Lockdown Strategies

So how are you coping with the lockdown?

Everyone has their own way of dealing with adversity. After three weeks of Corona virus lockdown, many of us are feeling the strain. The lack of any clear schedule for when this is likely to end is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the situation. I wanted to share my own experience of what is working well for me and also what has been less successful. I hope some of the tips below are useful, and I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts and tips on how to deal with the challenge of social distancing and self-isolation.


My top 10 tips (in no particular order) are below with one extra and a personal reminiscence thrown in:

Develop a structure to the day. Whether you are working or not, having a clear shape to your day is key. Routines are important for mental health, and help us keep a sense of purpose and motivation. For those working, getting up a few hours before you start work and having a clear end to the working day, with regular breaks in between, will help you maintain work-life balance. If you are working from home, it is easy to lose this sense of structure. For those without work, it is doubly difficult but no less necessary.


Find time to self-reflect. The Covid-19 lockdown is a new and challenging experience for all of us, no matter what one’s circumstances, no matter whether you are among the essential staff who are still required to go in to work, staff having to work from home, or among those who have been furloughed or out of work, Take a little time each day to self-reflect and to get in touch with how you are feeling. Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful, but so can writing a diary or even just having some down time in your flat or garden.

Enjoy those around you. Everyone is different so everyone will have a different way of coping with the disruption of lockdown. This situation is unprecedented and people are often unexpectedly resourceful when the chips are down. Whether it’s colleagues you’re talking with via Zoom or the people in your household, appreciate the people around you. You may find that personality traits that you didn’t particularly like about someone in “normal” life are actually valuable and helpful coping strategies. Share laughter and try to see the best in what people offer.


Don’t ignore your emotions. It’s natural to feel anxiety, depression, fear, grief, self-doubt and all the other emotions that make us human, especially during such a challenging period. Everyone has their own private concerns, and it’s important to confront these, whether or not you decide to share them with others. It might be concern about ageing or vulnerable family members who might become exposed to the virus, fears about job security and finances, or worries about mental health during the lockdown. We are all humans, and a human tragedy is unfolding as the virus progresses. Try to be honest about how this is affecting you, seek help from friends or families if it helps to discuss, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you have worries about how you are coping.

Be honest but bite your tongue! Especially if you are in a household with limited space, it’s easy for tempers to flare. It’s therefore important to be honest when you feel impatient, resentful or angry about other people’s actions, or when you feel your efforts are under appreciated and you want more recognition. But try to communicate these feelings in a sensitive way, and be aware that others are in the same boat. Flaring up when others least expect it is not helpful. It can be helpful to create a structure for having honest, open, non-judgemental dialogue with colleagues, family or friends.

Limit your screen time. Don’t spend your whole time on the mobile phone. Having worked as a journalist for many years, I know first hand the tendency for keeping in touch with events to become an obsessive activity. I certainly have a tendency to look up the latest data on Covid19 casualties or breaking news about potential vaccines as soon as I wake up in the morning, or last thing at night. Spending too much time tapping the latest news on the mobile, however, can become a way of avoiding the need to self-reflect and get in touch with emotions. Rather like alcohol it can be a stimulant that becomes compulsive. The lockdown has made it all too easy to spend most of your day on social media chats and groups and to forget the need for exercise, perspective and self-care.

 
Enjoy the evenings and weekends. I have found it helpful to differentiate my work and leisure time, and to ensure that they felt different, so that the days and nights didn’t all blur into one another. Having a clear routine for the day and then the evening, and having a different pattern to work days and weekends helps create a structure to your week.

Look to nature. I love walking around the garden during the day time, and I also have an allotment which is hard work but mentally soothing. Even if you are in a flat in a city environment, observing nature can be a huge comfort. If you have a garden, try to get out each day for an hour or two, even if the weather is cold. Or spend some time exercising in a nearby park, while still observing the social distancing regulations. Looking at trees and birds or even just the blueness of the sky can help take you away from any dark places inside. Even if you cannot do that, look out of the window and get in touch with the nature around you.

Sleep and eat well. I never feel right if I let my diet slip, or if I stay up late and then sleep in for most of the morning. Many people will face the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown with feelings of anxiety and fear, and this can easily affect normal sleep and dietary patterns. Here again, people are so different it’s difficult to be prescriptive about what is a right or wrong approach. Some people may overeat when they feel anxious, others tend to eat nothing at all; some people may suffer from insomnia, while others may sleep at all hours and feel stressed as a result. Try to get in soothing routines that help you east and sleep normally; it could be a family meal in the early evening or a bath before bedtime, or whatever works for you. Having time for self-reflection can also help you identify what works best.

