About a year after I became a coach, I attended a workshop  where as part of the course we were exposed to the three rules of improv comedy. As I remember them they are

Never say No

Add and Affirm

Have a plan but be willing to change it

We practised using these through  chain storytelling where someone started a story and then passed it on to the next person who had to add another piece to the story before handing it over to someone else. As per the rules we were not allowed to negate the story thread we had been given whilst adding our own spin on the tale thus far.  I returned home and played this as a game with my girls who found it really easy and we would generally end up in heaps of laughter as the story lurched towards a hysterical outcome.  I liked the concept and thought I understood it until this year when I truly got it!

The medium through which I received a META understanding of the rules was through an art class.  Same rules just a different medium. We were creating a collective art piece.  We all started a piece with our own intentions and plan and after about twenty minutes of working on our piece we had to hand it over to the next person to work on as we received a piece from some one else.  I found that I was able to accept another person’s piece of work with generosity and love and could easily find all sorts of brilliant content in their work. I took what they gave me without any negative judgement and and added to it in a way that did not negate what they had done.  What was interesting to observe was the slight sense of relief at handing my piece over whilst still being attached to what someone might “do” to it! I quickly learned that the only way to  fully engage with the piece in front of me was to completely let go of “mine”, become fully present and focus all my attention on the piece directly in front of me. The question that formed in my head was “what does this moment ask of me?”

INSIGHT 1  Being present is the key to letting go!

Once I had come into the present, I was able to fully accept what was given to me and proceed from there.  I did not need to know what the original plan was and what I needed to add came really easily and naturally. I turned the piece of paper around to see it from different vantage points and all of a sudden the next step was obvious.

INSIGHT 2 By saying yes, we can work with anything we get given.

We carried on passing on the pieces in front of us every twenty minutes and eventually the original piece that we had started with came back to us. We then had to finish it and integrate everything. It was amazing to see the journey that the piece had been on  and how people had worked with the piece and transformed it. It was not at all what I had planned and  it was beautiful.  This experience made me wonder where in my life rigid thinking had prevented me from exploring a multitude of possibilities.

INSIGHT 3 Rigid thinking limits our options and choices. By being open to a change in direction we could end up at a place far better that the one we had originally attached to. Unexpected turns can be a gift.

Our next exercise involved the same process with one minor change. By now, I was really comfortable with the process. We worked for 20 minutes and as I was  getting ready to hand off my piece our teacher informs us that we will carry on working with our own pieces to completion. What?!!!!!!Shock horror……………panic rising……….and then the the judgements rolled in on a wave of mind chatter. “Now everyone will see how crap I am at this because this is all my own work……nowhere to hide……I can’t figure out what to do next………..I’m stuck…….what I get given to work with is easier than what I produce myself…….other peoples offerings are better….WOW….no self acceptance here…….ok breathe…….say yes to this moment…….add and affirm………..ok…………..I have to treat this the same way I treated what was given to me…..what I’ve done so far is fine…….”. The panic recedes and I find my way again.

INSIGHT 4 The rules apply to everything we get given, whether we are giving to ourselves or receiving from another. Self – acceptance is as important as accepting from others. Self – compassion leads to self – acceptance which in turn again leads to a myriad of possibilities.

Why had I judged myself so harshly?  My reaction really surprised me. I could at least have been as kind to myself as I had been with complete strangers by according my work the same respect and open mindedness. The self judgement and lack of acceptance just made me stuck in the same way that fighting and resisting can sometimes keep us in a rut.  It’s such an ingrained habit that had some how gotten past me. Whilst the first three insights might seem obvious, the fourth one was profound for me.  Where else have I not been accepting myself?  Where else do I judge myself too harshly? What would be different if I didn’t? What opportunities or gifts am  I missing whilst I am so invested in the the self judgement? When did it begin?  Where does it come from? Why have I not noticed it before???????

