On bluebells and slowing down...
Welcome to Docky Wood in Buckinghamshire. I made this image just after sunrise a few weeks ago. In need of some kind of creative release, I was up early with my cameras - though as usual, photography simply became a way to process and express my reactions to the whirl of change that has surrounded me lately. For me, there is something very particular about these spring flowers. They are a sign of renewal after the winter months when we all seem to keep our heads down; an opportunity perhaps to lift our gaze and pause.
Some of you will know of the dynamics that have caught me; a couple of years of intense, demanding, globally mobile (though very rewarding) work, changes in professional and client relationships, and the throw in a couple of family bereavements and the chaotic, joyful demands of two fabulous teenagers as they find their way in the world.
As I've traveled the world, skimping on sleep, not getting enough exercise, living on a junk food diet, there were times when I felt that if I cut myself I would bleed cortisol. Of course, it is also fair to say that I had knowingly and deliberately set myself up for a lot of stress. I created opportunities and exploited them, and was impressed by my discipline and resilience as I maintained a breakneck pace over a long period.
Yet unhooking myself the from ferocious pace of the last couple of years has taken much more time and energy than I had imagined...
What have I noticed about the seductions of business and the process of personal change as I have deliberately slowed down?
- Motion, action and pace are addictive. I’m an avid traveler and can easily get hooked into the exhilaration of mobility. I seem to suffer from a combination of wanderlust and rootlessness which means that once I start a journey I don’t want to stop. I love the sense of moving though landscapes and can look out of the window of a plane or train almost indefinitely. Staying in motion, whether literally or as I deliver a business project, offers the thrill of the chase. But miles traveled and activity undertaken become a substitute for genuine, authentic presence and impact. The prestige of business travel then quickly wears thin. Bumping into a colleague at LHR T5 for an early flight on a Sunday morning convinced me that we were both just 'gold card casualties’.
- The glitz of the business world disconnects us from relationships and reality. As I’ve worked with the abstraction of ‘business models’, ‘change methodologies’ or ‘value propositions’, I become separated from the reality of life and relationships. In this mindset people become ‘resource’ or, perhaps worse, ‘capital’ to be invested and spent at our will. We assume that we can control the complexity of our social change and become surprised when the limits of our influence are quickly reached.
- Moments of calm, stillness in nature are essential to renewal. Bluebell walks at dawn (or any other nature walks at any other time) have become increasingly important to me. The ability to sense into our wider ecological connections reminds me intimately of my purpose and humility. Extending our sense of ‘knowing’ is important for me and the photograph evokes the quality of wonder and awe that I felt that morning in the wood. The half-hidden pathway has become an emblematic form as I consider my own pathway to change, and I’m enchanted by the faithful permanence of the trees as they stand in the dazzling morning sunlight.
- Reflection enables carefully question of our motivations. As I pursued change for my clients, how was I thinking about my ethical commitments or working as a witness to theirs? What was being served by the impetus to change and innovate? For whom and at what cost to others? How were visions and values being participatively brought into the world?
- Wow…. It’s great when it stops..! I’ve (re)learned that I can lose my sense of ‘calibration’ when I collude with the demands of the ‘globetrotting international consultant’ role. If I hope to bring difference and perspective to my clients, whoever they are, continual immersion in their worlds and distance from mine is unhelpful.
The bluebells are fading quickly now. But they will be return and I’m sure that I will make decisions that also prompt a return to moments of frenetic business activity. That’s not really the point. What is important for me is to ensure that I return to the reality and sensation of a morning walk through the woods a little more frequently.