Posts tagged: coaching

Philosophy, Booklists and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Under the Rainbow at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival

Blue sky, white clouds and a rainbow over a beach scene

My day at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival began with John Gray on ‘The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom.

book cover The Soul of the MarionetteThere were a lot of questions:

  • Can knowledge set us free?
  • Will we ever understand ourselves well enough to design a better version?
  • Do we really want to be free?

There weren’t a lot of answers but I did come away with a list of authors who might help with my research: Philip K. Dick, Theodore Powys, Gertrude Bell, Michel de Montaigne might help me see life a little more clearly which might mean less disturbed by the beliefs of the world around me.

I’m all for a closer examination of beliefs, their nature, their shifting sandiness and our unwitting of living as if they were true and this was a thoroughly enjoyable stroll in that direction.



On, then, to A Celebration of the Life and Work of Judith KerrA little girl opens to the door to a huge, lovable, cartoon tiger

What a life and what wonderful work Judith Kerr continues to create. 92 years old and as entertaining, gently profound
and moving as ever, Judith Kerr is an absolute delight.

I read ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ to children at school, to my own children, and now to my grandchildren and it has an irrepressible charm. Who knew that the illustrations include two versions of the father? I must go back and have another look.

And then, of course, there was ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ and now we have ‘Mister Cleghorn’s Seal’ based on her father’s real experience of saving the life a seal pup and taking it home to his flat to live on the balcony.

I hope I can be so irrepressible, good humoured and lively when I’m 92.


“Can you remember a time before you could read?

Hilary Mantel’s Life in Books conversation picked up a thread touched upon by Judith Kerr who questioned the content of the Janet and John books she encountered in school.  Whether it was Janet and John, “John has two caps.”; Nip and Fluff “Nip is a dog. I see a dog.”; or Peter and Jane, it seems wonderful that we ever saw the point in learning to read unless, like Hilary Mantel, you managed to discover a world of books actually worth reading.

Amid this fascinating conversation books and authors tumbled like a glorious domino rally with one book prompting another until my notebook was almost full.  ‘Kidnapped’ clearly deserves revisiting as I had completely failed to notice the perfection in its form. Oliver Sacks, Beryl Bainbridge, and Ivy Compton-Burnett are all favourites of my own who were highly commended while I admit my ignorance re Molly Keane, Sybille Bedford and Alison Lurie.

I’ve added them all to my ‘must read’ list, and I still haven’t finished reading “John Aubrey – My Own Life” by Ruth Scurr so I’m ill-prepared for tomorrow!


Thoughts on Transformation

These are some thoughts I collected over a recent weekend workshop.  Most of them are my own (others are credited where possible but if I have failed to credit you, please let me know and I will correct the image).


Narrative thoughts

What I’m wondering is, would these thoughts mean anything to you if you weren’t part of the weekend experience?

  • A conversation can always make a difference.
  • What you see of me is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • What I see of you is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • When you’re looking for the best (in human beings), miraculously, that’s what shows up.
  • Every time I retell the story I notice something different.
  • A rippling moon looking up sees a sister riding the sky.
  • If I peeled my image off the mirror, what would I see?
  • And if I drop the future it shatters into a million sharpened futures.
  • I don’t know. You don’t know. We don’t know. Not knowing is a great place to start.
  • When I am upset about something, that’s not what I’m upset about.
  • Transformation lies in things we would rather avoid.
  • We are constituted in conversation.
  • I came from a nowhere that might have been somewhere and sometimes I glance back.
  • The completion of a story is the beginning of a story.
  • We all have a story, we are not our story and the story does not predict our future.

 Is there anything here that speaks to you and if so, what does it suggest?

If you’re curious I recommend you check the programme out. Here’s a link.

A Maze of Possible Pathways out of a Problem

At the heart of the maze lies a problem

Where do you start?

As soon as we try to find our way out of a difficult situation we discover that just thinking about it can become part of the problem.

How often have you felt overwhelmed or thought ‘I just don’t know where to start’?

Helping you sort this out can be part of the role of a coach…

It can help to identify which pathway you have been going down already in order to try something different.

