The Body Keeps the Score

December 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

Some book titles are so insightful, or seem to carry the message of the whole book, that reading the book itself almost feels unnecessary. My shortlist of books like this includes Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, and – on a more humorous level – the parenting book We Were Here First, Kid and Captain John W. Trimmer’s How to Avoid Huge Ships.

The Body Keeps the ScoreThe Body Keeps the Score leapt out as a book really to read, as the issues the author explores have links to my coaching practice and to my own understanding of myself. The book explores the mental and physical impacts of significant trauma and how healing can be found; as one reviewer writes, it is “a brilliant synthesis of clinical cases, neuroscience, powerful tools and caring humanity”.

It’s beyond my expertise to work with trauma in coaching. If I ever had a sense of these issues surfacing within a client, I would discuss postponing the coaching, and checking what therapeutic or medical options they have taken up or might consider.

However, “The Body Keeps the Score” is still fascinating for me to read, as I believe 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.

Through my coaching, I believe physicality can open the door to emotionality and thus to new insights. When I’m feeling tired or stressed, my shoulders hunch up; noticing and changing my posture can help me feel a bit more positive. Inviting a coaching client briefly to repeat or ‘amplify’ body language – such as a clenched fist, a sweeping hand movement, or tapping of the feet – can lead to greater understanding of what might be behind the body language. As a coach, echoing or reflecting back body language can be a good way to listen more closely and to invite the client into deeper awareness. And active exercises such as time-lines, using spaces in the room or even chair work can make use of the links between physical experience and new realisations.

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?

Writing retreat – last three places remaining

January 31, 2017 § Leave a comment

Writing retreat, south Lakeland, 23-28 April.

Together with a colleague from Birmingham University, we’ve designed a retreat for those who are wanting to start a new project, or to take forward or finish off a current piece of writing whether for formal publication or personal use.

There will be the opportunity to hear from the tutors about our experience of writing, and one to one time with us; but the emphasis will be on enabling time in a supportive atmosphere to devote to your writing.

The venue is the beautiful – and peaceful! – house and gardens at Swarthmoor Hall, Ulverston. Bookings are now open.

Two courses in Birmingham coming up

May 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m really looking forward to co-facilitating these two innovative courses in Birmingham later this year. If you’ve never been to Woodbrooke, it’s a beautiful oasis in Birmingham, easily reachable by public transport.

Bookings now being taken – click on the links below for pricing and booking details.

24 – 26 June (with Maud Grainger): Resilience in Ourselves and Our Communities

In this participatory course, we will be considering resilience; in ourselves and others as well as resilience in communities. Can we build resilience or plan to be resilient? We will reflect on our own experiences and look at scenarios where communities have responded to a situation (e.g. a flood or a riot). This course will take into account current events as well as opportunity to discuss situations in your area if you are willing to share these examples.

21 – 23 October (with Judith Peacock): Negotiating Permanent Change

This course is for professional practitioners as well as those with a personal interest; CPD Certificate available. The past decade has resulted in dramatic, irrevocable change that has affected our lives and our expectations for the future. Financial shifts, environmental changes, reduced security, ageing, and lowered expectations for our children and ageing relatives have left many of us feeling anxious, as well as shaken our faith. This practical, hands-on workshop is to help us share our feelings and examine our responses. Discussion, writing and art exercises can help us reflect, generate new options, and respond with a little more faith and resilience.

Both courses are at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham.


“… a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was privileged to hear Piers Forster give a talk in Leeds last week – he is one of the lead authors on the recently-published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report

This two-size Summary for Policy Makers makes for easy reading:

From Dr Forster’s presentation, I took away the awareness that the carbon emissions to date are such that there will be little difference, regardless of the short-term steps we take, in warming in the next 30 to 40 years.

On that basis, adaptation (responding to the immediate effects of climate change on people and communities) need to be as equal a priority in the short term, as our efforts to mitigate future change.

Beyond those 30-40 years, however, the predictions change wildly based on whether we continue with business as usual or whether we can move successfully towards an economy and lifestyle low in carbon (and also low in methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two other atmospheric significant drivers).

So the more we strengthen now our capacity to mitigate future emissions, the more manageable the future will be.

The quotation in the title of this post refers to carbon emissions. The Summary for Policy Makers states:

“Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond (see Figure SPM.10). Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.”

In short, as regards carbon emissions, the legacy of the future is already set for years to come.

But I’m also struck by the phrase “a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”.

What if that phrase was used to describe our collective response: substantial enough and relevant enough to meet the scientific and social evidence, with a two-hundred year timescale in mind, and the commitment, energy and resources to match?

Indicators for resilience

September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

detroit-slum-1The images of the abandoned areas of Detroit are a shocking reminder of the sometimes short step between wealth and poverty, and of security and human flight.

