Saturday, 17 June 2017

Increasing the dose

I have blogged before about meditation, several times, in fact: the theory and my own developing practice. I have recently returned from my annual pilgrimage walking from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres (about which I have also blogged previously: here for example.)

It is a serious walk, as the miles recorded on my phone reveal, and gives plenty of time for both meditation and reflection.  And of course one of the things about a pilgrimage is what one brings home with one: the insights, the resolutions...

This year one of the resolutions that I made was to increase the dose, as it were, of my meditations.  My practice for the last few years (since September 2014, in fact) has been to set aside 14 minutes a day for this. And as I have recorded (here for example), I have found the practice very beneficial. So as of this Pentecost, I have increased the time allocated to 20 minutes a day.

That does not sound a big increase: a mere 5 minutes extra, but the impact so far has been significant. Somehow 20 minutes feels a much more expansive stretch of time than 15; on the one hand it is slightly harder to find 20 minutes of uninterrupted time during the day. But on the other hand, it is a much more valuable practice.  It is hard to explain why, but it feels qualitatively different.  

I will keep reflecting on this (see here for the difference between reflecting and meditating...) and report further thoughts in due course. But in the meantime, I will just reflect on my running shoes, which carry the legend ASICS - anima sana in corpore sano (a healthy soul in a healthy body) -and remind me why I both run and meditate on a regular basis.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Memento mori

I was shocked to learn, on Sunday, of the sudden death of Patrick Johnston, VC at Queens University, Belfast. I met Paddy for the first time last year, when I ran an event for him and his senior team. Since then, we have met a number of times, as we discussed and then planned a further significant piece of work, which was just due to start next week.

He struck me as a leader of vision and integrity, and his humanity was always very much in evidence, as was his courage. 

His sudden death has clearly impacted others, family, friends and colleagues, far more than me; yet I have been struck by how distressed I have been. I had come to regard him as a friend as well as a colleague, and feel that the friendship ended just as it was beginning.

I feel privileged to have known him, and will long remember him.

His death feels particularly poignant as he was only a couple of years older than I am, and like me had four children and a new grandchild.

I found the homily preached at his funeral Mass, by a priest who was a family friend, very moving.

May he rest in peace.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

An unexamined life...

According to Plato, Socrates said at his trial that the unexamined life was not worth living. Socrates' approach, Socratic questioning, helping people to discover or make explicit the understandings that they already know implicitly, is foundational to any coach.

Yesterday, I was talking with a coaching client about the practice of meditation, and the benefits thereof. 

And that made me reflect, subsequently, on my own experience.  Some time ago I posted some reflections about meditation, here. That was after making a public commitment to a regular practice, back in 2014, here. I am in no doubt that this practice has made a substantial and positive difference to my life, particularly in my capacity to deal with disruptive emotions and distractions.

But in this post I want to draw a distinction between meditation and reflection. The meditative practice is focused on the present moment, and the conscious direction of one's attention in the present moment (in my case, practicing a Christian form of meditation, that is on a passage of the Gospel which I am meditating on).

Whereas reflection is focused on the past, and to some extent on the future. On the past, to learn what I can from my experiences, and on the future, to consider how to apply that learning. 

So they are two distinct practices, meditation and refection, but they also support each other. The regular practice of meditation means that when I assign time to reflection, I use it for reflection and do not get distracted; and the practice of reflection is a way of collecting any insights gained from meditation (and indeed checking that I am still dedicating time to it). And I find it important to record the results of my reflections in writing, and to review them from time to time.

The only other thing I'd say on this is: don't overdo it. There is always the risk of becoming so self-absorbed and self-centred, that it is frankly irritating to others and comes across as narcissistic. But to over-react to that perceived risk, and refrain from any self-examination... well, what Socrates said!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

An uncomfortable simile

It was the final day of the Professors' Programme at Lancaster, last week. The day went well, and the comments as participants reflected on the whole programme were very interesting. As so often, a lot of the value came from the new connections established with colleagues around the university, and the learning generated by discussions amongst participants. But the other aspect that was particularly well received was the whole Thinking Environment approach, and in particular, the co-coaching that was a regular feature of the programme, built on the work of Nancy Kline.

One of the professors said that the co-coaching was very uncomfortable, but highly valuable. In fact, he said, it was like having an enema when you are constipated: not pleasant but extremely worthwhile. 

I wonder if I should use that in my marketing...

Friday, 12 May 2017

In which I need a fig leaf...

We got a letter this week from the procurement department of a University with whom I do some work, to say that ‘Our investigation has concluded that the revised IR35 legislation will apply to any future payments made to you. This means that the value of any invoices will be paid net of income tax and national insurance contributions but you should receive credit for this deduction as part of your annual self-assessment tax return.

A quick check reveals that I do not fall foul of the IR35 rules on any count: I could field a sub, my work is not under direct control, we are clear on the MOO front, and so on. My inside source at the University concerned tells me that Procurement are targeting all those suppliers whose business name matches the name of the individual. So because I trade as Andrew Scott (and for no other discernible reason) they issued this unilateral decision.

All of other Universities with which I work have accepted that my employment status is clearly independent of them.

Needless to say, we have got back to the university concerned, and I am sure we will resolve the matter sensibly and amicably. 

But I am wondering if I would have saved us a lot of hassle if I had named the business Fig Leaf Consulting Limited…

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Power of Listening

It happened again. The other day, towards the end of a coaching session, my coachee said: ‘Thanks, what a great idea!’  I had to say: ‘I think it was your idea, actually…’ as indeed it had been.

But it was an idea she had never had before, about a topic that she has been thinking about for some time.

It reminded me of a comment by Andrew Derrington some time ago, to the effect that he often found that he had great ideas either during or after our coaching sessions.

And it all hinges on the power of listening; of providing the space, time, attention and questions that help someone to take her thinking further than she had ever taken it before. 

Last week, I got a lot of academics to do this for each other as part of a time management workshop: to listen to each other thinking out loud about their time management issues and what they might do about them, without interrupting, for thirty minutes. As one reported: I thought I’d said all I had to say after five minutes; but then, being listened to for another twenty-five meant that I said more things - and some of them were valuable, new thoughts I had not had before.

As Nancy Kline would put it, all it takes is giving people time (and the right environment) to think.

So simple, so powerful… and so rare.

Monday, 24 April 2017


One of the issues that has come up for me, reflecting on the Daring Way workshop I attended a while ago, is the question of humility. BrenĂ© Brown's work seems to me to ask two things of us; the first is to believe that we are wonderful, and the second is to attend to how we are being wonderful (and how we could be more wonderful) all the time. 

Yet I still set great store by humility; not of the unctuous Uriah Heep type; but the genuine humility that recognises that I am not perfect, that I am not more important than anyone else, that I should not be the sole focus of my interest and attention.

I love this C S Lewis quotation on the subject of a truly humble man: He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. 

I have mentioned before my interest in the work of C W Metcalfe (Humour, Risk and Change) and in particular the moment when he draws a quick map of the Universe on a flipchart, explaining solemnly that it is expanding in all directions.  He then marks a point in the middle and explains it is the Center of the Universe (sic: he is American, after all). He then marks another point, and says: 'That's you - and when you confuse the two, you have lost the plot!'

It gets a laugh: the joke is good, and his delivery and timing are excellent - and it touches a nerve.  Because we all know that we frequently react as though we are in fact the centre of the Universe (because we are the centre of our own...) So we say: 'How could they do this to me?' when in fact we weren't in their thoughts at all...

So that is my problem with this kind of work: it not only encourages us to look searchingly at ourself, which, I think is a good thing from time to time (we all know how difficult it is when we encounter someone with absolutely no self-awareness or insight); but it also encourages to judge ourselves in the most positive light possible (and when I see others doing that, it seems problematic to me); and also to keep looking searchingly at ourself, all the time. And that I think is also problematic (and again, we can all think of people who are so consumed with working on themselves...)

So there is a balance to be struck, I would argue, between a regular self-examination, which is essential (the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates is said to have observed) and maintaining attention on other people and the world outside us, as though they too are important and worthy of our consideration and attention...

Work in progress...