While thinking through some recent conversations with clients I came up with this maze-like doodle, identifying typical strategies my recent clients have described as they began telling me their stories.



As you read through the list of ‘ways of working it out’ you might recognise something that you have been trying. Better still, see if there is something here that you haven’t thought of because trying something different, something new, will give you the best chance of getting an unexpected result. It may not be the result you thought you were looking for, but it is likely to be a result that leaves you feeling more positive about the future.


What have you tried?

  • trying to solve the problem
  • trying harder
  • trying harder still
  • acceptance
  • avoidance
  • denial
  • hearing a message in the problem
  • seeing the problem as ‘ a part of myself with special needs’
  • talking to the problem
  • asking the problem what it thinks it’s doing for me

In future posts I will look at each of these pathways and invite you to contribute to my musings. Do you have an experience you would like to share; an observation on the list or a part of it; or an entirely different pathway to suggest?

I look forward to hearing from you.



The Power of Music

Do you have a favourite piece of music? Have you noticed how music can change your mood?

Jane Hanson recently investigated the ability of music to improve the wellbeing of people, discovering the exact science behind the physical and psychological effect of sounds and music. Here’s a link to the programme.

country and western

I know that I don’t like most Country and Western music, it makes me feel slightly impatient and yet if it’s Johnny Cash, I love it and I can find myself smiling unexpectedly whenever I hear his voice. Meanwhile jazz-rock fusion seems to scramble my brain rendering me unable to think coherently.

Play me some Led Zeppelin and my mood will lift. If I want to write a contemplative piece I might listen to Mahler’s incredibly moving Adagietto from his 5th symphony. When I am creating characters I often realise that I have unconsciously attributed certain pieces of music to each one.

You know what music works for you: what energises you; which pieces are calming and which are inspiring; But have you thought of using this self-knowledge to make a difference?

Here’s an excerpt from my Coaching App ‘Beyond Expectations’ to show you what I mean:


Music is not just the food of love.  Music can feed all our emotions. Woman Enjoying Her MP3 Player

Play, or remember, a favourite piece of music, tune or song now.  Different music has different effects.  Whenever you have the chance, select music according to how you would like to feel.  Music can lift your spirits, energise or relax you.  Find out which pieces work best for you.

Try creating 3 mood collections. 

What will you include in your relaxing collection?  And what title will you give it?

What will you include in your energising collection?  And what title will you give this one?

And what about the collection for lifting your spirits?

Now think back over your experience of choosing the music and deciding on the titles.  What can you learn about yourself from the way you went about it, the choices you made and your thoughts and feelings as you worked through the exercise?

How does this inform the future for you?

For more self-coaching exercises the App is available here and the book is coming soon.  


Found inTranslation

Dream French

 chateau with maze


I slept in a chateau

and dreamed d’escadrilles

I awoke et je pourrais voler

believe me now I understand

les oiseaux pourraient chanter

parce qu’ils ont la clé du ciel



Found in Translation

Today’s prompt for National Poetry Writing Month was to include at least five words  in another language. 

My initial response was to think, ‘this time they have come up with something that isn’t going to work for me’.

However, if there is one thing I’ve learned from NLP it’s the question ‘And if you could do it, what would you do?’

And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Narrative coaching it’s that ‘It’s who I am being that makes the difference’.

So, I answered both questions by being someone who does something even when I don’t know what to do. 

It was a delightful experience: moving from one language to another; playing with translations; discovering unexpected rhymes; and finding that sometimes a mistake can lead to something unexpected.

Sometimes what we are doing in life coaching is a form of translation – moving between ways of being, and, in that translation, discovering that we can be someone we would wish to be; someone who is simultaneously ourselves and someone we did not know we could be.



national poetry writing month 2013 


This is my penultimate poem for National Poetry Writing Month. It has been a bit of a marathon but I have learned a lot about myself and my writing and I’ve had some fun along the way.  

I’ve also had a lot of interest and support, for which I am grateful.  it makes a lot of difference to know that someone is listening and has heard what I have said. Of course this is true of coaching too.  What makes the difference in any situation will almost always come down to a conversation. Conversations can take many forms and sometimes it helps to have someone listen.

