As the weather is so wet this morning, I have decided to ramble through my thoughts instead of through the fields and so, as I look through raindrops on the window at the heavy cloud and rusting Autumn leaves, I have allowed my thoughts to ramble around balance and the interesting fact that our ears are the place in which our body secures, loses and regains its balance.
The 3 little bones in our ears, the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup are a translation of the Latin malleus, incus and stapes and I assume this is because they are shaped as such and early physicians named them so. But this is not a medical piece and so we will leave medicine to the experts. Interesting however, that the hammer and anvil are used to fashion metal into shape and that when the hammer and anvil fashion a stirrup, it is this that helps a rider stay balanced in the saddle.
If you’ve ever had a virus or illness that affected your balance, you’ll know how awful it can make you feel; often sick, scared of standing, not wanting to move your head and look around because everything will swim. And it occurred to me, as I thought this, how closely related hearing and balance are in more than a physical sense.
Isn’t is strange that balance, a function so important to our staying alive; being able to focus, stay upright and move with accuracy and therefore hunt and protect, is also connected to our hearing? Does this in fact suggest that listening is critical to balance too, to being balanced?
What do we listen to? External sound from others? Video footage, snatched conversations, songs, the radio, the TV? There’s so much to listen to it can be overwhelming. In the main, our ancestors, right up to only 200 years ago, will have listened to the words of family and friends, an elder, a teacher. If they were lucky enough to listen to music, it was played on a physical instrument in front of them. With the industrial revolution came the cacophony of machines and the growth of towns and cities with non-stop noise. Now sound pervades, and even when we run, walk or drive, many of us choose to listen to something other than nature, other than our own inner voice.
Why might this be? Have we lost the art of listening to ourselves? Maybe even the art of listening to one thing at once?
I believe our balance is connected to our hearing to remind us that we must listen to both sides of an argument to balance it, but maybe more importantly, that we must listen to both outer voices and our inner voice in equal measure.
When I say inner voice, you may think of that negative voice (author Steve Peter’s ‘chimp’ voice). The one that’s saying ‘you can’t do that’, or ‘you’re rubbish at that.’ But if we sit quietly and slow our breathing and think of kindness, there is another inner voice. One that gives you answers to tough questions. Some call this voice their gut, others their conscience, I like to call it my inner teacher.
I think our balance resides in the inner ear, to remind us to listen to this inner voice, and often we can only hear it if we switch off all the external noise – other people's opinions, commentary and dialogue. Yes, it’s important to listen to a wide range of views, to turn our head and look at things from many angles. But this should be balanced with an internal conversation, a positive and kind one. Then we can be balanced, we can stand up straight and say with conviction, I have listened well and made a balanced choice here, I have used my hearing well.
As a busy leader, mum and daughter, with a myriad of deadlines, responsibilities and relationships, the most profound lesson I ever learned was to STOP.
As it happens, I was forced to stop by my body, which was obviously fed up of being treated like a workhorse.
Now, some four years on, and after a lot of self discovery and learning, I only wish someone had taught me the power of stopping, at the start of my career, instead of me realising it towards the end.
For 20 years, as a business consultant, I’d been used to advising busy leaders to step back from working in the business to working on the business, but that isn’t stopping; that’s business planning, visioning, values, segmenting your markets, brain storming, SMART goals and so on.
Yesterday, a successful and busy client emailed me to say he had to make a member of staff redundant and he wondered if I could give him some advice. He was OK with the legalities of it but he wanted advice on how to handle it.
When I rang him as agreed to discuss this I asked him where he was and he advised that he was in his car, parked at a site he was about to visit.
“Right” I said. “I’m going to ask you to try something new, are you up for it?”
Although he was hesitant, he agreed. And so, he STOPPED. All thoughts, actions, vision. He closed his eyes as instructed and for 2 minutes thought of nothing but deep breathing and something he was very grateful for. Even a period as short as this will chemically shift what is happening in the brain, from our amygdala (fight or flight region) being activated, which disables logical thinking, to the frontal, reasoning part of our brain working. Then I asked him 2 questions.
What would you want to hear if you were the person being made redundant?
How would you want to feel as you left the meeting?
And then we STOPPED again and I asked him to try and just let the answers come. I didn’t want him to say anything for at least a couple of minutes. He got his answers and they were damn good ones.
The work I do now is all about helping people to STOP and letting the answers come. This happens on retreats, in online circles of trust, in peer groups and one to one. Yes, of course your experience is helping with the decision-making, but you are also connecting to something deeper, your feelings and maybe even, if we believe, your spirit or essence. From board meetings to one on one difficult conversations with employees or loved ones, this STOPPING has a profound effect on how we respond to events and make decisions. Rushing, which creates stress hormones, is bad for decision-making and very bad for our physical health.
I found out this the hard way, now I am helping as many people as I can, to allow themselves the time to be great leaders by STOPPING.
