The dark mind of fear

“The mind of man is capable of anything.” ― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The time after the Christmas break always seems to bring with it the darkest part of the winter season and also the darkest time for many people.

The seasonal celebrations are over. The presents have been put away or exchanged. The decorations are down and put away for another year. The striving for the winter sales is on in the high street and people are out trying to get bargains. The return to work after the festive break always seems to bring with it a sense of dread. The office festive fun is over and there are no holidays or breaks in the near future.

Then there is the annual bout of flu, influenza and other bugs that seem to strike the populus at this time of year. Reports this year of the Auzzie flu and the Japanese Flu viruses, were widely reported, with people being struck down; waiting times at hospitals getting worse and all of the scare stories.

For me personally, this year, there was a moment in all of this where I truly felt the dark mind of fear. Let me explain.

We had a wonderful christmas period as a family, but between Christmas and the New Year, I came down with a serious case of “man flu”. I did not go to the doctors, but felt so bad, that I dosed myself up with paracetamol and went to bed. I am not sure if it was flu, but I have not felt so bad for many years. Headaches; sweats; aching legs and joints; uncontrolled shivering; coughing and spluttering; runny nose and no appetite at all.  I found light hurt my eyes and noise hurt my ears. All I wanted to do was to drink water and rest. I was a complete mess.

The Friday after Christmas was the worse day.

As I lay in bed, I felt the struggle as the breath came and went. I could hear the sound of my breath as it went in and out. The raw rasping. I could actually feel the movement of my chest. So unusual. It felt frightening that I was reliant on the mechanical movement of my chest and the struggle that I was having, even breathing. My mind wandered and I felt as if I was in the bottom of a dark place and the weight of the darkness was pressing down on me. Every breath felt a struggle. A dark and fearful struggle.

Then I realised that at it’s very centre, was my thoughts around the practice of mindful breathing. Allowing the thoughts to come and go. The simplicity of just being with the breath. I concentrated on the practice of the breadth and it helped. The moment to moment breath. I became less frightened and fearful. I lay there are truly rested.

Since that Friday, I have slowly recovered. I returned to work after the New Year and then promptly had another “man flu” episode and ended up in bed again. I am not asking for sympathy, after all it was just “man flu”.

The hacking cough has been with me for the past three weeks and physically it has been a slow process to get back to normal. Did I have the flu? I have no idea. Did I feel terrible that Friday – yes – absolutely. But I can say, that even in that darkest of moments, the practice of focusing on the breath and just the breath, really helped.

I hope that you are well and at this time of year, darkness of the mind does not descend upon you, physically or mentally. I hope that you have time to think and to practice whatever techniques help you to be grounded and feel alive. For some people it is sport; for some it is exercise; for some it is mindfulness; and for others it is being with those they care for. Remember, every day is a great day, even if you don’t feel it at the time.

I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me,

“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” ― Thomas Paine, A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America

In 2018, it is time for better conversations

How-demographic-changes-will-impact-organizations-and-managers“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  ― Plato, as mentioned by, Richard Lingard, A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaving the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World

Are you a good listener? Are you a good conversationalist? Are you recognised as someone that is really engaged in the dialogue between people?

Do you think that people truly listened, engaged and were positively involved in the dialogues in 2017?

We all make New Year resolutions – lose weight; give up smoking; stop drinking so much; start an exercise regime; whatever. Take a moment if you will, to write down what is yours? Your partners? Your friends?

Nearly every single resolution written down is a physical one. Go on, go check. And like most physical activities, they are very easy to pick up and then drop.

I’d like to suggest one small change for 2018. How would you like to have better, more engaged conversations with people?

We’ve all had really great conversations. We’ve had them before. We know what it’s like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you’ve made a real connection or you’ve been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your interactions can’t be like that this year.

What key tips have I tried that help? I am not going to say I am an expert, and my colleagues, friends and family will all agree I have my “non-conversational” moments, but what have you got to lose? I’ve listed five of the most important tips I’ve come across. Go on, add a couple of these to your resolution list.

Number one: Don’t multitask. And I don’t mean just set down your mobile phone or your tablet or your laptop or whatever is in your hands at the time. I mean, be present. Be in that moment. Don’t think about your argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner. Be focused on the face; the person’s posture; the non-verbal queues, as well as the actual dialogue. Don’t be half in and half out of the conversation, as you will actually be indicating you are out of it and not interested.

Number two: Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you’re going to get a simple, possibly one-word answer out. If I ask you, “Were you worried?” you’re going to respond to the powerful word in that sentence, which is “worried,” and the answer is “Yes, I was” or “No, I wasn’t.” “Were you angry?” “Yes, I was very angry.” Try asking them things like, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response. There is a whole concept; training courses; therapeutic approach called “Clean Language”. Check out the following link for more information:

Number three: Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We’ve all been in group conversations in which a person is talking for several minutes and then the someone in the group comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out of nowhere, or it’s already been answered. That means the person asking the question probably stopped listening a few minutes ago because he thought of this really important question, and he stopped listening to focus on asking the question. And we do the exact same thing time after time, after time. Remember, go with the flow and really try to listen.

Number four: Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work or the troubles at home, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job or how fed up you are with the state of the house. It’s not the same. It never is going to be the same. All of life’s experiences are individual to that individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. At the simplest level, the person telling you these things is looking for you to listen. Even more, to be empathetic with them.

Number Five: Learning mindset. You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. Set aside your own opinion and beliefs. The speaker, sensing this acceptance, will become less and less vulnerable/defensive and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. This is probably the one key idea that we should foster more widely across society.

Go on, add one of these to your 2018 resolution list. What have you got to loose.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Life would be a lot easier if conversations were rewindable and erasable, like videos. Or if you could instruct people to disregard what you just said, like in a courtroom.” ― Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic