Responding to major change

April 27, 2016

Adapting to a major change process is a challenge, especially when it comes to having to deal with a foreign language. I have recently re-located to Germany for an indefinite period, and have had to deal with many administrative processes that require not only knowing how the system works, but also having to understand a foreign language and all of its subtleties.

As I encounter those around me, it feels like I am enveloped in a sea of ‘gibberish’. Nothing makes sense. There are no anchors to hold onto, no cues to connect with. It makes one feel powerless.

My work as a therapist is all about language, stories and the creation of meaning. My struggle with not being able to ‘converse’ effectively with others was therefore acutely heightened. I was having first-hand experience of the power of ‘not having language’.

As I thought more about my situation, the image of a one-year-old responding to his(her) environment came to the fore. This image offered me ‘an attitudinal approach’ to how I should respond to the major change that had occurred. Four ideas were activated by the image, which helped align me to a clearer philosophy and methodology going forward.

In time

‘In time’ suggested that I need not rush or panic about the new unfolding process. I needed to be patient with myself. With consistent practice, it would only be a matter of time, before I would be acquiring new knowledge and the necessary language skills. This realisation helped to settle me.

Beginner’s mind

A beginner’s mind is an inquiring mind that engages the environment in a non-judgemental way. It is also a responsive mind that acts spontaneously. Unlike the mind of a one-year-old which does not have any previously ingrained knowledge and language codes, I was filled with an old established pattern of language. I now needed to let go of the ‘old’ and embrace the new input in order to acquire a new set of codes and meanings.

Being present and playful

To be effective in any learning situation, you need to be fully present and focused in the unfolding moment. In helping babies perform on television commercials I have always been amazed at how concentrated and focused a baby is when playing and exploring. As I thought about this, I realised that I needed to lighten up and become more playful in the process. I had become too intense. I needed to laugh more and not take myself so seriously.

Appreciation

Joy and appreciation are linked. Without appreciation, there can be no joy. As I thought deeper about the challenge of learning a new language, a part of me started to feel excited. The situation was offering me a gift to expand myself and to encounter the true diversity of life.

Concluding remarks

On a general level, internal resistance is activated initially, when encountering any change. The greater the change, the stronger the resistance. In dealing with change, however, adjustment is required. Adjustment and resistance are inversely related: the more the resistance (the more the rigidity), thus reducing the ability to relax, which in turn, impacts on one’s ability to adjust.

Letting go of resistance, and aligning yourself with the attitude and playfulness of a one-year-old allows you to embrace change in a flexible way. Opportunities to learn more about yourself occur and new knowledge and skills can be acquired more effortlessly.

On a therapeutic level, dealing with the change has offered me insights into the intra- and interpersonal complexities of what it feels like to be an ‘outsider’, due to the inability to access and utilise the vehicle of connection, which is predominantly language (for adults).

Watch me play

Playing


Love and quantum leaps

April 16, 2016
Balanced and focused

Balanced and focused

Recently, my nephew Keaton Jennings, scored two centuries in the opening match of the English county cricket season. Any cricketer will tell you how remarkable this achievement is. His performance placed him in the Durham County Cricket Club’s history books.

I often equate life to the image of an iceberg, where 1/7 lies above the surface (the seen), while 6/7 lies beneath the water line (the unseen). His remarkable performance did not surprise me one bit, since I had observed the accumulation of all the hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes. He never shies away from doing the ‘hard yards’, and is keen to learn more and more about the complexity of top performance.

In talking about the mental aspects of elite performance, I shared with him that the mental and emotional components of an athlete need to be integrated and balanced for exceptional performance to unfold. In order to assist this process, Keaton and I spent 6 months doing tai chi together. In addition, he applied the calm breathing exercises of the tai chi practice to his batting.

Besides working on getting into this balanced performance state, I mentioned that an athlete will not be able to perform to his(her) potential if riddled with fear during competition, especially with the ‘fear of failure’. Fear constricts and restricts the energy flow of a person. It tightens the body and freezes the mental capacities of the athlete. Fear vacillates (depending on the context), and tends to rear its ugly head at critical moments during the competitive encounter of elite sport.

There are two processes that one can use to tackle and neutralize fear. It is worth mentioning, however, that fear is a powerful and stubborn energy that is not easily conquered. Given this, one needs to apply gentle perseverance to the process of overcoming it.

Firstly, one should ‘look’ at the fear squarely in its eyes and acknowledge its existence, without trying to change or resolve it. By just looking at your fear, you shine light on it. Since fear operates in the dark recesses of the mind, it does not like light. Besides wanting to remain in the dark, fear thrives and grows with denial. Honest looking, is a powerful neutralizing agent since this is opposite to the denial process.

Secondly, one can counter fear by applying lots of love to it. Love is the opposite energy to fear. When there is love, there can be no place for fear. Playing top sport with love in the heart, assists the athlete to enter the emotional and mental place where mind, body and spirit integrate into a unified and coherent energetic force that allows a quantum performance to occur.

