Tag Archives: vulnerability

The chinks in our armour

Vulnerability is a personal hot potato for me at the moment. It is also the topic of one of my prompts being used by the international journaling community in the 30 day digital journaling challenge.

So I was fascinated by the new series on Channel 4 featuring Grayson Perry’s quest to find the real identities of people, famous and not so, vulnerable and not so, and to represent these artistically.

In the first programme Perry was spending time with people who are grappling with their identities in transition. He spoke to a young British single Mum who has recently converted to Islam; to Rylan, the winner of celebrity Big Brother, who is embarking on fame as a career; and to Jaz, a black, British 24 year old who is navigating the waters of gender change and is trying to establish his identity as a man. These are all places where we can feel at our most vulnerable, stepping into experiences previously unknown to us, but which compel us anyway.

However it was Perry’s interview with disgraced politician Chris Huhne which was the most uncomfortable, and revealing.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?

The question was Who are you? And despite the fact that Huhne comes across as thick-skinned and resilient as a rubber doll, Perry was determined to find the chinks in his armour. Perhaps this is a flaw in the artist, preferring to project onto his subject what he hopes to find, rather than representing him as he is. Or perhaps it is artistic genius to show our truth despite ourselves.

Nonetheless, instead of a rubberised doll with Chris Huhne’s face, Perry created a pot – an appropriate ’empty vessel’ as James Delingpole would have it – decorated with Warhol-esque repetitions of Huhne’s face and car registration plate, along with repeating images of penises. Perry then took a hammer to  the pot, smashing it into numerous pieces, before gluing it back together and highlighting the cracks with gold leaf. The symbolism being that it is our human flaws, our vulnerabilities, which make us most precious and interesting.

It can be tempting to present a rubberised version of ourselves to the world. But this wouldn’t be human. Nor would it be true.

Our vulnerabilities are worth exploring. They are where our treasure lies. Journaling is a safe way to explore them, and as Grayson Perry identified, they are worth their weight in gold.



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Filed under 30 Day Digital Journaling Challenge, Creative process, Self-Awareness

A lesson in presence

Imagine the scenario: you’re really excited at the prospect of spending a family holiday on a beautiful island off the western coast of Scotland. Famed for its pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters, its deer and its eagles, as well as its mountain wildernesses and deeply moving history, it’s a place you cannot wait to explore and have been looking forward to visiting for months. Not only that but you have a story idea set on the island for which you wish to conduct some research – it could be your first novel and you’re nervously excited about that too.

The plan is to travel via the Lake District to visit family and include a hike in the fells of that spectacular landscape as well. All in all this is going to be your ideal trip.

And then, the evening before you’re due to depart, the phone rings and an unfamiliar voice tells you not to worry, but your son seems to have injured his leg during American Football training. The ambulance is on its way and you can either come along to the pitch or meet him in A&E at the hospital.

Of course I went to the pitch straight away to find him lying on the ground surrounded by paramedics and concerned team coaches. He was wearing an oxygen mask and I slowly realised he was inhaling nitrous oxide to stem the pain in his leg. Having loaded him into the ambulance the paramedics then administered intravenous paracetomol. Meanwhile my brave boy did little more than wince and groan a little.

Much later that evening, after our son had endured much more Entonox, some morphine, two x-rays and confirmation that he has incurred a spiral fracture in his right lower leg, snapping both the tibia and fibula, we had to confront the reality that our long-awaited holiday was not going to happen. With a solid cast all the way up to the thigh on his almost four foot long leg, this boy was going nowhere, especially not on a 7 hour long car journey.

All this was quite a lot to take in. Emotions were high and we were all exhausted. As well as concern for our son, the dawning realisation that we wouldn’t be travelling to our island paradise after all tipped me over the edge. I had to leave the consultation room to weep, deeply disappointed about the trip and then terribly guilty that I could feel like that when our son was laid up on a hospital bed.

The following morning after very little sleep I had a strange experience. Strange yet deeply comforting. The voice that I often hear in my journal whispered to me to remember the moment. And as I lay in bed in my half-waking state I suddenly felt extremely safe and comfortable in the present moment. I was able to push aside all my conflicted feelings and disappointment about our disrupted holiday plans and just allow myself to be completely present, as if the moment was the safest haven there is.

I’m not sure whether this inner experience would have been possible without the reflective practice I’ve done. I can imagine in younger years shedding bitter tears for days over thwarted plans. On this occasion, with the most important thing being our son’s healing, I’ve retreated to and trusted the present moment, and it’s been a place of safety for which I’m enormously grateful.


Filed under Mood Management

Beyond ranting – the necessary authenticity on the other side

Our journal writing workshop last evening was yet again a wonderful opportunity to share insights and learn new perspectives. My gratitude goes to workshop participant Elinor who shared a wonderful phrase that somehow landed quite forcefully with me. She said: “Necessity has no emotion.”

