This yearly review might turn out to be the final entry of this entire blog. [Actually, not quite.] If so, then I will have concluded this decades-long personal development project in the most deeply satisfying way possible. Of course, it never ends, but there is a feeling that this latest breakthrough simultaneously offers some kind of conclusion to years of effort on multiple levels, as well as a definite feeling that my life is opening into a new world of possibility.
I met myself anew this year, and so unmistakably that what I saw cannot be unseen. It happened on numerous occasions, in various countries, and an array of locations. Each time it occurred I encountered myself in a way I have perhaps only glimpsed before. Over the course of the year, I inevitably became acquainted with a version of myself that has probably been covered up for most of my life. Or maybe one that is emerging out of the complexity of my existence.
It began in Germany, during the training referenced in ‘We Score’. The whole experience had the feel of something for which I had been rehearsing for years; like the opening night of a performance, with the usual first-night nerves increasing in intensity right up until the curtain was raised and I stepped onto the stage. My stage.
The ease of those days was typified by the language. Having not spoken German regularly for over a decade, I had wondered whether it would be good enough. In the end, there was no need to worry because not once did I have to reach or search for words. Every time I opened my mouth they were there. There was a magic to it, as if something else was there with me, ready to provide everything I needed at the precise moment I needed it.
Those days reprised and reinforced the comparisons I have made in the past between language learning and personal development. They were a gratifying proof of concept; an undeniable demonstration of the need and value of solid foundations built steadily from years of effort and perseverance on both fronts.
Nevertheless, they left me curious about whether the whole experience was just a case of everything aligning, or whether I could repeat what happened. Again, no need to worry. I returned to Germany twice in the ensuing months, and after the final occasion my colleague relayed the following evaluation to me: ‘Jonathan hypnotised the whole group and took them with him.’ That kind of feedback – surprising, yet apposite – has been common this year.
Growth & Complexity
In late Spring I took on the training of a company which is courageously seeking to shift its culture to create an organisation where everyone supports and challenges each other to grow and develop. Such an environment is one with which I am intimately familiar because that is what my four years with Karaj were.
Moreover, together with an ongoing complexity training I am giving elsewhere, I have the opportunity to do the kind of work I believe can make a real difference, and which also allows me to explore areas I have been fascinated by for decades.
That I am fortunate enough to facilitate such a deep transformational process can also be seen as proof that hard work and patience pay off in the end. I used to worry about how and whether things will work out, but the past year, and in particular that company trajectory, are further evidence of the richness and beauty of how life unfolds.
All we have to do is keep building the foundations, and trust that life will flourish (which is all it wants to do).
In September and October, during two particularly busy months of group trainings and individual coaching, there came one success after another. The evidence was so forthcoming that there could be no coincidence, and no going back.
The shift in recognition felt like the difference between catching something out of the corner of your eye; and seeing, feeling, hearing, touching and tasting something so tangibly that there can be no mistake. Again, I cannot unsee what I have seen this year. I cannot unfeel what I have felt.
I was so often in the flow of it all – noticeable by the disappearance of a sense of self, and the silencing of my internal chatter. That same force from Germany was there, too, allowing me the freedom simply to be, to connect, and to respond intuitively to whatever was happening in front of me. At times, it felt effortless. Straightforward. Obvious.
The seeds of that sense of ease were sown during those years with Karaj; in that intense environment we created together, and which he drove with his unrelenting commitment. For years afterwards I wrung everything I could from those early days, through close examination of my writing, further reflection, and repeated visits to edit everything into various forms – blog posts, correspondence, books, workshops – honing my skills as I went.
The affirmations I received this year are too numerous to mention, but it all goes back to what she has said to me so many times over the years: ‘You need to be working. And for no other reason than because you shine when you do.’ This year I saw myself shine, and others saw it too.
Another occasion occurred in the Ardenne during the weekend mentioned in ‘Eight Songs’. I had secretly promised to give everything at the final party – to really enjoy myself and not hold back. So when I was challenged to leave my comfort zone by two colleagues, I stepped up.
