Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Return To Love - Marianne Williamson


This book invites us to re-examine our relationship with God. Across two parts 'Principles' and 'Practice' the book covers areas as varied as 'miracles' and 'work'. The book defines love as what we are born with, and fear as what we have learned. We are encouraged to our engage in the spiritual journey of accepting love back into our hearts and lives through the author's reflection on 'A Course In Miracles' by Helen Schucman. It is an accessible, deep book with a grounding message: we have a choice about how our lives go.

Find out more by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Two: Smooth Egg Intact

These trousers will be forever associated with an enlarged scrotum.



Welcome to Part Two.

I'm discovering that writing this down is more of a therapeutic release that anticipated.

Reminder: ladies - get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly.


Here we go...

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2: Smooth Egg Intact

Tuesday 1 September I went back to school. It was 'teacher training' day and I was delivering  a session (yeah I'm that kind of employee/ teacher).

The mood at school was nervous and pretending not to be. A combination of COVID-19 restrictions, risk assessments, masks, clearning products, hand-gels, seeing colleagues/ friends etc.

After that it was back to 'COVID-19 normality'. I pretty did my thing as normal: starting teaching as I always did - planned out my timetable, got my books, replied to emails, set up lessons, did photocopying.

I hadn't really thought about the ultrasound - until I got the letter 'Wednesday 16 September'.

'Oh ok' I thought.  'That's good - it's in the afternoon on my least-busy teaching day. I can be back in school on Thursday no problem.'

Coming back to school, I had some new trousers and shirts to wear as I'd lost weight over lock-down.

My swollen testicle still felt like a smooth egg. No bigger.

But I was more aware of it in wearing new clothes.

(It's got to the stage that whenever I wear these trousers, I'm immediately reminded of how it felt. Our brains are fascinating.*)

A slight, fleeting, but ever-present discomfort.

Men reading this will know what I mean when I say - I felt the need to adjust myself regularly.

I liken to things like this:
- waking up in the middle of the night, and taking a while to get back to sleep
- leaving the house and remembering that you needed to bring something...but you're not sure what
- starting a conversation with someone intending to ask a question, and getting off-topic

I remember on Tuesday 15 September, I really had a go at a student. They were not organising themselves at all: not communicating about losing books, they had left their work on the train more than once, they were moving house...there was always some ridiculous story going on. And they were moaning about having some serious stuff to deal with.

I said something along the lines of, "I'm have a hospital appointment on Wednesday for something that is potentially challenging - but I've organised the teaching for you guys. As long as you're in communication, you can sort out anything."

I taught my usual lessons on Wednesday in the morning, and left after lunch to get to the hospital on time. I arrived in good time, and waited.

Then waited some more.

Then I had the ultrasound. This involves a gel being put on the area, smoothed on, and then a machine being placed on the gel, and moved around.

I've seen my wife get ultrasounds in the course of our fertility treatment.

Despite possible suggestions for me to have an ultrasound as part of checking me as part of the fertility treatment, I'd never had it. No other examinations had necessitated it.

Until the smooth egg-sized thing in my scrotum.

The guy doing my ultrasound said the gel would feel warm (it did) and he was going to move the machine around a bit (he did) and that it might be a little uncomfortable (it was).

He then said "I can see there is something there. I need to speak to my manager about it."

That was the first time where the smallest alarm bell began to ring in my head.

As I cleaned myself, I breathed deeply with my mask on, and lay back. I began to count the ceiling tiles. And notice the cracks. And then count the lights. I then closed my eyes and began meditating: noticing my breath, feeling my heartbeat, observing the thoughts coming and going.

After what felt like ages, he came back and said "I've made an appointment for 11am tomorrow. Just come to this ward and ask for urology".

I listened, repeated back what he'd said to ensure I'd understood it, and left.

Smooth egg intact.

I got home and drafted emails to work explaining they'd asked me to come back to hospital on Thursday, and it was in the morning, so I'd need cover for my lessons.

