Certain Uncertainty

20160729_095855163_ios

The period of  travelling after leaving my job was only uncertain in that I wasn’t sure day to day where I might eat and end up drinking and how long I might choose to stay in a place before moving on.

In the background though was a context of greater uncertainty. I had left a job that I had worked in for many years and whilst I had prepared myself as much as I could for that leap it still was a leap into the unknown. In life when circumstance puts us in position of uncertainty it is inevitable that this will be uncomfortable and our natural desire will be to get out of that ‘state’ as quickly as possible (see my earlier blog post on being uncomfortable). However, if we are prepared to sit with periods of uncertainty it can give us a glimpse of what is certain in our lives:

  • The Value of Ourselves- when things that we have relied upon external to us like a job or a relationship changes or ends, there is an opportunity for us to reflect and acknowledge our inherent value, our character, our skills, our purpose, the precious life we have. In relation to work it is the skills we learn and develop in every job we do that we can then nurture and develop to move forward. It is the ability to learn new skills knowing that we have done it in the past. In terms of ourselves, it is the things that make us ‘unique’, who we are, it is the reason why people are drawn to us and the things that if we allow we can love about ourselves
  • The Value of Relationships- Friends may come and go. Family changes in shape and composition. We fall in love and that love may come to an end. In uncertainty, connections offer affirmation of the value of ourselves and something beyond ourselves at the same time.
  • The Power of Acceptance – if we accept the very nature of life as it is certainty becomes less of a long-term aspiration replaced with an acceptance of the nature of change and uncertainty and a willingness to be open, curious and flexible to change and experience life as it shifts
  • The Moment, the Present- perhaps the greatest constant of them all until we either significantly lose our health or die is the opportunity and beauty of a moment. If we can drop expectation based on the past, anticipation based on hope and experience it for what is we have potential.

Anxiety during times of uncertainty is very hard to counter but every time we meet it we have a chance to meditate and reflect on those things that are bigger, greater, deeper in our human experience.

 

 

 

Being Uncomfortable

 

20160801_194954209_ios

We all enjoy being comfortable. From the lie in in a warm bed, to the secure job, to a beautiful home we cling to the feeling of being comfortable.  We seek comfort in challenging times. I mentioned before the apple turnovers of youth, the warm, sugary flaky pastry of youth. Now it is the comfort of the fine wine as an older man. It is very hard for most of us to celebrate being ‘uncomfortable’.

In travel terms we have seen the evolution of categories of flying ….first, business, premium economy, club etc. etc.… all appealing to that need to avoid the feeling of discomfort.

Regardless of class I still hate flying. I’ve gone through periods of varying discomfort with it but fundamentally I’d choose most forms of transport over it. A summer of travelling by train and boat has reminded me of how much of a chore flying by air has become, weight limits, security, fast track, boarding passes, delays etc. Inflight plastic meals, more channels than we can consume and cabins that feel cold no matter where we are flying from and to. I will do it because it is a necessity to see the world but I don’t enjoy ‘it’, merely the sense that at any point I’m closer to where I want to be than where I started.

Even with the most ‘comfortable’ of travel experiences we are taking ourselves out of our comfort zone and that to me is a good thing about travel because when I return things are less uncomfortable. Most importantly for me:

The distance between where we leave comfortable, the journey through where we ‘are uncomfortable’ and coming out the other side is a soft space of growth and ultimately happiness.

Travel has always thrown me to places that are not comfortable. On a trip to Australia I landed miles off course after a balloon ride in Brisbane in a field with a basket full of screaming Korean women, in Thailand I rode the back of a bike that turned out to be the rubbish truck and was lucky not to lose a foot or leg, in Turkey I had a meltdown during the London Olympics opening ceremony, in Granada I stayed in the equivalent of a monk’s cell with no air conditioning in the middle of summer. Travel forces us out of our comfort zone and offers us a lesson more generally in dealing with those times we are uncomfortable. After all, life has a habit of rocking us out of our comfort zone in far greater ways than any temporary travel experiences. But life and travel has taught me the benefits of these uncomfortable places