Admittedly, I did originally try to defer until later, but a firm word from one of them was enough to strip me of my defences (and also one or two articles of clothing!) and step anew onto the dance floor (where I was enthusiastically greeted by another colleague who acknowledged and encouraged this version of me, declaring, ‘I’m so proud of you!’)
Another dance floor a week later hosted a version of myself I have rarely witnessed. I danced so freely at her 40th birthday party (which also doubled as our covid-cancelled wedding) that I walked outside immediately afterwards to check in with myself: ‘Who the fuck was that?’, I asked incredulously. The reply came in the form of acute excitement, realisation, and a firm and physical reminder to ground myself (and stay there). After all, this experience was not a one-off. It was the latest in a series of unveilings.
In amongst all this I wrote another book (The River), a distillation of the first eight Tiles; I added three more tiles (about Health, Connection and Wonder), taking the total to 12; and, following a delightful, enriching and loving trip to the US where my son realised it’s not just daddy who speaks English, he and I have moved closer together. We have connected more deeply through the emergence of a shared language.
In addition, there has been further improvement in my health, as I sailed past the 9-year mark of daily exercises. (The current count stands at 3,382 days.) Indeed, my back – so often the barometer of my progress – seems to have reached the point where it no longer reacts in the same way to old triggers.
For example, there have been a series of occasions in recent weeks where I have overstretched or twisted to reach something, and felt a twinge. Many years ago the muscles around my lower back would have immediately contracted and I’d have been in deep, painful trouble for weeks. Later, those same twinges caused problems for days. This month, my back has responded in ways that suggest it is consciously realising there is no need for such preventive, protective, painful measures. I’m okay.
After 20 years of effort to realign and reassure my body, not knowing whether it will work, I am becoming stronger, more whole, and more balanced. Furthermore, in reflecting on these last 12 months, there is a definite sense that after all the confirmation and evidence of self, I am off the leash; liberated to become something even greater than I have realised this year.
That is what 2023 holds for me: a general relaxation and trusting of my body, my self, and my course through life. At the same time, there is room for a determination to push myself beyond my perceived limits and fulfil my potential. There are also opportunities to collaborate in ways which foster synergy and creativity, so that I can do even better work than I have hitherto done. Finally, the beauty and solidity of where I stand and how I got here, make it easier to harness the power of foundation and silence.
The two most influential people in my life – independently of each other – have, over the years, both expressed a strong wish that I see what they can see in me. This year I have been presented with the unequivocal, unquestionable and unavoidable truth of who I am (and also of who I can be).
Perhaps most satisfying of all, is that this personal development stuff works. This is not new to me (see ‘It Works. Beautifully.’), and it certainly requires patience and persistence; but to end possibly the best year of my life in a way that confirms everything I have sought to accomplish (and much more besides), leaves me feeling relieved, humble, and hopeful. (Don’t get cocky.)
It has been a long road, and I am nowhere near the end, but it might help to look back at the goals I hurriedly wrote down in the five minutes Karaj gave me before my very first men’s group in January 2000. He made no big deal about it at the time when he prompted me to think of what I might want to achieve in my life. It felt almost like an afterthought, and I didn’t think too much about it either. I just began writing until I felt I was done – a process mirrored by this entire blog. This is what I wrote:
- To work with like-minded people in a friendly environment doing worthwhile work.
- I enjoy talking to people about interesting things.
- I enjoy speaking German – I love being bilingual.
- I enjoy helping people to understand.
- Life at its best is simple. I enjoy conveying this simplicity and seeing the understanding spread across the faces of others as they realise the simplicity involved.
- To support and be supported in our efforts to make the world a better place – allowing the individual and the planet to fulfil its potential.
- To do a job which gives a sense of satisfaction.
- Helping people to think for themselves.
Having scribbled those lines on a hastily grabbed piece of paper, I assumed my place amongst a group of men, and took a decisive step on the path towards the rest of my life. It has taken me to this point, 23 years later, where all of those simple, yet incisive goals are continually being realised, and I have seen clearly who I am and who I can be. Now all I have to do is keep going, give everything, continue to cultivate trust, awe and wonder, and find a way to breathe into the silence.