Please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and to learn about our fully funded Lancashire programme for leaders ‘Time to Lead’ follow this link https://role.uk.com/time-to-lead.html
Rising from a bed of ragged dreams I strode into the morn.
The whole village slept, even the cars, tucked in, bumper to bumper along the narrow lane; curtains drawn in cottage windows and me, strolling along the middle of the road, under a dawn sky fading from blush to blue.
Passing the woods, I stood and held my phone aloft to record the morning chorus. From every corner of the valley different sounds, a cockerel, wood pigeons, rooks, blackbirds and so many more I didn’t know. Not a dog barked, not any sound at all but birdsong. Why oh why, didn’t I do this more often when I couldn’t sleep?
Crossing the beck I cupped my hands under a little waterfall, the peat softened water dropping from my fingers as I splashed my face. Did my ancestors do the same long ago? Sheep stared as I started the climb, calf muscles pulling deliciously.
Sitting on a stone stile atop the field, the morning stretched before me, the blues and greens and greys of this northern rural landscape, old as time. Lapwings soared, curlews pee-witted and a tiny but brave little bird landed on the wall only feet away from me and considered me gravely.
Boulsworth is a tough little hill and from Trawden, you’ve already walked a 2 mile gradual incline before you get to the foot of it, so once on the hill proper, I didn’t feel too bad stopping every hundred feet or so to have a breather and inspect the view. This was I admit, the earliest in the day I have ever climbed Boulsworth. I came up once on New Years Day around 9, but I’d not been here at 6.30!
What can I say? The peat was slightly frozen, my boots crunched and squished into the soft mud below, last year’s heather scratched, moorland tufts of grass tickled, wind found its way inside my collar. My legs ached, my lungs gasped and my heart blew itself wide open with the sheer joy of it all.
I startled moorhens, their throaty cackle echoing across the wide expanse. But other than their indignant call, all was silent. I headed for the huge boulders that dominate the ridge. From the village they appear to be no more than 4 equi-distant piles of stones, but as you climb you realise the might and size of these glacial boulders. The path I’d chosen to climb this morning was the most direct one, practically straight up to Little Chair Stones, where the formation of the boulders provides a ledge tucked away from the wind and up there this morning, the wind was chilly. After days of unseasonable warm weather in this last week of March, that had seen youngsters baring shoulders and legs, I was only just warm enough in thermals and a woolly hat!
I love the walk across the ridge of Boulsworth; the black of the peat, the grey and rust of the coarse grass, the views as far as the Lake District to the North and nothing but moor after rolling moor to the South East. It’s a place to feel alone but never lonely. I leaned on the trig and gazed across to Pendle hill, its outline soft in the morning haze, my first hill at age 3 or 4 and the hill I’d seen in the moonlight above me as I camped out many times with friends in my early teens. Where have all the roaming teenagers gone I thought? Where are the kids building dens and messing in streams. You just don’t see that anymore. Will they one day walk and climb and find joy in the outdoors like me?
“Hello Dad, Hello Mum.” I said out aloud to my long lost parents. I turned and made my way back to a sheltered spot and lost myself in thought as I sipped hot coffee.
Skirting the boggiest bits, with the wind behind my back, I was soon at the start of my descent. The Countryside ranger’s land rover was parked half way up the hill and I remembered choosing my A levels many years ago, Geography, Biology and Maths, because I dreamed of being a forest or countryside ranger. How I ended up as a Finance Director is another story.
Gradually down, all the while with that glorious long distance view of flat topped Ingleborough and the haze clearing from a milky sky. Zig sagging down as Dad taught me many years ago, reaching the old roman road that skirts the moor and leads to Wycollar, I sat upon a big slab of granite that I call my thinking stone and poured another cup of coffee. It was 8am. I’d been up and down a hill. The tension has drained from my body through the soles of my boots into the very earth and as I scribbled ideas for poems in my little notebook, the countryside ranger made his way down the hill in his land-rover and drawing level with me, he wound his window down to say ‘Mornin’ and I grinned and said “Good Morning to you too.” Never a truer word.
If you'd like to hear the birds as I did, for a glorious 2 minutes, please follow this link.
Snow was falling, the woods were calling and the urge to stand with my feet in fresh snow and breathe the scent of pine was overwhelming. So eager was I to get my wellies on that I almost fell, crashing into the clothes maiden and banging my elbow on the door handle.
Laughing, I fastened the dog’s coat and pulled on my gloves, stepping into the soft whiteness on the courtyard flags.
On the lane, the cars were driving slowly, carefully, as the gritters had not come; but there were no other villagers to be seen. The snow was falling in big soft flakes, landing on my gloves, on my coat, on the dog and there was that hush that comes with snow that sticks. I couldn’t wait to make new footsteps on the field and head up the hill to the woods.
