I’m reading…

On Tyranny: 20 lessons from the twentieth century, Timothy Snyder (2017, Penguin Random House) Profound lessons for the Trump-era, such as: stand out, believe in truth, listen for dangerous words, do corporeal politics (ie get out there and be public for what you stand for)… inspirational stuff.

No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, Naomi Klein (2018); feels like essential reading, wherever we are and whatever political system we are in.

Feline Philosophy: Cats and the learning of life, John Gray (2020). Not written by me, but nevertheless a engaging read on ethics, love, death, and ‘ten feline hints on how to live well’ (e.g. Number 7: Sleep for the joy of sleeping, not in order to work harder the following day…).

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk (2014)

The find of the year – I’m so glad I was pointed in the direction of this book. The title says it all: this books explores the mental and physical impacts of significant trauma and how healing can be found; as one reviewer writes, the book is “a brilliant synthesis of clinical cases, neuroscience, powerful tools and caring humanity”. I find links in it both to my coaching practice and to my own understanding of myself.

“The Body Keeps the Score” confirms my personal conviction that the body often keeps the score in all sorts of ways in relation to strong experiences, whether happy, difficult or extreme. I know this from my own experience. In response to a very challenging work situation a few years ago, the best advice I found was not just to listen to my mind, but instead to use the wisdom of the body in finding a way through. This led me to opportunities for private moments of forgiveness of self and others, taking up painting, and using running as a way of processing thoughts and feelings.

Van der Kolk writes: “Trauma is not just an event that took place sometimes in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain and body … For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”

At times it feels like there’s too much in the world that needs healing. But if executive coaching can help people understand difficult or apparently inexplicable events at work (again I’m not referring to medically-traumatic episodes here), then maybe coaching can also result in some form of indirect healing?

Note: There are alternatives to buying online through Amazon – for books, DVDs, games, music…  Amazon takes its place amongst the list of biggest tax-avoidance companies. For books, if you up for good quality secondhand copies, two sites to consider are www.betterworldbooks.co.uk and http://www.biblio.com 

I’m writing…

… I’m delighted to let you know that a sci-fi short story of mine, Conditional, has been accepted into the Terra Two archive. Terra Two is an artistic response to NASA’s commitment (threat?) to colonise Mars, and the project endeavours to collate voices “to ensure that when we settle a new planet, we take an entirely new approach to our environment, to other species within our sphere of influence, and to one another. To simply transport contemporary western culture’s attitudes and behaviours into deep space would be to create a mission doomed from its inception; when we go, we need to agree on a new set of principles.”

Writing Retreat, Cumbria, 15-20 March 2020. Now its fourth year, this popular retreat offered time and space in beautiful and inspiring surroundings. We began, with all places filled; but had to close in line with the lockdown; and we will aim to be back whenever circumstances permit – please contact me for details and to be kept in touch for booking. The retreat is for writers of any discipline – literature, family research, academic or social media, and whether you’re starting out, making progress or needing a focussed space in which to draw final threads together. I co-facilitate together with Professor Ben Pink Dandelion from Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. Please contact me for details john@johngray.org.uk

I’m painting…

Two of my paintings are hanging at Friargate Quaker Meeting House, York:


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