Playing with love in the heart does not mean that the athlete is soft, weak or casual. Love requires taking care of what one does and insists that you are patient, persevering and dedicated in your efforts. Further, love means that the athlete is not critical or judgmental when dealing with failure. Instead, love is expansive and drives the athlete further to reveal the true potential that exists within. By accessing the energy of love, the athlete becomes alert to the unfolding moment and responds spontaneously with an open heart. It is in this emotional place, that the athlete enters the zone, where doubts are released and replaced with an inner peace that thrives on the challenge of the competitive moment.

Leaping with joy

Leaping with joy


‘Not knowing’

April 13, 2016

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Yesterday, I was reading through some messages that I and a close friend had been exchanging over time. As I read them, I experienced a range of feelings, from sadness to a deeper appreciation of our relationship.

The sadness was due to my reading our messages dated two months before he passed away. I had just spent a wonderful week with him, taking photographs, and had been telling him how much I enjoyed our discussions about photography. He replied, telling me how much he valued our relationship. He was a well known film director and had a wealth of knowledge about lighting, composition and creativity in photography, that he shared with me in abundance.

I used to visit him on a yearly basis, usually around his birthday. For me, it was a photographic retreat where I could immerse myself into a field that I loved.

When he visited me, we spent hours talking about philosophy and psychology. He shared some of his deepest emotional struggles with me. It seemed that without us knowing it, we developed this ‘to and fro’ visiting rhythm where photography was centre stage in his place of abode, and psychology was the theme when he spent time visiting me.

During my visit in April 2014, he did not know that he had cancer. We also did not know that he only had two more months to live. As I was reading through our exchange that we had in April 2014, I couldn’t stop thinking about the notion of legacy and love, and how quickly life can change and how fragile our existence actually is. In this age of information flow, communication is documented and archived in a string of ‘to and fro’ bits of meaningful (or not?) exchanges between people. As you reflect back on the past communication you have had with a friend or family member, you never know when death will intervene and stop the exchange.

As I read through the old messages between us, there were no regrets about not having said what I really wanted to say, or wishing that I hadn’t said what I had said. In fact, as I went through our messaging, I felt a deeper appreciation of our relationship.

I couldn’t stop feeling that since we live in a state of ‘not knowing’ when it comes to death, our every message that we send to others should be enveloped with a conscious awareness that we are creating a legacy of who we are, and how we wish to be remembered.

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Decay of a system

February 9, 2016

In the ruthless world of business, a stock price can drop significantly over time due to poor performance and lack of profitability of a company. As the decay continues, the share is eventually suspended due to severe financial loss and bankruptcy.

If Cricket South Africa was a business, operating in the market place where normal economic forces are at play, the share would have been suspended months ago.

While most of the media attention has focused on the poor performance of the senior team over the past year since their semi-final loss against New Zealand in the World Cup, of greater concern is what has been unfolding in the Under-19 team over the past two years, since being crowned World Champions in 2014. At the end of that tournament, Cricket South Africa saw it fit to replace the experienced coach Ray Jennings (who had been in charge of managing successful Under-19 national teams over ten years). The reasons for not renewing his contract were not revealed. Since his departure, it is worth just looking at the results of the younger generation of South African cricketers, bearing in mind that they are the feeder system into the senior team. These results have gone unnoticed by most. Building up to the recent World Cup championships, the bare facts reveal that the team had played 19 Youth ODIs and had lost 16 of these (15,7% success). Then the team did not make the quarter-finals, losing to Namibia, and finally to round off the lows, the team was bowled out for 91 by Zimbabwe, losing by 8 wickets in the Plate matches.

While the reasons for the poor performance of the national and Under-19 South African teams may be many, there are two predominant factors that I feel are at play: (a) the quality of the leadership and, (b) the criteria regarding selection policy and political interference in natural competitive sporting processes.

Cricket South Africa should be extremely concerned at the decay that is unfolding in their cricket system. It is obvious that there are internal processes that are causing the system to implode. But is it too late to rescue the situation, or is there the will or intention to address the unhealthy processes that exist in the system?. The sad state of affairs is that the quality of performance of the senior and junior national teams has dropped significantly, to a level where the teams are now losing to their impoverished African neighbours.

In my practice, I consult with many young athletes who have aspirations to turn professional in their respective sports. I have witnessed a dramatic reduction in those wanting to pursue cricket. On a fundamental level, there has been a shift away from team sports (such as cricket), to the more individualistic sports where the possibility of administrative interference is reduced.

A lone oarsman

A lone oarsman


Life’s journey

January 26, 2016

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I took this photograph while on a walk over the weekend. As I processed the image, I was struck by the powerful message that it was conveying.

For me, it reflects our uniqueness and the evolutionary journey of life. We travel alone and leave foot prints, caused by our actions which defines our history. We move into our future, stepping into unknown, virgin territory.