I thought I'd be back in the afternoon for my lessons.

As it turned out, Wednesday 16 September was my last day at school until Monday 2 November.

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*It would be remiss of me if I didn't say how good these trousers are. I have such trouble finding things that are short enough in the leg with the right waist. Frustration abounds. So when I discovered Spoke trousers I was blown away. So I do tell everyone about them. Click here to find out more and get a discount - and if you buy - I get a discount too! Win/Win!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

One: I'm Not In Any Pain

My Mask Has Been My Constant Companion

This is the first in a series of posts writing down what I've told a large number of times.

So much so my wife has started to roll her eyes when I tell the story.

Hence me writing it.

It's pretty real. And somewhat graphic. By that I mean - if you're a guy, you might find yourself squirming a little.

If you're woman - then tell the men in your life to check their testicles.

Ready?

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1: "I'm not in any Pain" 

This had all started in July.  School had already been out for a week. Not that it meant much - I'd been teaching both online and in-person and was particularly tired (more so that most years...nothing like a pandemic to really mess things up). I was spending time reading and relaxing. Not really waking up any later. My wife was working and we were both at home.

One weekend I noticed my right testicle was beginning to swell. It had happened gradually. A slight feeling that something was off. A different sensation wearing underwear. Subtle, but unmistakable. Men reading this will know how a few millimetres can make a difference. My initial reaction was no reaction. Except I after feeling it, I knew something was off. After a conversation with my wife, she confirmed what I thought:

"Book an appointment with the doctor tomorrow".

Wednesday 22 July, I saw my GP. I was in a mask. He was in a full hazmat suit (yes Covid Times). He examined me fully - and whilst uncomfortable, it wasn't painful.

I had wondered if it was something to do with fertility. Having been through (and continuing to be on) a proper roller-coaster with attempting to have our own family, (three failed rounds of IVF, lifestyle changes, supplements, and an eventual diagnosis of endometriosis and adenomysis for my wife...we were left with 'unexplained infertility'. A whole other story.) I wondered if it was varicose veins in the scrotum. My doctor said:

"If it was - for want of a better phrase - it would feel like a bag of worms."

"I'm not in any pain" I shrugged. It was probably more to reassure myself than I realised.

I felt as if I had a smooth egg in my scrotum. Zero discomfort.

He wasn't sure what it was, so wrote a referral for me to have an ultrasound.

The next week I went and picked up the form and drove to the ultrasound department at St George's hospital. I had been under the impression from the doctor that it would happen relatively quickly.

The receptionists felt they had to repeat themselves to me about how I would get an appointment when my details were entered on the system.

Looking back, I appreciate how challenging their job is. Clarity is sometimes favoured over a polite demeanour when dealing with the public. Especially during a global pandemic.

I realised there was not much I could do - other than be patient.

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PS Looking back, my red mask has felt like a constant companion. The way it felt on my face. The sound of my breathing through it as I sat in waiting rooms, or had my testicles examined by a doctor. It's become a reminder of the journey.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Body Keeps The Score - Bessel van der Kolk


This book is about how trauma affects the body - and how it can be healed. "The number of people treated for depression has tripled over the past two decades, and one in ten Americans now take antidepressants"*. Trauma is an unbearable experience that happened in the past, that is relived constantly in the present, meaning it takes enormous amount of energy to function adequately - if at all. The goal of the book is to bridge brain science and everyday life so that we can heal traumatic experiences. It is a compassionate, moving book about the human condition with deep message of hope for everyone.

*p24

Would you like to read it? Get it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey



This book is about people – and it’s a guide for personal growth. Covey suggests there are Seven Habits effective people do. He suggests a habit is the intersection of knowledge, desire, and skill. Learning what to do, discovering the deep want to do something, and practising how to do each habit results in effectiveness – a balance of results we want, and our capabilities. With insightful stories and exercises, this book is a choice to engage in a powerful, in-depth journey to discover true fulfilment.