The snow was really coming down now, thick and fast. I could only see one field ahead; Boulsworth was lost and most of the village below me. Just me, the sheep and the dog, perfect. I stuck out my tongue like a 6 year old and tasted the falling snow.
Across three fields, climbing all the time and onto the top lane by Moss Top Farm, where white snow topped black branches like icing and a robin regarded me but did not fly. Wellies crunching, I strode on to the woods, leaving my footprints behind.
Over the old stile and into the stillness of the woods, peace settling over me as the snow settled on holly, ash, spruce and yew. Even the dog stood tail-tip still in homage to the perfection.
In Spring, I walk in these same woods and watch daffodils dance, in Summer I lean in and smell pale pink wild roses, in Autumn, I tread on mulching leaves and release their musky fragrance, but today I smell only sharp clean newness. I inhale deeply and feel a sense of cool renewal. We press on, the dog and I, along the path at the edge of the woods towards a blank expanse of moorland, blurred by dancing snow flakes.
At the edge of the woods, we turn. I’m not dressed for the moor and haven’t brought my poles; plus my phone has died, so it would be foolish to go further today. Instead, we retrace our steps, stopping to pull downwards on a fir branch and watch the snow spray as the branch bounces back. As we leave the woods, I turn and watch the snow filling my footsteps, covering any evidence that I stood amongst the trees, breathing with them, through them.
Back on the field I lie back on a blanket of soft new snow and scrape my arms up and down, up and down, hoping to make the outline of an angel. Then I just lie there, letting the snow fall onto my face for the longest time. Eventually, I notice the cold on my back and heave myself up, my knee protesting as it does these days. And as dog and I trot down the field to the village, I feel refreshed; cleansed by the ice-cold air, soothed by the swirling snow and reminded yet again of the power of nature to get things into perspective.
It’s the 2nd January 2021, a lot of things are uncertain: but I’m here, I’m relatively healthy and I’m loved. What a brilliant start to the year.
We’ve had some glorious sunsets in my part of the world over the last few days; orange, mauve and indigo streaking above sparkling white fields, a huge red moon shining through charcoal woods and a canopy of bright stars above.
I was hoping that today, the last evening of the year, would follow suit, having planned to walk up onto the moor around 11.30pm and welcome the New Year in sitting on my favourite big old boulder, with my hands wrapped around some mulled wine and my husband’s arms wrapped around me. Under the starlit sky, we would be able to see for miles and watch the fireworks above the villages and towns below. Oh, so romantic!
But today, as the light from the last day of 2020 fades, all I can see through the window above my desk is freezing mist, which hovers above the fields and somewhere joins an oppressive grey sky and I begrudgingly admit that my walk is probably off.
I go downstairs to make a cup of tea, past a twinkling Christmas tree and whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil I tune in to the TV.
“It makes me so angry.” A masked doctor in a hospital is saying. “Don’t they realise this is not a joke? My colleagues and I are watching people die in here every day. It’s a mask, all people have to do is wear a mask. We had a delivery guy turned up here yesterday, to deliver PPE equipment for our intensive care teams and in he strides with no mask on and proceeds to get shirty when I asked him to wear a mask.”
And he went on. “The problem is (that) people don’t seem to want to listen to the real news, the quality news, the news that informs them about what is really happening here. They get stuck in a loop of social media telling them the same thing over and over, instead of taking the time to read or listen to quality in- depth information. They get fed what they want to see and hear. We can’t show them what’s going on in here, we can’t show them what this horrendous disease does to lungs, liver, skin, brain, we can’t let the cameras in or even relatives in anymore, and so people walk along the London streets, or Birmingham or wherever, past the hospitals, without knowing what’s going on inside.”
“Thank-you Professor Mongomery”, said the presenter and the interview ends.
I make my tea and come upstairs to write my journal, but instead find myself looking for the whole interview on Google and listening to it from the beginning. His message is clear; if you decide to have a last fling this year, it may well be your last fling. Or you may be one of the 50% who doesn’t know they’ve got the virus and pass it on to someone who, in a week or so, arrives at a hospital where doctors like Hugh have to decide, literally decide, if this person, this life, this father, mother, wife, son has a fighting chance of making it; because only then, is there an intensive care bed with their name on it.
I’m sharing Hugh’s interview and asking you to share it too, in the hope that it may persuade someone to change their plans tonight and not go to their friend’s house tonight. Yes, it’s New Years Eve and many of us want to share a drink, or some music or some conversation or a even a boulder with loved ones, but what else will you be sharing?
We don’t know what Brexit is going to mean, or how the loss of schooling might affect our kids, or when each of us will get a vaccine, it’s all unclear, but what is clear is that, as we live through the final hours of 2020, the way we live them can potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.
If you enjoy my blogs, you can read more of my work in my book available here www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Walks-Wisdom-Wendy-Bowers/dp/1671172353