Building Wellbeing Together: debrief

 General  Comments Off on Building Wellbeing Together: debrief
Oct 012018

In September 2017, I was part of the delivery team for a major gathering on this theme, hosted by the Network of Wellbeing and Hawkwood College. This quasi-conference aimed to provide an overview of the wellbeing sector in the UK, and it’s a vibrant and encouraging picture.

Among daily bad news, it’s great to hear of substantial progress, for example the Happy City project in Bristol, Birmingham’s Wellbeing Services, a global view from Oxfam, and Chris Johnstone on Five Shifts for the Wellbeing Revolution

The gathering aimed to explore wellbeing at the personal, community, and world levels, and there were excellent, encouraging session leaders and well-informed participants across the spectrum.
At the personal level, Chris Johnstone offered some valuable fresh perspectives. He spoke of focussing on the best potential outcome in any difficult situation, and aiming to make it more likely. He also described a new frontier in positive psychology: the science of prospection, a different way of looking into the future.

My session on Natural Happiness was well attended and got outstanding feedback. I was helped by being the only workshop outdoors, and by the beautiful orchard and gardens as a setting. You can see more about my Seven Seeds model here.

At the community level, many exciting projects were presented: some small and informal, but several at city scale, and some led by a local authority, such as Birmingham Wellbeing Services. Social prescribing is a valuable new trend, where GP’s prescribe activities which create social contact.

Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam presented a fascinating global view. Oxfam track how many of the world’s richest people have the same wealth as the poorer half of the world population: the ratio is now 8 to 3.6 billion. However, she believes change among the uber-rich is possible, and we all need to keep picturing it.

See more about the event here…

Snow White and the seventeen dwarves: A fairy tale lesson in resilience

 Inspirations  Comments Off on Snow White and the seventeen dwarves: A fairy tale lesson in resilience
Jul 202016

Snow White woke tired as usual, dreading the day ahead. She thought, “if only evil queens just brought poisoned apples!”

The modern Evil Queen had used the legalities of the German health care system. She realised that all seven dwarves had Special Needs of some kind (Grumpy, Sneezy, Dozy etc.), and promptly had Snow White designated their legal guardian, their Beantworter.

The Evil Queen also used Boiled Frog theory: if a frog is dropped into boiling water, it jumps out, but if you gradually turn the heat up, it boils to death. Each year she added one more Difficult Dwarf to Snow White’s burden: the poor girl had aged eighteen years in ten, and had lost hope and what German’s call wiederstandfahigkeit, or resilienz for short.

If there is a Cosmic Scriptwriter, she or he clearly has a fine sense of irony, shown in this story by the Fairy Godmother appearing in the guise of a compliance officer. She taught Snow White a basic tenet of front-line resilienz: empower your clients, and start setting your own boundaries.

Snow White realised how dependent the dwarves had become, and started doing less for them. Soon there was uproar, but out of it the dwarves started to find their talents. Grumpy got so cross that he took initiatives. Smarty started to clean the place up. Sneezy was told by the others to live in the outhouse. Chirpy started appreciating everyone’s progress. Dozy gave up his tranquilisers and set up a cooking rota.

You may be wondering where is the Prince in this story? The Evil Queen had side-lined him early on, by having him committed to an asylum for narcissistic heroic fantasies.

The Fairy Godmother, whose knowledge of German regulations was prodigious, explained to Snow White that after ten years’ service as a guardian, she could apply to be released from her post and would qualify for a training grant: she decided to train to be a Heroine. And she could nominate a new guardian: who else but the Evil Queen?

Of course, modern training for a Hero/ine includes nothing so crude as physical combat. There are modules like Einflussnetzentwicklung (building an influence network), Buerokratieuberreden (persuading bureaucracy), team dynamics and eco-psychology. For her practical module, Snow White challenged the asylum’s assessment procedures, and secured the Prince’s release. They lived resiliently into the future.

Note all references to German regulations and institutions are speculative.

Starting a Men’s Group

 Adventure, Men's Interest  Comments Off on Starting a Men’s Group
May 242016

Guest blog by Daniel Korner

It’s interesting to think of how the men’s group that I got involved with in Devon first started.

It was actually the women in the community where I lived at that time that brought in the idea.  From their interest in sharing a women’s circle, and conversations about women’s work we men started to investigate what equivalent activities would be available for us.

