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Never in my life have I seen, felt and heard so many geese formations flying across the sky as this year. The fact that nowadays I am spending more time outdoors obviously has a lot to do with this – it is not as if there are more of these formations than before, it is just that I notice them now. My daily walks with the dog come with many perks (but that you already knew).

It is a formidable and powerful feeling to see those mighty birds cross the sky in a beautiful V-formation. Django chases after them madly, as if their energy is catching.

I did some research – I cannot help myself – and apparently the geese fly in V-formation during their yearly migration as it conserves more of their energy compared to flying in a single line. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. These feathered creatures basically put aerodynamics into practice without a university degree.

Apparently the birds in front have the easiest job. The ‘lift’ caused by the formation creates a negative pressure area above the birds. This negative pressure sucks the air upwards, so the birds in front experience a lifting air stream. The birds alternate position during flight, to allow each in turn some rest. During migration the geese also communicate with each other. The geese in the back urge those in front to keep up the speed.

How the geese decide who flies at the head of the formation is a well-kept secret, as so many things in the animal and plant kingdom. We humans, with our big brains, can only guess.

Without fully understanding the mystery of their behaviour, the metaphor of the flying wild geese provides many beautiful insights.

  • Our classic image of a leader is someone who leads the troops from the front, with authority and a firm hand. The geese teach us that leadership can take quite different forms: each individual in the group – and not just the one in front – is a leader, with his own role and responsibilities. You can lead from the front, from the side, from the back and from within. And the group clearly benefits. They demonstrate this in an inspiring way.
  • We often don’t bother or are too proud to accept or ask for help, or to delegate. We prefer to appear independent and strong, because asking for help is putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. The geese give up their leadership position in a very smart and timely manner. They know better.
  • Like the geese in formation urge the ones in front to keep going, we can also encourage and compliment each other, which we don’t do often enough. It gives people wings to fly, as the jargon has it.

As for the mystery behind their striking behaviour, maybe it is not even that mysterious. I wrote about it in a previous blog ‘Who is the King of the creation?’. Someone who researches this quite extensively is the cell biologist Rupert Sheldrake (his work is considered as quite controversial by the so-called serious scientists).

He specifically focuses on those questions for which there is no answer (yet), like how ants behave and communicate, how pigeons find their way back, how dogs ‘know’ when their owner is about to come home, etc.. His books and talks are highly recommended when you are interested in learning more about this.

In any case, it is simply inspiring to watch the animal and plant world. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”, our friend Einstein said.

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Though it happened a few times in the last days, I wasn’t entirely sure. It was only now, during our last walk, that it became so obvious I can no longer ignore it: instead of me training Django, it is him training me sometimes. And there I was, thinking I was his owner!

I can almost see his mind at work: “Mmmm, I feel like a treat. Let me give my owner a friendly command. I will walk to her left, nice and close and then I will look up to her lovingly and make eye contact. And bingo – there goes her hand, into her pocket, and here comes the scrumptious dog biscuit. She did that so well. Maybe I should repeat it a few times so she gets the hang of it. These humans are so easy to train, so much easier than that cat of mine. Let alone the hens.”

All joking aside, I sometimes really think that we humans fool ourselves. Thinking we are the King of Creation and that sort of stuff – we really are not. Another example: all those nice lawns everywhere, numerous acres of land covered in a small green plant that managed to convince humans to cultivate it carefully, fertilise it, free it from moss and other competitors, cut it nicely every week during spring and summer and even sprinkle it! Thanks to humans, this plant has done quite nicely and has even conquered the world.

We are so used to contemplating the world from our own familiar perspective and do not look beyond what we were taught at school and elsewhere. The “what if” question comes to mind again – I wrote about it in a previous blog post.

What if things were different from what we have always assumed? It can make you feel very unsafe to question your normal perspective. On the other hand it also offers incredible freedom and creativity to step outside the beaten track and become curious.

I spontaneously think of Albert Einstein, a scientist who is a figurehead of this attitude. In the meantime we all know where it led him and us. Artists in all kinds of disciplines are another category of people who cultivate this ability to think and act in a radically different way.

What I’m getting at is that each of us can do this, if we are willing to let go of the familiar. At the end of the day, it is about making choices – choices that are life confirming instead of life diminishing. For quite a number of people who start a coaching journey the key question is: how can I live and work in a way that is more confirming and liberating than diminishing?

This brings me to another matter: I truly enjoy writing my blog articles and find a lot of satisfaction in inspiring other people. The frequency of these bi-weekly blogs is starting to become hard and somewhat limiting – I have so many other projects ongoing. So with some regret I have decided to write and publish a new article once every month. I have a few loose ideas to treat you to alternative inspiration in-between, but I need some time to think it over.

So… see you in a month, same time, same place.

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From Prey to Predator and vice versa

Our dog Django has found a new pastime and we are the highly amused spectators. Since a few weeks we have three new hens – the previous ones ended up as fox food, may they rest in peace.. In the spirit of contributing to general animal welfare, we decided to adopt old laying hens through a dedicated organisation.

These old laying hens at first looked bald, skinny and miserable, as a result of the ‘intensive’ life they led in the egg industry. After a few weeks of sunlight and fresh air, abundant free ranging space, a comfortable pen with straw and perches, kitchen leftovers, freely found insects and worms, they can call themselves proper hens again, with their feathers back in full splendour.

Our previous hens were quite assertive and at times arrogant, especially towards each other. But they still remained prey animals that either fled or played dead when they sensed danger. Keeping them together with Django in the garden turned out to be not such a good idea.

So imagine Django’s and our surprise when we noticed that these new hens show a completely different reaction to the hunting instinct of our dog. Instead of fleeing or freezing, they resolutely go for the counter attack – to the great delight of our playful dog, who is challenging them and then runs off as a headless chicken when they charge after him as true Velocirpators out of Jurassic Park.