Though the photographs show a readily recognisable non-resilient community, how easy a few years ago would have it have been to predict this community’s future? In other words, what indicators are useful in helping us assess and support resilience?

As a reminder, an indicator is an observable change or event that provides evidence that something has happened. Indicators can be set for outputs delivered, outcomes achieved and impacts observed.

In 2010 Experian produced resilience rankings comparing the potential economic vulnerability of the 12 BBC regions. Their rankings reflect each region’s strength and adaptability:

Strength of local business base: for example, is it dominated by sectors hit by the recession of those that are relatively unscathed such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, banking and insurance? Have local firms and start-ups already proven their adaptability?

Community vulnerability: for example, the percentage of households vulnerable to declines in disposable income or to long term unemployment, alongside a survey question that asked of people “Do neighbours look out for each other?”

Personal vulnerability: for example, the size of the working age population, skills, average earnings and number of professionals (managers) compared to low-skilled workers (such as labourers); and

Place: for example, median house prices, local crime rates, and green space availability.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the islands of Orkney and Shetland were amongst the top ranked areas (quoted in Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change).

Experian’s indicators are largely economic – and certainly, they emphasise quantitative rather than qualitative assessments.

The transition movement makes a link between Energy descent action plans, and  general community resilience. The Transition Handbook views “cutting carbon as one of many ‘Resilience Indicators’ that are able to show the increasing degree of resilience in the settlement in question. Others might include:

  • the percentage of local trade carried out in local currency
  • percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius
  • ratio of car parking space to productive land use
  • degree of engagement in practical Transition work by local community
  • amount of traffic on local roads
  • number of business owned by local people
  • proportion of the community employed locally
  • percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius
  • percentage of local building materials used in new housing developments
  • percentage of energy consumed in the town that has been generated by local ESCO
  • amount of 16 year olds able to grow 10 different varieties of vegetable to a given degree of basic competency
  • percentage of medicines prescribed locally that have been produced within a given radius.”

And the founder of the Transition movement, Rob Hopkins, argues the need for resilience indicators in his PhD thesis

Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change gives sample indicators for the four directions of people, culture, economy and community. They’re interesting partly because they are phrased according to what people might say about themselves – thus enabling the person to claim their own level of resilience.

  • Healthy Engaged People: “I’m happy and fit in mind and body”
  • Inclusive, creative culture: “We’re confident in our diversity – creating a great future together”
  • Localised economy within ecological limits: “We steward our land, food, water, energy, services, jobs, housing”
  • Cross-community links: “We collaborate with other communities near and far – we know no place can go it alone”

Indicators are “an observable change or event that provides evidence that something has happened”. The above examples may prompt your thinking for relevant indicators in the communities, individuals or organisations whose resilience you are seeking to build.

Resilience: a positive framing

September 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

In connection with the Round Table on Resilience that I am attending later this week, I have been mining the report published in 2009 by Carnegie UK Trust and the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice, Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change.

The report draws an important distinction between emergency planning and resilience – preparing for the former is not the same as generating genuine resilience.

Indeed, there is a very positive definition of resilience, framing it positively rather than in terms of capacity to cope with shocks or disaster:

“Resilient communities intentionally develop personal and collective capacity to respond to and influence change, to sustain and renew the community and to develop new trajectories for the community’s future”. (Community Resilience: literature and practice review, Magis 2007).

Particularly thought-provoking is the report’s comment that resilience helps “future-proof’ their communities on the basis of agreed values.” Though I bridle at the jargon – and even the very concept – of ‘future-proofing’, it’s interesting to see resilience as a process of shaping and agreeing values, presumably values by which the members of the community then live.

One aspect can be easily agreed: “resilience is a ‘wicked issue’, best understood as a function of an ever changing system”. In my view, at our peril we claim to know a community’s resilience or to predict how it will respond to future challenges. Best is to draw inferences, using a range of indicators – and I want to look at indicators in the next posting.

The report has many ideas of what communities and practitioners can do to support resilience. A strong recommendation is to have fun: though sometimes urgent or deep work is needed, in most communities “most of us prefer to party with friends along the way.” Though there is a risk of flippancy here, I think it’s an important reminder to offer sociable, friendly, not-too-heavy activities as a way of supporting people and to get them to be involved.

Other activities which caught my eye:

  • Experiment with asset-based approaches, such as community-led mapping, risk analysis and oral history (to build trust and common purpose)
  • Exchange and learning between communities with diverse experiences of coping with – and preparing for – rapid change
  • Learn skills in transforming community conflicts to better enable everyone to contribute to the bigger goal (this point links to thinking I’ve done about British Quakers’ aspiration to become a low carbon, sustainable community).

Learning from my own resilience

September 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Building on my previous post on resilience, I want to look at community resilience from the viewpoint of what I know about my own personal resilience.

My working definition of community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering.