Needless to say, I am now on high alert to observe when I judge myself harshly.  I am also practising self – compassion.  My self seems to be responding well to this. I’m less tired, more curious and more able to accept what is. I play more and seem to have more time. I also sleep earlier.

I’ve spent many a  session coaching my clients around energy and content management vs time management. I think I’ll be adding one more tool – “Give up judging yourself harshly”. It really will free up your day.

Part of the work I do is to help clients question their “limiting beliefs”. We all have them. Some we may have created ourselves e.g.” I’m not rich enough or thin enough or I don’t have enough time”. These are the ones that we are consciously aware of and are actively working to get past. There is however another category where the beliefs are far more insidious, the ones that we are barely even aware of as limiting beliefs because we know them to be FACTS.  They were handed to us as children by a parent, teacher or older sibling – an authority figure whom we never questioned.  When we are six or eight or ten, if a teacher announces to us that we can not draw or sing, we really probably don’t have the capacity to question or decide for ourselves whether that is true or not. We simply accept the statements as FACTS because they are given to us by a grown up.  Those people that know everything! Right? Wrong!!!! The terrible thing about this is that from that moment on we act from those FACTS.

As you may have guessed, I got given these two FACTS when I was at boarding school by two well meaning teachers (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt). By the time I was twelve I was even convinced that I was bad at drawing stick men. I was bad at art and definitely could not sing. My dream of singing the opening solo of “Once in Royal David City”  to a full chapel at christmas mass was shattered early. As I grew older I added to these FACTS and allowed them to grow in all sorts of directions. I took being bad at art  to mean that “I am not creative and I can’t make things with my hands”.  My children go to a Waldorf school and I recoil when mention is made of parents helping with crafting of any sort. In fact I declare upfront that I don’t have any arty skills.  I have extrapolated the not being able to sing to mean that I can’t project my voice and I generally hate making any utterance in public. These FACTS  have to some extent kept me playing small in the world.

I have observed the impact that some of these FACTS have had on my clients too and have decided to revisit some of the FACTS from my own childhood.

I started with singing. I very nervously and quietly signed up for private singing lessons and was actually surprised at all the memories it brought back for me. My best self coaching skills had to be summoned in as I reminded my self that I am not my memories or past experiences. (The fact that this teacher knew nothing of my past issues with singing also helped). Well, what a revelation.  Apparently I can sing. In fact I have a large range and a voice that carries!!! `I’m not saying that I am in the Jennifer Hudson league. The point is that I have been carrying around these FACTS for more than three decades and in my very first lesson  I  got to put down the burden. I love singing.  It makes me feel good. I feel nurtured when I sing.  I sing for me.

I’ve denied myself this pleasure based on someone else’s idea of what I am capable of.  I was handed this fact as a child and never thought about revisiting it even when I was old enough to question it for myself.

For what ever reason I found the “bad artist” label more harder to confront. This one carried more weight. On the way to my first class I could feel the panic rising up from the pit of my stomach to my neck. With the help of a most enlightened creative facilitator, I have discovered that we are all creative. There is no such thing as bad art and we all live our life as a creative expression! Here again I have stumbled upon another area where I have been denying myself joy. During the three hour weekly classes I have an intense experience of what it feels like to be present. The class has become my current passion. Allowing myself this weekly time to play has given me such profound learnings that I may not have gotten on such a visceral level elsewhere.

This is a long winded way of me inviting you to to revisit the FACTS from your childhood. What if there is a possibility that the FACTS you were handed are in fact lies! I love a good acronym so I have decided to make FACTS stand for :

 FALSE ANNOUNCEMENTS CHILDREN TAKE SERIOUSLY

Would it not be worth examining how the FACTS from your childhood have shaped your life? Your next big adventure may be lying dormant in  some belief that has, up until now closed doors for you. Luckily, life can change in any moment, in the next moment that you decide.  So decide. You can create new beliefs for yourself that may serve you better, expand your experience of life and allow you to live big in the world (what ever that looks like for you). Don’t let the FACTS of your childhood determine the experiences of your present day.

