the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. Last year we saw The Amen Corner at The National Theatre, South Bank with Marianne Jean-Baptiste and a few years ago it was the Anish Kapoor exhibition. With her art and my therapy training we enjoy interpreting what is presented: the creative skills, the subject choice, what we imagine the artist is trying to say and how it makes us feel. It’s great to keep adding layers and affect each other’s perspective and be moved by our experience. We catch up too on being mums, about keeping boundaries, modeling how to be and our developing children.

We share our challenges and receive a fresh viewpoint from the other. Eventually after 2 hours in the exhibition and a 2- hour lunch we make our way down Piccadilly towards the tube. As promising writers – I have authored two books and she is completing a book on healing – we stop at Waterstones to browse.

Soon after leaving the shop a familiar looking tall black man walks past rather quickly. He is wearing glasses, a hat, headphones, shorts, trainers-type footwear and a Pharrell-style cardigan. Could this really be Samuel L Jackson of the Hollywood movies? I check it out with her but she does not know. Encouraged by her I speed up to find out. Just then another black man and I notice that we are both trying to follow the tall man. He confirms excitedly to me that it is Samuel. My friend is falling behind and encouraging me to continue whilst Samuel is going further away. I hesitate as am not sure if I should continue to follow him and for what purpose. I am not an agent, I don’t have a script and he probably won’t want to be interviewed for my local magazine. What will I say? “I’ve seen a few of your films.” These thoughts rush by.

We arrive at Piccadilly tube and my friend and I hug goodbye whilst Samuel dives into Lillywhites. This is not how our meet-ups usually end but there is a distracting moving target. Despite all the deep conversation I turn out to be as fickle as the next person. She leaves for her long train journey back to her family. I consider doing the same but find myself in the shop trying to make eye contact with Mr. Jackson.

He seems to look both through and around me with a determined focused expression on his face. I feel that if I get any closer he’ll have me in some martial arts brace and see it as self-defence. I am disappointed with the outcome and a little bit “how dare you ignore me”. I know I am a good person but I am not sure why I am trying to get his attention. What’s the point of a little star-dust, if that is what I seek?

Of course I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me. There are lots of people on the street watching the street dancers and performers. Why is he the only person I want to meet? If I were him I might easily do the same thing – dress ordinarily and try to walkabout like a regular person. The alternative is to have an entourage, be on show and feel unable to walk about freely.

He owes me nothing. If I pay to see his movie then I have the pleasure of seeing the movie. That’s the end of the contract. And yet still I stand outside the shop trying to decide whether to wait for a while or return home to my family and be with the people who are part of my real life.

Ten minutes later he comes out and I try to get a picture with my phone. In a flash I could see the back of his head as he walks away from me. I decide that this is the end of any encounter. It’s time to forget this and return to being present to my environment: a lovely Saturday in the summer filled with friendship, art, good food, books and now street performers and people from all over the world. I enjoy a leisurely walk to Trafalgar Square arriving near the end of a free Christian concert then getting on a train to begin the journey home. A
pleasant and eventful Saturday in London.

7.Fences, Lenny Henry and Ashley Zhangazha (c)Nobby Clark[6]

August Wilson’s play Fences is being performed to rave reviews in London’s West End.  It stars Lenny Henry, whose stage debut was a brilliant turn as Shakespeare’s Othello. Nowadays it is easy to separate Henry the comic from Henry the actor.  In a recent appearance on BBC radio 4 Lenny Henry responded to the question by stating that “comedy is my job, acting is my career”.

This leading role sees him playing Troy, a talented ex-baseball player turned garbage man.  He is a fifty-something husband and father trying to be the best he can be but weighed down by his past experiences.  The play is set in 1957 with Troy having lived most of his life in a segregated country. In 1949 Jackie Robinson became the first baseball player to cross the major-league colour line but by then Troy could have been seen as too old to play major league.

Troy is caught between the two very different generations of his father and his son.  He embodies the struggles, pain, losses and successes of his life. Henry’s stage presence means you can’t keep your eyes of him.  Troy is stubborn and very good at covering his emotional turbulence. There is an underlying weariness we get glimpses of as the play continues and we find out more of his past.  But he is also hardworking and decent and wants the comfortable life that society promises. He tries to break through discrimination at work in his desire to become the first black man to drive the garbage trucks.

