What lies beneath..

What lies beneath..

As a very young woman, I trained and worked as an actress. I still act, but these days for pleasure and not for money. But play-acting has taught me so many life lessons and also lessons that I can generalize to my Coaching practice. A play text is sparse. As an actor, when presented with a text, you see only the words the characters speak plus a few sparse stage directions. Characters say and do sometimes-inexplicable things and little context is given. It’s not like in a novel, where the writer, in great nuance and detail, fleshes everything out and you know what each character is thinking and what is motivating them. The actor’s challenge is to work out what it is that lies beneath, to think deeply about what precisely is happening and why, and in this way make meaning and thus imbue the text with life. So acting taught me that I need to do this in life as well. People’s intentions and their reasons for their behavior are not always clear. So when faced with unexpected behavior from someone, before leaping into judgment, it’s really helpful to pause for a moment and to consider what may lie beneath, to try to really understand them – and if in doubt, before jumping to conclusions, to try and first check out what is happening. Another thing that acting taught me, and for which I am eternally grateful is empathy. As an actor, you get to submerge yourself in experiences that are entirely outside of what you may ever encounter in your own life. As such, you learn to imagine what it must feel like to be living someone else’s life. Among his vast writings, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato said two important things in this respect. Firstly he said, Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. It’s very important to try always to be kind. Kindness means people need to know that you understand not only their words, but also how they are feeling about any issue of contention. But the other thing that Plato said is, Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. If you’re an actor this is really helpful in understanding the text you are working with. As a conscious human being, this is really helpful in understanding other people in the Drama of Life. To negotiate scratchy moments in life, see if you can work out where the other person is coming from in terms of how much they know, how they feel about the situation, and also what they want. This is incredibly helpful in helping two minds to meet. Plato was a very wise...

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Part 1 of a series on parenting – Butterflies and Roses

Part 1 of a series on parenting – Butterflies and Roses

As a young parent, we are often tempted to compare the development and achievements of our children with that of their peers. Sometimes we coax and cajole them to do better, achieve more, attain it faster.. Who of us has not experienced impatience with the struggle of an unaccomplished child, and felt the temptation to take the difficult task out of their hands and finish it off on their behalf? In his book Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis tells the story of a butterfly he helped hatch. I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand. That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the external rhythm. And so it is with our children. Their struggles are crucial to their development and to the process of cultivating skill and resilience. We must back off! We mustn’t intervene or try and save them from the struggle, which is their essential learning process. Similarly, no two children will unfurl their talents at the same rate. A rose will bloom in its own time. So don’t compare your child to another. Just love them, and allow them to unfold their potential in their own divine time. To follow: Part 2 of a series on parenting Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild...

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Part 2 of a series on parenting – Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world..

Part 2 of a series on parenting – Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world..

So how do we prepare our children for a wild, wild world? The other day I noticed a mother stopping her little boy from climbing a tree because it was “dangerous”. She was worried he’d fall out and break an arm, and she had to pull a wailing child away from the tree he was so desperate to climb. Functional parents want their children to be both safe and happy. But does keeping a child completely safe make them happy? Clearly not in this case! And I began to think, instead of protecting our children from the risks of the wild, wild world, should we rather not be giving them opportunities to engage with the risks and in so doing teach them over time how to negotiate and manage risk? H. Tovey in Outdoor Provision in the Early Years (edited by J. White), says that risky play that involves a chance of injury – things like climbing, sliding, balancing, jumping from heights and hanging upside down – gives children the chance to explore their limits, as well as teaching them life skills. Their failures encourage them to explore different approaches to problem solving, and their successes show them what works! In a 2003 publication of Early Years, A. Stephenson found that the physicality involved in this kind of rough play, is vital for developing children’s balance, coordination, motor skills and body awareness. Not only that, but research published by D. Coster and J. Gleeve in 2008 also found that children who engage in risky play experience feelings of fun, enjoyment, excitement, thrill, pride, and achievement – in other words, a feeling of happiness and being truly alive. Exactly what our little aspirant tree climber was after and his mother wouldn’t let him have! It is a wild, wild world.. Of course we want our children safe. But don’t we also want them to build both physical and psychological muscle so they learn over time to withstand any challenge it presents? And we can’t do that by keeping them in cotton wool! To follow: Part 3 of a series on parenting Yes, you will tidy your...