I have travelled a lot in my life and still the worst part of any journey for me is landing in a new country and having to go through border control or passport control as it is commonly known. I find the physical delineation of  borders between countries so arbitrary that it irritates me to  have to get permission to cross from one space to another. After all that’s what visas are –  requests for permission to travel to our desired destination.

As part of our visa application process we gather information to prove that we are fit to travel  across specific borders and will go to great lengths to fulfill requirements so that we can gain access to other countries. We literally do what ever it takes to gain entry – We will stand in endlessly long lines and return again the next day after initial rejections; we will prove our qualifications, find money, consult lawyers, sign affidavits, get health checks and injections….

Yet if borders are such a hindrance to travel why do we invest  so much time and energy in  creating our own internal borders?  We create borders through our thoughts, fears and limiting beliefs that keep us stuck where we are. When it comes to getting past these borders though, we are content to not even look at the visa application, never mind trying to fulfill the criteria. These borders become barriers through which many of us are unwilling to break.  Our borders keep us contained, paralysed and small in the world. The idea of travel can seem almost alien.

Where are your borders preventing you from going?  What would it look like for you to start meeting the most basic visa requirements set by your borders? Are you willing to stand in line and return again after a setback or rejection? Our most basic visa requirements could look like the following:-

  1. Question your thoughts and beliefs. Much of what we believe about ourselves is not actually true. Uncovering some of these falsehoods will automatically lower and dissolve many  of our barriers.
  2. Name your fears.  By examining our fears and gauging how much of our life they are actually costing us or preventing us from living,  we might decide to make new choices that help us beyond our fears. Fears can be more scary from a distance than when we come into close proximity with them.
  3. Be patient with yourself and the process.
  4. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and trust that the information you receive is accurate.

Remember that borders are arbitrarily placed.  You are not your borders, They do not have to hold you back. I wish for you a life beyond you self-inflicted borders.

Happy landings.

All or Nothing.

February 5, 2012

I started my own coaching company in 2008 and have always had a dream to have an amazing website built for it. Right at the outset I got quotes in for the design from a designer that I really admired. The design alone was R20, 000 and that was far more than I earned in the first three months of being in business! As a result, my dream was placed high up on an unreachable shelf and catalogued with all the other “never to be accomplished dreams”. Do you have a section in your life library with that heading? The main characteristic of this particular section is “if you can’t have it all perfect at the outset, then you would rather have nothing at all”.
I’m embarrassed to admit that for nearly three years I have been running my business without a website. The “all or nothing” trap had me so paralyzed that I ended up creating the exact opposite of what I wanted. I wanted a website to increase my visibility, make my business findable, connect with like minded people and give credibility to my business. After all, every self respecting business has an on line presence right????? ( I know, that might be a limiting belief I need to take to inquiry.)
Yet by doing nothing at all, I was in danger of never doing anything ever. I found myself becoming more and more terrified of starting. As social media became more mainstream, with new functionalities being added each week, the size of my “all” grew more amorphous and unwieldy. The website beast was taking on ghastly proportions. Whereas in the beginning I might have gotten by with a website with simple easy functionality, now I would have to be a google+, facebook, twitter, and blogging expert. I’d have to learn how to create circles, linkin, tweet, blog and be on social media 24 hours a day just trying to catch up with the rest of the world! Overwhelm.
The beast was growing whilst I had chosen not to look at it and I was just getting further and further away from ever starting. By wanting to have it all, I was staying stuck with having nothing.
Well last night at about 8 pm, I took the deep plunge into the deep sea of DIY website building and I am happy to report that just before midnight, I went LIVE. From three years of nothing to being able to be found by millions in three hours. Mind blowing and painless I might add. It may not be all, but it’s not nothing either. Have a look at www.mldesign.wozaonline.co.za. (Don’t you just love how it rhymes?)
This has been such an empowering experience for me and what I found is that:
• Sometimes fear masks the very quality that we need to embody to face our beast. For me that quality was courage. By walking up to your beast you might just become the person you need to be to face it.
• Starting somewhere is better than never starting at all. Whilst you may not have everything in the beginning, you will have something to push off against. It is very hard to build on no foundation, so start somewhere and keep moving forward, little by little. One day you will wake up and find that you are exactly where you want to be. Do what you can from where you are now and commit to improving from there in bite size manageable chunks. The old adage of eating an elephant one bite at a time really does make sense.
• The more you do, the more you can and want to do. I am no longer feeling the social media overwhelm. I might even get into blogging more – I am not saying every week but definitely more than never.
• Nothing is ever as bad as it seems. I spent three years frightening and berating myself about how difficult and complicated building a website is. The reality bore no resemblance to all the things I had imagined. For one, I never imagined that it would be fun. That was a real surprise. I recommend, instead of slaying your dragon or fighting with your beast, get friendly with it. Get to know it a little better and see how you can use it to actually alleviate some of your burdens.
My website dragon is now my friend, I dare say we may even become buddies! Don’t let your fear of not having it “all” stop you from having something that you really want. Start where you are and keep moving forward.