1.Fences, Lenny Henry and Tanya Moodie (c)Nobby Clark[3]

Troy is the heart of the play.  His relationships with his American football obsessed son Cory, his garbage man buddy Jim and his devoted wife Rose, all serve to give an insight into the man. Cory is at the receiving end of much pent up hurt and anger. Another son, Lyons and Troy’s brother Gabriel, help to create this engaging community of people.

If I were to critique the play it would be about the limited and narrow role the female character had.  There was more action than introspection on her part until the very end when we find out a bit more about her internal workings.  Having said that, her big gesture isn’t sufficiently explained.  I could make some sense of her responses but my male companion was quite surprised at the twists at the end.

Director Paulette Randall has directed plays throughout the UK, as well as for the BBC and Channel 4. She was an Associate Director of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

August Wilson (1945-2005) was the son of a German man and African American woman.  He has written ten plays, one for each decade of the 20th century. From his early twenties he began writing plays that show the African American experience in all its fullness and humanity. He picked up a Best Play Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987 when James Earl Jones played Troy on Broadway.  Lenny Henry had big boots to fill and they seem to fit him well.

 

Welcome to my final extract from An A-Z for your life, discovering and revealing who you are today.  You can read the chapters for X,Y, Z in the book at your own pace.

Witness

Witness

Sometimes it is not simply who we are and how we are but what other people make of us.  Here I want to talk about being a witness to others, and being seen by others.  The term is used in religious and legal circles but I am using it in a therapeutic way.

It’s about really seeing another as we witness their life.  It is also about being seen by others as they witness our life.  What is it like to be seen in our happiness or sadness, joy or frustration?  Similarly, what is it like to really see others close to us go through the range of experiences and emotions that make up their life?

Before I became a counsellor I cannot say I was particularly conscious of this.  I now know how powerful it is to witness others in their pain, for example, and to be seen with my feelings.  We like to know that we are not alone and that people see that we are alive.

It’s healthy to be heard and seen when we are struggling, and perhaps celebrated with when things are going well.  Our peers may be in different situations and that’s where understanding, love and kindness come in.  But the challenge is to witness to others when life is difficult for them.  This is delicate and important.  If you are having a difficult time it is made even worse if others see your difficulty and ignore it.  This ignoring of your pain is like another blow, saying that your pain does not matter.

Maybe we could recognise the daily struggles of those close to us, and how bravely they deal with their challenges.  A compliment from us would let them know that we see their courage and vulnerability and admire them for it.  By witnessing to them we are saying “yes it is real, you are not dreaming”.

How do you feel when others witness you, in your joy or pain? Share your thoughts below.

You can order ‘An A-Z for your life’: simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!

 

 

Values

Welcome to my penultimate post from An A-Z for your life, discovering and revealing who you are today. There will be one more on ‘W’ and you’ll have to read the book for X,Y and Z.

Your values are the things in life that you hold dear: behavioural standards you hold for yourself and for others.

If honesty is a value then you don’t need to tolerate liars in your relationships.  Your most authentic response would be to let them know that you cannot be in a relationship with them because you have found out that they do not speak truthfully and you are unable to trust them.  Without trust the relationship becomes superficial and your time is too precious for that.  Maya Angelou observes that ‘Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage’.

Values are linked to right and wrong and moral codes of behaviour.  Sometimes we can figure out what we think and feel in conversation with others.  This relies on having quality relationships built on openness and trust, as discussed earlier. Where can you start?

Start by exploring yourself and maybe your unmet needs, those which you would love to have in your life but have not been able to attract.  It could be safety, trust, love and home.  This could then lead you to explore the values you hold dear.  My values are key to how I try to live my life.  It is about helping people to live the best and fullest life they can whether that is through careers advice, therapy, teaching or writing.  It is about healing our relationships and healing ourselves.  I am saddened by waste whether that is a wasted life, skills, resources or opportunities.  My values link to my belief that we are all created with unique gifts that we can offer to the world.  This book is my attempt to contribute.

What are your values and do these help you to make choices in your day-to-day life?  How do you respond when these are challenged?

I have come across so many clients who set unrealistic standards for themselves.  Are they your own values or ones that you have co-opted from other people?  It is important to find your own values to steer your life.

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you would like to order ‘An A-Z for your life’ so you can work through it at your own pace then simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!

If you are interested in my counselling services then check out www.envisioncounselling.co.uk and email me: shirley@envisioncounselling.co.uk