If I reflect on my own resilience, my thoughts are:

My capacity for resilience fluctuates – in other words, it’s not something like, say, a hammer which once bought is pretty much always there, unchanging and available as needed.

I need others sometimes to help me find my resilience. One way of doing this is for me to watch when they are in my eyes acting resiliently, and to seek inspiration in their behaviour.

I can act in a resilient way even if I don’t feel very resilient. Is this just a deeper layer of resilience, which I need at times to dig deep for? In any event, at times I am like a bumblebee: science may say I can’t fly, but I sometimes I can fly only because I think I can.

For me, my resilience is fundamentally a mental rather than a physical quality. Physical well-being and exercise play their part in nurturing resilience. But it feels more that my resilience is about my will and belief to keep going regardless of my physical condition. And as part of my resilience relates to my Crohn’s Disease (an inflammatory bowel disease), the ability to find courage, strength and persistence in times of less-ability is crucial.

Again for me, my resilience to keep going is linked to my values and my beliefs. Resilience gives me courage to work for things in the future because they seem worthwhile to strive for, not necessarily because they have a good chance of succeeding.


If I take this into communities, perhaps the following might be helpful comparators:

If my own resilience fluctuates, my guess is that that’s true for others and on a bigger scale when applied to members of a community. This probably makes it all the harder to predict how a community may react, or to be confident in the durability of any one-off assessment of the community’s resilience.

Community members can act as inspirations for each other, enabling them to take steps they wouldn’t normally take (this can lead to negative as well as positive behaviours, of course).

And one way for community members to build resilience is by getting to know each other, building relationships and getting through tougher times together.

I finished the previous blog by wondering if resilience was about ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times. I might now add that they are relying on relationships created in ordinary times but which stand firm in extraordinary times.

Resilience: ordinary people in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things

September 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have been invited to a round-table on the theme of Resilience, taking place later this month. Though our focus will include building resilient Quaker communities up and down the country, the invitation has prompted me to think about resilience generally.

What is resilience in a community context? How can one diagnose the strength of a community’s resilience? And, how can resilience be encouraged?

This post is a record of my early thinking, and there is much out there on the subject already, so I’m not claiming any new learning. I would be very interested in any responses, or any useful resources you know about, and I’ll share here what people suggest to me.

Resilience seems relevant to a great range of events which have their impact locally. To name a few:

  • climate change
  • the ending of local industries or other significant employers
  • the local impact of national financial austerity or economic downturn
  • freak weather events
  • pandemics
  • corporate invasion, such as mining or fracking companies – see The Pipe for a great documentary example (
  • the threat of violence, or actual violence – whether from within or from external sources
  • high population churn, or the arrival of new residents into a previously settled community.

What is resilience?

The dictionary of course is a great place to start. Its entries on resilience gave me two ways in which resilience can be looked at. The perhaps more familiar understanding is resilience as the ability to withstand shock, suffering or disappointment. From a physical point of view, however, resilience is the ability of a substance to recover its form and position elastically. I like the image of that elastic rebounding, back into shape after managing a challenge.

So I take community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering. The sense is of a community ‘bouncing back’ – though unlike a piece of elastic, a community is likely to bounce into a different shape than it was before, with changes to relationships and probably some people in a place of greater or lesser resilience than before.

There must also be a link to the comparative fragility or strength of a community – if it was weak before, my assumption is that it will find it harder to respond to shocks. There will be communities that are resilient in anticipation of shocks; and there will be communities that develop resilience only once a shock or traumatic incident arises.

And before I get too far along this journey, I need to affirm that communities are made up of people; and so resilience – or its absence – will be expressed in what people think and believe, what they feel, and what they do. A community responding to a shock, will be demonstrating a network of human stories – with examples of altruism and generosity alongside moments of selfishness and aggression.

Can we then measure how resilient a community may be?

CarnegieUK Trust and the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice in 2009 published Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change. It has a simple model which leaps off the page for me. It identifies four dimensions of community resilience building, in which “work in one area is likely to benefit and amplify that in another”. It also works as a diagnostic tool: how far do we assess our community as having:

  • Healthy people: supporting individuals’ physical and psychological well-being;
  • An inclusive, creative culture: generating a positive, welcoming sense of place;
  • A localised economy – within ecological limits: securing entrepreneurial community stewardship of local assets and institutions.
  • Cross-community links: fostering supportive connections between inter-dependent communities.

If this model is taken at face value – and there must be many similar versions, highlighting different aspects of communities and of resilience – then we also have a model of starting points for the ‘how’ of community resilience building. I’m sure there is much more for me to learn about the how; and what of the many efforts in resilience-building around the world can be replicated or adapted.

I wonder how many examples of resilient communities are in essence the coincidental combination of ordinary people, in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things.

NB This is the first of four posts on the Resilience theme: click the Resilience tag in the right hand margin to see the other posts.

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