July 2015

Today my inspiration is not sparked by my animal housemates, but by my garden. A few days ago I drastically pruned our grapevines – a kind that goes by the wonderful name of Boskoop Glory. In summer this needs to be done every fortnight if you want nice juicy grapes by the end of the season. To be honest, the last pruning was done quite some time ago (procrastination, remember). Believe me when I say this particular plant shows formidable growing force once the summer is there. It looked like a small jungle of vines, with lots of leaves and quite a number of juicy bunches to be. You need to prune the vines to 2 leaves past the bunch. When there are several bunches per vine – which there were, trust me – you only keep the bunch closest to the main branch. Vines that do not carry any bunches need to be clipped as well.

After all my pruning the initially abundant jungle was replaced by something resembling a skinny shaven poodle. It was hard to cut so many promising bunches and throw them on the compost heap, it seemed nearly cruel. But only by creating space can you provide enough light and nutrition for the remaining bunches to grow optimally and to give fungal disease a lesser chance to develop.

As a person you should also prune your own life every now and then. Especially when it all becomes too much and you can’t tell what’s important anymore. Take a step back to see which issues, activities, attitudes, habits and even friends or acquaintances are good for you and which are not. It can really be necessary to cut back in these and make difficult choices so you literally create more breathing space and energy, allowing you to grow, like the grapevines.

Talk to you in two weeks.

Don’t forget to like my Facebook page if you haven’t done so already. I post some “food for thought” there every day, and other interesting material. Not to be missed!

Quite a few people commit as a volunteer to do charity work, which is fantastic, and which also shows the desire to make a difference by moving a stone – even it is only a pebble – in the river. Making a contribution to a greater and meaningful goal can be deeply fulfilling. And yet this does not always work out the way we expected, or does not always give us the fulfillment we were hoping for.

Personally I had been planning to do volunteer work for quite some time, and last year I finally committed to work as a volunteer with Plan Belgium. I chose this organisation as I find their mission valuable and meaningful. Since I am a Plan parent myself, I have a good view on what they do in the world and how they do it. And I like it 100%. Plan offers some possibilities for volunteers, based on their availability and interests.

I decided that I could commit to work for them during one day every two weeks, and apparently this was possible as support to the HR manager at the Brussels head office. An administrative job in other words, something I am quite good at and which comes naturally to me – after all, I have been doing it day in and day out for most of my career. The working environment was very pleasant, with nice and friendly colleagues who appreciated my work, as well as the quality and speed I delivered… but after a few weeks it no longer felt right to me.

It did not give me the satisfaction I was looking for – the initial reason why I had chosen to do this. In fact this was no wonder, since I had recently found out that I do not like administrative work at all, even though I excel in it. It was one of the reasons why I decided to stop working as a congress organiser and start a new career in coaching. So although I am very much attracted by the goal of Plan (giving opportunities to the most vulnerable children in the world), the administrative work that I was doing for them could not fulfill me at all. I did not feel involved with their goal, although I was contributing to it indirectly. In hindsight I should have chosen to initiate actions with volunteers in my region, to give Plan more visibility with the public at large and so be more involved contentwise with what Plan envisages. This is the lesson I learned: choosing the right ‘giving’ activities is as important as choosing the right charity.

What are your experiences or advices? Share it with me and the other readers by leaving a comment here or on the Facebook page. See you in two weeks!

Our hens provide a limitless source of inspiration. Today Frieda refuses to leave her nest. She makes weird noises that we have never heard her make before and when we come too close she cries out loud and spreads her wings as if to say “I am big and strong, don’t you dare touch me”. At first we think there might be an egg stuck, or even a double yolk one on the way – enough to make any hen unhappy – but when I finally dare to pick her up despite her fussing, I see that the two eggs of the day are lying in the nest underneath. It is clear that Frieda is suffering from hormones and is longing for chicks. She is broody, to use the farmyard term. This condition can be quite persistent and, even if the eggs are not fertilised, it is far from easy to change the mind of a brooding hen. Some hens sit on their nest for up to 3 weeks without food or water, and they literally brood themselves to death when their patience is not rewarded with downy offspring. We have to avoid this – some Google searches result in a series of remedies, ranging from soft to hard-handed.

This experience makes me think how we as humans can also brood, figuratively speaking – how thoughts can keep on running endlessly in our minds, leaving us in a non-productive state (I admit this is very recognisable to me). For the brooding person these thoughts can be very real… and yet they are “only” thoughts that do not necessarily correspond to reality. Sometimes you brood over things that happened in a distant or close past, but often also over the future and certain choices that need to be made. In both cases it implies that you are not living in the “now”, while that is the only real situation in which you can act. It is also not a creative state of mind, because you are running in circles and do not undertake anything.

This brooding often results in sleepless nights, when your thoughts run at full speed. In the end you forget to live in the moment, because you are not “present”, and as such you miss out on a lot. Research even shows that you are distinctively unhappier when you do not live enough “in the moment”. Check out the TED talk of Matt Killingsworth ‘Want to be happier? Stay in the moment’.

In coaching it is essential to be present in the moment, not only for the client, but also for the coach. When the client relentlessly talks about things that happened, however bad, or is worried about what will happen, the coach will always interrupt after a while and ask a question like “Which of all these experiences is currently present?” and work with the reply.

For the coach the only way to work well is to be completely present in the moment, with full focus on the client. While you coach, you close off your own thoughts and give your full attention to your client. This is impossible if you are making a shopping list in your head or when the story of your client suddenly reminds you of something that happened to you.

And Frieda? She is still suffering from hormones. Though it makes my mother heart bleed, I forcefully take her from the nest every morning and bring her to the now. The only productive reality for her is to potter about like a regular, non-brooding hen.