What was initially quite out of most men’s comfort zone grew over the period of 14 months into a beautiful, committed brotherhood of men.  We met every 2nd week around a fire … to share, be witness and support for each other, and explore together what it means to be a man in these times.

The reason it was uncomfortable in the beginning was that most of us were not used to being that vulnerable, open and intentionally challenged by each other.  The way most men in these times, certainly in the context I grew up in, engage with each other is in the pub or other environments that are full of distractions, public, and giving an excuse to shy away from a deeper level of engagement and “seeing” of each other.

Something that also normally doesn´t happen in the pub but which formed an important aspect of our men´s group was the meeting of generations, men of different age and backgrounds. All too often the only generational meeting for men happens between fathers and sons which, as beautiful as this can be, also often holds an emotional tension that makes it harder to be completely open and vulnerable.

I found it highly rewarding to listen to and be heard by other men of a different age or upbringing as it brings not only new perspectives, trust and guidance but also creates a feeling of being grounded and helps to understand and relate to men who are at a different part of their life´s path.

The Seven Planks of Spiritual Practice

 Inspirations  Comments Off on The Seven Planks of Spiritual Practice
Jan 112016

Having a spiritual practice may be helpful to us in many ways, but what does this actually mean, and how would we start?  When I am asked about getting started, I suggest that people explore a couple of established, named spiritual paths which appeal to them: for example, Buddhism, Quakers or others.  I also suggest that they try ‘nameless’ approaches, such as mindfulness, and meditating in nature.  For a much fuller version of this advice, see chapter 8 of my book, Out of the Woods: A guide to life for men beyond 50: this section is suitable for men and women of any age.

My own spiritual path has been evolving for 40 years, helped by involvement in several named spiritual paths, and a lot of more fluid personal exploration.  These 7 planks are important parts of my current spiritual practice:

  • Divine unity: open to a sense of divine unity and vitality in all forms of life, including the land, sea and sky. This is what Jesus, in his native Aramaic, calls Alaha.  I find this is a good counterbalance to my tendency to focus on my own problems and needs.
  • Creation is now, and we are all part of it: try imagining that our world is being shaped at every moment, and that our job description as humans is to fulfil our part in this process. You can find this idea in the original teachings of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity: see the Genesis Meditations by Neil Douglas Klotz.
  • Gratitude and Celebration: yes, there are plenty of problems, and it’s easy to feel dragged down, but you can feel more resilient, more able to choose, if you focus on what’s positive, and the scope to grow through the problems.
  • Simple presence: you can find this idea in mindfulness, Christian, Buddhist and many other teachings. In essence, the invitation is to be here now, with compassion for yourself and anyone else involved, and to let go of old stories, dramas and projections.
  • Prayer: this idea is often misunderstood. I don’t mean it in a ‘Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz’ sense: I mean prayers of conversation and invitation, where you ask to be shown how you can serve the highest good of all, and how you can fill your souls purpose in this human life.
  • Soul’s Journey: I get a new perspective, and a positive approach to upsetting situations, through the belief that my soul has a life and continuity before and after this human time, and that my soul has chosen whatever situations I am facing here and now.
  • Spiritual Community: this is what the Buddhists call Sangha. I find great nourishment and resilience in sharing spiritual practises with a group, and feeling the depth of mutual support which comes from this.

7 planks1 7planks2

Football as a map of the inner life

 Football  Comments Off on Football as a map of the inner life
Sep 162015

I am writing this at the start of September 2015: what a delicious set of upsets we’ve already had in the first few weeks of this Premiership season.  The bookies had Chelsea as favourites to win the league again, yet they have made one of the worst starts ever for defending league champions.  And as a West Ham supporter, seeing them win decisively at the Emirates and Anfield has been delicious. Since so many people share my love for the game, why not use it as a guide or metaphor for the inner life?

The image of the club is like your image in the world around you.  Whatever your present reality, the glories or otherwise of your past have created a mass of associations which are held by many others.  Like a club, you will have fans and opponents, and their beliefs about you will change only slowly.