Thank you for listening 🙂 


Negative Capability

slanting horizon








bluster and tide
harry and chafe

rock pool and tide
scour and comb

strandline and tide
rope shell and line

river and tide
starless and black

rock fall and tide
roll and return

recall and tide
mind and remind


Negative Capability and Coaching

John Keats used the term negative capability to describe the artist’s receptiveness to the world and its natural marvel, and to reject those who tried to formulate theories or categorical knowledge. In a letter to his brothers he explained it as being, ” when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Keats was talking about the artist’s ability to be simply receptive without prejudgment in order to be open to that which we don’t yet know.

For me this is a perfect description of the role of a narrative life coach and of the NLP Practitioner.  When we accept that our view of life is, necessarily, limited, and that there are possibilities of which we are unaware we open the doors of our perception to new, unguessed at futures.  This is a process of letting go.

Coaching can help us let go of whatever has been holding us back. Without realising it, we tend to become attached to limitations which we have created for ourselves.  

Often we develop these tendencies in order to protect ourselves from something and than practise them over and over again until they become ‘second nature’.  In other words they continue to drive us long after we are aware of them and long after they are actually helpful.  In fact they often become very well hidden barriers to our success.

Coaching can help you reach that state of mind; that negative capability, where it is possible to see that the seemingly impossible can be within reach.


national poetry writing month 2013



It’s day 25 on National Poetry Writing Month and today’s prompt suggested writing a ballad.  I have enjoyed writing ballads in the past and was happy to give it a go today but each attempt left me feeling frustrated.

It was as if the ballad form was getting in the way of the poem that was waiting to be written.  i had no idea what i wanted to write about and so I called upon my own state of negative capability, trusting the process of writing ‘without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’.  The poem above was what wanted to be written!


Finding themes, habits and tendencies

apples bucket



it’s up to you to fill in the gaps

it rained today
the mist cloud luminescent

in the tractor rut in the lane
abscondees have flown the burrows

at night the moon becomes a friend
and singularity

waiting for birdsong and light
I thought of breaking through

everyone in this house has dreamed of flying
but hasn’t looked up for years

unripened apples predict
but know they fall together

like light in mist
the arrow’s lost its point

pebble piles on pebbles piled on pebbles
I should thunderbolt you now

the red morning sun
discovered death and left

falling apart
before I leave
I miss you



For day 24 of National Poetry Writing Month, I followed a prompt from The Poetry School suggesting a found poem. Found poetry, according to a Pulitzer Remix is the literary version of a collage, where authors excerpt words and phrases from existing texts and rework them into new pieces


Personal themes, habits and tendencies

In NLP we speak of meta-programs.  These could be described as a set of unconscious and deeply held convictions which influence how re receive information through our senses and thus drive our thought patterns, actions and reactions causing us to behave in ways which we rarely question.  Although they are unconscious, they can be revealed, particularly in our use of language.

The challenge to create a ‘found poem’ seemed to present a golden opportunity to put the spotlight on my own linguistic tendencies. As you know, I have written 23 poems this month so I decided to re-read them and take, from each, the line which suggested itself and use the resulting 23 lines to create a new poem.

This kind of self-reflexive narrative is doubly interesting because it offers opportunities for both objective and subjective consideration.  I could ask:

What does this poem tell you about me; my tendencies and themes?
What can I learn about myself from the themes that have emerged?
What does your response to the poem tell you about yourself?

It is not only with poetry that we can step back and gain new perspectives on what drives us to think, feel and behave as we do.  The life story you tell me in a coaching session offers a perfect opportunity for identifying your own habits and tendencies. With new insights into what has been driving you in the past, you are much better equipped to make different choices for your future.


Sky West and Crooked

Sky West and Crooked

huntedI walked a mile for you today
of course we did not meet.
Quarry out-foxed hounds to stay with
vixen, cubs and rabbit meat.

At night the moon becomes a friend
Its blue my blue, its white my white.
The backyard swing has swung its highest
the gate is fastened tight.

Young elms sway where least expected
a swallowtail, a flail of larks.
Music lingers – white  inflected
silhouettes against the dark.

Red dawn surprised me on the moor
I turned among the glowing trees.
Scent of almond seemed to call
to memories of times like these.