Who are you to be?

January 13, 2011

Individuation. This is a word that appealed to me even before I really knew what it meant. It’s almost as if my soul could feel how important it  is. I recently found a definition I think captures it well, a definition by James Hollis which reads “the lifelong project of becoming more nearly the person we were meant to be – what the gods intended, not the parents or the tribe, or, especially the easily intimidated or inflated ego”. Two phrases jumped out at me. The first is “the whole person”. This would seem to imply that wholeness is our birth right, we are here to fully experience the entirety of our being, not just part of it. Looked at in this light, I can also see that whatever journey we take through life, it is all part of the greater plan for us to experience who we truly are and that all our experiences are sent for us not to us. How would you see your life differently if you knew that everything you were experiencing was all part of a grand plan to help you become “more nearly the whole person you were meant to be”?

The second phrase that caught my attention is “what the gods intended”  At first glance that seems like our lives are a “fait accompli” or predestined, but this all depends on who you see “the gods” to be.  Hold on to the  small “g” if that makes  it easier for you. If God is omnipresent then he/she is in you too and so that means you possess all the qualities of God aswell. Does that feel like a stretch? Well I compare God to the ocean and humans to the drops of water that make up the ocean. If you take a cup of water out of the ocean is it still the ocean?  The cup of water possesses the same qualities as the water in the ocean.   In this way I see that we are all gods possessing the qualities of the Divine and therefore we have the power to create whatever we want for our lives. We are omnipotent.

Whilst this year is still in its infancy, I invite you to take some time and  think carefully what you intend for yourself as this year unfolds. Remember you are all powerful, so why not harness your power and intend for yourself a life beyond measure. If you don’t yet have an intention in mind, here are a few prompts to get you going.

  • What parts of yourself have you not  met yet?
  • What qualities would you like to experience in yourself?
  • What would it take for you to feel whole again?
  • What parts of your life no longer serve you?
  • How much of the life you live is actually yours?
  • What would you do if you knew that no one cared?
  • Where would you go if you knew that money, time or family were not an issue?
  • What have you left unsaid?
  • What would you say if you knew your words could not hurt anyone?
  • When will enough ever be enough?
  • When will it finally be ok for you to get what  you want?
  • Whose permission are you seeking and why?

I hope these questions get you thinking about what you intend for your life.  If you can’t think  what you want, then just keep writing yourself questions. Maybe those answers will help you set your intentions.  Once you’ve set your intentions, surrender to the belief that they will happen.  Please note I said “surrender” not “figure out the how”.  Once you are clear, the universe conspires with you to make your desires come true.