From prey to predator and vice versa, the natural order put upside down. The animals themselves do not seem to be bothered by it – for sure Django isn’t, and the hens appear to find it quite normal to be on top of the food chain.

Apart from a horror movie script forming in my imagination, I see quite a few possible life lessons in this amusing story:

  • It pays off to take a flexible attitude in life
  • You should not assume too much, as reality can be quite different
  • Humour gets you a long way in unexpected situations
  • Hardship will turn you into another person/animal

I am very curious to hear what it meant to you – do let me know. Just reply to the email or when you are reading this in the browser, double-click on the title and complete the reply form. Do you have another unexpected perspective, let me know as well. Or maybe you know the scientific explanation for this phenomenon?

See you in two weeks.

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Trying to catch Django’s attention is a daily battle. In training school we learned that dogs only possess seven “attention slots”. If these are full of exclusive attention to one or more stimuli, there is no space to add anything else. Basically this means that when you give your dog a trained command – e.g. “sit” – and he does not respond at all, it is in fact useless to get angry or keep repeating the same command in an ever louder voice. He is not being disobedient, as we tend to think – it is just that his seven slots are already full of attention to other stimuli.

Waiting patiently is the only solution. All of a sudden you will notice that a slot has freed up – you can literally see this happening. You need to seize this moment and fill the slot with your stimulus – like the sit command.

You can also see this happening to us, people. We let our attention be drawn to certain things, to the point of complete absorption. Think about the situation when you are watching an exciting movie or reading a compelling book. Social media and computer games can also fully grasp our attention and practically make us lose the notion of where we are. It is addictive and requires quite some willpower to aim our consciousness at the here and now again.

What makes us different from dogs – and other mammals – is that the same can happen to our thoughts and feelings. We can become completely absorbed by a vortex in our head,  like some unwanted, babbling guest who is just sitting there. Buddha calls this the “Monkey Mind”. He described the human mind as a place filled with drunken monkeys who are endlessly jumping around, shouting and screaming.

We all have a Monkey Mind, Buddha said, with scores of monkeys, all demanding attention. The fear monkey is the loudest of them all, he is constantly ringing the alarm bell, drawing our attention to things we should be wary of and to everything that can go wrong. We are used to heeding what these monkeys are shouting about, every time again, and we take it seriously. It makes us withdraw into our head and worry about things that happened in the past or that could possibly happen in the future.

Being aware about this process is a first big step. Instead of these feelings and thoughts ‘having’ you, you need to realise that it is you who ‘has’ these thoughts and feelings, and that you can look at them in a conscious way. And that you can opt to go along or not, to get absorbed by them or not, to let them go or not. This is the freedom you have as a person, and you can cultivate this.

If you recognise the endless babbling of your own inner monkey world and you want to take back control, then coaching is there to help. Contact me for a free sample session. I will try to catch Django’s attention when you arrive, so he won’t greet you too enthusiastically and ignore all my commands.

The children are back at school. Regular working life has started again. The long summer break has ended. And I’m back to writing a new Inspiration.

When I took the decision to take a writing break, I followed a wise intuition – intuition and gut feeling are wise per definition. I somehow sensed that I would have very little time to open myself up for inspiration. At the end of July my dear mother passed away and the weeks before and after were entirely devoted to her, my dad, brothers and sister.

The weeks were intense and tiring, but at the same time beautiful, full of togetherness, intimacy and deep love. At moments like those only the essence is left. All the rest disappears into the background.

My mum was a very special person. This is something that maybe I have come to fully realise only now. The many stories from friends, family and acquaintances have only confirmed that realisation.

I was not entirely without inspiration in that period. For her I wrote the following ode that I read during the farewell ceremony. And I would like to share it here, as a further honour to her who gave me life.

Greetings to you all
My name is Elisabeth
The Loved One
Firstborn of eight
Determined plougher and trailblazer

I am the cherished daughter and sister
Worshipped partner of Vivian
Beloved mother and mother-in-law
Wise grandmother and great-grandmother
Family ties are woven into me

Resourceful Swan is my totem animal
My splendid plumage generates fine admiration
My movements graceful and regal
In my element, water
Purposeful and without hesitation

Sometimes I spread my nurturing wings
For those in need
My care knows no judgment, no conditions
I have no patience for injustice

Each rustle has me wondering
Everything I discover is forever anchored in me
And I conjure up knowledge and memories, effortlessly
When others sometimes seek in vain

At times I feel mischievousness well up in me
And restrained childlike joy erupts
In phrases full of witty, sometimes cynical humour
Or with the wind whirling through my hair
When tearing along Flemish roads
Direction coast
Grandchildren in tow

Tranquil and unwavering I follow my path in life
My presence discreet
But the ripples in the water are undeniable
Expanding ever further
Touching anybody who desires to be touched

I call upon you all
Love one another
Because believe me, love and togetherness
Are all that remain
When everything else falls away

As the poet Rilke so beautifully said:
This is the crux of all that once existed:
that it does not remain with all its weight,
that to our being it returns instead,
woven into us, deep and magical.

During the past months I often felt as if my life had slowed down or sometimes even stopped altogether. Now I know this was not the case. Subliminally, on a deeper level, things kept moving. I have gained more clarity about my own path, and on what I want to do with my life. The ode above is an example. It was written in the tradition of the Kasàlà, an ancient and beautiful African ritual. More will probably follow on this in future Inspirations.

I would like to end with sharing other and joyful personal news. Two weeks after the passing of my mother, our third grandson Fons was born. His birth means a lot to all of us, especially to my dad, and it will always stay connected with the grateful memory of mum.

My summer was eventful, that’s the least I can say!