I’m told they’ll never come again
the raggle taggle gypsies – oh.
The fox, the swing, the moon, the stain
are real as dreams you’ll never know.





National Poetry Writing Month – Day 15

Sky west and crookedToday’s poetry challenge suggested the Pantun form. A pantun consists of rhymed quatrains (abab), with 8-12 syllables per line. The first two lines of each quatrain aren’t meant to have a formal, logical link to the second two lines, although the two halves of each quatrain are supposed to have an imaginative or imagistic connection.

Inspired by the idea of imaginative or imagistic connections, I was reminded of the 1966 film, Sky West and Crooked.  A young girl’s emotional and psychological development is halted by a tragic accident which triggers a fascination with dead animals and burial. It takes another emotional upheaval to help her gain some perspective on her childhood trauma.

Putting the unusual form and the strange story together has resulted in a poem which invites you, as reader, to explore your own imagination, associations  and interpretation.  This kind of open ended exploration can be useful when ‘nothing seems to work’ because, at one level, this is nothing.

Having read the poem, or watched the film, a few times consider these questions..

What does it say to you?

When and where do you think your response has its beginning?

Who did it come from?

Does this give you any intuitions, insights or understandings which you might not otherwise have uncovered?

Of course a single poem, or an old film, is unlikely to transform the effects of trauma but, encountered as part of a carefully planned Narrative and NLP coaching programme, art can help gain perspectives that allow you to see life differently.  And that’s what makes the difference.


We Dream of Flying

Everyone in this House

Everyone in this house has dreamed of flying
as fires cool and clocks tick unhurried.

We have all lain
in the warm arms of love.

We have sung and listened to song
whispered and received secret joys
anticipated with a thrill
lost and found
reached out

We have all lain
in the warm arms of love.

As fire cools and clocks tick
I dream of flying.


There are some classic NLP questions that never cease to amaze me with the power of their simplicity and the simplicity of their power.

The conversations tend to go along these lines:

            What do you want?
             I don’t know.
             And if you did know, what would you want?

            How would it be if..?
            I don’t know.
            And if you did know, how would that be?

           What’s holding you back?
           I’m just stuck.
           What would it take for you to be unstuck?


Coaching Myself with NLP and Poetry
This morning I woke up thinking, I don’t know whether I have a poem in me today. So I asked myself some questions:


If I did have a poem in me today, what would it be about?
It would be about dreaming, or flying.

 How would it be if I wrote a poem about dreaming or flying?
 It would be like dreaming and it would be like flying.

So, what would it take for me to be unstuck?
If I wrote the line ‘I dreamed of flying’ that would get me started.


In fact when I started typing, I found myself writing ‘Everyone in this house has dreamed of flying’ and the lines simply came, one after the other, exactly as you see them on the page now.

Of course this poem probably isn’t finished. There is always the possibility of drafting and redrafting but sometimes a simple poem can be powerful and this might be one of those.  it is too soon to know, but what I do know is that those NLP questions were a great help in getting me writing again.


This is poem 13 for National Poetry Writing Month.


Trauma, Anxiety and Fear

 Yesterday’s prompt from National Poetry Writing Month was to write a tanka: a poem based on syllables, with the pattern being 5-7-5-7-7.  They work best when those final two 7-syllable lines contain a sort of turn or surprise that the first three lines might not wholly anticipate.

The reference to the turn, or surprise at the end triggered the memory of a story my father-in-law once told me.

I found myself returning to the question “what don’t you want to write about?”



Summer in Croatia

On boughs of my trees
unripened apples predict
sun, rain and harvest
while my husband and children
stiffen in the July breeze.


I didn’t want to write this poem, for all sorts of reasons, but I know myself well enough to realised that the terrible image would stay with me all day if I tried to ignore or deny it.

Sometimes it’s the things we don’t want to talk about that bring the greatest relief once they are out in the open.

Trauma, anxiety and fear don’t go away just because we don’t speak about them but once we let go of a memory which has been ‘haunting’ us, it loses its grip.  We don’t always realise what is holding us back but one way of finding out is to ask ourselves the question.

What don’t you want to think about?


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