My wish for you this year is love and courage to more consciously embrace the part you play in your individuation!

I am not …………enough.  This is the most used phrase in my practice.  Not good, brave, thin, rich, likeable, kind, pretty, clever, loving, tolerant, spiritual, creative, spontaneous, confident, attractive, young, calm, smart or calm enough.  We all see lack in ourselves.  What is your particular word that you would put between “not” and “enough”? Most of us have a word and we really believe our own particular story to be true. In fact we are very perceptive, clear minded and objective when we see other people believing nonsense about themselves, but when we look at our own statement it is somehow a fact, or is it?

What does enough actually mean? The dictionary definitions I found are “adequate amount” or “sufficient for purpose”. Using the first definition, not enough implies that there is not an adequate amount of you and the second that you do not have what it takes to be you! How can either of these be true? There is not another YOU on the planet to compare you to so how do you know that you are not enough?  Not enough for whom? Not enough for what?

I think one of the reasons we do not think we are good enough is because we don’t really see who we are.  We see only the surface.  I invite you to look beyond the surface. Discover who you really are at your core.  What we all crave is Self-Acceptance, yet society teaches us not to love ourselves. We grow up believing that selfishness is bad, pride is evil and that we must put the needs of others before our own. We all have a dream of falling in love with A. N. Other, believing that only then we will be complete. No wonder self-love is so hard! When we finally begin to get a hint that self love is important we try standing in front of a mirror chanting “ I love and approve of myself just the way I am!” How well has that approach worked for you? I always feel like I am trying to convince myself of something.  What I have since learned is that self-love or self acceptance cannot be forced.  It has to be discovered.

In navigating yourself away from the space of “Not Enough” to “Self-Acceptance” you will have to get to know yourself a little better and discover what works for you.  When was the last time you stopped to ask yourself what you want or what makes you feel good? You might benefit from spending time with children and being as wild as they can sometimes be. Young children especially. They seem perfectly content with who they are and do not often look outside of themselves for validation.  They do what makes them feel good. I suggest you give yourself permission to do the same.

BE WILD!

Be willing to make new agreements that serve you now.

Explore what your life would look like if you were living your life to please yourself.

Write yourself new terms of reference based on your beliefs, your values and your thoughts (not your parents, not your spouses, not your children’s!)

Imagine your life without all your negative self perceptions and inadequacies. Who would you be? Find ways to be that now.

Let go of being so concerned about how others see you.  It really is their business.

Decide to look at yourself in a new light.  Adopt a third person view of yourself – after all you are much kinder about your friends than you are about yourself.  Learn to see yourself with wonder and curiosity like a child would.

Remember that enough just means sufficient for purpose.  Your purpose here is to become more of who you truly are. So in essence you just have to be sufficient unto yourself. I can’t think of anyone more qualified than you to do that. Can you?  It seems you are enough after all.

Remembering Who I Am

September 30, 2010


When I was small, my greatest fear was that my mother would die and leave me. I used to wake up constantly in the night and go to her room and check that she was there and still breathing. My whole world centred around her. Even when I went to boarding school, distance and separation didn’t really do anything to weaken our bond.  In fact it made it more intense. For me she was and still is the definition of unconditional love.  I never felt alone when she was alive. My sense of self was deeply enshrined in the way she saw me. She made me believe that I could do or be anything.

I always used to say “When mummy dies, I’ll have to jump in the grave with her.”

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and had  a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy, then a mastectomy and more radiation therapy. She refused chemotherapy.  She considered this to be “an unnatural extension of life”. Even though she was sick she had a way of building delight into everything. On the days when we would go to hospital for her radiation treatment, we would stop off at the Harrods Food Hall for grilled salmon and champagne afterwards! It seemed there was always something to celebrate.

In the Christmas of 2000 her doctors told her that the cancer had spread to her soft tissue and that she would need chemo.