  • I learn a lot about myself when things become uncomfortable. Things I was previously unaware of, things that irk me. With some reflection, it can lead to a knowledge of why that is, what the nature of the discomfort is, who I am as a person. The insight offered in a period of difficulty or being uncomfortable is often enlightening and a great starting place for personal growth. In short there is sometimes something to celebrate in the times we are uncomfortable.
  • Which is why we should sometimes just sit with being uncomfortable. It’s natural to moan about it, want to run from it or to find something to numb the pain…pass me another cocktail. Sometimes in doing the latter we create more problems than the original discomfort we have. Sitting and accepting the times we are uncomfortable offers us the opportunity to take something positive from the most challenging in experiences. In short it offers the opportunity to…
  • Grow– what was uncomfortable years ago is not so uncomfortable now, what we think we can’t cope with we do. Being uncomfortable is training for life, it is a chance to recognise strength far greater than we thought we had and to use it to prepare us for the challenges ahead

The love of Travel

image1-copy
Mum shortly after coming from Ireland

Where does our love of travel come from? I have been travelling regularly since the age of 20. I often think where did this ‘wanderlust’ come from?. My parents were not travellers; my Dad had done a short stint overseas in places like Aden in the army but other than that our minor travel experiences were confined to a week with the cousins occasionally at a caravan in Skegness.

But my Mum in particular taught me to be curious, to expand my horizons and my thinking. She was 17 when she came to England from Ireland, and after working in a hostel as a cleaner she married my Dad. I was the youngest of 3 boys and by the time I was born, after a big gap, Mum and Dad still lived together but sadly had drifted apart.

In that distance between them though our mother/son relationship thrived. We were friends as much as Mum and Son and whilst my Dad was quite strict about many things (and I am grateful to him for that!) Mum was an encourager of freedom, expression, enjoyment and love of life. In the long summer holidays, we would take days out, sit in the sun, play games, talk, dance. We used to laugh a lot.

Things at times were not easy, we were not rolling in money and Mum struggled to manage a lot. But she created space, whether intentionally or not she tried to show me the wonder of life and the world we live in. Radio and TV were the main conduit for this and some of my most vivid memories are us sitting together on the collapsing sofa watching TV documentaries and travel programmes. I used to love watching Alan Whicker and the stories of warlords and local celebrities. Channel 4 had started broadcasting and their social documentaries showed me a world I was yet to come across. We sat up together through the night watching the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and I distinctly remember my awe during the Olympic ceremony of the colour and magic of this place thousands of miles away. It made the nights somehow pass easier.

It must have been very difficult for my Mum when ultimately I went to University, by that time she was living alone, but it was clear she wanted me to expand, to grow regardless of some of the loneliness she would feel. In my 2nd year of University she encouraged me to travel with friends to America to work on a summer camp. Aside from a trip to Spain it was my first big experience of travel and being away and of course I got homesick. Yet when I called her in tears from America she told me to stick with it and it would get better. Of course it did and I had a memorable 3 months of work and travel. On reflection her maternal instinct was incredible, she could hear I was sad, that I wanted to come home yet she knew I was not in danger and the discomfort was taking me somewhere personally. I am forever grateful for those moments of intuition

image2 - Copy.JPG

As I traveled more she used to love my postcards and calls. On my return it was cups of tea and tales. She was content with the simplicity of her own life and I also benefited from seeing that but she reveled in the colour of my travels and the photographs from abroad.

FullSizeRender.jpg

She saw life as a journey and when she died it was so peaceful and profound I could only see it as reflection of the grace with which she led hers. Her death 7 years ago this week was a great loss to me and the way I regard grief is that it is a space that I sense and feel, a place once occupied by a person, that sometimes is dark and painful but at other times glows with the beauty of memories.I accept it, I don’t fight it even when it is raw and hurts. It is the memory of love and giving, the sacrifices she made to enable me to go and do the things I wanted to do. Dad supported and made sacrifices too, I owe a huge amount to him. My amazing brothers and their families have encouraged me too as I have travelled. Mum though gave time and inspired, exposing me to curiosity and possibility. These are the greatest gifts, the things that become part of your character and everyday take you to new adventures. My Love of Travel emerged from the love between me and my Mum and for that, in perpetuity, I am grateful.