Interested in reading it? Get it here. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Deep Work - Cal Newport



This book is about the importance of 'Deep Work', what it is, and how to implement it. Three to four hours a day of uninterrupted, thoughtfully directed, concentrated effort is productive, rare, and valuable in today's economy. Deep Work is fully concentrating on specific tasks, without distraction, whilst pushing cognitive abilities to their limit. A range of influential people across the ages applied Deep Work principles - from Carl Jung to Bill Gates; from Mark Twain to J.K. Rowling. Our world is becoming increasingly distracted and unproductive - it requires effort to change behaviours to incorporate deep working practices into our lives.

Interested in reading it? Get it here.






Thursday, July 02, 2020

Using the 'Book Summaries' Posts

  

Teaching has demanded that I develop my ability to read and interpret information. And then make it useful for my students.

Summarising is a skill.

This means it can be taught, practised, and refined.

My posts on this page summarise the books I've read - but in a very particular way.

The purpose of each summary is for you to:

  • Understand the main ideas in the book
  • Make it easy for to choose which book you'd like to read

Creating Effective Summaries

When I was at school, we spent time summarising ideas, note-taking, and even discussing them in class. This included primary school too.

But now? Not so much.

The subjects I teach require pupils to be able to read and interpret text and graphical information under time pressure.

In response, I teach my students how to summarise and created two different structures for them to practise.

Three-sentence summary

  1. Describe what the article is about
  2. State a numerical fact
  3. Share an opinion (yours or the article's)

My thinking behind this type of summary was to get students to read and think. The numerical fact (which lends itself very easily to Business, Economics, and Psychology) forces specific reference to the written piece, but also gives the reader clarity about what's happening.

Five-Sentence Summary

  1. Describe what the article is about
  2. State a numerical fact
  3. Define a relevant key idea, concept, or term
  4. Apply the idea, concept or term in context/ Give an example
  5. Share an opinion (yours or the article's)

This summary goes deeper - and I tend to use it with older students. It forces pupils to think about the terminology - the basis of understanding any body of knowledge. From there, using the term in context develops higher-level thinking.

Ending with an opinion forces pupils to think carefully about what they've read. This is also encourages even higher order thinking skills.

Most case studies in exams deliberately don't have an opinion. They just present facts and issues in context. This is because the questions that follow force students to address the problems outlined.

In contrast, a book or newspaper article will have some kind of judgement. Following the thread of an argument and forming one's own opinion is so important in the world we live in.

Summarising is a skill that develops concentration, creativity, and critical thinking.

My posts here present the key ideas from books in an accessible way to allow you to choose if they are worth your time, energy, and money.

Most of them use the Five-Sentence Structure

Where you go from there is up to you!

Go to 'Book Summaries Posts'

Note: I use affiliate links for the books I recommend

Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

About ‘Book Summaries’


As a teacher, coach, and voracious reader I regularly get asked for book recommendations. I’m also always on the hunt for good books too (my mum is a great source).

Some of my greatest learning and joy has happened when engaged in a book.

As I tell my students READ A BOOK!

In 2018 I started putting ‘currently reading’ and ‘just finished’ into my email signature. It meant I went from reading 8 books a year to 18. I’ve done it ever since.

The 'Recommended Reading' posts are a list of my favourite reads - both recent and ancient.

Reading books is also at the core of Self-Awareness Is Your Secret Weapon. Whilst non-fiction is the obvious starting point, fiction has a clear place too.

For how to make the most of the 'Book Summaries' posts, see here.

Photo Credit: Callum Shaw on Unsplash

Note: I use affiliate links for the books I suggest.

Friday, June 05, 2020

A Moment Of Clarity - An Autobiographical Reflection About Race



Those times don’t happen often. Actually those moments don’t happen often. You know – where you remember some incident, some happening, some past life event that seems to hold the key to understanding your present predicament. 