Learn a new skill or hobby. I find that learning is one of the most motivating things I can do at any time. Whether it’s a foreign language or learning a new craft skill such as pottery, learning helps me dig myself out of the mazes of introspection and opens up a world of limitless possibilities. The number of people offering courses during the lockdown has increased exponentially, so now is a great time to try something new. Follow your gut feeling about what this should be. Now might be a great time to talk to your employer about some extra training or a qualification. But you might just try some new hobby that you’d never thought you would have time for. Bee keeping? Icelandic? Online yoga? Whatever it is, learning a new skill can be the opportunity of a lifetime and will help you make the most of the lockdown.

And finally…

Practice self-compassion. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people I know have regrets about how they are doing during the lockdown. Whether it’s having flare-ups with family members, failing to keep the pace up at work or not getting the novel written, no-one quite manages to live up to their own expectations. I am probably the worst offender I know in this category so my final recommendation is to practice self-compassion. When the lockdown started, I planned to learn computer programming, complete a Great Courses in Physics and Quantum Theory, learn German and write a book on the Energy Transition. By the end of week one of the lockdown, these ambitions had multiplied in much the same way that bindweed proliferates in an allotment. I realised that the only way to get something done would be to limit my ambitions, and even if I did not achieve these more limited goals, not to be too hard on myself. Don’t beat yourself up. Stay well!

A Personal Reminiscence

When she entered her teens my daughter became conscious of the emptiness of the universe, the void. She had had a dream that she was on her own in a space capsule, “lost in space” just like in the old movie. She asked me: but supposing we are all just on our own travelling through empty space and that nothing has any meaning?

She had always enjoyed doing her room up (at vast expense as it always seemed to need another coat of paint!) and I was struck by her image of space travel. I asked her to imagine the space capsule and what was inside. The picture of the space craft sprang readily from her vivid imagination and she described the empty ship, and the bleakness of her surroundings.

I asked her: So how would you like it to be? We spent several minutes giving the place a makeover. We painted the sides and put up decorations, and it felt like the house when she had her friends round for a party and the mess and clutter was cleared away and balloons put up.

I was reminded of this vignette when thinking about lockdown. It does feel a bit like being in a space ship in the middle of nowhere. But creativity and imagination can help transform what could be like a prison into a rich experience which expands our horizons. As William Blake said:

The mind is its own place
And of itself can make
A heaven of hell

A hell of heaven.

Best wishes to all during the lockdown. Stay safe and stick by the social distancing guidelines. Even if you’re not on the front line, you can save lives by being caring and responsible.

Giving and Taking

People at Psychosynthesis Coaching symposium held Nov 14th 2018 in London. All ages, a range of expressions from enthusiasm to humour.

By Peter Stewart:

The first Annual Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching symposium was held at the National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) near King’s Cross in London on 14thNovember.

I wrote the article below after the event, and the symposium organisers kindly featured it on the Symposium website, which also has a wealth of information about the event as well as related photos and videos. Please click on the link below to access the Symposium website:

https://www.psychosynthesiscoaching.co.uk/symposium-2018/

Tong-len means ‘giving and taking’ in Tibetan.  Keith Hackwood led a Tonglen meditation as part of a plenary session on Selfcare for Coaches Using Mindfulness, immediately after lunch at the first Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching symposium on 14thNovember. “A difficult slot to fill”, he noted. There were around 60 people in the room, from the Institute of Psychosynthesis, Psychosynthesis Trust, various psyschotherapy and coaching associations, and from Psychosynthesis organisations from as far afield as Norway and Italy.

Lunch had been replete with conversation and ideas. I felt a buzz of excitement in the room as we settled down, shaking out the tension from arms and legs. For some reason, I could smell orange blossom.

Tong-len is a meditation practice from Tibetan Buddhism that uses breathing to explore feelings of altruism and compassion. The in-breath connects you with suffering – your own, others – and the outbreath with compassion for the world. Keith explained the concept, touched on the paradox of effortless effort in practicing meditation, and quoted a poem by Antonio Machado, translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly. The rest of the session was experiential, reconnecting with our feelings, letting them go, reconnecting with thoughts, letting the mind go still. I felt shocks of anxiety at the start, but after a while that gave way to a feeling of tidal movement, an ebb and flow, the traffic noise outside and the cry of seagulls.