The players at the club are like the aspects of your personality.  Some are wild, some are quiet.  Some break the rules often, others keep their nose clean.  Some appear on the pitch often, some stay mostly in the reserves.  Your players could be called sub-personalities: star centre-forward carrying so many expectations, the wiry winger, the chunky fullback, the goalie who pulls off miracle saves.  Or in worldly terms, the romantic, the geek, the angry hitman, the saintly sage and so on.

Often you may be only aware of one of your players at a time: the geek may lead in a work task, the romantic may lead on a hot date but substituted by the lonely moper if you are losing the match.  Although only one of your inner players has your attention, ie the ball, other aspects of you are on the pitch, in the team, and it can help you to draw them into the manoeuvres.

One of the things I love about soccer is the astonishing difference the manager can make.   This season, look at transformation of Crystal Palace under Alan Pardew.  Or more intriguingly, look at the poor record of Mark Hughes in recent posts, and the sustained benefit he has brought to Stoke.  What’s the analogy for your inner life?  As in football, your inner manager needs to bring a combination of intelligence and inspiration, technique and passion, to your inner team.

Your inner manager sets the flavour and atmosphere for your whole inner team, and his choice of tactics, substitutions, comments to the media, can all be highly influential.  Think about the huge range of personalities among current premiership managers, and see which one you resonate with, and if there’s another you’d prefer to have as a role model…

Just as different football teams respond to different managers and approaches, there’s no one prescription for your inner life.  But somehow, you need to connect with your sense of purpose and passion, so that your inner players go out with fire in their hearts, and can pull themselves back against impossible odds.  Remember Newcastle’s legendary recovery from 0 – 4 to 4 – 4 against Arsenal?

Looking at Barcelona’s continuing success, it’s so clear that it arises from brilliance in both method and motivation.  Your inner manager needs to know what training and techniques will help your players face the challenges of your life.  He needs to find the right team choices among your inner players, so that you bring a mix of skills to bear on every situation.

The coaching team are also vital in the morale and the skills of your players.  Your coaching inputs may come from friends, professionals like counsellors, resilience training, or weekend groups like those at Hazel Hill see for details).

My local paper in Bridport, West Dorset, once had a caption which nearly gave me heart failure.  It read Here’s to the Premier!, over a picture of four men with bubbly at the low-key ground of Bridport Football Club.  They are celebrating promotion to the Toolstation Western League Premier Division.  It’s a useful reminder that few of us as individuals will be in the limelight of a UK Premier League.  Most of us will be in the equivalent of the Toolstation Premier Division.  Local football clubs have just the same dramas and delights as their big brothers, so whatever league you may be in, find the passion and wisdom to manage your team well.

Football as a guiding metaphor is explored further in Alan’s book for men beyond 50: Out of the Woods: A guide to life for men beyond 50. See more at






There’s more than one premier league.




Sep 252014

Do you have too much change and uncertainty in your life? It seems that most of us do, and it’s unlikely to get easier soon. Instead of hoping that the overload will go away, it’s wiser to explore how to handle it better. One good way is comfort zones…

I have just returned from a seven week trip to the USA and I thought a lot about comfort zones whilst away, because I needed them even more, and had them even less. As you know, everything is bigger in the US, including the levels of uncertainty and the generally alarming quality of modern life. To quantify this, if everyone on our planet had the average UK lifestyle, it would take the resources of three planets to support this, whereas the average US lifestyle would need nine planets.

The reasons modern life is so demanding are not just that the problems are huge, but they’re in our face most of the time. Even more so in the US, where TV monitors stream the worrying news to you at every opportunity. The value of comfort zones is that they give you a respite from the overload: a relatively simpler context, where life makes sense.


Even this makes sense…

The long trip to the US helped me understand and value my comfort zones, and I feel blessed with several. One is railways: travelling on them, planning journeys, reading their history. Another is Hazel Hill Wood, my favourite place in nature.

I realised this summer that Premier League soccer is one of my major comfort zones. This may surprise you, as it did me. Although there is intense competition and uncertainty in this league, it is basically a coherent structure of 20 clubs, with reliable rules about promotion and relegation, and the whole thing is essentially coherent. Even the egos and eccentricities of owners, managers and players are an understandable kind of drama. Back home this Autumn, once again Match of the Day is a highlight of the week, but at least now I have a functional explanation of why. I hope that you too know what your comfort zones are, and can enjoy them to the full as the chaos continues.