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Part 4 of a series on weight loss – Joyful eating and the wisdom of the body

Part 4 of a series on weight loss – Joyful eating and the wisdom of the body

Eating is one of the pleasures of life. The problem with diets is that they negate this essential aspect of our relationship with food, which we eat for joy as well as for nourishment. Putting a string of embargoes on what we may and may not eat saps the pleasure from eating, and encrusts our relationship with food with guilt. It can get to a point where we never put a thing in our mouths without first evaluating it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Where’s the fun in that? I watched a toddler the other day, whose relationship with food had not yet become complicated, eat one of those a large ginger biscuits from Woolies. She was engrossed in the eating of it, full of delight. And then, all of a sudden, she lost interest, and threw it aside, going off to play instead. Her body just told her it had had enough. If we can make sure that we truly love and honour our bodies by nourishing them well with a healthy variety of nutritious food most of the time, and then treat our souls with joyful eating a little bit of the time, we will be able to recalibrate any dysfunctional relationship we have with food. The trick is to become like a toddler – tune in to what is happening with your body, and stop when it says, “I’m bored now, what else is fun?” I’d like you to shift your relationship with your body from that of your mortal enemy out to sabotage you through its desire for “forbidden” foods, to your best friend, so that you look out for its interests. You want it to be healthy and to enjoy itself. So give it everything it needs for both. This means you nourish it properly with proteins, unrefined carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits. You give it treats. And you exercise it. I was away from my dog for an entire day last week and so needed to lock him inside. My neighbor loves him, and I’ve given her a key to my home and she usually lets him hang out with her when I have those days. But she had a frantic day too, so Badger spent a long time indoors. When I got home, he ran around the driveway like a maniac. Sheer joy in movement. Our bodies are animals. They need movement to be happy too. So I invite you to take back your power from the diet gurus, and make your own body your guru. Honour your guru with nourishment, joyful eating, and movement. But listen to it when it tells you “Enough!”. If you tune in, it has great wisdom. To...

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Girls behaving badly

Girls behaving badly

We don’t need to be perfect. The artist Salvador Dali famously said, Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it. I was recently asked to offer specialized commentary on an online publication’s feature on “Bad girls” in society, in this case, women who behave “badly” to snare a man. But as part of the research I was asked whether I thought all women behave badly – and asked my opinion on how a “lady” should behave? My first thought was that all people, men and women, contain both good and bad, the light and the shade within them, and for any of us to kid ourselves that we are perfect and incapable of bad behavior is totally delusional. But on the other side of the spectrum, how many of us don’t sit with a relentless inner critic chirping on our shoulder, judging every move we make as being inadequate or defective, lashing us for not being good enough. We need to put that critic in its place and cut ourselves some slack! Because Dali also said, Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that it will be possible for you to sublimate them. So we all mess up from time to time, and according to Dali’s wisdom, for us to become better human beings, we need to understand and embrace our mistakes and to learn from them so next time we can do things differently. But barring people who have serious personality disorders, what of people who deliberately choose destructive patterns of behavior? Once again, we need to throw out judgment and instead bring in our understanding. What is driving the impulse to self-destruct? Usually if you peel away the layers, you will find it is some kind of fear, which the negative behavior is numbing. By being courageous and reflecting on the question, What is it I’m afraid of? and owning it, real solutions can be found instead of the soothing, sedating but ultimately damaging option of bad behavior. So how should a lady (or a gentleman for that matter) behave? I believe she should try her best, but accept her mistakes, and try to understand and learn from them. A lady – or gentleman – is courageous: she doesn’t run away from her fears. She faces them. She then puts her energy into finding real solutions that empower her to be the strong and beautiful woman that is her...

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