Category Archives: Awareness

10 Thoughts and A Poem (For times of crisis and political despair)



General thoughts if you didn’t vote for the people who are now in charge of the professional political power structures that govern you, when it is also pretty clear they don’t care about how many people get harmed or killed in their pursuit of the economic- or power-grabbing interests of the privileged few:

1. You may feel overwhelmed. You may feel like you can’t do anything, like it’s all gone to hell. If this is the case, you are losing sight of yourself, and of your place in the world. Sometimes people influence us to do that. Sometimes we do that ourselves. Either way, bring it all back home. You are sufficient, more than sufficient. Everything you need to be strong and courageous has always been available to you. Remember where you are. Who you’re with. What you love. Who you love. Where you love. The anthem of resilience is the beating of the human heart.

2. Trust the way things run against your grain. Resistance is first and foremost a physiological reaction. Anger is often a helpful response to extreme conditions.

3. Anger as a response to conditions doesn’t last. If you are staying angry, you’re generating that yourself, and that’s not healthy.

4. The worst administrations thrive on hype. Totalizing hype. If you allow yourself to believe that they have totally saturated your life with hate and bile and doubletalk, then they have convinced you of the power that they aspire to but can never have. Step away from their hype, step away from the hype that gets generated in opposition to their hype.

5. Be wary of the way your language may have changed as you get drawn into the whirlpool. The way this crap works is that, as the intensity and toxicity rises, all will feel drawn to battle at the altar of pro and con, for and anti. This tends to escalate language to stereotype, at best, and gross misrepresentation based on dehumanisation, racism, and hate, at worst. Don’t become what you despise through despising.

6. They is us. They are all human beings. If I deny them humanity, whether through caricature, mockery, unspoken assumption or explicit declaration, then they have won more than a political victory. At this point, they have made me complicit in the co-optation of my soul and the displacement of vital aspects of my own humanity. If I radically separate myself from them I grossly misrepresent our shared humanity. I also make it impossible for myself to:

  • imagine how the quality of your relationship with them might ever  be helpfully changed by them or by me;

accept that some of the worst I identify in them could sometimes just as easily be identified in me in some form. Assuming that I am on the Side of the Angels doesn’t give me a free pass.

7. Damage limitation is important. Make transparent your resistance. Speak out. Organise. But never make that most of what you do. Do not allow resistance to dominate your life, because that is when what you oppose becomes the most important thing in your life. And you didn’t want that, did you? They did, though.

8. Self-care comes first. That includes health, family, friends, community, work. Wherever you happen to be, nourishing the best that humanity has to offer in nurturing, loving, enhancing, is the most vital, effective, helpful resistance you can ever sustain for the long term. Enhance your life so that the lives of others may also be enhanced. Make joyful, loving humanity most of what you aspire to.

9. Proximity. Fear, anger, dismay and despair draw us out of our lives. Imagining worst case scenarios or smiley utopias will do the same. Keep it real. Respond to what’s in front of you, beside you, behind you, above you, below you. Stay where you are. It’s the only place you’re always going to be. It is your place of being-in-the-world and being-of-the-world. Make it your home.

10. The gentle aspects of humanity can helpfully change the world, but they take much longer and aren’t as visible or as flashy as the short-term, noisy bluster of pomp and circumstance. The faster change happens, the less likely it is to be helpful in the long term. Patience. Healing takes time. Rush it and it becomes less than healing. Be strategic when required, but don’t let that become you. Trust in ordinary. Trust in smiles, in laughter, in the pleasures of good company. Trust that humanity doesn’t have to beat inhumanity to be humanity. Humanity isn’t going anywhere. Just give it room, and start where you are.

I think of it like living with chronic illness (this isn’t a random thought – my wife lives with chronic illness and I’m her carer). It’s not a nightmare, it’s life. Often energy-sucking, bloody difficult, painful life. But it only makes it more difficult if we think of it as a constant battle. it’s not a constant battle. It’s an occasional battle, maybe even a frequent battle. But it’s everyday, ordinary, mundane, even in the  battle.

We do violence to ourselves in the face of pain, suffering, and challenge if we succumb to language and metaphors that make us powerless to respond – nightmares happen to us, we become victims. We’re not victims. We’re strong, somewhere in there, always. And we can speak from that place of ordinary strength, because it never leaves us. And it’s there in the people we love. Always. And we have the daily opportunity to support them (and ourselves) in their strength and their pain. Sometimes at the same time.

We cannot allow ourselves to become swamped with thoughts and fears about the worst that humanity has to offer. Joe Hill. Joe Hill. We cannot drape ourselves in pain and despair. It doesn’t suit us to wear such ill-fitting clothing if we also say we live in hope. Not waiting for hope. IN hope. Now. Here. Today. If despair is hanging around, if hopelessness is hanging around, then I’ve been feeding it hot chocolate and cookies. I do that sometimes, but I’d generally rather not.

Someone has suggested that I am advocating ‘moving on from anger’ and that this might be a way of normalizing what we need to not normalize. I don’t mean it in that way. I simply mean that anger has a natural arc of intensity when we encounter a situation that we experience anger in. Anger, like any intense emotional response, naturally de-escalates over time. To maintain the intensity of anger (or any intense emotion) beyond it’s own arc of intensity we need to feed it with thoughts and/or language that are not immediately responsive to the particular situation, and are often pre-packaged from our own or another’s past experience.

The flipside of that is that maintaining the intensity of anger or despair with the aid of inner resources tends to diminish our responsiveness to immediate conditions as they unfold. We become less (not more) power-active. Less response-able. And less able to gauge what may or may not be helpful.

Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others. Trust that it is a powerful, powerful form of politics.

Double Listening

I am interested in the coaching possibilities opened up by Winslade and Monk’s mediation technique of “double listening”. Drawing on the work of Michael White, they make note of the “absent but implicit” story of hope that sits alongside the voicing of a story of conflict:

“Mediators can give this story of hope for something better a chance if they first of all hear this absent but implicit hope and then begin to inquire into the story that it is a part of. The story may often by subordinate to the story of the outrage and pain, but it perhaps speaks to the person’s better intentions in relation to the other party. If given the chance for expression, these better intentions can give rise to a different story of the future” (Winslade and Monk 2008:10-11).

The expression of pain and suffering through remembered events and feelings can become a seed for hopeful reflections, not as a utopian aspiration, but as an awareness of the desire for a more positive experience that the pain and conflict reveal. I think the lessons of this “double listening” are not just relevant to formal mediation, but are also helpful in invitations to transformation more generally. What Winslade and Monk’s work draws attention to is how stories of the past also shape our stories of the future. It may be that “double listening” can further open up what John Paul Lederach (2005) calls our “moral imagination”, allowing for even deeper understandings of the complexities, paradoxes, and possibilities of being human.

In very simple terms, double listening opens up the notion that ‘complaint is a window on aspiration’, that every complaint that I utter can also be turned on its head as an aspiration to a better situation, an improvement on what is. Staying with the complaint and hanging out there can lead to a lot of negative energy that can easily suck hope dry. Turning a complaint on its head to work out what it tells me about my aspirations, hopes, and values can provide me with an opportunity for reflection, a window to the otherwise, a doorway to new possibilities.

Complaint or conflict can become, then, a diagnostic opportunity for new perspectives, rather than the direct route to blame and denigration that they can often be.


John Paul Lederach. 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford: OUP.

John Winslade and Gerald Monk. 2008. Practicing Narrative Mediation: Loosening the Grip of Conflict. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Self-care and Enclosure

Self-care isn’t impossible in culturally unsustainable environments of enclosure (difficult, even toxic working environments), but it does tend to be rendered unlikely, unless you make ready, strengthen your sense of presence and resolve, and clarify what’s important to you before entering the arena.  When all around you is swirling, it’s important that you don’t start swirling too. You can go into it convinced that all will be well, that the integrity of your ego and confidence will remain intact. Some people go the other way, actively wanting their personalities to be displaced, dissolved, and reformed, but the consequences of that can be disastrous.

People work in difficult environments for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they love the buzz, the conflict, and the drive. That stress can get addictive. Sometimes it’s because they feel like they have no option but to, on account of financial necessity. Sometimes it’s out of a sense of family loyalty. Whatever the reason, the most difficult work environments often shroud their cultural unsustainability through high employee turnover. Staying in a difficult environment for a number of years will grind anyone down, even if you rise to the so-called top of the pile. Sometimes it’s as simple as your adrenal system just deciding to pack it in.

For survival and personal sustainability, it becomes crucial to learn to distinguish yourself from your environment and to learn to sense the pressures that draw you away from yourself. You participate in any environment, but the environment, the cultural climate, does not have to define you. Neither does it have to squeeze out any and all possibilities for you to define yourself inside and outside your work in ways that don’t align with the intensities, toxicities, or pressures that tend to characterise your working day.

Leaving a difficult environment of your own free will takes clarity, integrity, and numerous moments of opportunity and pure luck that in time wake you up to the possibility that there may be other ways to live your life. Listening for those moments, and learning to move with the timing of the context of those moments, is a skill usually earned with scars, whether metaphorical or real.


Supermarkets, Shopping, and Discernment

Supermarket slideIt is an overlooked truism to say that many of the thoughts we think, the feelings we feel, and the things we do come from other people, other times, and other places.

Back in the 1980s I remember that visiting a supermarket tended to be a fairly unthinking activity. We would take down cans of food, or what approximated to food, and place them rather carelessly in the shopping trolley, before carting them home and eventually consuming the mysteries within. These days we tend to be quite a bit more discriminating about what we buy. Checking the ingredients list on the side of a can or a packet has become almost automatic; we now seem to have developed a keen sense that what we eat has an effect on our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and our quality of life. And we don’t stop there; we also check where our food has come from, in light of anything from airmiles to sweatshops to the policies of nations.

Sometimes when I think of the thoughts we think, the feelings we feel, the doings we do, I think about shopping in a supermarket. In mind of the spirit of Karl Marx who commented that we make our own history but not quite as we please, when we think our thinks, feels, and dos, we do indeed think our own, but not quite as we please. We are born into conditions of thought, feeling, and doing not of our own making, and, for the most part, we tend to take our ready-packaged cans down off the supermarket shelf with little regard to content or provenance or ethical import. Ready-made thought, feeling, and doing, ripe for consumption. We often give little thought to the ways that particular kinds of thinking, feeling, and doing can affect our and other’s bodies, our minds, our emotions, and our quality of life. And they can.

It would be better if we could get into the habit of being as ecological about where our thinking, feeling, and doing comes from as we have become about where our food comes from. Yes, we can get a little precious about our food, but the reason we check what we check and monitor what we monitor where our food is concerned is so we don’t harm ourselves or harm others, if we can at all avoid it. If our thinking, feeling, and doing also affect our sense of self, our sense of how we relate to others, and guide us in our everyday actions, surely it makes sense to be a little bit more discerning about where it all comes from?