Working outside

In the midst of the current unhappiness with the vaccine rollout in many countries across the world, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the vaccine is not going to be the instant solution to our covid-shaped problem. “It is axiomatic that only the people can overcome a pandemic, as observed throughout history” [1] I read in an article in October last year. This means that we need to reclaim our agency and find different ways of doing the same things we used to do before – to stop the virus from spreading through us to others.

I am one of the fortunate few who have been able to work on-line in individual and group coaching sessions. This is obviously the safest way to work, but has become increasingly unsatisfying between the effects of zoom-fatigue and the challenges of reading body language expressed through facial expression or tone of voice. We are relational beings and long for face-to-face interaction, but the dangers of not complying with covid measures and thinking that it just won’t affect us are obvious in the increase of numbers we are seeing during this second wave. As the WHO Director-General stated at a media briefing 8 January 2021, “The problem is that before you know it, not complying a bit becomes a habit, people you know mimic the behaviour and the whole system breaks down.” [2]

So we need to explore other ways of working safely. We cannot just go back to the old normal.

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Time to celebrate!

Throughout this year celebrations have been dampened by regulations and by anxiety. I have been thinking about the value of celebrating. What exactly does it do in my life?

Celebrating puts a stake in the ground to show “This is where I am now. I have accomplished this specific achievement.” We celebrate big things milestones like passing an exam, finishing school, completing a degree. There is also value in celebrating smaller steps like developing a new habit. The feel-good experience of celebration helps us to hold on to the progress we have made, to keep the ground we have claimed.

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Saving time

The words “saving time” roll off the tongue so easily, and yet it is such a loaded expression.

The word “saving” indicates value that we (personally or as a society) have assigned to something. We only save things that are precious to us – money, jewellery, treats, things of beauty, the best of something.

Usually the verb “save” is used with one of two pronouns. We save “for” or we save “from”.

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What makes it difficult for us to rest?

I am guessing I am not the only one who has a tendency to let the work-life balance tip further towards the work side than the rest and relaxation side. What makes it difficult for us to take some time off?

I believe there are two sources for the thoughts that keep us working hard beyond our tiredness threshold. One is the ideas that we have taken on board from our own past experiences. These have grown into limiting beliefs influencing our subconscious and many of our actions. The other is the cultural ideas that we have unquestioningly absorbed as truth – and I would like to challenge two of these that I have experienced:

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Rest and Restoration

In coaching conversations I am hearing that people are working longer hours now than before the pandemic. Work pressure seems to be higher, with smudged boundaries between work and home life for those working from home. Many are resting less and feeling more tired and close to burnout in some cases. Some feel that they are about to go over the cliff of mental illness.

Where do you find yourself? When did you last work “only” 8 hours in a day? When last did you take a whole weekend off? Are you keeping a balance between rest, restoration and work?

A few years ago, after a particularly intense few months, we went away for a holiday. Despite spending considerable time resting and sleeping, I returned feeling just as tired as before. This is when I realised that just “doing nothing” as in “resting” might be necessary for some of my down time, but did not restore and revitalize me. I needed to be more intentional about the way that I rested.

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Releasing Tension

Tension sits in our bodies.

As we are exposed to a stressful situation, our brains automatically start off their fight- flight-freeze responses. Our hearts start pumping faster, our muscles tense up for action. Often, in today’s society we do not react with physical movement to the stress, but with a mental and emotional response from a seated position. A physical action would dissipate the built-up tension in our muscles, and change the balance of hormones and neurotransmitters. We would be able to relax. Mental reactions just don’t have the same effect on our bodies. So we regularly sit with the physical feeling of tension long after the cause has passed. Often, when we are exposed to a similar situation, our bodies react in the same way they did before. It’s almost like a muscle memory that is recalled and with it come the associated emotions. We can get stuck in a spiral with ever-increasing tightness. So the tension in our bodies builds up, stressful experience stacked upon stressful experience – a complex interaction between an anxiety-producing incident, our impression of its meaning, our emotions and our embodied experience that keeps us trapped in the hold of anxiety.