The mix of experiential and conceptual was a strong point of the whole day, which was superbly organised by Rachel Houghton, Paul Elliot and Aubyn Howard of Psychosynthesis Coaching Limited (PCL).

Roger Evans, director of the Institute of Psychosynthesis, introduced the Symposium in the morning with a paradox:

Seeing with the heart = seeing and working with the will.

Roger explained something called the Six Session Model and the use of Trifocal Vision in coaching. Many of those attending, including myself, were familiar with these models from the Certificate course in Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching organised by PCL and run at the Institute, and Roger brought them alive with what I felt was a unique and passionate engagement with each individual in the room.

Roger’s talk on psycho-spiritual coaching gave a flavour of why psychosynthesis works at such a deep level, by focusing on meaning rather than just performance. I was moved by Roger’s commitment and passion, and the tribute he paid to his family. Then there was a brief moment when I felt that the world stopped turning. Roger asked the question: “What do you feel when you open your heart to another?” Various words were shot out from the audience – I seem to remember joy, openness, waiting, loneliness, but when someone responded “pain” it felt like an arrow had hit its target.

After Roger’s plenary session, we split into two workshops. In the morning, Keith Silvester and Heather Wignall from the Psychosynthesis Trust talked about coaching in a VUCA world, while Ruth Rochelle gave a workshop on systemic coaching and constellations. The same pattern was followed in the afternoon. After Keith Hackwood’s plenary, Harriett Hanmer and Laira Gold gave a talk with the title The Body Speaks while Aubyn Howard explored the theme of Developmental Thinking for Coaching.

The workshops sharpened my awareness of the paradox at the heart of coaching. I felt this most explicitly during Ruth Rochelle’s exploration of constellations, which used Post-it notes as the main prop. Ruth’s workshop comprised two constellations: the first revolved around depicting ’where I live‘ on the Post-it, and exploring how place and movement can affect the felt experience of that; the second involved representing three phases of your life on Post-its, and then exploring the feelings associated with these with the help of a coach.

While the experiential nature of the workshop was very powerful, space felt rather tight in the room, with more than 30 people in a circle of chairs, so I did not slip easily into this, feeling bombarded by others. I noticed my body getting slightly hot and then my mind rushing to compensate. As I settled down I was able to get a sense of being back in the moment, but I kept on trying to make mental sense of what was going on around me as people milled around the room without any words. My mind grabbed at thought as a way of filling these gaps. But as the workshop evolved, I felt more tuned into myself and somehow that left me feeling more in sync with other people.

The paradox of meaning that struck me then, and throughout the day, was the notion that you can be most deeply in touch with your Self when the self dissolves; that you can experience the Self of others most profoundly when you are most in touch with your own Self.

Somatic coaching is increasingly being used as a pathway to deeper levels of self-awareness and of experiencing others. Later in the day, a workshop on equine-guided learning introduced the statistic that only 7% of personal communication is through spoken words, while 38% is dependent on voice and tone, and 55% on body language.

From the feedback after the constellations workshop, people had experienced a huge range of emotions through the constellation, but at a much deeper level than the cognitive-rational. And the workshop resonated with many in terms of how they could use their experience with their own coaching clients.

Moved to tears by horses

From Ruth’s workshop I got a sense of the power of using the entirety of Self in coaching, and how constellations could be used to explore the Self at a deeper level. This theme was picked up in the afternoon in Harriet Hanmer and Laira Gold’s workshop The Body Speaks (they will be holding a day for practitioners of Equine-Guided Learning on 16 March 2019).

Harriet and Laira work with horses to help senior executives explore systemic interactions in their organisations. Many managers are simply unaware of these. I found myself strangely amused by the idea of company directors milling around in the mud at Manor Farm House in Colston Basset in Welly Boots, where Harriet and Laira work, exploring the Mind-Body split. But I was moved when I saw a photo of the sympathetic body language between one horse and the MD of a company, and we learned that he had been moved to tears by the human-horse interaction.     

Harriet introduced the theory of the ’triune‘ brain, with its human (neocortex), mammalian (limbic system) and reptilian layers, which although nowadays under scrutiny from neuroscientists, provides a framework for moving beyond the conscious ’thinking‘ part of our brains and into the less charted realms of the limbic system and more primitive sub-conscious layers.