Cake and goodbye

20161004_215706000_ios

I think I told you that I had some bad habits. Cake is definitely one of my biggest weaknesses, or rather the excess of cake eating.When I was younger my Mum was a typical comfort feeder (bless her ) and a shared couple of apple turnovers was the answer to all our collective woes. I used to think it was great except when I was bouncing  around the cross country field, desperate for a personal best.

Anyway the love of cake has endured and when I finally decided on the date I would leave work I arranged for morning cake and coffee for colleagues in our works cafe.I chose the morning because my last ‘day’ was actually going to finish at 2 pm (one of my final ‘excecutive decisions’). Cupcakes with a plane, a world, and a buddha were made  reflecting the things that were important to me and the things. like the love of cake that would endure.

Like many workplaces there was a fairly set custom for the leaving ritual. The Boss would make a speech, gifts would be given, I would make a speech. I would leave. I told the Chief, who is also a friend of mine,that i didn’t want the traditional list of all the jobs I’d done from the time I started. A man with a sense of humour I got his alternative version, a fairy tale of my rise from being found in a basket in Coventry to various unscrupulous jobs I had never actually  done. It was in very good humour though and he got a good roasting back

Remarkably I managed to not cry., in spite of the kind words and the  gorgeous and quirky presents I received from people. I think I had a  sense of peace with the decision I’d made and my overall feeling was one of immense gratitude for the experience I had had over the last 16 years.

20161004_215718000_ios

When I got home that afternoon I spent a little time looking at my cards but soon they were packed away. I had things to do. A night party the following night to go to and in 3 days time I was to fly away. It was time to give some time to some travel dreams. Europe beckoned!

On Reflection and Letting Go

20130801_160330000_iosThe work we do though is an important part of our lives and soon my own work came back to the forefront of my mind. Challenges in terms of the finances of the  organisation I was working for meant that significant savings were having to be made

It was important to me to retain the value of the work  my team did for the organisation and support my team members through change, but change was inevitable. It was time to reflect on how to take the team forward but it was  also time to reflect on my own place within the organisation, building on what I had started to understand was important to me in the future

I had worked for the organisation for 16 years, a long time given that I only intended to stay for 2.The reason I stayed so long though was the organisation was fundamentally a great place to work, an organisation with a strong social purpose and a great group of people working for it. It had consistently supported me and challenged me as I moved from leading a small team to heading up a whole division.

The promotion that I missed out on was a natural progression of that journey, a chance to develop my aspirations for the organisation even further. With that promotion not happening I began to reflect on my future in my current role.

The value of reflection

Since becoming interested in Buddhism in my early 20’s  and beginning daily practice of meditation I had developed a recognition of the value of stopping in what can be a very busy life. Alongside that,  the practice of reflection had become an important part of my life. For me finding time to reflect brings a number of benefits

  • Gratitude- we can spend too much time thinking of what is lacking in our lives. Creating time for self reflection offers the opportunity to be thankful for many things, the basic conditions we live in (when they are positive), our relationships, our achievements, our passions and our beliefs. Reminding ourselves of what we have to be thankful for and acknowledging and expressing it is a vital part me for me of retaining perspective when life naturally presents us with challenge and loss.
  • Increased awareness- the situations we face in our lives are either due to the way we think about our particular circumstances ( how we  frame them in our own minds) or a real reflection of a situation no longer being satisfactory. Either way self reflection can help us to reconsider how we feel or the reality of the position we are in or to identify when something needs to change. Over a longer period of time it can help us to understand what is important to us…the ‘things we need’ and who we are as people.
  • Learning- In an earlier post I spoke of the need when things go wrong in our lives to avoid the temptation for self reproach. In essence very little benefit  can be  gained with chastising ourselves  whereas taking time to look for the learning in particular situation offers us the chance to turn many of he situations we face in life to grow as individuals.
  • Preparation for action- given all the above, self reflection gives us the best opportunity when we are preparing for action to ensure that it takes us towards our goals.