There is hope – because of this complex matrix it is also possible to break the connection from different angles. In my last blog I explored our attitudes to times of tension as the foundation for working with our anxieties, as well as what we can learn from our emotions.  This time, I would like to explore some physical approaches to reducing embodied tension as part of the process of releasing the hold of the tension cycle:

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Live in tension. Live intentionally.

A few days ago I was involved in a conversation where each person shared a phrase that has come up often in our lives, that carries a lot of our life philosophy in it. You guessed it, mine was “Live in tension. Live intentionally.”

I have come to realise that in some way or another there is always a level of tension in my life. The tension I live in has many different sources, some are easier to manage than others. (I want to just make a proviso here that I am not writing about living with chronic anxiety, PTSD and panic attacks. Please get professional help if that describes you.)

Sometimes this experience of tension can be related to choices I have to make. I have so many ideas but it is impossible to pursue them all. There are a number of people in my life with expectations of me that may conflict with my own priorities. There is only so much I can do with my time and resources.

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Supporting societal integration through Integration Coaching

I recently blogged about my coaching niche as a Personal Integration Coach, and also how beneficial it is to individuals to achieve cohesion of our emotional, psychological, vocational, relational, societal and spiritual dimensions.

The beauty of the word “integration” is that it does not just apply to an individual, but also to teams, organisations, communities and society. “Integration” also includes the process of incorporating different groups or races as equals into society – this still remains a challenge in South Africa, and will only be overcome through concerted and targeted efforts. Over the last five years I have been involved in and have facilitated many conversations and dialogues about inter-racial relationships, and overcoming the barriers cannot be a one-sided effort. The only way to move towards integrated diversity is together.

“Why bother?” is a question I have heard mumbled under people’s breaths. “It feels uncomfortable, and I have tried before and failed.” According to Desmond Tutu, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” I believe we experience greater freedom ourselves if we flourish together. We want our organisations to be successful for the sake of all stakeholders (including ourselves). A more cohesive team will achieve better results. And better integration in the workplace can have an overflowing ripple effect into society. A greater societal cohesion could be part of our new normal – a positive application of lessons learnt from the experiences of the pandemic and lockdown over the last few months.

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Our first Diversity Dialogue online!

A reason to celebrate – on Saturday 22 August we facilitated our first online Diversity Dialogue! We appreciate everyone who brought their time and energy into that space, especially those who felt some trepidation at doing something new technologically! Our topic was “Sensitizing the Church to Gender Based Violence”. We would like to share some highlights…

It was apparent during the dialogue, that there are many churches where the teaching seems to be more about rules and gender roles than about Jesus’ love for sinners. In many churches, women do not feel they are seen for who they are because they feel they have to fit into a small and rigid role and cannot be authentically themselves. There was a sense of mourning and lament for the loss of their potential skills and talents that could have contributed to life together but were not enjoyed by the community.

In both community life and Bible teaching, we need to develop an equal focus on the perpetrator and the victim. Bible teaching should be about the real people described in the Bible, with their faults and sins. The heroes of the faith should not be “sugar-coated”. In our practical lives, we can accept all broken people including those who are aggressive or alcoholics, and deal with their hurt. We can work with men who are in pain, allowing them space to heal before their pain leads to violence.

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Integrating all aspects of YOU

While I was doing my coaching course, we were advised to focus on finding and developing our own niche as coaches. My thought process kept bringing me back to the term “integration” – a concept that has often featured in my life, in a number of ways.

I was first introduced to “integration” when, as an Occupational Therapy student in the nineties, we learnt about how better results are achieved when the two sides of our bodies and brains work together. Much more so, than when we rely on only one side. Integration can be defined as the process of combining two or more things in an effective way so that they form a unified whole that is more than merely the sum of its parts. Disintegration then is the loss of effectiveness, cohesion, strength – a process of fragmenting or falling apart. We experience disintegration when we feel overwhelmed by external and internal stressors and challenges, when our parts are not working together smoothly.

When we experience stressful circumstances, we often struggle with strong emotions like anger, pain, anxiety and fear. It feels like they are taking over our lives, and often we try to avoid dealing with them for as long as possible. However, suppressing them often results in an uncontrolled pressure-cooker effect: the pot boils over or even explodes, often when it is most inconvenient.

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