After the talk I spoke with Laira about whether equine-guided learning could be used in schools. I had watched a documentary about a ’failing‘ school (Ofsted’s word, not mine) and I was struck by how discipline in schools focusses primarily on verbal affirmations by young teenagers. I felt from the documentary that their body often contradicted their words and, although I don’t know horses, I occasionally had felt a similar kind of resentment and dissonance when walking with donkeys.

I can imagine many other uses for equine work. “The world needs this,” Harriet and Laira affirmed.

Are we in the soup?

One of the last slides in Harriet and Laira’s deck asked the question: “Are we in the soup?” I use this question as a segway to mention the two workshops I was unable to attend.

Keith Silvester from the Psychosynthesis Trust talked in the morning on Coaching in a VUCA world, with Heather Wignall. I felt there was synchronicity in the fact that Keith’s talk coincided with the day a Brexit agreement was finally thrashed out by the May government and the European Union.

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Keith and Heather suggested that the four aspects of VUCA map on to psychological themes that are taught in psychosynthesis and other therapeutic models. From the programme notes, these are: lack of object constancy, which maps from Volatility; existential survival anxiety (from Uncertainty); systems thinking and mind development (from Complexity); and relative meaning and interpretation (from Ambiguity).

In a session that provided impressive thought leadership, Heather and Keith also talked about VUCA in relation to ‘adaptive leadership’ (as developed by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, through a book of that name). As one workshop participant observed: “The VUCA model …links to a really useful leadership model [adaptive leadership] and the workshop included a practical tool to use in coaching related to this” which a number of participants said would be useful in their current coaching work. As noted by Heather and Keith: “Adaptive leadership is specifically designed to support personal and organisational leadership” in a VUCA context.

The VUCA theme linked naturally to the evolutionary perspectives discussed in Aubyn Howard’s session in the afternoon on the current crisis in leadership. Aubyn introduced Frederic Laloux’s evolutionary paradigm, familiar from the book Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness. Laloux’s book is premised on the idea that corporate culture has evolved from highly hierarchical top-down structures to more ethically-driven self-governing and self-regulating structures build around committed teams; in the book’s colour scheme, from red to teal organisations.

Those attending the workshop split into groups and discussed how coaches could support leaders to make a developmental shift in their consciousness. This is what Aubyn calls ‘The Big Question’. He challenged: “How can we as coaches nurture, activate and encourage the evolutionary paradigm in emergent leaders in organisations and society?”

But back to my earlier question: are we in the soup? My impression from those I spoke to after they attended both the VUCA and developmental sessions is that the answer is a resounding yes. The world is in a mess.

But at least psychosynthesis offers hope that we can find a way out of the crisis we are in. The day ended with a brief discussion on neuroscience, and we were lucky to have an expert in the field in the audience.

Aubyn talked about neuro-plasticity, the idea that the brain is an adaptive organ that can evolve and develop over the course of an individual lifetime.

Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, set great store by the exercise of Will in the emergence of Self. I found it mind-blowing that neuroscience is discovering mechanisms by which consciousness can evolve over the space of a lifetime, as a result of individual purpose and the pursuit of meaning, rather than passively as a series of random mutations. It seemed like a powerful link to Assagioli’s heritage and teaching.

As Aubyn said at the start of the Symposium: “The whole world of psychosynthesis is rejuvenating. It feels like it’s flourishing and it’s in touch with the zeitgeist”.

I look forward to next year’s Symposium and the opportunity to take these conversations into yet newer realms!

Peter Stewart

peter@carettacoaching.co.uk

www.carettacoaching.co.uk

Welcoming in 2019 with mixed feelings

Underwhelming

Many of my friends on Facebook, and many coaches whom I follow on Twitter, have described their  New Year celebrations and expansive plans for 2019. For myself, this New Year has been more than usually underwhelming.

I often say inwardly that I would prefer to spend New Year’s Eve reading a book at home, rather  than heading out into the cold to spend a few hours with friends at their home, partying, or down an ill-lit pub or club, downing Prosecco and champagne and other variants of bubbly. Invariably I get into the spirit of things, drink too much of the largely indistinguishable alcohols on offer, and wake up feeling the pain of hangover and the happiness of renewal of another New Year.

This year, and as I have done in almost all previous years, I ignored the urge to stay at home. I ventured out into the cold and down the quiet streets of my home town, ending up at the local Con Club. Unlike in all previous years, however, I really do wish I had just had a quiet evening in and read a book.