Letting Go

In my own case, over a period of 6 months my reflection led me to a number of conclusions, some of which I covered in the previous post . I was incredibly grateful for the time I had had at the organisation, for the friendships I had made, the skills I had developed and the things I and my team had achieved. However I was now aware that I had probably done as much as I could do in the role I was in and that in order to grow personally and professionally I would have to leave.

Understanding that is a different matter to taking the plunge, to leave a well paid comfortable job in order to go on a different kind of journey. In the late summer of 2015 I spent many days going to the office asking myself whether that day would be the day I would declare my intentions, those days came and went.

And then one day i walked into the office, I saw the Chief Exec and Director of HR talking together, i asked them if I could speak with them privately and told them I wanted to leave.

Circumstance often forces us to say goodbye to something or someone before we are ready to do so. If there is one thing we are sure of, bitterly sometimes, in life is that things will change, people will die, relationships will end, jobs will change or go. Sometimes the hardest thing though is to be the architect of big changes, to ‘let go’ of things that are no longer working for us and yet it is these times that offer us the potential for great growth

In the moments after effectively resigning from my job, I felt the heady mix of emotion of something so significant  coming to an end but also the excitement of the experiences I would have in the future.

The things we need?

Business as usual

In the foreground,  in the months after not getting promotion I  got  on with my job.My new boss arrived in  the organisation and I supported her to get to know the business and its objectives. It was back to business as usual…almost.

The things we need

In the background I was starting to think about what I would do next . I had a great mentor who had coached me for the job and I continued to see him on a monthly basis. Our conversation, and my thoughts, turned to something more fundamental than just a job –how did I want to live going forward ? what were the things that I needed to live that way? 

Similar to a lot of people my age my life had become a collection of things that I had chased, that I loved, that had become passions, things I definitely needed like a roof over my head and things that I probably didn’t. I loved travel, the arts, food, my buddhist beliefs and I also had my fair share of bad habits. And they kind of hung together like some beautiful tapestry. But now was the opportunity to take a step back and to ask what was really important to me going forward. Some things emerged early on and some things are still an ongoing exploration but a few things became very clear

  • Relationships- My family and friends are so important- I am fortunate to have two fantastic brothers, 2 wonderful sisters, 2 nephews and 5 nieces. and more family on the way.After the loss of both my parents to cancer they are my world. They have seen me through so many challenges and for that I am so grateful. I also have the most fantastic eclectic network of friends, they too are incredibly precious to me
  •  I love where I live!20160914_141655018_iosI’m very lucky to have a beautiful  apartment that I have lived in now for over 10 years. I live in a town in the northwest close to Manchester and importantly for me my network of friends. I am inspired by the notions of small spaces, tiny living etc and whilst years ago having the latest of everything would have been important to me, it is less so now.
  • I need less ‘things’ Years ago i was a shopper, id get my paycheck and go. Now i realise I don’t need these things as much- yes I still buy nice things but on the basis that I need them rather than just for the sake of having them. For the first time in my life I’m out of contract on my contract and still on my Iphone5- I’m in no rush to get the new one
  • I love to experience great things I like to travel, to eat good food, to drink great wine (and the occasional beer,cocktail and gin) to enjoy the arts and to explore ideas and concepts. I am fortunate that I have travelled extensively through Australia, Asia, Europe and other parts of the world. I love to take photos like the one below of Kuta Bali and I like to bore everyone with my travel tales.

20160912_073044000_ios

  • My spiritual beliefs are very important to me-I was raised a Catholic and despite me ‘lapsing’ in my teens I still had a sense of the idea of ‘something’ bigger than just myself. In my late teens I discovered Buddhism and read books by Geshe Kelsang Gytaso, the Dalai LLama, Thich Naht Hanh and Pema Chodron to name a few. I have always said that in Buddhism I felt that I was reacquainting with something I already knew. I am not as robust a Buddhist as perhaps some would expect, not at this stage following a particular school or lineage but I also remember that the Buddha remarked that the essence of Buddhism had the one taste and that’s the priniciple I cling to. I am also drawn to Taoism and I meditate regularly. Increasingly I’m interested in the concept of living mindfully

These things I discovered were my foundations- the things that really mattered. Work in a sense took a back burner in this exploration but soon I was to come to a very significant decision regarding my current work.