I was in New Orleans, my sister was in Johannesburg, her brother was in Brooklyn and her good friend was in Trinidad. We all got a call from my dad to get to London as fast as possible. I got in  ( the night before her chemo was due to start) and had a bed made up next to her. I spent the night listening to her suck air into her lungs, it was a grating noise, like the air was somehow scraping her   lungs. I could hear that this breathing was different.

She had waited to gather everyone that she loved into that room to be with her as she left this world.  I thought death would be some really loud final blow. Big and huge, full of screaming and shrieking, wailing and lamenting. But no. This was very quiet. A nurse sat behind me whispering  ….”She’s almost reached her last breath now….her breathing is shallower….”  My heart was beating in my ears as I watched for each breath and then finally she just did not breathe in again. That’s all. No drama. She just did not breathe in.

Soon after we were ushered to the family room, and we all sat there and ate a meal, making polite conversation. Absurd.   I remembered that I had left my handbag in my mother’s room so I went back down the corridor to the room where she was.  I walked into the room where I thought she had been and there was no one there so I walked into the next room and there was another patient in the bed, I was instantly annoyed that the doctors had already moved another patient in. Inconsiderate bastards. She had barely been gone five minutes and already  they had moved someone else in. As I walked out, something made me go back into the first room and suddenly it hit me. My mother had gone. This is the moment I had been dreading my whole life – that I would go into her room and she’d have stopped breathing or be gone.  Well here I was and she was gone.

My mother was cremated but I proceeded to build my own mental grave in which to jump. I had no other plan so quit my job and gave birth four months later. Having lost my sense of self I adopted anybody’s and everybody’s plan for me –  model mother – knee deep in home-made organic baby food; the model wife – always compliant; the model daughter – I took over the running of my dad’s life.  From the outside I looked very busy and content, but something was not quite right. Always the restlessness, always the searching, an emptiness, a slowly mounting anger, the never ending questions. The exhaustive thoughts –  The ever present grief.  I heard people say time heals all wounds.  Well not mine. Eight long years later I was still stuck in fresh pain.

I had unwittingly  started to believe that all my loved ones could not survive without me and this thought became suffocating.  Now I was gasping for air.  Then one day I walked in to a meditation centre and was drawn to a training called “Who am I?”  One question led to many. “Who am I without my mother?” “Who am I to be?”  “Who does the world think I am?” After three months of writing on this every day I concluded that whoever I am , “I am enough”. I didn’t have to live up to any pre ordained standards of what I should achieve.

The next nudge came when I moved  across the country to a new house and  town where nobody knew me. Moreover nobody knew my mother. I was forced to recreate my life or stay cocooned forever. I moved house but my thoughts came with me…………..

“She abandoned me.  She died too soon. There’s no one to show me how to be a mother.  No one will ever love me the way she did. She has gone forever. I will never get to talk to her again.  I am lost without her.”

Confronted with these thoughts I decided to investigate each and every one of them to see whether they were really true and what I found set me free. I found that she had not abandoned me. I had actually abandoned myself by numbing out and living some half life. I found that she died right on time. She always used to say that she would rather die than have chemotherapy and she died the evening before her chemo was due to start.  Had she lived  she may have been in great pain and my life would have been in   more turmoil – new baby, sick mother, divided loyalties and extensive travel between London and Johannesburg. The picture I had painted in my head would never have been. As for no one loving me the way she did, I have come to see that everyone, all together loves me the way she did. I have found little bits of her in every one. She hasn’t gone forever because I can never divorce myself from my memories. She gets to live on in me  forever. I find myself talking to her and know exactly how she would respond.  Not always what I want to hear.

In the process of re – membering who I am and putting  all the lost parts of myself back together, I finally understand how she showed me to be a mother. As mothers we all want for our children to stand on their own two feet and see themselves as the magnificent creatures that they are. I see myself. I breathe alone. I am free.