As we travel, we need to deal with the dualistic nature of life, as we encounter light and darkness (shadow).

The climb is up and in the distance we may have a goal that we are moving towards. But we don’t know what lies ahead, as we summit the hill. While the journey can be planned, the challenges may be many and/or unexpected. While decisions may need to be made, try to travel safely, lightly and with love.


Making a significant life decision

January 9, 2016

There will be a time in your life when you will be confronted with having to make a major life decision.

A friend was discussing his intention to emigrate and stated that ‘hanging around is like death’. He added that ‘hanging around in life’ was a difficulty that he had been encountering over time. His life was going nowhere and he was feeling immobilised, stuck and blocked. He seemed to be experiencing a slow death due to the lack of movement in his life.

The creation of reality starts as a thought and a major life decision may take time to make. Even after making the decision, there may be an oscillation between ‘yes-no’, coupled with doubt and fear. Getting conscious change to occur in your life takes determination and courage since there is a homeostasis that has to be challenged.

Your emotional security is wrapped up in the familiar patterns of interaction which define your life. When making a life decision which requires significant change, you will encounter uncertainty and unpredictability. Moving into a future that has not yet unfolded is an uncomfortable mental process, since there is no familiarity to anchor onto. Moving into the unknown, requires trust and takes courage.

The process of making a decision is only the first stage of the movement of change that you may wish to achieve. After the decision, little action steps need to occur. Thinking needs to transform into action. In the initial stages of action, there may be little or no movement. It may feel as if you are not getting any traction. This may activate feelings of despondency and doubt. Your sense of self-empowerment may dwindle.

The unfolding process may have a paradoxical feel to it. Internally, you are likely to experience turbulence with energy pulling and pushing you in a fragmenting way. In contrast, you may feel stagnant, with no significant movement being evident when you assess your external progress. The process will require patience. Creating rigid expectations of how things will unfold and the pace thereof, may inadvertently build up frustration. Instead, try and relax and be open to the unexpected and the range of possibilities that may be waiting to emerge.

It is important to keep the bigger picture in mind, as well as the vision of the necessity to change, as a guiding light in the change process. These are your mental anchors. Furthermore, work on keeping emotionally light since the taxing emotional process may make you feel heavy and stuck.

Energy can be likened to fire, as well as, to water. Keeping the metaphor of moving water in mind can assist you in the process. Healthy, clear mountain water flows naturally, moving around rocks and obstacles. Water is fluid and gentle as it makes its way flowing down the mountain.

As I walked along the little river meandering in the forest, I couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation of ‘hanging around is like death’.

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Labels and water-tight language

December 3, 2015

In consulting with clients, I have noticed how problems are given an absolute, immovable, dominant status in the way that they are spoken about. Words such as ‘always’ and ‘never’ highlight the water-tight nature of the problem being encountered. Comments such as: ‘my husband is always late’, ‘my daughter never does her homework’, ‘my boss is always in a bad mood’, ‘my wife never listens to what I am telling her’ reflects how one may inadvertently put those we are having difficulty with into a sealed, water-tight box.

Water-tight language about the problem generally entraps a person, and restricts and limits possibilities moving forward into the future.

Due to the co-operative nature of energy and informational flow, there is an ongoing recursive loop between how we think, how we speak and how we experience reality. In essence this means that what we think, is what we will see and experience. Linked to this idea is the notion of how we may unconsciously create a label of another person which then determines how we perceive and interact with this person. In a previous article I covered in detail how labels get created, resulting in self-fulfilling prophecies. In essence, a label gets created when an authoritative observer dogmatically attributes and describes certain behaviours to another person in a water-tight way, and then continues to perpetuate this perspective over time. A label starts as a seed, that eventually grows into a huge tree.

One way to break labels is to question the assumptions that you may be making when you explain or describe an experience. Engaging in a reflective conversation that offers space helps to highlight and reveal the tacit assumptions that you may be making when you try and give meaning to your experiences with others.

I enjoy long walks in the country side. I pass by a tree that I have developed a connection (relationship) with. I find myself taking many photographs of this tree. While the tree is fixed in the ground in a permanent way, I have noticed that this tree does not have an absolute, fixed perceptual energy to it. It seems to change depending on the time of day that I walk pass, the emotional mood that I am in and the climatic conditions that are prevailing at a given point in time. These factors tend to combine to co-create a certain reality of the tree for me. I share some of the photographs to reveal the range of realities that are reflected by this lone beautiful tree.

Just after sunrise today

After sunrise

A week ago after snow

After snow

The above two photographs were taken with a 100mm lens but from the exact opposite viewpoint when I took the photographs.

Two months ago just after sunset

After sunset

Beautiful autumn colours in October

Beautiful autumn colours

Thick mist today

Thick mist

The above three photographs were taken more or less from the exact same viewpoint, with the same wide angle lens.

A creative perspective

A creative perspective

The above photograph was a creative expression of how I felt about the tree. I did a zoom burst to capture this image.


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