Some people are constantly searching for these moments. For me – I feel as if they come after me. Perhaps having been a psychology student is the explanation, or maybe an unhealthy interest in the philosophy of Star Wars. Whatever it is – I think those moments happen to me (or maybe I’m making them happen to me) fairly regularly. 

The interesting thing though, is the extent to which those moments are life altering. I read somewhere that there are ‘no ordinary moments’ – each one is unique, extraordinary and represents my life ending as each one passes by (to paraphrase something I heard in a film once). Seriously though I think it’s possible for something to be revealed in a moment of clarity the seeing of which changes everything. I’ve heard that somewhere before too…Yoda? Or Buddha? 

Anyway, this particular realisation occurred in my mid- to late- twenties. I think it was something that was creeping up on me. It was something I always knew and was deeply aware of – I just never quite joined the dots. 

Now some people would have you believe these insights come only when one’s mind is calm and in a space of deep awareness and meditation; when one is seeking enlightenment and presents one’s question to the Source; when one is open and ready; when one is in solitude and at peace; when one is contemplating the oneness of everything – only then do moments of clarity happen. 

What a load of fucking balls. 

I think they’re happening all the time – we’re just too fucking dumb to realise. Not that I’m saying I’m the person who knows everything or has the answer. Don’t shoot the messenger now – there are enough people who’ve said the same thing as me. 

I just feel that I’ve learned to appreciate things for what they are – and then make connections in interesting ways. 

So anyway – I was in my mid- to late- twenties: a time of the quarter-life crisis perhaps (just ask Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Jones and Morrison). I’d finished uni; I’d done some soul-searching; I’d awakened my sexual self and lost my virginity somewhere (finally); I’d read lots of very cool literature covering new-age spirituality, self-help, traditional literary greats; I’d even got drunk and done drugs for fuck’s sake! 

Yet amongst all that, hidden within the really cool things I’d achieved and experienced I still felt something was unexplained. A nagging doubt that chewed and nibbled at the back of my mind like a tiny stone stuck in my shoe. I likened it to the feeling I had of not being able to sleep after eating something in bed because of all the crumbs: individually small enough to go unnoticed but collectively big enough to prevent me from falling asleep. 

Taking this metaphor further, I think a lot of my experiences until that point were crumbs in the bed. Only when they reached a critical mass was I compelled to take action and sweep out the bed. 

Actually, the depth of the insight was more like stripping the bedsheets and getting a new bed – such was its revelatory nature. 

So yeah – this nagging, gnawing sense of I-don’t-know-what was my constant companion. I mean I knew it was there – I just didn’t know what it was, where it started or why it existed. I think I just learned to live with it. I buried it. It was only at a certain age that I noticed it. I think what started the search was leaving uni and starting to work. I was in the space of just beginning to earn money. I had finished ‘being a student’ I was in a job I enjoyed and I was newly single. Part of me not only felt as if the world was my oyster, I also felt as if the world had better watch out. 

Ah the arrogance of youth. 

My friends would sometimes ask me where I got my energy. I would say I didn’t know and go on to explain that one of my nicknames at uni was ‘Duracell Bunny’. Friends who had known me a bit longer would ask if I ever got tired. I would ask them: tired of what? They would reply tired of being a rebel. I would just shrug, smile and find something else to wind them up about. 

My family too worried about me. My dad was convinced I was suffering from manic-depression. (It does happen to be quite prevalent amongst men. Symptoms often reveal themselves in the individual’s mid-twenties; that and a high incidence of schizophrenia). Again I shrugged it off. Looking back I suppose my behaviour was a little erratic and puerile. I would vacillate from being at home lots, to being out and coming back late. I would spend a lot of my time in my room and treat my parents’ house like a hotel. I mean, I paid rent and did my own washing and ironing but I think my parents (perhaps my mum more) missed the experience of me actually being there. 