The reason why this hit me with such a clunk is because it seems to account for what I have found in my journal beyond the ranting. Once I’ve stripped away the whining voice of my inner critic or the exclamation marks of my ego; when I’ve named and shamed the stuck-on-repeat stories with which I’ve been comforting myself, and once I’ve come to terms with my main vulnerabilities, what’s left is a calm, balanced narrative in which I’m finally able to speak my truth. There are no exclamation marks here. No over-blown claims about my own brilliance. No excuses and convoluted reasons why I won’t/shan’t/can’t. Just calm, logical, plain, straight-forward truth. Well hello.


Inner wisdom and authenticity are the pearls I’m constantly encouraging my workshop participants to pursue. These are the buried treasures that our journals can reveal to us, but from whose scent the decoys and false trails of our inner critic, our stories, excuses and egoist self-justifications often throw us. How easily we become distracted and displaced! But every pearl needs its grit. It would be foolish though to mistake the grit for the final product!

In Elinor’s insight I’m seeing that authenticity is akin to necessity. Our authentic self is who we necessarily are – who we cannot avoid being, no matter how many layers of negativity, self-judgement and self justification we heap on top. And when we hear its voice we find pearlescent peace, quiet and truth.

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Filed under Journal Writing, Reflective Writing Practice, Self-Awareness

Want to be a leader? – try journaling

Beware all you journal writing enthusiasts. You might just get such clarity and independence of thought through your reflective writing practice that people begin to turn to you for your advice and wisdom. They might even begin to nominate you as a leader in their cause.

This is because once you develop a journaling practice of your own you will be engaging in such powerful conversations with yourself that you will discover great truths and inner resources you never knew you had. Plus you’ll be able to articulate your thoughts and feelings about issues that are important to you because you will have practised doing so in your journal.

An important asset of a respected leader is integrity. In whatever context, be it work, community or personal, we want to be able to gain the trust of those around us. By taking up our journals and documenting our points of view over a period of time we begin to see our own thread of integrity running through all the things we bother to write about. We get to know very clearly what our views are, and we see how we must live in order to be true to our innermost moral compass.

Another valuable asset of our journal writing practice is that, honestly done, it enables us to recognise and accept our vulnerabilities. The journaling space is safe in that it is for our eyes only. We don’t need to protect our delicate ego in this place, and we can have a rest from bigging ourselves up. With the pressure off we can take a genuine look at ourselves and treat ourselves gently, without beating ourselves up about this or that perceived weakness. A great leader is aware of their vulnerable side, and, crucially, is not afraid to show it.

Thirdly a great leader is aware of themselves and others. They are able to reflect on their own impact and on the reasons why others might behave in certain ways. This can lead to great magnanimity and tolerance, vital attributes of the best leaders, and key enablers in the practice of servant leadership.

If you’re not already a leader, be prepared to become one. If you are already a leader, don’t be surprised if your style changes once you’ve been journaling for a while.


Filed under Journal Writing, Leadership

Journaling in the face of tragedy

Six days since Sandy Hook.

Throughout the week my mind has periodically reached across to Connecticut to be with the grieving families – the Mums, Dads, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. Periodically I have felt my own tears fall at the horror of what has happened – the desolation and the unimaginable grief and pain being suffered.

But I’m daring to imagine it. To put myself in the shoes of those who have been so dreadfully affected. To reach out with my thoughts and to say “I hear you, I feel you, I am so sorry, and I promise to tread on with love and conscious awareness in memory of all those that lost their lives, especially the children , so vibrant, innocent and full of promise.”

And I’m doing this in my journal, in order to bear witness, to acknowledge the precariousness of life, its preciousness. Our journals are where we can extend our thoughts to those who are hurting; where we can name and own our own vulnerability, and pledge our intentions and commitments in the name of the victims.

Don’t talk about the end of the world this Winter Solstice. Remember that for 27 families in Newtown this has already happened. And it’s happening all over the world too. In Syria, in Palestine, in Pakistan. Every day the world ends for someone as they lose their most precious loved one to violence, war, disease or poverty. Three out of four of these killers are man-made, and are the result of people not bearing witness, not reaching out with compassion nor admitting and sharing our vulnerability and our precariousness.

This Winter Solstice let’s use our journals to apply ourselves to the particular reality of the last days, months and years of suffering that we have escaped while others haven’t.  Let’s remind ourselves what it is to be grateful, and how we must treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Let’s individually and collectively reflect on what we each might do. And let our shared appalled reaction spur us into making a new resolution for ourselves – to live well in our place, and to turn the horror into compassionate action for those people on our doorsteps.

The world will not come to an end this Winter Solstice. But let’s hope something does. Let’s hope it’s our tendency to sleep-walk through life without paying attention to what’s really needed, nor to the part we each can play.

RIP Sandy Hook victims.


Filed under Current Affairs, Journal Writing