It’s not that the evening was an unmitigated disaster. Certainly not a car crash.

Apart from a half-hour argument about politics with a close friend, triggered by my anti-Brexit T-shirt, that lasted between 11.15 pm and around 11.45 (as far as I recall, from looking repeatedly at the clock) it was mostly quite pleasant. The conversation was lively, for the most part, and the refugees from another party towards midnight suggested we had not chosen the worst option in terms of the entertainment and company. The hugs and kisses at New Year were as happy and sincere as ever.

But definitely this year it did not go with the usual zing. My heart felt as if it were in another place from the crowded room, which smelt of spilt beer, and reverberated with the noise of the  post- middle-aged rock band. The argument before midnight racketed around in my head after the bells had tolled like a deaf bat, leaving a bad aftertaste. I felt a gaping distance behind every burst of laughter.

When I got home, finally, I felt that everything was tainted, even my closest friendships. I remembered my mother, who died exactly two years earlier, and I felt emotional that my kids were now grown up and had (effectively) flown the parental nest.

The lengthening shadows of Brexit swept me into a deepening gloom that has not yet shifted.

Underwhelmed

Why do I tell you this? I’m sorry if this is not an upbeat New Year message. Nor do I have any terrific new insights to draw from my somewhat sub-optimal experience, beyond that life does not always go with a bang.

Of course, I hope that 2019 will be a wonderful year for myself, my family and every single one of my friends. I hope it will be wonderful for you too. And I still hope that Brexit will not happen. But the reality is that it is more likely to be a mixed bag, and that Brexit is more likely to happen than not. As my late father said, we’ll just  have to find some way to “muddle through”.

At least this New Year has not kicked-off with  unrealistic expectations. I often feel we are fed a diet of saccharin self-satisfaction through social media, a distorting mirror in which the reflection is always more perfect than the reality.

Recipes for the good life abound. Bob Dylan once said, “Everybody wants you to be just like them”. Whether it’s the peremptory injunctions for self-improvement on Twitter or book-length manuals for higher levels of performance and achievement; whether it’s picture perfect Selfie images on Instagram or lengthy descriptions of the family achievements over the last year on Facebook; TV-ready Ted talks or the video of New Year fireworks in Thailand on Youtube — the message from Social Media can be relentless: Someone has it better than you.

I hope that my rather downbeat New Year narrative will, at least, help to stem this relentless tide of false expectation and inflated comparison. At a deeper level, I hope also that those who read it will realise that it’s perfectly okay to have ups and downs.

I believe that coaching can help us learn from these highs and lows, to achieve deeper levels of self-awareness and inner contentment. I believe it can help us to exercise the will to achieve our deepest goals, but also deepen self-acceptance so that we do not have to listen to the constant noise of self-comparison.

In that spirit*  I would like to leave you with the following thoughts:

Real life is often less than perfect, even at New Year, with all its hilarity and hope. The hand we are dealt contains spades as well as hearts, clubs as well as diamonds. Our moods are often positive, but sometimes not.  We make mistakes, so do our friends; we have regrets, so do they. The year ahead will have highs but also lows. Some will be our fault, others will be down to events beyond our control.

We will achieve some of our cherished hopes through character, attitude, hard work, spirit and good luck; but sometimes we will fail. We will overcome some fears, but not all. Hopefully we will feel happy, joyous, warm, excited, loving, loved; but we will also go through periods where we are sad, frustrated, impatient, angry, maybe even despairing at times. Hopefully, our friends, family, loved ones will give us comfort and support; but it is not unlikely that on some days, we will have to hold ourselves.

Whatever 2019 holds for you, my best wishes and warm regards.  

Final thought:

* I hope those who read this post will do so in the spirit in which it is intended, and not regard it as negative or depressing. Feel free to comment and I will certainly reply. Look after yourselves in the year ahead. Please do seek  help if you feel hopeless or unable to cope.

   

Symposium

I attended the very first Psychosynthesis Coaching symposium in London. What a fantastic day!

Around 60 people from the Institute of Psychosynthesis, the Psychosynthesis Trust, the Association of Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors attended.

Many of the people in the room knew each other from the Certificate courses offered by the Institute, but there was a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere and many people — including myself — made new friends.

I shall update this blog with a more comprehensive account of the day when I get time.