So yeah – friends, family all just got a bit weary. That’s the best word. I mean I guess I was tiring to be around: ‘intense all the time’ as my sibling and first girlfriend use to say – much to my annoyance. 

But as my twenties moved on I’d begun to have enough of everyone giving me their opinions – solicited and unsolicited – so much so that I started to wonder and question myself. Was I a manic-depressive? Should I go to the doctor, psychiatrist or whatever and be assessed? Why am I so over the top? Am I always going to be like that? Why do I feel the constant urge to make fun of others around me and monopolise the attention? Why do I have to be at the centre of the crowd all the time? Was I just coming across as desperate, vacuous and just a drama-queen? 

None of these thoughts were new to me at this point. I’d always known I was an ‘attention-seeking, loudmouth big-head’ as someone in sixth form had characterised me. By that time I’d become adept at manipulating myself to get people to like me. Essentially that was it: I was desperate for people to love me. I was basically screaming to all and sundry: ‘please love me’. 

I took to not drinking at university and found it to be an incredibly effective way of getting and keeping people’s attention and ensuring I was memorable. I concocted a story about me getting drunk and committing acts of vandalism as a reason for me being tee-total. I told it so often in sixth form and at uni I began to believe the incidents happened. 

On balance it wasn’t that surprising I was pissing people off. This I knew. 

But all this wonderful self-awareness means fuck all if it changes nothing. I’d read and heard that enough times. And in fact through my early-twenties I went a long way to clearing up the bullshit I’d created. It had given me some sense of calm. 

Yes the breadcrumbs were being seen for what they were. Yes they were being cleaned up. Yes moments of clarity had happened along the way. 

But after all this soul-searching-and-finding I was still left with: why? Why had all this happened? Where and when did it all start? 

It felt like the ball of wool was finally becoming unravelled. It was as if the photographer of my life had been adjusting his lens closer to the point where every facet of reality would be brought in to startling sharpness. 

And I remembered. 

I remembered something from nursery, something simultaneously innocuous and profound. 

There we are sitting around a table on our little chairs. The table was that hardwearing, cheap plastic. They type you see in nurseries and schools all over suburbia. I remember it was light blue. We were having the time of our lives playing a very simple game, one that we played all the time. I don’t even know if it had a name – we were so young that our linguistic prowess probably didn’t stretch to more than the scream of delight a child has when engaged in almost anything novel. 

So the game went like this. Someone would put one of their hands in the middle of the table. The person next to them would put one of their hands on top of the first person’s. The third person would put their hand on top of the hands on the table, and so on until everyone had one hand in the middle. 

The first person would then put their other hand on top of the growing pile of hands. Everyone else would follow. By this time there were a pile of hands in the middle of the table. The person who had initiated the hand-placing would now have to pull their hand out from the bottom of the pile and put it at the top. The next person would follow, as would the next. From there it would descend into a wonderful cacophony of childish screams, smiles, hand-on-table-slapping and general noise. 

Once we’d calmed down  - we’d do it again. And again. And again. This is just a simple, harmless game that represents the innocence of children growing up in the late-seventies early-eighties right? 

Of course it is! I’m not going to say it’s anything more than that, except to say that we human beings are wonderful. Our minds work in very simple yet very profound (and complicated) ways. 

There’s a reason I remembered this game: my moment of clarity. I remember putting my hand down on the cold blue plastic of the table. I remember my hand standing out in sharp relief against the table. The way the branches of a tree stand out in fierce contrast against the sky on a warm, clear sunny winter’s morning. I not only noticed how cold the table was and how someone else’s hand felt on mine. I noticed something else that day. 

My hand was not like the others. 

I was not like the others. 

Uh-oh. 

My moment of clarity that crept up on me; that chased after me in my quiet moments; that remained with me like so many crumbs in the bed – it was remembering the first time I realised I was brown. 

And so life began.

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Photo by Maddy Baker on Unsplash